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Part 1

Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, FNAL

Siyan Oyeweso, a professor of History and Executive Director of the Centre for Black Culture & International Understanding, Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria,  goes on a historical excursion to situate the problems of Nigeria.  The lecture is being  serialized in three parts to enable readers enjoy the compilation without getting bored.

INTRODUCTION: The historical experiences of a society determine to a large extent the orientations of that society and the nature of its politics, economy and other aspects of its existence. It is an established historical fact that the Nigerian state as currently constituted is a by-product of the British colonial enterprise in West Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries.[i] The state was a deliberate creation of the British colonial government to suit its imperial and colonial designs. To achieve this, the various peoples and states around the area currently called Nigeria were forcefully brought together as one state and administered as a political entity for several decades. As a result of the waves of nationalist movement which pervaded West Africa in the post-Second World War period in 1945, Nigeria was granted political independence within the Commonwealth in 1960 amidst serious and unresolved questions of national unity and integration among the constituent states and peoples.

Today, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, one of the largest countries on the African continent and the ninth most populous country in the world.[ii] It is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state with hundreds of ethno-religious groups with utmost suspicion, mistrust, rivalry, unhealthy competition and incessant armed conflicts.[iii] The history of Nigeria since the decolonisation period in the last years of colonial rule and since independence has been characterised by violence and crises which have political, ethnic, religious, cultural, social and even economic dimensions. As a result of these incessant ethno-religious and political crises, building a virile and united nation in Nigeria has been very difficult and unattainable in spite of the efforts of successive governments.[iv]

Quite unfortunately, the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Nigeria has been a major factor in the unhealthy rivalry and dangerous competition to control the national government and resources. The political class has always encouraged the emergence and potency of plural identities and sub-national loyalties which have been in contestation with the idea of a national identity, loyalty and citizenship just for its selfish political gains and advantages.  As a matter of fact, the first decade of Nigeria’s independent nationhood was characterised by regional disagreements, electoral disputes, census palaver, ethno-religious crises, labour agitations, military interventions and the ultimate Civil War which ended in 1970. This is why Michael Crowder describes the years 1960-1970 in Nigerian history as the ‘decade of troubles’.[v] Even though the disintegration of the nation was averted in the decade, the reverberations of the crises of 1960-1960 are still with us in Nigeria today and the story still remains that Nigeria is still not a united and prosperous nation of the dream of the founding fathers.

A close study of Nigerian history from inception till date shows that at the root of the challenges of nation building and national development in modern Nigeria is the question of multiple identities and plural loyalties which prevent a pan-Nigerian identity and loyalty. Nigeria’s ethnic and religious pluralities have, without doubt, been central to the national question and the socio-economic and political process of the country. It is against this background that this paper examines the historical root, dimensions, manifestations and implications of multiple identities and plural loyalties in Nigeria with a view to charting a new course for nation building strategies in contemporary Nigeria. The paper is divided into nine major sections with the first part providing the introductory background and the second section conceptualising ‘nation’, ‘identity’ and ‘loyalty’. The third section explicates the numerous aspects of Nigerian diversities. The fourth section looks at the travails of the Nigerian nationhood while section five is on the place of Nigerian diversities and the negative impact of multiple identities and plural loyalties on the national quest for building a united Nigerian nation. Section six is an expose on various shades of loyalty in Nigeria while section seven is on different forms of nationalism and contemporary manifestations of the challenges of nation building in Nigeria. Section eight provides some practical and policy recommendations towards mitigating the impact of multiple identities and plural loyalties in Nigeria and building a strong, united and virile Nigerian nation. The ninth and the last section concludes on the note that Nigeria has prospects of becoming one, united and indivisible nation of the dream of its founding fathers if the pan-Nigerian identity and outlook of Nigerians is promoted above and over the sectional, regional, ethnic and religious agenda of the constituent states and peoples.   

