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Meaning of Ethnicity

Ethnicity means preferring one’s ethnic group over other ethnic groups. It can also be regarded as tribalism.

Nigeria is a very large country. It is made up of many ethnic groups. There are more than 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria. Each ethnic group speaks its own language and has a different culture. Among these ethnic groups are Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ijaw, Fulani, Edo, Ibibio, Igbira, Urhobo, Nupe, Kalabari,

Ogoni, Kanuri, Jukun, Igalla, Tiv, Bura, Isoko, Afemai and Itsekiri.


Causes of Ethnicity in Nigeria

There are many causes of ethnicity in Nigeria. Some of these causes are:

  • Feeling that one’s social group or ethnic group has been cheated in the allocation of resources in the country: The major source of revenue in Nigeria today is crude oil. When the federal government allocates money to the states, some states feel they should get more allocation than they are given.
  • Colonialism: The colonial masters also encouraged ethnicity through their programmes and policies. For instance, the 1946 Richards Constitution divided the country into three regions, i.e. the North, East and West without laying emphasis on unity in the country. Political parties that were formed were thus based on the different regions created by the colonial masters.
  • Poverty: Politicians use the high poverty level of the electorate to deceive them to vote for politicians from their ethnic groups. They give the people some small amounts of money to convince them to vote for certain politicians; not because they have good plans for the people, but because they are from the same ethnic group as the electorate.
  • Illiteracy: Inability to read and write makes people tribalistic. When people cannot read, they are not likely to be informed about the culture of other people. Literacy and education help people to gather more knowledge about other people and their culture, and so become able to appreciate other ethnic groups.
  • Undue desire to win elections: Politicians deliberately encourage people to be tribalistic in order to win elections. One politician may tell an uninformed electorate that politicians from those other ethnic groups are bad, and therefore people should not vote for them. However, the politicians from those other ethnic groups may have better qualities than himself.
  • Nepotism and discrimination: Nepotism means giving unfair advantage of members of one’s family, especially when you give them favours without considering others. Discrimination, on the other hand, means treating some people less fairly than your own people. When, for instance, a Hausa man treats another Hausa man better than an Igbo man, he has discriminated against the Igbo man. This causes ethnicity in the country.


Consequences/ Problems of Ethnicity, State and Group Loyalty

The greatest problems of ethnic, state and group loyalty in a country like Nigeria are

  • Communal conflict: Ethnicity may lead to communal war. One community may clash with another community due to the promotion of ethnicity in a society.
  • Political violence: If ethnicity is encouraged in a society, it may lead to violence between one political group and another. Violence does not promote the growth and development of a country.
  • Nepotism/Discrimination: When ethnicity is promoted, people in authority will favour their family members and give their social group and ethnic group undue advantage over other groups.
  • Underdevelopment: Underdevelopment is a situation where there are few industries and people’s living standards are very low. Underdevelopment could also be in terms of lack of provision of social amenities like electricity, pipe borne water, good roads, hospitals, and schools. Ethnicity sometimes brings about underdevelopment because, while some areas are developed, others are neglected. When ethnicity is practised, the government will favour one area more than the others. This is bad and should be discouraged.
  • Waste of manpower: Manpower refers to human resources or qualified workers. Workers that are qualified or skilled may not be given jobs because they belong to one ethnic group or another, and this leads to a waste of manpower.
  • Political instability: When ethnicity is promoted or practised in a country, the group that is not well treated will be unhappy. This may lead to a forceful change of government.
  • Disunity: If ethnicity is encouraged in a society or country, such a society will lack unity. Disunity does not lead to progress. Unity helps a country to achieve her goals.
  • Absence of loyalty to the nation: Ethnicity breeds disloyalty. Citizens will not be willing to serve their country with all their heart and mind. They will always put their interest before the interest of the state or country.
  • Unrealistic census figure
  • Electoral malpractices


Solutions to the problems of ethnicity in Nigeria

We can stop ethnicity in our dear country Nigeria, in the following ways:

  • Tolerance: Every citizen who belongs to a social group should accept other ethnic or social groups. Though, there are differences, we should understand and try to do things in such a way that other ethnic groups will be happy.
  • Patriotism: We should place the love of our country first in our hearts. We should make national interest and not our social groups interest our priority. We should give jobs to the most qualified citizens, whether they are from the North, South, East or West.
  • Government policies: Government should put some programmes and policies in place to discourage ethnicity and promote civic values. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which was established in 1973 to promote unity after the civil war, is a good example of a government policy that could have helped to stop ethnicity. However, the purpose has not been fully achieved because people are posted to places of their choice now.
  • Inter-ethnic marriage: People from different ethnic groups should be encouraged to marry one another. For instance, an Ijaw man could marry a Tiv woman. This is called inter-ethnic or inter-tribal marriage, and is a good way of discouraging ethnicity. If there is inter-tribal marriage ethnicity could reduce in our country.
  • Education: The young ones right from the beginning of their education, should be encouraged to see all Nigerians as one. Acceptance of other people should not be on the basis of cultural similarities.



Answer the following questions:

  1. What is the meaning of ethnicity?
  2. Identify three causes of ethnicity in Nigeria.
  3. Mention three consequences of ethnicity in the country.
  4. How do we solve the problem of ethnicity in Nigeria?
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