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Most developing countries are ethnically diverse. Ethnic diversity may lead to increased civil strife. This perception is tottered both by some graphic individual scenes of inter-ethnic violence, and by an aggregate correlation: Africa has not only the highest ethnic diversity, but also the highest incidence of civil war. Potentially, this might account for the detrimental economic effect of diversity. In countries of traditional stability, ethnic conflict is becoming an increasing factor. Ethnic conflicts have become the serious challenge of our times, which perhaps explains why ethnicity is seen as the reigning concept in African studies at present. In Nigeria, the colonial masters provided urban setting, which constitutes the cradle of contemporary ethnicity. The colonialist while pretending to carry out a mission of uniting the warring ethnic groups, consciously and systematically separated the various Nigerian people thereby creating a suitable atmosphere for conflict. With the heterogeneous nature of the country, the tendency of the various nationals is towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness.



An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, or economic, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group’s position within society. This final criterion differentiates ethnic conflict from other forms of struggle. (Varshney, Ashutosh 2002)

Ethnic conflict does not necessarily have to be violent. In a multi-ethnic society where freedom of speech is protected, ethnic conflict can be an everyday feature of plural democracies. For example, ethnic conflict might be a non-violent struggle for resources divided among ethnic groups. (Olzak, Susan 1992) However, the subject of the confrontation must be either directly or symbolically linked with an ethnic group. In healthy multi-ethnic democracies, these conflicts are usually institutionalized and “channelled through parliaments, assemblies and bureaucracies or through non-violent demonstrations and strikes.” (Varshney, Ashutosh 2007) While democratic countries cannot always prevent ethnic conflict flaring up into violence, institutionalized ethnic conflict does ensure that ethnic groups can articulate their demands in a peaceful manner, which reduces the likelihood of violence. On the other hand, in authoritarian systems, ethnic minorities are often unable to express their grievances. Grievances are instead allowed to fester which might lead to long phases of ethnic silence followed by a violent outburst. (Varshney, Ashutosh 2007) Therefore, ethnic peace is an absence of violence, not an absence of conflict. Another consequence is that violent ethnic rebellions often result in political rights for previously marginalized groups. (Koos, Carlo 2016)

Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought: primordialist, instrumentalist or constructivist. Recently, several political scientists have argued for either top-down or bottom-up explanations for ethnic conflict. Intellectual debate has also focused on whether ethnic conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War, and on devising ways of managing conflicts, through instruments such as consociationalism and federalisation.

Ethnicity refers to a group of people with a common socio/cultural identity such as language, common worldview, religion and common cultural traits (Boaten, 2000). Thus ethnic groups are social formations distinguished by the communal character (such as language and culture) of their boundaries (Nnoli, 1980). In other words, ethnic groups represent categories of people characterized by cultural symbols including language, value systems and normative behaviour, and whose members are anchored in a particular territory (Otite, 1990). Actually, the word ethnic is derived from the Greek word ethnos which means a group of people who share a common and distinctive culture. In its classical meaning, ethnic relates to a member of a particular ethnos (Imobighe, 2003). Hence ethnicity according to Imobighe should be seen as the feeling of belonging to a distinctive cultural or linguistic group, or a manifestation of ethnic consciousness in relation to other groups.

Conflicts arise from the pursuit of divergent interests, goals and aspirations by individuals and or groups in defined social and physical environments (Otite, 1999). Ethnic conflict derives their rationale and configuration from perceived socio/cultural differences. In fact, Otite (1990) presents a picture of ethnicity as the contextual discrimination by members of one group against others on the basis of differentiated system of socio-cultural symbols. He affirms that ethnicity has the properties of common group consciousness and identity and also group exclusiveness on the basis of which social discriminations are made. This in most case as Nigerian experience have shown resulted to violent intractable conflicts.

Nigeria is a large multi-ethnic country, where ethnic cleavages remain a critical problem and where ethnic violence has erupted periodically. In recent years, Nigeria had witnessed the outbreak of several violent communal or ethnic conflicts, while some old ones had gained additional potency (Imobighe, 2003). Among the prominent recent ones are: Yoruba-Hausa community in Shagamu, Ogun State; Eleme- Okrika in Rivers State; the intermittent clashes in Kano, Kano State; Zango-Kataf in Kaduna State; Tiv-Jukun in Wukari, Taraba State; Ogoni-Adoni in Rivers State; Chamba-Kuteb in Taraba State; Itsekiri- Ijaw/Urhobo in Delta State; Aguleri- Umuleri in Anambra State; Ijaw-Ilaje conflict in Ondo State; Basa-Egbura in Nassarawa State; Hausa/Fulani-Sawaya in Bauchi State; Fulani-Irigwe and Yelwa-Shendam, both in Plateau State; Hausa-Yoruba clashes in Idi-Araba in Lagos State, and Ife-Modakeke in Osun State (Ubi, 2001; Imobighe, 2003; Omotayo, 2005).