Interrogating the Concepts of ‘Loyalty’, ‘Identity’ and ‘Nation’ : The three concepts of ‘loyalty’, ‘identity’ and ‘nation’ are central to the discourse in this paper. Loyalty is a concept that is subject to differing interpretations. However, loyalty literally means a feeling of devotion, duty or attachment to something, somebody or a cause.[vi]  In political studies, loyalty is the fidelity of the citizens to the cause of their country. Loyalty, in the words of John Ladd, is an essential ingredient in any civilised system of people.[vii] According to Nathanson, loyalty is often directly equated to patriotism and nationalism.[viii] Loyalty can be single or plural. People may have single loyalty to just one person, group, or thing. Also, people can be loyal to principles, causes, ideas, ideals, religions, ideologies, ethnic groups, nations, governments, leaders, family, friends, or even anything to which one’s heart is devoted or attached.

Dual or multiple loyalties arise when a citizen or group of citizens holds political allegiance to another state or entity which could challenge their loyalty to the state. What defines dual loyalty as an accusation is the assumption that it is impossible to hold multiple political loyalties, but that, simultaneously, this multiplicity is denied any validity.[ix]  Multiple or plural loyalties can constitute a disloyalty if one of those loyalties is exclusionary i.e. excluding one of the others. Generally speaking, the existence of multiple loyalties does not cause a disloyalty. For example, one can be loyal to one’s friends, or one’s family, and still, without contradiction, be loyal to one’s religion or profession. But in the case of plural societies, multiple loyalties would jeopardise the health of a national loyalty which is an essential ingredient of nation building and national unity.

Identity, like loyalty, is also one of the most difficult concepts to pin down to a universal definition. This is because of its numerous components which may include sex, race, ethnicity, class status, nationality, religion, age, beliefs, etc. and its dynamism and flexibilities depending on the situation of the identity carriers.[x] It is also difficult to define generally because it means different things to different scholars such as sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and even mathematicians. However, in political studies, the concept of ‘iden­tity’ is used in reference to three aspects of human experience: first, to individual human persons; second, to collectivities or groups of human beings that are imagined to be individuated somewhat as human persons are imagined to be discrete one from another; and third, to the relationship between these two – in particular, to the ways in which human persons are imagined to assimilate elements of collective identities into their unique personal identities.[xi]

Identity brings up issues such as discrimination, marginalisation, prejudices, biases, oppression among people of different identity groups within a country or state. While identity could be naturally multiple, multiple identities are not inherently bad. But in most multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, multiple identities are potent instruments of divisive politics and banes of national unity and integration.  Identity is inherently multiple as people identify with their personal being, their religion, their race, their ethnic group, their social class status, their age, etc. However, there is inter-sectionality of identity as coined by scholar Kimberle Crenshaw to explain how individual aspects of our identities (our gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc.) intersect, and in turn, shape how we are treated, the kind of education and jobs we get, where we live, the opportunities we are afforded, and the kind of inequities we face.[xii]

With whatever lens one looks at the question of identity, it has two main levels which are individual identity or collective identity. However, individual identity is always being negotiated in relation to collective identity, and in the face of an external, colonising society. Self-perception is a key component of identity. Collective identity is connected to a sense of peoplehood inseparably linked to sacred traditions, traditional homelands, and a shared history as a people. Being part of a larger group is critical to identity. Identity, therefore, is one’s sense of self as a member of a group, state or country.[xiii]

Since the practical manifestations of the concepts of ‘Loyalty’ and ‘Identity’ have a lot to do in the success and otherwise of nation building and national unity in plural societies. This is why the concept of ‘Nation’ is very crucial to this paper. The concept of ‘nation’ is one of the most abused and misused concepts in critical political studies. This contestation stems from the literal English meanings and usages of the word ‘nation’. Etymologically, the word ‘nation’ originates from the Latin word “nation” which means “that which has been born”.[xiv] In the English language, the word ‘nation’ is commonly used in two literal senses. It is used to refer to “a community of people who share a common ethnic origin, culture, historical tradition, and frequently, a language, whether or not they live together in one territory, or have their own government”. It is also used to describe ‘a group of people or peoples living in a defined territory and organised under a single government”.[xv]

In practical and scholarly usages beyond literal meanings, the concept of ‘nation’ has received serious attentions from political thinkers and scholars. It has received attentions from scholars particularly since the 18th and 19th centuries when nation-states began to emerge in Western Europe and issues of nationalism and nationality came to the fore in scholarly debates. Specifically, the emergence of the notion of nation and nationalism is often connected with the French Revolution of 1789 when the first “nation-state” is said to have been created. It is in this sense that Walter Bagehot states that “nation-making was the essential content of 19th century political development in Europe particularly in the build-up to the First World War and its settlements at Versailles in 1919 as the ideas of nationalism and self-determination were used in redrawing the map of Europe.[xvi]

