Some nations and sovereignties may have to pass through persistent, complex and terrible revolutionary challenges before attaining cohesion and development, while a few others may not. The complexities and dimensions manifested by the litany of crises and disturbances within the Nigerian polity points to deep-seated lack of trust, suspicion and an eclipse of fraternal confidence amongst the diverse cultural and religious entities inhabiting the area. These discordant tunes have continued to exert its toll considerably on human and material resources, hence a deadly threat to the functionality and structural existence of the country. Ethno-religious divide remain the identified issue, fanned by indoctrinated stereotype and primordialism. Unfortunately, Nigeria has remained one of the most controversial plural societies in the world today. Pre and post-independence in 1960, the annals of Nigeria’s history is replete with ethnic-oriented disturbances. Ethnic chauvinism, in addition to many ethical crises are created, setting off multiple ripples. The ‘one Nigeria’ mantra has become nothing but a pure sarcasm, just as unity and peace in Nigeria appears dead. Ethnic politics and polarization along primordial cleavages is not new in Nigeria, but the dilemma is the momentum with which it is unfolding, day by day. Fairness, equity and meritocracy have been banished on the altar of faulty federalism. All these have bequeathed on the nation incongruous and inept leadership with myriads of negative implications. There is practically no Nigerian in Nigeria, and this is daily stringently propelled by the challenges of massive population growth, unimaginable rate of unemployment and insecurity, added with the ever rising debt profile.
Most scholars are of the view that British imperial presence had been felt in the area that later became Nigeria as from the middle of the 19th century. The same set of scholars also accent to the fact that despite the above, British colonial administration officially commenced in Nigeria on 1st January, 1900 vis a vis the eventual termination of the Royal Charter previously granted the Royal Niger Company to administer the area on behalf of the British government. To effectively secure administrative convenience, imperialist Britain not only adopted the policy of divide and rule, but went deeper into the colonial scheme by applying the marriage of convenience of primordially independent nationalities. Thus Britain deliberately placed some ethnic nationalities at vantage positions over the existing groups, since this lopsided arrangement was done without consultations from involved groups. Such was the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. It may be poignant to note that prior to this incident, through the Land and Native Rights Ordinance of 1910, the British Colonial Power not only tried to separate the Northern ethnic groups from their Southern compatriots, but went ahead to discourage the migration of Southerners to the North (International IDEA, 200:23). This policy gave birth to the Sabon Gari System that became prevalent in many Northern Nigeria cities as from 1911. Such divisiveness aided British perpetual grip and manipulation of Nigeria.
Nevertheless, ample historical evidences show that ‘Nigerians’ have fairly interrelated harmoniously for centuries, before being brought together in a new modern nation state, but the caveat is not on the basis of ethnicity or religion. Expatiating on this, Usman stated that:
The privacy source of our history showed that the fluid boundaries of the ethnic divide were very rarely conterminous with the boundaries of the polities, intensive migration, extensive networks of division of labor and commerce did not allow for the emergence of ethnically monolithic polities. (Usman, 2002:17).
Ethnicity, ethnic politics and religious bigotry became lethal weapons purposely to create evidence-based fruits of the divisive and discordant seeds sown by imperialist Britain which emphasized cultural and linguistic differences (Hamman, 2003:10), hence condensing and raining socio-political upheavals in Nigeria. Cultural and linguistic differences were glaringly emphasized, while communal sentiments got encouraged (Nnoli, 1978:113); mistrust and suspicion came to the fore, leading to the poisoning of inter-ethnic relations within and between Nigeria’s regions. It was therefore the colonialist that created Nigeria’s ethnic consciousness through the use of local authority structure of divide and rule, and as the indigenous political class intensified their struggle to inherit power from the departing colonialist, ethno-religious cleavages got aggravated. Nigeria’s political history is replete with British and self-inflicted errors and anomalies which got willfully absorbed into its pathology overtime. In its more than 58 years of existence post its pseudo-independence, Nigerians have had to contend with the vicious vissititudes of the 1960s political unrests, a 30 months genocidal civil war, miss-rule, suppression and oppression under the almost 30 years military administration, terrorism, human rights abuse, poverty and classical underdevelopment. The ambitious military in their ignoble incursion into governance on the platform of their spurious claims, ended up heightening and fuelling ethnic polarization and democratic agitation in the country. Ethno-religious identity became the footstool of these Generals; hence a scholar was irked to lend credence to this noting that;
The escalation of ethnic and regional symbolism can also be connected to the patronage of sectarian, ethnic and religious organizations and the extension of largess to their leaders by the regimes of General Babangida and Abacha, which went around in circles looking for legitimacy even at the expense of undermining national unity. They made ethno-religious basis relevant in the recruitment of their agents (Kazah-Toure, 1999:144).
