Nigerian Journal of Social Studies Vol.IV, 2002







Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with diverse cultural groups that are about three hundred in number. Rather than harnessing our diversities towards viable national development, we have become slaves to our ethnic origins to which our allegiance is largely focused at the detriment of nation building. Fanatical ethnic consciousness has resulted into ethnic prejudice and mistrust, religious and political problems, and socio-cultural conflicts These vices have pervaded all spheres of life in Nigeria, be it employment, education, religion and admission into federal Institutions. This paper has highlighted some of the factors needed in nation building and how Nigeria has fallen short in meeting them due to competitive ethnicity. The paper recommends what role social studies education should play in teaching multi-ethnic issues in our schools so as to enable students understand other ethnic groups outside theirs and be able to co-exist peacefully in the country to bring about a virile nation


     Nigeria is a multiethnic society consisting of about 300 ethnic groups. It is a well known fact that Nigeria is a colonial creation. Awolowo (1947) pointed out that Nigeria was "a mere-geographical expression". This means that in terms of social relations and national identification, Nigeria was not yet a nation by 1947. As a multi-national society, one of the sociological problems of building Nigeria as a nation, is multi-ethnicity with its concomitants such as multi-lingualism and competitive ethnicity. Prior to the coming of the Europeans to Nigeria, the indigenous Nigerian societies were not static and they were not in equilibrium relations. There were varieties of links which existed between the various states and peoples which were the predecessors of modern Nigeria, For example, there were links among Kanem-Bornu, the Hausa States, Nupe, the Jukun Kingdom, the empires of Oyo and Benin, the Delta States and the loosely associated Ibo communities (Hodkins, 1960:2)a

These various societies, though inter-dependent, apparently did not set up the process to constitute themselves into one society. Yet, they provided socio-cultural frame-work for all Nigerian society, their relations with one another; according to Otite (1976) were as important as their relations with societies outside the modern boundary of Nigeria,

Ethnographers estimate that over 250 ethnic groups make up Nigeria. Each of these consists of smaller social groups for example the Yoruba consists of the Ekiti, Ijesha, Oyo and so on. The Ibo consists of Oguta etc, the Urbobo of Agbarho, Agbon, Ugheli and others. The Hausa have their various indigenous states none of these groups however large was a nation in any sense before the colonial regrouping. It was the colonial government that merged them together in 1914 and later Balkanized Nigeria into three regions in 1947 along ethnic lines.

According to Mezieobi (1994), from 1947, the multiethnic composition of Nigeria continued to be a bane to Nigeria's national unity and development. Mezieobi claimed that whatever is done or anticipated in Nigeria, particularly at government's quarters had ethnic undertone. In employment, admissions into schools, distribution of social amenities and in social relationships, ethnic affiliations and attachments are very strong and conspicuously manifest. Attachment of a Nigerian first to his ethnic group before the nation is a bane to Nigeria's national unity, national consciousness and socio-political integration (Mezieobi; 1994).

There have been cases of multi-ethnic vices such as allegiance to ethnic-group, intra-cultural and inter-ethnic antagonism, hostility, aggression, bitterness, hatred, mistrust in the country which have not augured well for the building of a virile Nigerian nation. Rather than harnessing our diversities towards viable nation building, we have become slaves to our ethnic origin to which our allegiance is largely focused at the detriment of nation building.

Interfaced with religion, statism and class, ethnicity is a potent reality in the Nigerian federal equation. Almost invariably, minority group problems and other related to them in Nigeria, are assumed to have their roots, in. 'ethnicity', Both concepts - 'minority' and 'ethnicity' according to Inya (1996) are seen to be inseparable. The collapse of nation building experience in a majority of cases in Africa in general and in Nigeria in particular, has resulted from rugged ethnic particularisms of given constituent units of these nations.

Concepts of Ethnic Group and Ethnicity in Nigeria

The concept of ethnic group has been variously defined as based on nationality, race and religion in the United States, Gordon'(1964) defined an ethnic group as any group which is defined or set off by race, religion or defined origin or some combination of these categories. This definition is of limited utility especially when Nigerian materials are under consideration. In Nigeria, the sense of identification with an ethnic group is by far different from that with either race or a religious group as far as Nigeria is concerned.

 Seibel (1964) and Clignets (1967) used the terms ethnic group and tribe synonymously Rose (1965) defined ethnic group as those whose members share a unique social and cultural heritage, passed from one generation to the other. According to her, ethnic groups are frequently identified by distinctive patterns of family life language, recreation, religion and other customs which cause them to be differentiated from others.