The concept gained global usage as a result of European imperialism and colonialism in Asia and Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is in the context of independence struggles and attainment of independence by colonial peoples in the 20th century that the concept of ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ became popular in political discourses and analyses. This also explains why the concept of nation always raises questions of ‘nationalism’, ‘nationhood’ and ‘nationality’. While scholars have given diverse definitions of nation, it must be stressed that the term cannot be pinned down to a generally-accepted definition because nation is different thing to different people depending on the background, orientations and perspectives of the definers. But there are common elements of nations in most definitions of a nation.

In the words of Otto Bauer, the famous Austrian socialist, a nation is defined as “the totality of people who are united by a common fate so that they possess a common (national) character. The common fate is … primarily a common history; the common national character involves almost necessarily a uniformity of language”.[xvii] In his own work, Will Kymlicka, the famous Canadian philosopher, sees a nation as “a historical community, more or less institutionally complete, occupying a given territory or homeland, sharing a distinct language and culture”.[xviii] Along this line of thinking, Joseph Stalin, the famous leader of the defunct Soviet Union, has provided one of the most widely quoted definitions of nation. According to him, “a nation is a historically evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture”.[xix]

Apart from this definition, Stalin also identifies some basic characteristics of a nation which are popularly considered imperative by scholars. Stating the characteristic features of nation, Stalin posits: “It (nation) has five essential features: there must be a stable, continuing community, a common language, a distinct territory, economic cohesion, and a collective character. It assumes positive political form as a nation under definite historical conditions, belonging to a specific epoch…”[xx] Perhaps the most crucial characteristic of a nation as espoused by Stalin is the presence of a collective character on the part of all the nationalities of a nation. This collective character is held to be the psychological state of the mind and consciousness of ‘being one’ by every member of a nation.[xxi] This characteristic follows Jean Jacque Rousseau’s idea of ‘general will’ and G.W.F. Hegel’s notion of “spirit of the people” in their identification with, and aspirations in a nation.[xxii] It is in this wise that Urban Whitaker has given one of the most important preconditions of a nation as people having a “hope that the nation will have a great and glorious future”.[xxiii]

Premised on the above, this paper argues that what constitutes a nation is not basically speaking the same language or having the same history or culture or belonging to the same ethnic group but the consciousness on the part of the people of “being one” and to remain united against all odds. This is not to say that all other characteristics of a nation as discussed above are not important. But the fact is that it is the “consciousness of being one” and the wish to “continuously remain one” that have sustained most successful nations in the world. The United States of America with peoples of diverse origins is a good example of nations which have remained united and committed in spite of obvious differences among its nationals.

In sum, a nation is taken, in this paper, to mean, a group of people who are linked by a similar culture, language, history and who have the consciousness of being one and who have the wish to continue to remain one. Therefore, a nation emerges when its people start to think and see themselves as being members of a community of people with shared objectives and aspirations. This is the “consciousness of being one” – an element that is key to the emergence of a nation.

From the foregoing conceptual and theoretical considerations, we can see that it is the mental consciousness of being that is the most important element of building a nation. We have also seen that identity and loyalty can be constructed and deconstructed and they can be singular or multiple. In fact, both concepts are inherently multiple. It is this inherent multiple nature of the two concepts that has made them central issues in nation building challenges in most plural societies of the world, particularly in the post-colonial third world settings in Africa and Asia. It is the absence of the consciousness of being one among the people of multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries that has prevented the emergence of a national identity and collective loyalty which have ultimately put a question mark on the nationhood of most African states particularly Nigeria as shown in subsequent parts of this paper.


