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Published On: Mon, Mar 20th, 2017

Ethnicity Syndrome and Political Nationalism in Nigeria

Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, can boast of her salient Political Nationalists. They are sometimes called “Freedomites”. History and political students are constantly reminded of their heroic acts but their evil deeds are often neglected.

Ethnicity Syndrome in Nigeria could be attributed to British colonial legacy in Nigeria which was based on ethnicity. Unfortunately, the country now suffers the consequences and effects of this ethnicity syndrome on her political Nationalists. It is paramount to give a concise analysis of the very concept of Ethnicity Syndrome so as to further buttress and pitch clarity to the point.

Ethnicity Syndrome metaphorically refers to a disease diagnosed to those whose actions and judgements are influenced by the feeling of belonging to a particular group. These kinds of people often take their group or tribe as an authority, and also claim that their group is the best amongst others. Their actions and judgements are often influenced by this feeling. Thus, in this sense,  we can say they have an ethnicity syndrome. Given this backdrop, it is expedient to delve into the main course of this article.

Ethnicity (or tribalism) first reared its head during the second World War. This war reduced the leadership efficiency of the Colonial Masters in Nigeria, which in turn led to a period of great famine, inequality, insecurity,  and so on. As a result of this, several groups were formed to cater for the needs of their members. Such groups include; The Egba Society (1918), The Union of Ijebu Young Men(1923), The Yoruba Union(1924), The Ibibio State Union, and so on. As a result of a poor economy, low security, unemployment, and so on, these ethnic groups began to compete against each other in a socio-economic competition. Each ethnic group will fight other ethnic groups, to ensure it caters for the need of its own members. It was at this point that ethnicity became a full-scale insurgency.












Furthermore, the split in the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM), which was triggered by an ethnicity rift between Nigeria’s political Nationalists(Ikoli, Awolowo, Akinsanya and Nnamdi Azikwe), also aided the issue of ethnicity in the country. In anger, Nnamdi Azikwe led his Igbo supporters out of the group, and Obafemi Awolowo did same. At this point, it is completely safe to say that the educated elite in the Nigerian Youth Movement had an ethnicity syndrome, thus leading to the collapse of the movement.

Consequently, the British introduction of the tripartite policy through the Richards constitution of 1943, further exacerbated the issue of ethnicity in the country. Through the Richards constitution, Nigeria was divided into three giant regions; the northern region, the western region and the eastern region, which represented the three major tribes of Nigeria; the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo respectively. In like manner, the numerous ethnic groups that had been formed prior to that time were also amalgamated to form the Egbe Omo Oduduwa society in London(1945), the Ibo state Union(1944), and the Jamiya Mutanen Arewa. Each also representing the three giant tribes in Nigeria. “A bad situation in a country which was supposed to be united as one”(Jide Olanrewaju). Nonetheless, having being infected with an ethnicity syndrome which was further reinforced by the British tripartition policy, the effect of this ethnicity syndrome on Nigeria’s political Nationalists, was soon to surface.

Since other African countries had commenced the fight for political independence, it was no surprise that Nigerian educated elites( Awolowo, Azikwe,  and so on) began to fight for political independence.  This was further aided when the Richards constitution of 1943 legalised the politicisation of communal associations. Hence, the Egbe Omo Oduduwa society became the Action Group of Nigeria(AG) in 1951 headed by Awolowo, the Igbo state Union became the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon(NCNC) in 1944 headed by Azikwe, and the Jamiya Mutanen Arewa became the Northern People’s Congress(NPC) in 1951 headed by Ahmadu Bello.

Eventually, Nigeria became an independent Nation in October 1960, and the first Republic commenced. Unfortunately, the chain of tribal events that ensued before independence, led to the excessive corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of public funds in the first republic. “The North wanted to make sure they remained in power, the South wanted to make sure it tasted power”(Jide Olanrewaju). At this point, the effect of an ethnicity syndrome, suffered by Nigeria’s political nationalists, began to actualize.  Their actions and judgements were clouded. They took greed, corruption and nepotism, as virtues. Obviously, they were all under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome. In fact, Nigeria was completely in shambles, during the first Republic. In turn, this shambling atmosphere swept the army into power and was directly responsible for the first Nigerian Coup. At this point, Nigeria was still redeemable. But that hope was shattered when General Muritala Ramat Muhammad, took power for himself without the consideration of a due process as done with Generals Ironsi and Gowon. In fact, a classified US memorandum of August 18, 1975, argued that Muritala’s action will lead to other coups and illegitimate take-overs. Unfortunately, the classified US memo was correct. Thus began the downfall of Nigeria.

The political nationalists dealt a serious blow to the first Republic. Being under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome, they were directly responsible for the political tragedy of the first republic. Despite the fact that they gave Nigeria her political independence, they, however, betrayed that independence due to their corrupt deeds in the first republic. It is quite unfortunately that we even the faces of these people on the Nigerian Naira currency. The Five Naira note, for instance, has the face of Tafawa Balewa, who was responsible for the corrupt policies, mismanagement of funds and the rigged federal elections of 1964. The Twenty naira note also has the face of Muritala Muhammad, whose action led to the subsequent coups and illegitimate counter-coups in Nigeria. Thus, plunging Nigeria into several decades of military dictatorship. The One hundred naira note also has the face of Obafemi Awolowo, who was power-thirsty and even became the minister of finance in General Gowon’s regime. How would someone who ushered in democratic principles in Nigeria, become a minister of finance in a completely undemocratic regime? That shows how much he wanted to be in power. Furthermore, the Two hundred naira note has the face of sir Ahmadu Bello, a Sarduana of Sokoto, who became the oppressor of the middle belt region in the first republic. Lastly, the Five hundred naira note has the face of Nnamdi Azikwe, whose decision to accept and approve the result of the 1964 rigged election, contributed to the political tragedy of the first republic.

My point is, though these educated elites made some positive achievements, their evil deeds, however, out weights their good deeds. It is quite ironic that the same people who were responsible for the collapse of the Nigerian Youth Movement were also responsible for the collapse of the First Republic. It shows the extent to which these nationalists suffered an ethnicity syndrome. Their actions and judgements were influenced by ethnicity. Thus,  we can say they all had an ethnicity syndrome. “The same people whom we all praise, are the same people responsible for the woes of Nigeria today”(Elemoro Babatunde Bashir). The first republic in Nigeria was a clear indication that her educated elites, who ushered in democracy, were not what they seem to portray. They all had an ethnicity syndrome. This was the reason why the revolutionary coup of Majors Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Adewale Ademoyega, was carried out, though they were not successful.

In all, the root cause of corruption in Nigeria is ethnicity. Being under the influence of an ethnicity syndrome, Nigeria’s political Nationalist were responsible for the corrupt practices that have continued to dig Nigeria till date. Thus, if political development must be attained and corruption must be eradicated, Nigerian politicians must be oriented not to fall prey to ethnicity syndrome.

Wale Giwa is a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Lagos. He is interested in African politics and conflict management. He is also a Writer whose future ambition is to be a University Professor.

About the Author

- Wale Giwa is a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Lagos. He is interested in African politics and conflict management. He is also a Writer whose future ambition is to be a University Professor.

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