Amidst myriads of absurdities and national governance anti-thecal to internationally acceptable human standards, Nigeria has staggered into its fourth republic all the more dazed with unprecedented level of ethno-religious altecation, violence and mayhem. The Boko Haram continuous depredations mostly in Nigeria’s North-East is turning out to be a child’s play vis a vis the emerging trend of ethnic and culture-group oriented killings and cleansing enveloping certain parts of the nation’s Middle belt region, including some parts of the core Northern States. It is sad to observe that this scenario is hatched and executed over an atmosphere of grave state silence and non-intervention. Nigeria is bleeding profusely, and sentiments are emotionally feeding fat from the daily butchery of fellow paternal relations and religious adherents in cold blood.
In the midst of this squalor, Nigeria’s democratic aberration has continued to midwife the nation’s political challenges to grow in leaps and bounds so much so that apart from the military imposition of the 1979 Constitution on the populace, the emergent political parties post 1979, have continued to tow the ethnic angles (Unity Party of Nigeria-West, Nigeria People’s Party-East, National Party of Nigeria-North). While hinging on this development, it may be recalled and asserted that post-independence in the 1960s, Nigeria’s nationhood took the slippery political road of nepotism, ethnocentrism and primordial inclinations, hence this polarity vehemently became manifest in the Igbo Union from the East, the Arewa group from the North and the Omo Oduduwa from the West, among others. Suffice it to say that the existing political parties then, either by design or coincidence, ended up towing these ethnic colourations. This bad sequel ended up creating an atmosphere of distrust. Presently, in the year 2018 to be precise, Nigeria could boast of harbouring 91 registered political parties, a population of more than two hundred million citizens and a prospective economic base; but the drawback on its developmental strides is its stereotyped ethno-religious inclinations, hence the political class, the elite and the leadership steering the ship of state have largely remained retrogressive, disoriented and incongruent to the needs and demands of 21st century nationhood. When leadership impunity remains widespread, the judicial and legislative caution, control and regulation appear a mirage, an atmosphere of political apathy and hopelessness is bound to dominate the land, moreso where the polity appears over-policed, but simply under-secured.
The citizenry are bound to react in various ways, either through political dejection and apathy or organized agitations and demands for better alternative conditions in the face of perceived abject state marginalizations. These agitations have grown over the years in both complexities and sophistication, from passive to violent formats in almost all parts of Nigeria – from the terror-laden approach of the Boko Haram in the North East, to the threat-based strategy of the Indigenous People of Biafra in the South East and the melodramatic approach of the Odua People’s Congress of the South West to mention but a few; Nigeria’s political environment is simply in a combustible mode. In the midst of this agitations, consultations still engage the many polarized ethno-religious groups operating within the Nigerian environment – AREWA, OHANEZE, PANDEV, AFENIFERE, MEND, The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.When many groups agitate and clamour for self-determination or restructuring at the same time within a particular political polity, the problem must be endemic and terminal, hence the dire need for sincere observation and proportionate attention. Stereotyped Nigeria factually is wallowing in the challenges of ethnicity, religious inclination and primordialism, hence lacking in a clear-cut political identity, since the interactive currencies are fear, prejudice and discrimination.
The term ‘stereotype’ was first introduced by a journalist, Walter Lippmann, who referred to it as ‘the picture in the head’ that you have of a particular group of people (Smith: 1998). Once aware that a person belongs to a particular group, one tends to ascribe to him behaviour considered in the common group. A stereotype is a set of characteristics attributed to all members of same group, which characteristics that departs from ‘reality’ through restructuring, curtailing and deforming it (Preiswerk et al: 1978). The user of the stereotype often believes he is giving a straight forward description, infact, he places a mold over a reality, which that mold cannot contain. (Preiswerk et al: 1978). There are both negative and positive stereotypes. It helps people predict the behavior of the person, group or community they are observing. The importance of predicting or informing someone’s behavior could be one of the reasons why a stereotype maybe maintained despite evidence of its inaccuracy. Whether positive or negative, stereotypes are considered to be very harmful, because it takes away one’s ability to treat each member of a group as a distinct individual. (Inweregbu, 2006). Whereas historians are of the opinion that stereotypes spring from past events, from the political point of view, it could be a means by which groups in power come to rationalize war, religious intolerance and economic oppression (Sharon et al: 1979).