The Diversity of Nigeria and the Root of Multiple Identities and Plural Loyalties

Nigeria is a country of great diversity. The modern Nigerian state has about 400 ethnic nationalities spread across its 36 states and 774 local government areas.[xxiv] The Nigerian diversity is traceable to the origin of the country itself when these different peoples were brought together to make the new country their different historical experiences, cultural backgrounds, religious affiliations, linguistic differences and other specificities.[xxv] As I have shown elsewhere, the diversity of the states and peoples of Nigeria can be gleaned from the following indices:

Ethnic Diversity: Nigeria is made up of different ethnic nationalities numbering about than 400. These people occupy different regions of the country. For instance, in the savannah region of the far North, we have the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and other minority ethnic groups. In the Middle Belt of the country, we have the Nupe, Tiv, Igala, Ebira, Jukun and several other ethnic groups. The Igbo, Edo, Efik, Ibibio, Urhobo, Itshekiri, Ijo, and other numerous peoples are located in the South-eastern and South-southern parts of Nigeria. The Yoruba and its numerous sub-groups like the Oyo, Ijebu, Egba, Ijesa, Egun, Awori, Igbomina, Ikale, Ilaje, etc are found in the South-western part of Nigeria. In Nigeria, no single state has one ethnic group making up its indigenous population. Each of Nigeria’s 36 states has at least two or more ethnic groups making up the indigenes of such states. Also, there are some ethnic groups who are indigenous to two or more states of the Federation. Examples are the Hausa/Fulani people who are indigenes of such states as Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa , Katsina, Kebbi , Niger, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and so on and the Yoruba who are indigenous to Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states.

Religious Diversity: The peoples of Nigeria also believe in different pantheons of gods. A good number of them profess Islam and Christianity which were imported into the country by the Arabs and Europeans in the 9th and 19th centuries respectively. The religious distribution of Nigeria was greatly determined by the geographical locations of the different peoples of the country and the area of incursions of the missionary. For instance, most people in the far-North of Nigeria and the Middle Belt are Muslims because the Muslim missionaries from North Africa penetrated Nigeria from the Sahara desert from the North of Nigeria.[xxvi] In the same vein, most people in the South-eastern and South-southern parts of Nigeria are Christians because the European Christian missionaries came to the country through the Southern coasts of Nigeria.[xxvii] The Yoruba of South-western part of Nigeria have a considerable number of Muslims and Christians because they had early commercial relations with the peoples of Northern Nigeria and also played hosts to early European Christian missionaries from the Lagos ports. Even within the Muslims and Christians, we still have different groups and denominations such as the Sunni, Shia, Ahmadiyya, Tijaniyya, Quadiriyyah, etc among the Muslims and the Catholics and Protestants among the Christians as well as other forms of faith such as the Eckankar, Guru Maharaji Ji. Adherents of African Traditional Religions numbering over hundreds of pantheons (ATRs) are also prominent among many Nigerian peoples. Interestingly, there are also people who combine both Islam and Christianity while Islam, Christianity and the Traditional religions are professed by some Nigerians.

Cultural Diversity: The peoples of Nigeria have different cultural backgrounds. Their ways of dressing, food, marriage, naming, festivals, etc vary from one people to the other. For instance, the Fura da Nunu is the most preferred delicacies for the Fulani while the Hausa cherish Tuwo, suya and masa. The Yoruba cherish Iyan (pounded yam), Amala and pap while the Igbo prefer mostly Akpu and ofensala (white) soup. While the men of the Edo, Ijaw, Itshekiri and Urhobo tie wrappers as their traditional costumes, the Hausa/Fulani men wear flowing top called BabanRiga while the Yoruba put on Agbada, sokoto and abeti aja cap to match.   —– To be continued.

Language/Linguistic Diversity and other forms of Diversity: Nigeria is a multi-lingual country and three of the four classes into which African languages are classified have examples in Nigeria. The Nilo-Saharan, the Afro-Asiatic and the Niger-Kordofan language families all have examples in Nigerian languages. It is only the Khoisan language family that is not represented in Nigeria. There are as many languages and dialects in Nigeria as there are many ethnic groups in the country.  In fact, many Nigerian ethnic groups are known by the names of their languages. For instance, the Hausa speak the Hausa language, the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language while the Igbo speak the Igbo language. There are, however, some Nigerian groups who are not known with the name of their language. Good examples in this regard are the Fulani whose language is not known as the Fulani language but Fulfulde. These languages are mutually intelligible to people who speak them but there also sub-groups who speak dialects of a major group’s language. For instance, the Yoruba speak a general Yoruba language mutually intelligible to all Yoruba groups but a number of Yoruba sub-groups have dialectal variants which may not be intelligible to other Yoruba sub-groups. Examples include the Ijesa, Ekiti, Ijebu, Akoko and Egba dialects of the Yoruba language.  The British colonisation of Nigeria made the English Language the lingua franca in Nigeria to serve as a common language medium for all Nigerians. It is interesting to emphasise that Nigerians have equally developed a distinct form of English language called the ‘Pigin English’ which is mutually understood by all Nigerians of any class.

