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How Ethnicity Impedes Nigeria’s Development

By Edikan Ekanem

There have been several issues of conflict emanating from ethnic groups and diversities in the country which such may include wars, internal conflicts, mass killings and even underdevelopment. As a matter of concern, the impediments of Nigeria’s underdevelopment cannot be discussed without mentioning ethnicity which is: a common characteristic of a group of people as defined oxford advance learner‘s dictionary. In this paper, we examine and seek to expound on how ethnicity is the cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment and probably how it can also be curbed to make her develop faster.

But do we wait to ask whether our creator is in support of this issue of ethnicity? Does he exalt one race or ethnic group above the other? Why are we taking this heavy burden upon our heads without any gain? Where will this single act take us to? As exhibited for the past years, what have we so far achieved from this ethnic segregation?

Nigeria is a federal constitutional republic comprising of 36states and its federal capital, Abuja. Nigeria as a nation is a constituent of several nationalities. There are over 250 ethnic groups and the major ones are Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. It is however very disturbing that Nigerians have become slaves to their ethnic origins instead of harnessing these diversities towards national development.

Nigerians are fanatics when it comes to ethnicity. It is therefore not surprising for a Nigerian to get angry because he/she is wrongly associated with another tribe. This is not the true reflection of a federal nation. “One of the sociological problems hindering the growth of the nation is multi-ethnicity”.

The real problem associated with ethnic group rears its ugly head when it comes into contact with other ethnic groups. The hell is let loose. The desire to dominate or the fear of being dominated by other ethnic groups reigns supreme. This often leads to outright declaration of hostilities resulting inexorably in loss of lives and property. Nigeria was engulfed in 30 months civil war as a result of ethnic tension that had brewed for a long period of time. The war was fought, won and lost but the ethnic suspicions and hatred still remains unabated.

The negative impacts of ethnicity in Nigeria

The question of whether Nigeria is underdeveloped is not disputed. The facts are there for everyone to see. At present, however, the country is cogitating and nursing the idea of becoming one of the 20 largest economies of the world by the year 2020. This is a wishful thinking, an idea that is ill conceived, a wild goose chase. The investors are scared away by the unfriendly and unstable business environment. Nigeria has a basic problem to contend with. This is the problem of ethnicity. Ethnicity is albatross, a cog in the wheel of progress. This problem ought to be solved in order for the country to join the comity of progressive nations.

The level of ethnic rivalry in Nigeria has made it impossible for her to produce the right leaders who live above boards, who exude impeccable and predictable character, and who are ready to spend themselves for the development of the nation. Ethnic affiliation has not allowed such leaders to emerge. At each election, the emphasis has always been on where the candidates came from rather than on the right candidates for the election. This explains why the National Assembly is replete with many people who are there neither for the interest of the nation nor for their own ethnic groups. They shot themselves up into the National Assembly by weeping ethnic sentiments. They described themselves as best candidates to fight for the rights of their respective ethnic groups. The suitability of their character was hardly called to question. As soon as they were elected they went into self-serving.

Another effect of ethnicity which will continue to hamstring the development of the country unless the problem of ethnicity is properly addressed is the issue of federal character. This is an attempt made to pacify the ethnic groups. The federal character arrangement is enshrined in the constitution. The reason behind it may appear plausible. It is to ensure greater unity of the country. But the underlying politics that gave rise to it breeds mediocre in the running of government. The members of the Constituent Assembly for the 1989 Constitution wanted to include merit on the existing federal character arrangement. What some members wanted to add to the federal character clause in the constitution was: “Nothing in this sub-section shall preclude the employment of merit and excellence and federal character means as much as practical, representation of all the states of the federation”. This was put to vote. It was defeated by 81 to 186. The ethnic groups that were lagging behind educationally canvassed for its defeat. There was the fear that the question of merit would put them in disadvantage position in the federal character clause.

Since merit has been rejected as a criterion for serving the nation all manners of people have been appointed to hold public offices in which they had neither the training nor the experience. How can the nation progress when those who drive her economy are not qualified to do so? This is a tragic situation. The ministries, parastatals and government agencies are now filled with incompetent officials. And since their entry into these offices was not based on merit, they do not make any positive impact in their various ministries. Nemo dat quod non habet . They spend their time on what they know how to do best, namely, to defraud the nation

For example, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bankole told the nation in 2010 during his Convocation Lecture at the University of Benin that the National Assembly had, within two years from its oversight function, recovered from Government ministries and agencies the whopping sum of 750 Naira Billion as unspent money. What could have happened to the money if the oversight function was not done is anybody’s guess. But the point is that such a huge sum of money which was not used for the projects for which it was earmarked is an eloquent epiphany of how ethnic rivalry weakens development. Imagine such miasma, how would Nigeria move forward with such trends.

The negative impact of ethnic rivalry appears also in the formation of political parties. The parties are formed along ethnic lines with ethnic interest at the base. Nigeria has about 63 political parties with no clear manifestoes. Each party says it will build roads, hospitals, improve power generation, quality of life and indeed all sectors of the economy. The details of how the money will be generated for the execution of these projects are not addressed

In Nigeria, none of the existing political parties can be associated with any of these party ideologies. The parties are much concerned with ethnic interests. And because they do so, they cannot come together to form a meaningful opposition against the party in government. Opposition is necessary in a democratic system. It puts the ruling party on its feet. Where there is no opposition or the opposition is weak, the ruling party is not challenged to initiate programs and ideas that are beneficial to the masses. So, the fact that the parties are oriented towards ethnic interest is doing a disservice to the nation.

As posited by a renowned scholar Dr Cletus Umezinwa in his article “Ethnicity and Nigeria’s underdevelopment”, the divisive nature of ethnicity does not allow Nigerians to call their past presidents to give account of their stewardship. Many of them did a great harm to the nation. No one dares to question them. They are untouchables. Some of them go about freely and make even inflammatory and incisive statements unhindered. If any of them is arrested and detained for questioning, the ethnic group to which he belongs will be up in arms.

In Nigeria, there are many associations formed along ethnic lines – Arewa consultative forum, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo etc. Among the governors, we have South East governors forum, Northern governors forum etc. Each is formed with an aim of gaining political advantage over the rest. The unity and progress of Nigeria as a Nation is secondary. MASSOB is gunning for something different, that is, complete secession from Nigerian project. All these are indications pointing to the destructive impact of ethnicity in Nigeria. With all these groups around it will be very difficult to organize a popular uprising against the government as witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc.

How can Nigeria move forward with ally these kinds of rivalry? All the terrorist groups today in the country, is it not as a result of ethnicity?

It is high time we start to embrace and work with the words of martin Luther when he said: Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says Love your enemies, he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies– or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing wars–must is broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. - Martin Luther King Jr.

Considering what we have loose as a result of ethnicity, it is important to say that if we do not change this perception, if we do not stop segregation, if we do not build a bridge between these ethnic groups, we will not move a step forward.

I will conclude with the words of Apostle Peter when he said: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. - Act 10:34,35

Edikan Ekanem is a student of University of Uyo, a writer, a columnist, a critic, a political analyst but remains politically neutral. He can be reached at: 08130015006, [email protected] .

Your Comment

Anthony Wilson | 6/17/2018 2:44:00 PM
A nation can not move forward with the caliber of people we have at the nNational Assembly
I was born a PRINCE and grew up as a SERVANT.