Religion maybe explained as a cultured system of designated behaviours, practices, supplications, world views, texts, sanctified places, prophesies, ethics or organizations that claims to relate humanity to certain powers above him, including the supernatural, transcendental or spiritual elements (Ezeonwuka, 2018:15). An elusive and imprecise concept, religion lacks objectivity and is largely driven by emotion (Egwu, 2001, Agarwal et al, 1994). Adeniyi (1993), attempted a contribution to this concept when he defined religion as a body of truths, laws and rights by which a man is subordinated to a transcendent being. Drawing similar conclusions, Peter (1998), conceptualized religion as a system of symbols which act to establish powerful, pervasive, long-lasting mood and motivations in men, by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence, and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that moods and motivations seen uniquely realistic. Alanamu (2004), prefers seeing religion as involving both the material and the spiritual context; exhibits institutions and officials on the one hand, while undertaking the spiritual engagement on the other, thereby claiming to be characterized by supernatural and sacred transcendalities simultaneously.
Though there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion, one thing is clear; faith plus reason enmeshed in sacred histories and narratives, accompanied by prayer patterns, rituals, sacrificial ways, commemoration and veneration of deities, all aim to give meaning to life. This bond between man and higher beings elicits virtue and awe vis a vis the individual’s broad social obligations to family, neighbours and then God. Religion, just like nationality, race or ethnicity, creates and involves a distinct identity built and sustained by doctrines. Emotions, expressions, anxieties and misfortunes, including the unknown bedeviling human existence are easily accommodated and packaged into ideals, and such utopian imagery remains the pivotal force, strongly convincing and embellished with euphoric assurances of superfluous rewards, mostly under extreme application, beclouds rational thinking, hence could comfortably drive and determine individual or group actions. Most world religions demand total compliance and obedience to certain dogmatic principles. Of great importance are certain lofty mundane observances and promises which equip devotees with the singular conviction that theirs is the ultimate, hence every other religion is a farce. Religion is the end product of not only man’s fear of the unknown, but his acknowledgement of the ‘possibility of a superior being’ that could be involved in deciding or relatively manipulating not only his earthly life, but his eternity. Sequel to the selfish and exploitative tendencies imbued in man, religion provides the platform for not only a pyramidal leadership, but the smooth and pervasive indoctrination and control of followership by a select few through stipulated dogma, preserved and protected with ‘invoked awe’.
Religious intolerance is blind refusal to understand, respect and [accommodate] views or positions that are opposed to one’s cherished religious views (Alanamu, 2006:607). Along the same pedestal, Ekwunife submits that, religious intolerance is a blind and fixated mental and psychological negative attitude towards religious beliefs and practices (Ekwunife, 1993:20). Such negative attitudes exhibit themselves in situations whereby leaders or groups in any society blindly refuse to understand and respect contrary religious views and practices, except the ones they consider to be true. Intolerance could degenerate further and deeper into series of violence and utter destruction of lives and properties, when driven by extremism or fundamentalism. At this juncture, action becomes deliberate, accompanied by suicidal recourse most especially when a particular individual or group selfishly and dangerously manipulate this ‘opium’ with their wand, after all, the available raw materials (the ignorant and uneducated poverty-stricken gullible masses are in abundance (Ezeonwuka, 2014:46). In the context of this study, with due reference to place and time, militant Islam with its contemporary global resurgence and sectarian depredations presents a perfect picture.
Ethnicity has a common meaning, though various analysts and scholars on the subject have approached it through various schools of thought: Instrumentalism, Essentialism, Constructivism and Institutionalism. The instrumentalists are of the view that ethnic differences are manipulated by the ambition of individuals to attain their selfish interests. Essentialism refers to the principle of primordialism, which implies that ethnic identities are unchanging. The third intends on having knowledge of the origins of ethnic groups, and has linked this identity ‘constructs’ or ‘invent’ to the activities of colonialists, missionaries, among others. Institutionalists, states the pivotal roles of political institutions and policies in the shaping of ethnic relations. The concept of ethnicity is undoubtedly a social phenomenon associated with certain levels of distinctiveness, communal segregation and competition among members of different ethnic groups. It draws a significant picture of belonging to and having sentimental loyalty to a group, and in drawing and exercising such attachment, identity and exclusiveness would easily provide distinctiveness and sacrosanct pride. Laying more credence to this, (Sanda, 1972:32) posits that an ethnic group consists of interacting members who define themselves as belonging to a named or labeled social group, with whose interest they identity, and which manifests certain aspects of a unique culture, while constituting a part of a wider society.