Political Diversity: There (were) are different types of traditional political systems among the various ethnic groups of Nigeria. For instance, among the Hausa/Fulani of the North, there (was) is absolute Islamic monarchy headed by the Emirs and their subordinates in the constituent districts.  The Yoruba had (still have) constitutional monarchical system under the king (Oba) in the large towns and kingdoms and the village heads (Baale) in the smaller villages and suburbs.  The Igbo and other smaller units in Southern Nigeria did not have paramount heads comparable to an Oba or Emir until the colonial periods and post-colonial era. They were organised in small clans and lineages under the leadership of the elders and the largest political units were the village councils.  Today, some Igbo communities now have Igwe, Eze and Obi as a result of modern exigencies and external influences. These diverse political systems were suited to the different peoples in the pre-colonial period and some of them were used by the colonial government in its Indirect Rule system.  However, most of them have gone through modifications and modernisations since the colonial and post-colonial periods.

Resource Diversity: The territorial extent of Nigeria is blessed with a lot of natural and agricultural resources in the different parts of the country.  The topography of Nigeria ranges from lowlands along the coast and in the lower Niger Valley to high plateaus in the north and mountains along the eastern border. Much of the country is laced with productive rivers – Niger, Benue, Ogun, Osun, Kaduna, Gongola, Yobe, etc. The Nigerian ecology varies from tropical forest in the south to dry savanna in the far north, yielding a diverse mix of plant and animal life. In the Nigerian hinterland, the vegetation gives way to tropical forest, with its many species of tropical hardwoods, including mahogany, iroko, and obeche and several others in different areas of the country. Big and small games are abundant in Nigeria such as elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, antelope, monkeys, jackals, hyenas etc while sea animals like hippopotamuses, crocodiles and other aquatic animals are still common in the large rivers. Birds of various species are also abundant in the country. Some of the major natural resources of the country are petroleum and natural gas which are the sources of most Nigerian foreign earnings. Other natural resources include gold, coal, iron ore, lignite, columbite, tin limestone, etc. Some of Nigeria’s major agricultural goods are cocoa, rubber, cotton, groundnut, palms (export commodities) and yam, sorghum, cassava, maize, millet, etc (food crops). Nigeria is blessed in its Niger Delta region with crude oil which is the main source of foreign earnings for the government in modern times.

Economic/Occupational Diversity: Almost all Nigerians are farmers and traders, but what they plant and trade in, are determined by their geographical environments. For instance, the coastal peoples of Southern Nigeria are traditionally and naturally made to be fishermen, canoe builders and vegetable planters while the savannah people are naturally cereal planters and traders, pastoralists/nomads as well as producers of crafts like leather bags, shoes, etc from their animals’ skins.  Thus, we can say that the peoples of Nigeria are products of their environment.

Educational Diversity: An aspect of Nigerian diversity which has been greatly neglected is educational diversity. In the pre-colonial period, the Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, Nupe and other ethnic nationalities in Northern Nigeria had a well-developed Arabic and Islamic educational system with different levels and curricula. In fact, it was the first formal educational system in Nigeria obtained at Madrasah/Markaz (Arabic schools/centres) which predated formal Western education.  During the colonial period, the government of Lugard was so impressed by the Islamic education in the North that he prevented Western education championed by the European Christian missionaries from being introduced into the North for several decades.  This explains the current Western educational advantage/advancement of the South over the North. Also, among the Yoruba of Western Nigeria, there were aspects of informal educational systems like Ifa corpus training, apprenticeship of various types and so on.  Several pre-colonial educational practices existed among different ethnic groups in Nigeria. In spite of the imposition of colonial rule and formalization of Western education, Islamic education and other forms of pre-colonial systems of education still thrive in different parts of Nigeria.

