Ethnicity has been one of the regular feature of the third world societies. Africa, has had more than lion share in ethnic-induced wars and volence.

The issue of ethnicity has become the most viable factor which explains the social reality of post-colonial Africa.

During colonisation of Africa people, colonialists failed to put the issue of cultural differences of various ethnic groupings into consideration before lumping them together in (colonial) state formation.

The oversight has constituted and remained one of the greatest challenges of post-colonial Africa.


Ethnic conflict challenge in Nigeria

As a result of boundary demarcations during the British colonial period, Nigeria became a multi-ethnic nation with over 250 ethnic groups. The three (3) main groups mobilized around geographical regions, including the Hausa – Fulani in the North, Yoruba in West and Igbo in the East.

These ethno-regional grouping were entrenched in the 1960 constitution. This ethnic conflict management represents a significant challenge for Nigeria.

  1. The colonial legacy of three separate administrations (closely resembling three (3) dominant ethnic groupings), is a major obstacle to national unity, because mobilization continues to take place along ethnic line.
  2. For decades after independence-ethnic tensions were exploits through a ‘divide and rule’ approach to power.
  3. Competition – for natural resources has fuelled tensions between the oil rich South and the predominantly agricultural North. The location of oil in certain ethnic areas and its management by post-independence governments have exacerbated ethnic tensions.
  4. Religious differences – between the Christian South and Muslim North feature strongly in regional power struggles Clashes over the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the Northern Nigeria’s Zamfara State is an example.
  5. Ethnic based militant groups – formed to counter the abuses were accused of fuelling ethnic violence.


Inter – ethnic Conflict

Infact, the history and picture of ethnic conflicts in Africa that has been popularized is one of ethnic groups tearing themselves apart and failing to reach agreement on fundamental matters.

The intra-ethnic violence which Agyeman (1992) terms ‘ethnic genocidal wars that continue to erupt over land and other matters of purely, local nature in Zango – Kataf/Hausa conflict, Tiv/Jukun conflict and Ibo/Annang in Nigeria, cited as classical cases of ethnic violence. (On the other hand, civil wars in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Angola, Sudan, Rwanda, etc, indicate the ethnic scourge perspectives).

There are also instances of intra-ethnic violence in Nigeria such as those of Ife/mo dakeke, Jos Mayhem and others.



The issue of secession has been a long time problem in Nigeria.

Different ethnic groups have at one time or the other threatened to secede or break-away from Nigeria.

  1. The North openly threatened secession after 1953 self-government motion in the House of Representatives.
  2. In 1960, the North again threatened to secede if it was not guaranteed half the seats in the federal parliament.
  3. In May 1967, the former Eastern region of Nigeria formerly seceded from Nigeria, declaring that part of the country, ‘Republic of Biafra’. To most people, that is, the extent of the history of secession in Nigeria. For sure, that is the only act of secession that was carried to its logical conclusion as opposed to ‘threats’.
  4. The Yoruba, of the Western region were divided. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, hither to, their most popular leader has said and apparently confirmed it after Biafra’s secession, that the West would not wish to remain in a truncated federation.
  5. Today, the manipulation of ‘secession’ is still going on in Nigeria. The power brokers and rulers of Nigeria use and quote the experience of ‘Biafra’ Secession to scare people into submission.


Measures to avoid secession in Nigeria

  1. True federalism: To be in place is true federalism, where states will have the power to resource control.
  2. Ethnicity factor: Every Nigerian irrespective of one’s ethnic background should be free to belong in any part of the country where he or she wishes to live and work. He should be free to make such a place his permanent home, without segregation.
  3. CONFAB – A constitutional conference should be constituted where delegates from different parts of the country will converge to discuss a way forward for Nigeria.
  4. Appointments: All political appointments should be made to promote unity, ensure stability and sense of belonging.
  5. Unity in diversity: Our political leaders should be able to translate unity in diversity into reality.
  6. No discrimination: There should be no discrimination on the basis of language. education, religion, ethnic affinity, etc.



There are about 374 ethnic groups in Nigeria and the groups are divided into two – the majority and minority ethnic groups.

a) The major ethnic groups are:

  1. The Yorubas.
  2. The Igbos.
  3. The Hausa/Fulani.


a) Some of the minority groups are:

  1. TIV.
  2. EFIK.
  3. IGALA.
  4. IDOMA.
  5. AGATU.
  6. NUPE.
  7. URHOBO.
  8. EBIRA.
  9. IBIBIO.
  10. IJEDE.
  11. JUKUN.
  12. BINI.
  14. ESAN.
  15. IJAW.
  16. ISOKO.


  1. The Yoruba ethnic group, one of the majority ethnic groups in Nigeria can be found in South-West Nigeria. The ethnic groups occupies Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti and Lagos States. They can also be found in other states such as Kwara, Kogi and Edo States.
  2. The Igbo people occupy the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The states are; Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo and Anambra and so on. They are also found in parts of Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Edo states.
  3. The Hausa/Fulani ethnic group, another majority ethnic group in Nigeria occupies mostly North West and NorthEast part of the country. The States are Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Adamawa, Jigawa, Kaduna, Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Kebbi, Zamfara, Yobe, Taraba.
  4. The minority ethnic groups can be found in Benue State – Tiv, Idoma and Igede. Kogi State – Igala, Ebira and Kaba. Delta – Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Isoko, etc. Cross River State – Efik, Akwa Ibom State Ibibio; Edo State – Bini, Esan, etc.