An ethnic group could refer to a set of people who share one or more of the following characteristics; race, religion, paternal origin, language and cultural traditions. Omu (1992:170), further expatiates that ethnicity applies to the consciousness of belonging to, identifying with, and being loyal to a social group distinguished by shared cultural traditions, a common language, in-group sentiment and self-identity.It may be observed that the concept of ethnicity changes status or acquire passionate and aggressive attributes when new elements enter into the relationships. These elements include: socio-economic and political competition, fear of domination and closer group interaction, fostered by the logic of urbanization and internal migration. This development leads to the explosive interplay of inter-group relations to certain notational characters and features, such as ethnocentrism, prejudice and discrimination.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to assume that one’s culture or way of life is superior to another’s. It is the tendency of human groups to judge external phenomena with reference to attitudes and values that are specific to the group, hence (Akinwumi, 2004) opine that ethnocentrism is an outlook in which one’s own group is the centre of everything, and all others scaled and rated with reference to it. It usually takes the form of a wariness and distrust of outside groups and a belief in the unquestionable superiority of one’s own people. Prejudice on the other hand is a negative attitude towards an entire category of individuals who have characteristics in common that is not shared by all people; as such it results in three components: affective, cognitive and behavioral. The affective component concerns how much the person likes or dislikes the attitude-object, person, group, things or situation; the cognitive component consists of the persons beliefs about the attitude/object, while the behavioral component concerns the way a person feels that he or she should act towards the attitude/object (Encyclopedia Americana 545a).
Discrimination could be seen as any behavior that excludes members of a group from certain rights, opportunities or privileges resulting from prejudicial attitudes. It is assumed that in most instances, prejudice creates discrimination and people tend to associate better and easily with individuals who possess similar beliefs, attitudes and values. Dislike for members of another group is not merely on ethnic or group dissimilarities, but rather on perceived-belief dissimilarity. In ethnocentrism, both prejudice and discrimination hibernate and provide accelerative fuel and direction. Suffice it to say that the danger with ethnocentrism lies in the fact that an assumption often becomes a conviction; that the values and culture of one’s group are superior to those of others, while those of others are looked upon with disapproval, scorn and even contempt (Summer, 1955:10). On its positive side, ethnocentrism keeps a group together, while on the negative angle, it is the root of inter-group prejudices and antagonism. A group exaggerates its good qualities while deriding others, hence stimulating disharmony and altercation between groups. Eyo identifies psychological fear as the cause of ethnicity when he said:
…at the root of ethnicity’s fear, fear of the unknown, fear of losing the predictability of one’s way of behavior…, fear of having one’s established values changed, thus cutting one adrift in a wider and more uncharted sea called Nigeria that seems to lack and articulate goal and value system, fear of competition for scarce resources and a lot of other fears that maybe explicit or implicit (Eyo, 1980:8).
Tracing and highlighting one’s indigenous identity has continued to be a major priority amongst Nigerians, just as the anticipated unity and elasticity of nationhood has been buried, long gone and forgotten, hence ethnicity has given rise to ethnocentrism. Identity politics requires one to descend and highlight his primordial attachment which include thought pattern, language, laid down values, including biological affinity, which introduces once more the issue of ethnicity. Primordialism assumes ethnic identity as fixed, once it is constructed. To a large extent, belief in the primordialist argument of kinship, historical traditions and homeland accounts of several ethnic groups not only encourages, but creates an enduring strength and a lasting elastic commitment to an ethnic identity, hence it is more endearing than the ethnic theories of constructivism and instrumentalism. In the arena of identity politics, primordialism goes a long way in establishing the ‘dangerous’ and irreconcilable cultural differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Since challenges could come in the form of discrimination, inhibition and antagonism, it pre-supposes that it could degenerate to violence (physical and psychological). The relevance of Marx’s class struggle, Frustration/Aggression, Interdependence/Mutual Aid, including the Hobbesian natural anarchy theories to this exposition is not in doubt, but it should be noted that consensus and conflict maybe polar opposites, but neither alone can offer full explanations for the changing nature, pattern and scope of inter-group relations in 21st century Nigeria. Violence could be structurally rationalized on the basis of greed, grievances and the correction of prevailing social injustice and inequalities. Painting a picture simply based on the behavioural patterns of human societies with other groups, not only appears stratificatious in structure, but could end with limited perspective sequel to its myopic gaze on human relations based on role and statutes.