Geographical Diversity: Nigeria has a land mass of 923,768 sq. km., with 910,770 sq. km of that being land area and a coast line of 853 km. The area referred to as Nigeria lies between latitudes 4◦N and 14◦N. Nigeria shares common boundaries with the Sahara Desert and the Republic of Niger to the Northwest, Republic of Benin to the West; Republic of Chad to the Northeast, and the Republic of Cameroon to the East. The five major topographical divisions of Nigeria are:  low coastal zone along Gulf of Guinea; succeeded northward by hills and low plateaus; Niger-Benue river valley; broad stepped plateau stretching to northern border with highest elevations over 1,200 metres; mountainous zone along eastern border, which includes country’s highest point (2,042 meters). Climate: Tropical with variations governed by interaction of moist southwest monsoon and dry northeast winds. Mean maximum temperatures of 30-32°C (south), 33-35°C (north). There is high humidity in the South February-November, June-September in the North; low humidity during dry season. Annual rainfall decreases northward; about 2,000 millimetres in coastal zone (Niger Delta averages over 3,550 millimetres); 500 to 750 millimetres in north.

The broad, mostly level valleys of the Niger and Benue Rivers form Nigeria’s largest physical region. There are other minor rivers such as Osun, Ogun, Ose, Kaduna, Sokoto, Yobe, Gongola, Ethiope, Katsina Ala, etc. The peoples of Nigeria are located in different geographical areas within the country – savannah, desert, forest, coastal regions, etc. These diverse locations and settlements of Nigerian peoples have a great impact on their occupations and means of livelihood, temperament, exposures and so on.  For instance, savannah and desert peoples of the far-North were exposed early to contacts from North Africa and the consequent participation in the trans-Saharan trade and introduction of Islam and Islamic education while the coastal peoples had early contacts with the Europeans, introduction of Christianity and Western education.

The influence of geography and environment on the historical development of the Nigerian peoples cannot be over-emphasised. Geographical factors of physical landscape, location, volume or amount of rainfall, topography, climate, vegetations and distribution of resources, among others played a great role in the making of people’s history. These environmental conditions in turn influenced the diverse ways of life of the various Nigerian peoples that occupy the different parts of the country as examined above.

The impact of the diversity of Nigeria on its politics and government has been very profound. It has raised what scholars have referred to as ‘national question’ in Nigeria to which satisfactory answer is yet to be found. The national question represents the most perplexing problem for Nigerians, one that no one has sufficiently answered. The question takes into account Nigeria’s political instability and asks the simple, but challenging, question of ‘how do we solve this problem and create a united?’ It was in a bid to mitigate the negative impact of these diversities on Nigerian politics and economy and answer the national question that successive governments in Nigeria since independence have been promoting the principle of ‘Unity in Diversity” which differing levels of achievements and failures.


Multiple and Parochial Identities: The Travail of the Nigerian Nationhood  

As indicated earlier, in pre-colonial Nigeria, there were hundreds of human societies and political communities. Many were village-based communities and state lets; while others were mega-sized political states. As self-contained political entities, the level of conflicting identities and plural loyalties operated at a lesser category than was to be later obtainable under the colonial state and beyond. The level of political interaction and administrative centralisation among pre-colonial groups in Nigeria was lesser than what eventually occurred during the colonial period; among some of the constraints for greater integration for much of the area was the absence of big-sized states that could incorporate their neighbours either culturally or politically; potential empire builders were also hampered by the absence of the relevant bureaucratic and physical infrastructure to oversee far-flung empires. High level Inter-group networks however, existed among the peoples of Nigeria.  The greater majority of the pre-colonial Nigerian people lived their lives according to the example that Kay Williamson made of the Ijo that they “… lived in sufficient isolation from their neighbours to develop considerable changes in their own language and remained unaffected by the changes influencing those neighbours”.

On the other hand, identity formation was a continuous process; for example the dozens of ethnic nationalities who identify themselves as making up the Kwararafa Empire in the Central Benue Valley area did not identify themselves as such in one day. The process was a long continuous one in their history and made it possible for groups which shared no language similarities like the Abakwariga, Jukun, Idoma and Alago among others to become known as part of the Kwararafa confederacy, thus, it contained within its borders ethnic groups that were culturally distinct with several centres of power.  These groups were united on the basis of their geographical contiguity of existing together in the Benue River Valley. The process of assimilation equally extended to groups such as the Tiv, who were not part of the Kwararafa Confederacy that was succeeded by the Wukari Federation under the leadership of the Aku Uka in the 19th century. The Tiv were becoming culturally assimilated and forming political alliances with the Aku in Wukari to gain instruments and insignia of office to rule in Tivland through the then newly evolving traditional leadership institution that was known as tor-agbande (drum chiefs), which became a phenomenon in the late 19th century. In terms of identity formation, while the Jukun would have contended with dual identities of their ethnic group and the wider Kwararafa confederacy, the Tiv faced no crisis and were limited to the clan and ethnic identity only.