Combining the various definitions for the purpose of bringing the various dimensions under a single definition, Sanda (1976) defined an ethnic group as consisting of interacting members, who defined themselves as belonging to a named or labeled social group with whose interest they identify, and which manifests certain aspects of a unique culture while constituting a part of a wider society. Ethnicity in Nigeria involves the identification of Nigerians with the dominant or subordinate majority or minority ethnic groups, all of which co-exist within the same society. The co-existence of these ethnic groups within the same polity has frequently led to the description of Nigeria as an accident of history.

Competitive ethnicity started in Africa since the colonial days. In search for the crumbs from colonial production, competition among Africans created or reinforced common consciousness among the various competing ethnic groups At times the historical and competitive aspects of this consciousness were contemporary competition which may create a common warring section among previously and historically hostile and warring sections of the same ethnic group. Exclusiveness is an attribute of ethnicity, in group-out, group-in bounding emerged with it and, in time, become mark more distinct than before and jealously guarded, by the various ethnic groups. Acceptance and rejection on linguistic-cultural grounds characterizes social relations. These are expressed inevitably through interethnic discrimination in jobs, housing, admission into educational institutions, marriages, business transactions or the distribution of social services. This factor of exclusiveness is usually accompanied by nepotism and corruption,

Conflict according to Okwudigba (1978) is an important aspect of ethnicity. This is inevitable under conditions of interethnic competition for scarce valuable resources particularly in societies where inequality is accepted as natural, and wealth is greatly esteemed. The fear of being confined to the bottom of the interethnic ladder of inequality generates divisive and destructive. Socio-economic competition which has anti social effects.  Demonstrations, rioting and various forms of violent agitations become instruments in interethnic relations. The scarcity of much highly valued resources encouraged destructive competition.

Nation Building

There are many definitions to the concept of a nation. The African Encyclopedia for schools and Colleges (1974; 362) defines a nation as "a large group of people who live in the same country; and who share similar traditions, culture and ways of life, Watson (1977) defined a nation as a "community of people whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture and a national consciousness, Using Watson's definition, three factors are basic about a nation and they are;

(1) National consciousness;

 (2) Similar culture and tradition; and

 (3) Common geographical location.

Where there are differences in the characteristic attributes of a nation, among the peoples of that country, problems are bound to arise in building such a nation. Problems generally arise as a result of differences in culture, tradition, religion and language. Also problems like alienation, discontent, disaffection or disillusionment may arise where there is low level of national consciousness.

Nation building according to Ikwumelo (1975) involves actions, behaviours and thoughts or feelings aimed at sustaining the attributes of a nation. The problem of nation building is more critical in the third world country generally and more particularly in Nigeria where there are peoples with different cultures, languages, religion and a diversity of inclinations who have been forced together into one geo-political entity (Ezegbe:1994). Eboh and Ukpong, (1993) defined nation building as a process, whereby the leaders of a country strive to achieve unity and progress for their nation through various programmes. It is aimed at promoting peace and harmony, reducing conflicts, laying good foundations for economic, social and political development and above all to create conditions for progress.

A very crucial factor in nation building in Nigeria is that of accommodation and integration among the various peoples of the country. It is very necessary that the various peoples should accommodate one another. This is not easy to achieve in Nigeria .Also, the minority groups should be carried along so as to peacefully achieve the goal of nation building.

Ezegbe (1993) listed some factors from literature which according to him constitute pre-requisites for the building of a strong nation. Some of the factors include:

 (1) Obedience, allegiance and loyalty to a central government;

 (2) Willingness to live together as a people;

 (3) National sentiment of feeling; and

 (4) Loyalty to a nation.

 Most of the above are not easy in Nigeria because the people are not ready to subjugate local ethnic loyalties to those of the nation. The task of nation-building within the context of Nigeria is besieged by a variety of problems. Most of these problems are seriously linked with multi-ethnicity with its concomitants such as multilingualism and competitive ethnicity. Some of these problems are discussed below:



The National Language Issue

A major problem facing the developing nations of the world, especially those which are multi-ethnic and multilingual in their composition is how to integrate their diverse ethnic-linguistics groups. (Lawal, 1989). This has generated a lot of controversy and crisis in Nigeria. Attempt to replace English with an indigenous language as a national official language in Nigeria started in 1960 after the attainment of independence. Contributing to the debate on the issue of an indigenous language, on the floor of the house of representative, Mallam A.Y. Baba of Adamawa-North West constituency suggested that the house should encourage the government to introduce the teaching of Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba into the institutions of learning throughout the country. This is to enable one of the languages to emerge as an indigenous official language in future. Opinions were divergent on which language should be the indigenous official language. While some people supported Hausa, some supported Ibo and some Yoruba language. According to Lawal (1989), in the heat of the Nigerian civil war in 1967, when hundreds of Igbo’s were reportedly being killed in the North, Solarin suggested the use of Hausa, as the national official language because to him, Hausa is a majority language and language of wider communication used in Nigeria's neigbhouring states. Replying to this suggestion, Achebe accused Solarin of insensitivity and inhumanity and tagged him as a lunatic (Achebe, 1975)

Opinions were divergent on the issue of a national indigenous language because of the fear of linguistic and cultural domination of minorities. Okene (1980) observed that if Nigeria wanted to use language as a cohesive force of effective nation-building, people must be resolved to face the challenges of tribalism, which has eaten deeply into the national structure.