The oldest intra-ethnic conflict in Nigeria, however, is Ife-Modakeke crisis. It has been going on for more than a century (Aguda, 1994; Albert, 1999; Agbe, 2001; Toriola, 2001). The conflict has become its own raison d’être, its own self-empowered, and self-fulfilling, as it had since detached from its original cause (Augsburger, 1992; Omotayo, 2005).


Nigeria is a country of over four hundred 400 ethnic groups and numerous sub-ethnic groups with different backgrounds. Though, these ethnic groups exist independently of each other, they had interacted with one another before the advent of colonial rule in the country. Colonial administration fostered ethnic consciousness among the people through the creation of artificial boundaries. Ethnicism was therefore brought to the fore in the political dispensation of the country (Ukiwo 2005).

It has been generally agreed that ethnic conflicts is one of the greatest obstacles to meaningful development in Africa due to the general negative outcome of the subject in discuss. Citing Nigeria as a case study with over 300 ethnic groups, the various competition and rivalry among these various ethnic groups has been seen as a product of colonial contact. The ethnic factor, however, did not diminish with the advent of independence; rather, it became a yardstick for measuring contribution to the national development effort and especially for allocating and distributing power and national resources. (Edlyne, 2000: 61) With the current trend of Nigeria’s exercise which aimed at establishing a sustainable form of democracy, there is urgent need to look into perceived factors that may work against the success of this endeavour.

Most developing countries are ethnically diverse. For many years, social sciences preferred to ignore the brute fact of ethnic identity. More recently, evidence is accumulating that it is detrimental to economic performance. Journalistic accounts of wars in Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and several other countries of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s have raised concern that ethnic cleavages and overlapping affiliations of religion and race may undermine prospects for economic and political development in much of Africa. (Kamla-Ra, 2006: 101) In some certain view, the annulment of the democratic transition programme by the military in 1993 at the conclusion of the presidential polls, is believed to have been motivated by ethnic sentiments. On a similar note, the 30-month senseless killing occasioned by the Nigeria Civil War from 1967-1970 was anchored on ethnic rivalry. This was due to the efforts on the part of the predominantly Igbo peoples in the South-eastern region to carve out an independence nation for themselves.

Ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and Africa in general arise as result of scarcity of political resources, multi-culturalism, religion, militarisation of ethnicity among others. These conflicts cannot be ignored. It is therefore patently clear that realistic measures to solve these problems are needed. This paper, therefore, relies on content analysis as its methodology to examine ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. It also examines the effects of ethnic conflicts on the country’s search for unity and identifies the possible issues for resolution.

The remaining part of this thesis is divided into four chapters. Chapter two examines the causes of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. Chapter three explains the methods used in the thesis, while chapter five concludes with suggestions on how to ameliorate ethnic tensions in the emerging democratic tradition in Nigeria.


Ethnic conflict is viewed as conflict, disagreement, misunderstanding whether violent or otherwise between different ethnic groups. Galtung believes that ethnic conflict arises as a result of common group consciousness for survival or quest to attain certain goals that are considered to be of great value and which are perceived as being blocked. This encourages discrimination, based on “We” and “Them.” It seriously and negatively affected the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria as a nation. This has negative effects on the country’s national security, stability and integration. The manipulation of ethnicity has been a major obstacle to the country’s efforts towards attaining greater height and as a force to be reckon with, the world over.

Ethnic conflicts in Nigeria have become major boundaries that create divisions among people. Ethnicity has also become potent tools for mobilization and manipulation in the country. They have been so manipulated that virtually all institutions in the public and private sectors have been polarized along ethnic lines. These are ideologies that do not promote peaceful and harmonious co-existence among Nigerians. Our ethnic values should have been a force that will encourage Nigerians to appreciate the great benefits derivable from working together as Nigerians in honesty and for a better future irrespective of our ethnic differences.

1.3 Rationale
1.3.1 Motivation

The research thesis got my interested and I was challenges on my last visit to Zaria, one of its community, I discovered they were in some kind of disagreement with the next community. This was not a serious issue, but in less than a day, they were killing among the ethnic group over the unresolved issue. I got interest to know more why situation arises and in general what causes conflict among the ethnicity in Nigeria.

1.3.2 Contribution to Knowledge

This research work will serves as a good source for character development. The research provides people with the relevant information about the root causes of ethnic crises in Nigeria. It serves as documented evidence that increases the awareness of ethnic leaders and their faithful and policy makers on the evil of ethnic conflicts in the country. The work therefore recommends for better policy formulations right from the local, state and national levels that would help in correcting issues relating to religious conflicts in Nigeria.