Further up north, the emergence of the Sokoto Caliphate, which extended to cover a greater proportion of modern-day Nigeria from 1804 to the period of its collapse to the British in 1903 facilitated a territorial and national identity formation among the people within the caliphate.  This newer identity which was national descriptively was not in fundamental conflict with the already ethnic and state identities in a sub-unit of the caliphate such as the Nupe kingdom of Bida which was in every way a multi-ethnic and expansionary state. The nature of the Sokoto confederacy made it possible to hold multiple identities without generating conflict for the people of the caliphate. Contrasted with the independent Nigeria federation of the 20th twentieth century, the Sokoto Caliphate threaded more lightly, the central authority’s influence was not involved in the collection and allocation of the collective resources of the people in nation building and projects to the extent that groups would contest their positions, roles and benefits within the caliphate. The constituent states existed largely as tribute paying vassals of Sokoto and their identities and administrative make-ups were maintained insofar as tributes moved from the states to Sokoto. It will, therefore, be fair to stress that under the Sokoto Caliphate, the Yoruba, Nupe or Hausa identity was not subject to the national identity of Sokoto, nor was there any requirement for it.

In Yorubaland, the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and the influx of European Christian missionaries among of who were some returnees Nigerians resulted into people of dual identities. These included the Brazilian Yoruba, the Saros and others. A good example of such people was the Assumpcao/Alakija family of Abeokuta.  There is also the transnational dimension of identity formation in Yorubaland with the colonial division of Yoruba groups between Nigeria and Benin Republic such as the Ajase, Sabe, Popo, Anago and others. In fact, in all the borders of Nigeria, the borders are porous because the people have transnational identities in such places as the borders of Nigeria and Niger in Katsina State, the borders of Nigeria and Chad in Yobe State and the borders of Nigeria and Benin in Lagos State.  Specifically, Nigeria has a total of about 5,000 kilometres of international borders shared as follows: Benin Republic (1,000 kilometres), Niger (1,500 kilometres), Chad (75 kilometres), Cameroon (1,700 kilometres) and the Atlantic Coast and Equatorial Guinea (700 kilometres).

The colonial period constitutes one of the great eras of identity formation in Nigeria. A three-track process unfolded during this period and was more widespread than the empire building process of the pre-colonial empires and kingdoms of Kwararafa, Old Oyo, Benin, Igala, Nupe, Sokoto and the Niger Delta City States. In the period beginning from 1914, a new identity of ‘Nigerianness’ was foisted on all those to be found within the amalgamated territories of Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria, and after 1960, it was extended to the peoples of the British Mandated Camerounian territories who voted to be joined with Nigeria.  To this extent, groups who trace descent within the confines of this defined geographical entity became Nigerians.

In administering the country, the colonial state moved from the two provinces of North and South, to a three-regional structure of East, North and West. These administrative units quickly became defining units for the people within them, and created for them identities such as Easterners, Northerners and Westerners. Consequently, the Idoma, the Nupe and Hausa and hundreds of other groups could and did identify themselves as Northerners. This was just as the Efik, Ejagham, Ibibio and Igbo saw themselves as Easterners and the Edo and Yoruba among others became Westerners.