Crippled Education System

As an instrument of nation building, education builds the mass to build the nation. But regrettably, the education system in Nigeria has collapsed to the extent that nothing in the name of functional education goes on in the educational system (Mezieobi, Nkire and Ikwumelu, 1996). According to them Nigerian schools are empty of the right quality and quantity of human and material resources to make Nigeria's nation building a reality.

Political Instability leading to Ethnic Crises

Nigeria has been characterized by perpetuating socio-political instability right from the first three years of her dependence. This is consequent upon Nigeria's ethnic multiplicity and its associated political oddities. There are crises here and there. Incidences of communal clashes between ethnic groups have been on the increase even in recent years. In real terms, Nigeria has never really been an integrated nation. Most of the time what is described as harmonious co-existence between groups is often very fragile and this snaps as soon as there is any slight provocation. What follows afterwards are violent clashes in which lives are lost, school activities paralyzed and valuable properties were destroyed.

For example, there were series of inter and intra-communal crisis and ethnic clashes in 1997 arising from either deliberate marginalization, differential opportunities of employment, education, government appointments and so on. The level of damage, the degree of loss of lives and properties, the disruption of social activities are pointers to the fact that ethnic clashes are doing more damage to the nation rather than building it. Some of the crises/clashes are discussed below:



The Warri Ethnic War

This crisis which started in the month of March, 1997 went on for over six months. The crisis broke out between the Ijaws and the Itsekiris, two of the three major ethnic groups in Warri. For some time now, the two groups have regarded each other with mutual suspicions. The crisis of 1997 came after the location of the headquarters of one of the newly created local governments in the area. The crisis led to the sack of several villages while properties worth several millions of naira were wantonly destroyed.Sophisticated weapons including grenades and other explosives were freely employed. According to the 1997 annual report on the human rights situation in Nigeria, mercenaries were recruited to train youths in the art of handling sophisticated weapons of modern warfare. Many school children became emergency warriors and classroom activities were paralyzed for many months.

In this Kind of situation, nation building processes cannot be possible.

Ife-Modakeke Fratricidal War

The creation of 183 additional local governments in Nigeria by the Abacha administration in 1996 had generated hostilities in the country. In Ife-Modakeke, palpable tension had been generated over the location of the headquarters of the newly created ife-East Local government; Indigenes of the two communities engaged themselves in physical warfare. Houses and properties were looted, vandalized or completely razed. Many people were killed. Educational and social activities in the area were paralyzed (CDHR; 1997). Other Cases of ethnic/communal clashes hostilities between the Esan speaking people of, llushin and their Uro-speaking migrant neighbors; and the ethnic crisis involving Pam-Pam and Gindiri townships of the Mangu Local Government Council of Plateau State to mention but few, Many other inter-ethnic crises occur almost everyday in the country and these rather than helping in the building of a virile nation have been destabilizing the process of nation building.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Nigeria's pervading multi-ethnic vices such as allegiance to ethnic group, inter-ethnic antagonism, hostility, aggression etc may have be en promoted by the monoculture nature of most Nigerian school and absence of well-conceived and articulated multi-ethnic education programme. Multi-ethnic education is necessary m a country like Nigeria so as to enable students to understand other ethnic groups outside their own and in so doing, ethnic tolerance, understanding and mutual interrelationships across ethic boundaries would be enhanced.

Nigeria is yet to meaningfully address multi-ethnic education in a multicultural nation and world Social studies educators are therefore urged to redirect some of their teachings to multi-ethnic studies As highlighted by Armstrong (1980) Mezieobi (1994), some of the useful tips for teaching multi-ethnic education effectively in social studies should be taken into consideration by teachers and some of these tips are:

(1) Teach the identified peculiar feature of the individual ethnic groups.

(2) Teach their common experiences or commonalities.

 (3) Highlight differences.

 In teaching multi-ethnic issues, the four major approaches which nave potential for multi-ethnic instructions should be implored and they are: assimilation, cultural pluralism, multiethnilism and critical pedagogy (Zevin 1992, Appleton, 1983; Banks 1988; and Mcharen, 1990),

It is hoped that if multi-ethnic education is properly addressed in our institutions right from the primary schools, much of the multi-ethnic vices, which are debarring the process of nation-building will be drastically reduced if not totally eradicated.



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