Unarguably, this study falls within the armbit of Social Conflicts theories, and specifically closest to the Frustration/Aggression and Conflict Trap analytical fields. The subsisting ‘state of order’ in Nigeria is not only fragile, but cumulatively negates universally genuinely acceptable common standards, hence abundant vestiges of, and sustained evidence of ‘state terror’ on the citizenry have continued to create a psychopolitical chasm in the minds of the populace. Ill-motivated and uncared for, and with common expectation continuing to be distanced from attainment and actual need – satisfaction, the tendency and greater chances that anger and violence will result (Gurr, 1970:24). Aggression in which ever form it manifests, appears to always be the product of frustration, rather than a mere natural instinct or biological reaction, moreso where and when legitimate desires are for long directly or indirectly denied due to certain structural discrepancies within a society. This is apparently clear since it is known that the disparate culture groups within the Nigerian geographical space were selfishly lumped together in an imperialist ‘Pax Britanicca’ colonialist programme devoid of any indigenous awareness or consultations. The importance and place of socio-economic factors and forces in the contentious issues of politics, governance, religion and ethnicity, in many post-independent plural sovereignties remains a running sore. This becomes apparently trivial when evaluated with the stagnating identity of such economies, the former colonizing power is still allowed to exploitatively maintain a domineering influence through the imposition of preferred ethno-religious cleavages on the particular polity. Reactions to such could either be passively aggressive or locally violent, as a let out of prolonged feelings of frustration. One cannot easily ignore the recurrent emergence of the many ethno-religious inclined pressure groups whose antics and statements sometimes tend to challenge the structural fabrics of Nigeria’s nationhood and federation, just as the Boko Haram elements still remain focused on their violent strategy. Such groups as earlier mentioned include – AREWA from the North, Odua group (OPC) from the West, PANDEV from the Middle Belt, MEND from the South-South, IPOB and MASSOB from the East, including the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and the Christian Association of Nigeria. The Shiite and the Miyetti Allah imbroglio are not left out.
Be that as it may, this study is fully anchored on Conflict Trap Theory. It is considered a functional apparatus criticus precisely because of its conceptional elasticity and heuristic coherence in the examination of a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon as ethno-religious challenges in a stereotyped colonially-contrapted bottled cultural diversity, moreso in a tactile and tangled 21st century global developments. Exponents of the Conflict Trap Theory include Harvard Hegre, U.L. Flliot, P. Collier, Aikle Ikeffler, Reginald-Queroluid and Nicholas Sambanis. They opine that once a conflict has erupted, it tends to develop a momentum of its own. Peace seemingly becomes elusive and hard to restore. Even when peace is restored, it often does not endure (Collier et al. 2003). Conflict Trap exponents ascribe the lengthy pattern of typical conflicts to a number of interlocking factors, most especially, they believe that conflicts in multi-ethnic societies endure as a valuable tool for massaging, rallying, mobilizing and galvanizing ethnic sentiments for both the warring groups and the government. Moving on, they still contend that where the population has significant grievances, conflict serves as an effective political strategy towards the pursuit of their goal, objectives and interests, though the seeming difficulty for those in authority and power to concede to the demands of the group may not always be assured, since such may encourage the flowering, proliferation, mushrooming and radicalization of other groups, which often have opposing objectives.
Again, a lengthy conflict is determined by the response of state institutions and apparatus, availability of fund for sustaining the conflict and accessibility of arms to the warring parties. When weak state institutions – security and legal departments prove incapable of deterring, apprehending, reforming or containing violators of the laws, belligerents tend to be emboldened and imperious, thereby widening and taking the conflict to the next level. A poignant referral to the lengthy pattern of conflict lies in the fact that such a conflict has occurred, a template is raised and established, hence making it difficult to return to status quo. In buttressing this view, Collier et al observed thus:
Violence entrepreneurs, whether primarily political or primarily commercial may