Nigeria, is one of the most ethnically diversed nations of the world.

The term minority as used in U.N. human rights system usually refers to national or ethnic religious and linguistic minorities, pursuant to the U.N. minorities’ declaration. All states have one or more minority groups within their national territories, characterized by their own national, ethnic, linguistic or religious identity, which differs, form that of the majority population. Similarly, it is important to keep in mind that in many countries, minorities are often found to be among the most marginalised groups in the society and severely affected by for example, pandemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and in general have limited access to health services.



  1. Creation of states by various Nigerian governments whether civilian or military: fuel the agitation for the creation of more states.
  2. Creation of new minorities: The paradox of the whole exercise is that each new state which satisfies the aspiration of a nationality creates new minorities which breads new agitations.
  3. Denial of employment: Members of the nationality (minority) are denied employment.
  4. No promotion opportunities: The minority groups were equally denied promotion opportunities.
  5. No development projects: Developmental projects were not sited in their areas.
  6. Expulsion of nationals (minority): These allegations usually breed antagonism and the successful cases are usually accompanied by expulsion of nationals of the nationality from the public service of the state from which the new state is being carved out.
  7. The use of physical force: by political parties which was becoming a feature of Nigerian politics and was seen by Willink Commission as a threat to democracy.



The minorities who should really be called other nationalities mounted a spirited campaign to have regions/states of their own before independence.

The British lukewarm attitude towards creating more states/regions from the beginning had to do with British disdain for huge bureaucracies and the fact that Britain had a limited budget to run Nigeria without looking for subsidy from London.

The lukewarnness of Nigerian leaders except Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group, precisely had to do with the fact that the Nigerian leaders and the British colonial authority believed that Awolowo’s Action Group would be the beneficiary of any exercise in state creation as it has been the most consistent and most persistent advocate of the right of minorities for their own states.

This perception was confirmed by the electoral success of the political allies of the A.G. in elections held in minority areas.

Does this mean that each Nigerian nationality would be entitled to a state?

The agitation for minority states were grouped around

  1. The Middle Belt state.
  2. A non-Fulani/Hausa State and
  3. The mid-West state.

None of these proposed states had any internal coherence. A more illustrative definition would be to call the proposed middle-belt state a non-Fulani/Hausa State, the proposed midwest state a non-Yoruba State and the proposed Calabar – Ogoja -Rivers State, a non-Igbo state.

The mid-west region was created in 1963 after excision from the old Western Region. Only the Igbo nationality was grouped together into one state.

The Hausa/Fulani was divided in 3 states namely Kano, North – Central and North Western States, the Northern minorities were grouped into 2 states namely Kwara and Benue – Plateau States, the Southern minorities were grouped into 3 States namely the Rivers, SouthEastern and Mid-Western States, while the Yoruba nationality was divided into Lagos and Western states.

When Grown Created more states in 1976. Two issues were thrown up by this exercise. Two major nationalities, the Igbo and the Yoruba were further fragmented into several states.

  1. The Igbo was split into Anambra and Imo States while,
  2. The Yoruba was split into Ogun, Ondo and Oyo states in addition to the existing Lagos state.

The other issue was that an attempt was made to use the nationality factor to address the minorities nationalities:

  1. The Benue-Plateau State was broken into Benue and Plateau State.
  2. The North Eastern state was divided into Bauchi, Borno and Gongola States and
  3. Niger was created out of Sokoto.

There was no consistent application of any coherent principle in the various state creation exercise. Every exercise in state creation, created new minority groupings while satisfying the aspiration of some.

Various Nigerian governments, whether civilian or military, for cheap popularity had embarked on state creation exercises and thereby fuel the agitation for the creation of more states.



  1. Creation of more states: It recommended that creation of more states cannot solve the problems of minorities in the country.
  2. Police: It also recommended a strong and united police force under federal authorities.
  3. Fundamental human right: Fundamental human rights to be entrenched in the constitution to protect and safeguard the interests of the minorities.
  4. Muslim laws: Non-Muslims in the North, not ready to be tried under Muslim laws should have the option of facing trial in a non-Muslim court.
  5. Existing boundary: It recommended that no change should be made in the existing boundary between western and northern regions. Suggested that if any, let it come through plebiscite.
  6. Annual reports: These reports are for the minority, the House of Representatives and other appropriate Regional Houses.
  7. Monitoring: Regional governments to be monitored by minority areas with special council for both Calabar and mid-west.
  8. Development boards: Special development boards for Niger-Delta areas to be established.
  9. Special area: Financial and other responsibilities to be shared equally by the federal and regional governments. Niger Delta should be declared a special area.



  1. U.N. declaration: United Nations minorities in its article I provides that state (country) should protect their existence.
  2. Entrenched in the constitution: In the constitution: The entrenchment of the rights of man in the constitution to protect and safeguard minority interests.
  3. Rule of law: There should be respect and adherence to the laws of the land. The law should be above all irrespective of ones political or economic status.
  4. Power shift: The 3 major ethnic group should not dominate the political terrain of the country. There should be power shift. The minorities groups should be given the same opportunity.
  5. Federalism: This structure and the principles governing it should be sustained.
  6. Independence of the Judiciary: The Judiciary should remain independent and impartial in its interpretation of the constitution.

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