Culture, Featured

From Unity to Division – The Threat of Tribalism in Nigeria

Nmesoma Okwudili


April 1, 2023

Nigeria, like many other countries, has long struggled with tribalism. This inherent form of social identification in which people identify primarily as belonging to a specific ethnic group is quickly becoming a plague that fuels ethnic lines rather than fashion-prepossessing cultural uniqueness. The social phenomenon is gradually turning into a lingering Gordian knot, frequently resulting in conflict, separation, and exclusion, endangering the nation’s unity and progress.

Remember that the word “Tribe” was woven into the old national anthem as a parting gift by the British in 1960: “…thou tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood, we stand…”.

Nigeria has approximately 300 ethnic groups. Each has its own distinct culture, traditions, and language, but the people have unconsciously allowed tribalism to become a plague threatening the nation’s peace and development.

The aggressive dominance of Nigeria’s political system is a recurring theme associated with tribalism’s extremism. Politicians frequently take positions along ethnic lines, and they use tribalism to win voters. As a result, voters choose candidates based on ethnic affinities rather than credentials. The iteration of these actions has resulted in the exclusion of certain ethnic groups from significant leadership roles and decision-making processes. It is also worth noting that the aforementioned tribalistic political exertion has resulted in the marginalisation of some ethnic groups.

Tribalism has also had a negative impact on social cohesion in Nigeria. Ethnic militias have formed and are frequently commissioned to resolve conflicts as a result of the exasperating lack of trust between various ethnic groups. These militias have been responsible for several bloody battles between various tribes, resulting in casualties and property destruction.

Tribalism has clearly contributed to Nigeria’s lack of a sense of national identity. People consciously identify as members of their tribe rather than as Nigerians. This has prompted many academics to debate the existence or non-existence of national identity in a multicultural and diverse country like Nigeria. As a result, it creates a difficult barrier for Nigerians to unite as a country and work towards a common goal. It has also made it difficult for the nation to spread a sense of patriotism and pride.

The increasing prevalence of tribalism’s negative consequences has contributed to the country’s various challenges. This includes a number of issues, including:

  • Political unrest: Tribalism has exacerbated the lack of trust between various ethnic groups, contributing to the country’s political unrest. Political leaders are frequently accused of prioritising the interests of their ethnic groups, which has divided the government and rendered it incapable of cooperating.
  • Economic disparity: Tribalism contributes to economic inequality in Nigeria. Because of the economic disparities between regions, some areas have greater access to opportunities than others.
  • Tribalism has also caused societal unrest, sedition, and wars among various ethnic groups in Nigeria. As a result, there has been brutality, displacement, and the loss of lives and property.
  • Underdevelopment: Development has been hampered indefinitely by a lack of collaboration and trust among ethnic groups. As a result, infrastructure is inadequate, access to healthcare and education is limited, and poverty is widespread.
  • Conflicts and societal turmoil caused by tribalism have also contributed to a sense of unease. In response, armed groups such as Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen killings have emerged, attacking civilians and security personnel.
  • Internal marginalisation: As people are marginalised within tribes, tribalism is visible. Looking at the three primary languages, it is clear that there are numerous “linguistic varieties” all over the place. The traditional Hausa spoken in Sokoto, the Arewa northern dialect, the Zazzaganci in Zazzau of southern origin, Dauranchi, Kananci, and so on are just a few of the numerous Hausa varieties. Igbo and its variants are spoken in the states of Anambra, Onitsha, Aba, the Delta, and the Rivers. Igbo is spoken in over 30 dialects throughout the South-East, South-South region, and beyond. Finally, there are additional Yoruba dialects spoken in the Benin Republic, Togo, and modern Brazil, such as Egba, Ibadan, Yewa, Lagos, Igbomina, Ijesha, Ife, Ekiti, Yegba, Owe, Ijumu, Oworo, and Itsekiri. These differences frequently cause an unspoken schism among members of the same tribe.

To address the issue of tribalism in Nigeria, all interested parties must collaborate.

One strategy for combating this harmful trend that promotes acrimony is education. Promoting social cohesion and national identity can be greatly aided by educational awareness of tribalism’s negative consequences and nationalism’s positive outcomes.

Furthermore, the government can consider enacting policies that ensure equal access to resources and opportunities for all tribes and ethnic groups. Policies and initiatives that promote national solidarity and reduce tribalism should be given top priority. This could include programmes that encourage inter-tribal unions, promote cross-cultural dialogue and tolerance, and commemorate Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. The Nigerian government should make certain that all ethnic groups are fairly represented in government and that all citizens, regardless of tribe, benefit from all policies and programmes. The Nigerian government should enforce anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits discrimination based on tribe, religion, or ethnicity. This will help to create a more inclusive and equal society.

Inter-tribal dialogue and communication should be encouraged in order to foster understanding and reduce tensions between ethnic groups. Community meetings, cultural exchange programmes, and peacebuilding initiatives could all fall under this category. Tribalism is a growing problem in Nigeria that requires immediate attention. It has hampered and divided the country, posing a threat to both. To address this issue, all stakeholders, including the government, civil society organisations, and individuals, must collaborate. Cooperation can achieve social cohesion, national identity, and a sense of belonging among all Nigerians.


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