Nigeria’s Diversity Management Challenge

A dominant feature of Nigeria’s pluralistic setting has been the subordination of national identity to primordial sentiments that are rooted in sub or micro nationalism.

Although the Nigerian state represents the legal basis for sovereignty, authority and legitimacy, loyalty to sub-national identities continue to threaten the legitimacy and existence of the state.

The growing influence of centrifugal forces — religion, ethnicity and regionalism — continue to weaken the nation and state building project of the country, which accounts for the rising spate of discontents and acts of insurgency in the country.

In a significant way, these identities systematically defines and frames the question cooperation and competition in Nigeria’s pluralistic setting.

Government attempts to aggregate common social demands have only contributed to deepening identity based divisions, which has in turn fueled violent confrontations. This is largely due to the erosion of confidence as it relates to the ability and capacity of the state to be a neutral arbiter in the prevailing federal system.

While there are constitutional safeguards against the marginalization on the basis of ethnicity and religion, the reality has been that the question of citizenship and power  among the contending groups in the country constitute key drivers of tensions and violence.

This has made the management of diversity and inclusiveness a huge challenge, in a system that has not been able to proactively protect minority rights, against the tyranny of the majority ethnic groups – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

In fact, the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan is seen to represent a dream come true on the part of the minority ethnic groups, in the face of historically constructed political and economic marginalization of minority ethnic groups. The setting up of the Committee for National Dialogue by President Goodluck Jonathan on October, 1 2013, is a reminder of the huge challenge that confronts the country and its people on the management of diversity and the future of the country.

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Without political will, Nigeria’s frail government institutions and framework for the management of diversity will be handicapped in providing a regime of unity among the diverse ethnic, religious and regional entities.

In the final analysis, strengthening the capacity of governance institutions remains an imperative in addressing the challenges posed by deep feelings of exclusion and marginalization in the country’s body polity.

Chris Kwaja is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos, Jos, Nigeria. He is a Doctoral candidate of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Jos Nigeria. His research focuses on the politics of identity in Africa, the privatization of security, democratization, conflict and peace studies, and security sector reform. Read other articles by Chris.

  • Patricia O.S.

    Yes Chris, l agree with your position and
    analysis that the management of Nigeria’s diversity has been and will continue
    to be a serious challenge for whatever leadership that emerges in Nigeria.

    Even with the return of democracy in 1999, where one expects that diverse ethnic, religious and regional interests will have had their representation, voice and platform for shaping the destiny of this country, inclusivity and harmony has not been achieved.

    As a matter of fact, Nigerianess and forging real National Unity is still very elusive. It appears that the more experienced we get in democracy (measured by the number of years), the more contentious, and deeply entrenched in the so-called ethic nationalism. Today, phrases like Tarok Nation, Ijaw Nation, Ngas Nation, Igala Nation, Tiv Nation, Efik Nation are more common place than phrase Nigerian Nation.

    I also agree with your submission that while strong governance institutions provide an imperative for addressing the challenges of diversity and deep feelings of exclusion, but the absence of a political will and the fact that players in the political arena do not respect the rule of law means that we still have a long way to go.

    Not yet Uhuru can be appropriate here.