The process of adding new layers of identity as a result of colonial administrative fiat at the broader national level of Nigeria and the regional levels of North and South; and later East, North and West was to extend to another two layers below: that of the provinces and divisions. The provinces impact on identity formation and contestations never grew to have the distinction that the divisions and regions and later states have. The then provinces approximated in influence with regard to identity formation on a par with the lesser impact of the present six geo-political zones. The divisions were, however, quite important in forming and shaping identities within the country. When people were brought together into a single division i.e. the Idoma Division, it created a feeling of ethnic consciousness for a whole range of people who had hitherto before not consciously referred to themselves as Idoma. Furthermore, Olayemi Akinwumi has argued that the identities of the major ethnic groups as we know them today were not in existence during the pre-colonial period. According to him the term Yoruba had referred only to the Oyo people and that the “Ekitis, Ijeshas, Ijebus, and Ondo did not see themselves as Yoruba until recently” and that the “term Hausa was not a political expression in the pre-colonial period”.  Akinwumi illustrates this by citing Bala Usman thus: “The socio-political entities whose language is Hausa did not see themselves as having common interest. Indeed, their conflicting economic and political interests provide the key to the wars that erupted between them from time to time”.   To be continued tomorrow

[i] See, among others, the following: E.D. Morel, Nigeria: Its People and Its Problems (London: Macmillan, 1912); W.R. Crocker, A Critique of British Colonial Administration in Nigeria (London, 1936); Michael Crowder, The Story of Nigeria (London: Faber and Faber, 1962); T.N. Tamuno, The Evolution of the Nigerian State: The Southern Phase, 1898-1914 (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1972); J.U. Asiegbu, Nigeria and its British Invaders, 1851-1920: A Thematic and Documentary History (New York and Enugu: NOK Publishers, 1984).

ii] Douglas A. Phillips, Nigeria (Washington D.C.: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004), p.12.

[iii] Two leading and earliest works on the Nigerian peoples and their relations in geographical and historical perspectives are K.M. Buchanan and J.C. Pugh, Land and People in Nigeria (London: 1955) and Thomas Hodgkin, Nigerian Perspectives: An Historical Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).

iv] See for instance, Larry Diamond, Nigeria: Model of a Colonial Failure (New York: New York University Press, 1967); A.H.M. Kirk-Greene, Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria: A Documentary Sourcebook (London: London University Press, 1971); B.J. Dudley, Instability and Political Order: Politics and Crisis in Nigeria (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1973). For some contemporary analyses, see the collection of essays in Richard Olaniyan, (ed.), The Amalgamation and its Enemies: An Interpretive History of Modern Nigeria (Ile-Ife: Obafemi Awolowo University Press, 2003).

v] Michael Crowder, The Story of Nigeria (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), p.259

vi] See A.S. Hornby, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974)

vii] John Ladd, “Loyalty” in Paul Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Vol. 5 (London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 97

viii] Stephen Nathanson, Patriotism, Morality and Peace: New Feminist Perspective Series (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1993), pp. 106–09

ix] Ilan Zvi Baron, “The Problem of Dual Loyalty” Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 42, Issue 4 (2009), pp.1024-1044

x] P. Weinreich, “The Operationalisation of Identity Theory in Racial and Ethnic Relations” in J. Rex and D. Mason (eds.), Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

xi] Ibid. 

xii] Kimberle Crenshaw is quoted at http://criticalmediaproject.com. (Accessed 30/6/18)

xiii] Ibid.

xiv] Harper, Douglas, Online Etymology Dictionary (Available at http://www.etymoline.com  (Accessed on 30th June, 2018)

xv] Ibid.

xvi] Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p.23

xvii] Horace B. Davis, Nationalism and Socialism: Marxist and Labour Theories of Nationalism to 1917 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), p.150

xviii] Will Kymlicka, Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, Citizenship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

xix] Stalin is quoted in Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, p.5

xx] Ibid. See also Tom Bottomore, (ed.). A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983), p.344

xxi] Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, p.23

xxii] Maurice Cranston, Introduction to the Social Contract (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1968), pp.9-42

xxiii] Urban Whitaker, (ed.),  Nationalism and International Progress (San Francisco: Howard Chandler, 1960), p.5

xxiv] P. Martin Mathews, Nigeria: Current Issues and Historical Background (Hauppauge, N.Y.: Nova Science Publishers, 2002)

xxv] See O. Sanda, (ed.), Ethnic Relations in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects (Ibadan: Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, 1976) for some analyses of ethnic and linguistic relations among the Nigerian peoples.

xxvi] S.A. Balogun, “History of Islam up to 1800” in Obaro Ikime (ed.), Groundwork of Nigerian History (Ibadan: Heinemann, 1980)

xxvii] J.F. Ade Ajayi, Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841-1891: The Making of a New Elite (London: Longmans, 1965), pp.31-39


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