Since Nigeria had political independence in 1960 certain key problems have played dominant roles in determining the nature, character and direction of government and politics in the country. Most of these issues have been described by scholars and commentators on Nigeria politics as the legacies of the country’s colonial experience, whose origins can be traced back to the almost one hundred years of colonial domination.
One of the issues or fall-outs of the Nigerian federal system is ethnicity. Ethnicity in Nigeria derives from the multifarious and diverse nature of the Nigerian territory, which consists of people of different background, ancestry and tradition. In essence members of an ethnic group could then be described as consisting of those who regard themselves as being alike by virtue of their common ancestry, language, custom as well as tradition, Olisa et al (1990).
Ethnicity as a force in Nigerian politics originated from the colonial policies of the British, who, through their ‘divide and rule policy’. Encouraged the use of different applications of colonial policies on the traditional institutions and structures of the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.
This unequal impact of colonial policies saw the partial exposure of western education by the British Missionaries to a particular part of the country, namely the southern part of Nigeria, thereby alienating the northern part. The dangers inherent in these segregationist policies soon became apparent in the 1940s, 1950s and soon after political independence in 1960.
In his work, Okwudiba Nnoli traces the origin of ethnicity in Nigeria and rightly blamed it squarely on European Imperialism. He also wrote extensively on the origin of the struggles and clashes between the Igbos and Yorubas and Igbos and Hausas among others. Nnoli sees tribalism which became the recurring feature of Nigerian political life as part and parcel of colonial racism whose primary objective was the complete alienation of the colonized African, enabling a better and more complete domination and control of her.
Quite a number of literatures have been produced on the subject of ethnicity in Nigerian politics. Early writers paid special attention to the negative influence of ethnicity and cautioned Nigerian leaders to threat the political terrain with tack or good words and carefulness. Perhaps, Professor Okwudiba, Nnoli’s work. Ethnic politics in Nigeria (1986) and ethnic politics in African in (1989) are the most incisive of the writings on the problem of ethnicity in Nigeria. In the work, Professor Nnoli traces the origin of ethnicity in Nigeria and rightly blamed it squarely on European imperialism He also wrote extensively on the origin of the struggles and clashes between the Igbos and Yoruba and Igbos and Hausas among others. Nnoli sees tribalism which became the recurring feature of Nigerian political life as part and parcel of colonial racism who primary objective was the complete alienation of the colonized Africans enabling a better and more complete domination and control of him.
Writing on social differentiation ethnicity gender and class in African perspective on development edited by U C F Himmelstrand, or Egbosa, H. Osaghe noted that ethnicity is perhaps the most popular concepts used in the analysis of African politics. He is of the view that the character of present day ethnic groups and ethnic relation evolved with the modern political structures. He considers this to the product of history and goes further to see the preponderance of the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani as the emergent realities in Nigeria, Dr. Egbosa holds slave trade responsible for laying the foundation for the new phase of ethnicity by tightening kingship bonds. This makes every ethnic group conscious of it’s existences and has reduced politics to struggles for the extraction and distribution of national resources.