Ethnic Integration, Peace, Security & Prosperity in Nigeria

1289 views | Justine John Dyikuk | February 19, 2020

Last year during an intra-faith community scorecard workshop in a certain community, a participant shared his frustration when he went to a Church and saw a woman officiating at a wedding. He revealed that he could not hold his sentiments but walk out of the Church because according to him, “it was unthinkable for a woman to witness at a wedding as a minister.” The man felt that what happened was antithetical to his faith. As such, he had to leave. Supposing he exchanged words with the minister, the outcome could have been unpleasant.

In a related development, a friend of mine recently shared an experience he had while traveling from Sokoto to Kaduna in a commercial vehicle. It was a Friday morning – they boarded the vehicle. When they got to Zamfara, all the other passengers disembarked to say the Jummaat prayers. Because he was a Christian, he remained in the car. When they returned, the journey continued as the commuters shared banters about what was happening in the country. Everyone seemed happy until the unusual happened. The driver had just picked a call. When the other passengers who were apparently Northern-Muslims overheard him speaking the Yoruba language, they exclaimed: “Oh, so he is Yoruba and we allowed him to lead the prayers!” At that, they ordered him to pack the car. They disembarked, had absolution and another set of prayers led by one of them. Why did they do that? Well, your guess is as good as mine!

These two stories are some of the reasons why commentators often blame the lack of peace, security and prosperity in Nigeria on our inability to manage diversity and ensure ethnic integration. Since the amalgamation of Southern and Northern protectorates into Nigeria on January 1, 1914, by Great Britain which brought about 250 tribes/languages together, we have not been able to harness our diversity. The resultant effects are dire challenges daring us in the face. In his book The Nigerian State and the Challenges of Ethnic Identity: A Case for Integration, Ojemola (2014) identified four types of ethnic integration patterns namely, dominant conformity, melting pot, paternalism and the mosaic which are critical to either the stabilization or destabilization of any nation. Since they are germane to our discussion, it is important to review them in the light of peace, security, and progress in Nigeria.

Dominant Conformity otherwise known as the assimilation method was popularized by the Greeks and practiced by the French especially in Africa. Here, the integration of minority groups is controlled by the dominant culture(s). Minority cultures are not given recognition. They are forced to conform to majority norms. However, they are absorbed into the dominant culture. Minority tribes are discouraged to bring their norms, cultural values or attributes to the fore but advised to abandon their styles of living so as to adopt the culture of their new society.

By conforming to the majority’s way of life, they are left to participate in society on the dictates of the majority through the adoption of society-wide attributes and participation in secondary institutions, adoption of different cultural attributes and participation in the private sphere of the primary institutions. Despite establishing the Federal Character Commission Act No 34 of 1996, dominant tribes such as Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo often express a sense of entitlement regarding the national-cake. Apparently, they suppress the interests of minority groups in terms of employment, admission, labour, and production. This is responsible for the subjugation of minority tribes and the cries of marginalization by regions like Nigeria’s rich Niger Delta, South-East and Middle Belt in the political equation.

Sociologists are of the view that the Melting Pot concept which originated from the United States of America encourages the fusion of all ethnic groups into one, to form a new culture. It encourages inter-marriages regardless of ethnic, religious and political affiliations. Scholars like Ralph Waldo Emerson (1845), Fredrick Jackson Turner (1893) and Henry James (1905) upheld this view when they maintained that the Melting Pot ideology is the readiness of people in the society to adopt a  new way of life and join different ethnic groups into one so as to march on together. In their opinion, this is the easiest way to solve the problems of a pluralistic society. It is clear to every onlooker at the heart of Nigeria’s problems is the failure to manage diversity.     

The next pattern of integration is Paternalism – this is as a system of governing people the way a benevolent father deals with his children instructively. In this model, people are not given any opportunity to contribute to the way they are governed. Rather, because their safety is considered more important than their liberty, they are merely protected. The masses are considered uncivilized and incapable of making personal decisions. This was the pattern of governance before the advent of the colonialists. For instance, Victor kingdoms had representatives who ruled the people on behalf of kings and later Colonial Masters. However, they did not listen to the people. The indirect rule system is a case in point. The colonialists felt that Africans were uncivilized and needed to be civilized.

Another example of paternalism is apartheid which held sway in South Africa. Under this method, minority tribes or groups are at the mercy of the ruling class in two senses – soft paternalism or hard paternalism. While in the former the ruling class can consider the minority for certain positions if they have academic qualifications, in the latter, the minority are not given a say in governance under the guise that they are being protected from harming themselves, since they are termed uncivilized, and others because they are seen as threat to the majority. The feudal and aristocratic Sarauta Hausa-Fulani Political System which was favoured by the imperialists during the Indirect Rule System was paternalistic. It created a sense of entitlement within the northern oligarchy which further galvanized the “born to rule” mentality that was experimented by the Northernisation Policy of Sarduana, Sir Ahmadu Bello in the 1950s. Presently, there are about 35 ethnic (mostly Christian) minorities forced under the emirate system.

The last pattern of integration is The Mosaic – this method attempts to bring together different ethnic groups to form the fabric of society. Here, ethnic groups are fused together but each retains its identity. Also called multiculturalism, the concept gained ground in the European continent. It was actually started in the 1960s by Anglophone countries who wanted to assist Non-European immigrants to maintain their identity while still in the diaspora. The experience of other immigrants in Canada is a good example. Although Mosaic is the best pattern of integration, we have failed to implement that in our national life. This is because 59 years after independence, there is national apathy leading to a lack of patriotism by the masses. Sadly, many people still place ethnic, religious and political affiliations over and above their being Nigerians.

This brings us to the whole issue of Social Identity Theory which enriches this article. Rivers (2005) argues that the mere fact of categorization between “Us and “Them” is enough to cause conflict. Lewis, (1997) contends that this categorization often becomes inevitable when groups are formed or when different interests within an organization are ill-represented. Scholars like Appelbaum, Abdallah, and Shapiro (1999) opine that the social interaction process is associated with the struggle for scarce resources, power or status, beliefs, preferences, and desires. Where this takes place, especially by the majority, social relations are hampered.

To recoup the years eaten by the locust, the country urgently needs The Mosaic Model of integration or multiculturalism. This will ensure the coexistence of several subcultures within a given society on equal terms. As a country, we need both liberal and cultural multiculturalism. While the former focuses on cultural diversity, celebrating the ethnic variety and teaching tolerance, the latter concentrates on recognizing the rights of minorities and advocating “multiculturalization” in society.

Through The Mosaic approach, conscious efforts should be made to bring everyone on board in running the society while each group maintains its identity. This does not mean that minority tribes in the country would blend or conform to the three recognized ones. Put simply, it means ensuring the principle of equity, fairness, and justice. It also means allowing people from every section of the country to ventilate their ideas towards nation-building. Restructuring through restoring the erstwhile regional federating units could be a possible panacea. In the interim, The Mosaic parable can assist Nigerians like those in our lead stories to be tolerant of others even in their practice of faith. God bless Nigeria!

Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through –  


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