The researcher strongly believes that this work will help in strengthening the analytical and operational work of stake holders in the area of research, conflicts resolution and sustainable socio-economic and political development. The work provides some kind of scientific ways of managing ethnic and other forms of conflicts in the country.

1.3.3 Methodology – Research Design

The researcher adopted the explanatory mixed method design which accommodates survey and focus group methods. The survey method was used to generate data for quantitative analysis while the focus group method was used to generate data for qualitative analysis. The idea of using dual methods to address variables in the research is aimed at ensuring that all the variables in the study were studied (Creswell, 2002, p.562). Since, the study has to do with the causes of conflict with the country Nigeria, survey method was the most appropriate method that could be used to investigate their views and response (Wimmer and Dominick, 2011,p.1185; Chukwuemeka, 2002,p.32; and Ohaja, 2003,p.11).

1.4 Objective of the Study

This work is aimed at assessing the extent of human and material resources destroyed or lost in ethnic conflict in Nigeria, an overview. It also creates awareness as to what Nigerian enemies are doing underground to undermine the country’s socio–economic and political growth and development.

The research unravels the roots and remote causes of ethno–religious conflicts in Nigeria. And how these conflicts have dictated their ascendancy as normative process in the history of the country’s match to socio–economic and political development as a nation state.

The work also aims at establishing the fact that each ethnic group is as important as the others. As such, the leadership of this great country is not the sole responsibility of only one particular ethnic group.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This research work focuses on the effect of ethnic conflicts on the socio–economic and political development of Nigeria. This study will be an overview of most states and ethnic group that has suffered conflict.

1.6 Delimitations and Limitations of the Study

1.6.1 Delimitations of the Study

This thesis is a descriptive study, and not an experimental research work, therefore, the work is an in-depth and detailed survey for the reason, causes and source of ethnic conflict in Nigeria. The study is delimited to courses of conflict in Nigeria.

1.6.2 Limitations of the Study

Some of the limitations of this research work are factors like the distance to cover the 36 states in Nigeria for the course of this study, consciousness of insecurity, threats fear of spy (i.e. that we could be spy from the opponent ethnic group or its delegates), for that research some vital information where not shared with the researcher.

1.7 Significance of the Study

The research reawakens in the minds of Nigerians the important role ethnicity (cultural value, religion) plays in the socio–economic and political development of Nigeria. That is to say, that ethnicity can be a very good tool for fostering national unity, economic and political development when properly handled. On the other hand, it can also be a disruptive instrument and viable tool for conflict if negatively handled.

Teachers, students and researchers of religion, economics, sociology and history in Nigerian schools will find the work benefiting to them as it furnishes them with information on the causes of ethnic conflict and its effect to the development of the country economically, socially and politically.

It will also unravel the awareness of decision makers on the effects of ethnic conflicts on the socio-economic and political development of Nigeria as a country. This will help in the formation of favourable policies and decisions that will stimulate a conducive atmosphere for the practice of ethnicity in the country.

It will also serve as a means towards the development of a strategic action plan that will be a significant force in peaceful and harmonious co-existence amongst the practitioners of different ethnicity in Nigeria.

1.8 Definition of Terms

Conflict: Sani (2007:43) defined Conflict as “a moment or time of danger or great difficulty, turning point, disaster, emergency, calamity or catastrophe, as level of Conflict with tense confrontation between mobilized armed forces”.

Ethnicity: Abizadeh, (2001:23) stated that ethnic group or ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other based on similarities, such as common language, ancestral, social, cultural, or national experiences.

Ethnic Conflict: Sani (2007:43) defined ethnic conflict as a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, or economic, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group’s position within society.

National Stability: This is defined as the common or characteristics of a whole nation in a state of being stable or peacefully united.

Conflict Prevention: Hornby (2001:23) said is the strategies used in the pre-violent phase, at the front-end of the curve of conflict. They may include measures to increase trust and establish predictability among the conflict parties. These strategies are intended to keep disputes from escalating into violence.

Conflict Resolution: Hornby (2001:22) views conflict resolution as a way for two or more parties to find a peaceful solution to a disagreement among them. The disagreement may be personal, financial, political, or emotional. When a dispute arises, often the best course of action is negotiation to resolve the disagreement.

Peace: Researcher (2016) view peace as a state or period in which there is no war or a war has ended within two community or ethnic group.

Peace Building: Researcher (2016), is a process that facilitates the establishment of durable peace and tries to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political as well as economic transformation.



2.1 Introduction

Nigeria is a country of over four hundred 400 ethnic groups and numerous sub-ethnic groups with different backgrounds. Though, these ethnic groups exist independently of each other, they had interacted with one another before the advent of colonial rule in the country. Colonial administration fostered ethnic consciousness among the people through the creation of artificial boundaries. Ethnicism was therefore brought to the fore in the political dispensation of the country (Ukiwo 2005).

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