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Just as you don’t need to look too hard to find the elephant in a room, just a glance at Nigeria will draw your focus to ethnic and religious divisions that are breaking the country into unfixable pieces.
Nigeria is a heterogonous country with so many tribes and religions that even citizens within the country might never meet people of all these tribes in their lifetime. From language to accent, appearance, and culture, people are able to distinguish one tribe from the next. And in many cases, a person’s tribe is a determinant of their religion, although not always.
Nigeria has three major tribes; Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba, as well as three major religions; Christianity, Islam, and Traditional religion.
These tribes and religions are often so different in thoughts and practices that it isn’t uncommon to find the practices of people on one side of the divide offending the other. However, what we face now is beyond mere offence.
Naturally, religious and ethnic profiling had existed from the beginning of Nigeria itself. People are quick to assume that the Igbos and the rest of the South-South are Christians, while the Hausas are Muslims, with the Yorubas halfway into both religions. What happens when an offense seems to have come from one of these sides is an ethno-religious conflict that erupts so fast, you can hardly prepare for it.
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Ethno-religious conflict refers to a situation where there is a strained relationship between members of one ethnic or religious group and another group. The relationship is one characterised by mutual suspicion, the absence of cordiality, and a very high disposition towards confrontations that end in violence.
This mutual fear and suspicion have birthed a lot of ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria since the 1980s, which have continued till current-day, with lives, properties, and resources lost in every of such conflicts.
Some of the noteworthy ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria since the country ’s history include the Maitatsine religious disturbances in Kano and Maiduguri in the early 1980s, the Kafanchan College of Education Muslim Christian riots in 1981, the Kaduna Polytechnic Muslim-Christian skirmishes of 1982, and the cross vs the crescent conflict at the University of Ibadan between 1981 and 1985. The 1986 Muslim-Christian Clash during a Christian Easter procession in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital is also worth mentioning.
Some people might say it is only right to mention the Nigerian Civil war of 1967 to 1970 as a part of the list due to the obvious ethnic and religious coloration of that dreadful war.
Also called the Biafran Genocide, the violent conflict that took the lives of over 3 million people and displaced another 3 million, was built upon ethnic tension.
There is neither time, nor the need to go into the details of a genocide that is so well known throughout the world, and told like a tale from parents to children in Nigeria, so much so that the wounds from it never heal. If you listened in an ethnic disagreement between a northerner and a southerner, the civil war that was fought across ethno-religious lines will always make it to the forefront.
Against this backdrop, and many more stories left unmentioned due to time and space, it can be seen that the current ethnic and religious crisis throughout Nigeria didn’t start today.
The activities of Boko Haram terrorists, the herdsmen and farmer clashes, the Niger Delta Avengers, The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) agitations, and even the Oodua Liberation Movement (OLM), amongst others, were all birthed by ethnic and religious agitations throughout Nigeria.
In a country that is so culturally diverse, you would expect its leaders to pay close attention to ethnic and religious sentiments to avoid the growth of negative sentiments that birth agitations and violence. However, it has become obvious that these same leaders stoke the fires of ethnicity and religion for their own selfish benefits.
Political leaders will never hesitate to pitch one tribe against the other if it meant that the resulting battle would be in their favor. They teach their followers to hate and distrust people on the other side of the ethnic or religious divide so that they can either clinch a seat of power or have unrestricted access to the nation’s resources that they can squander at will.
These intrigues have continued unhindered, making one wonder whether the followers of these devious political leaders are too blind to see the games being played. Well, maybe they are, and you might not be quick to blame them.
The obvious failure of the Nigerian government and its leaders to forge national integration, promote understanding across ethno-religious divides, and ensure economic progress of all religions has led to mental and financial poverty, as well as unemployment. All you need to do is to tell a hungry, illiterate man that the next person is the enemy preventing him from living the life he so desires to live, and he will brandish the sword, ready to spill blood without a second thought.
Poverty and unemployment have become the soil upon which ethno-religious conflicts have been planted and continue to grow in Nigeria. This is why the leaders do not move an inch to do anything about education and unemployment, because it would become more difficult to convince an educated, enlightened, and employed man that the next person is his enemy simply because they speak and worship differently.
Employment and political appointments also create an avenue for further ethnic and religious divisions, as people, in whose hands the keys to the jobs lie, will distribute same only to those of the same religious and ethnic inclinations, blatantly ignoring equity, fairness, and even the federal character.
The Nigerian political scene would be a lot saner if the leaders didn’t pull out the ethnic and religious card every time the polls approach. Suddenly, the political elites remember how one tribe or religion is unworthy of trust and leadership, and they begin to use every means possible to create a divide among the electorate, just to favour their dishonest interests.
Of all the states in Nigeria where this has been the case, Lagos has so far been the worst. Whenever a governorship election nears, the ethnic card gets played, especially when it seems that the Igbos are leaning towards a candidate that doesn’t belong to the party in power. We saw it happen in 2011, 2014, and even 2019, when ethnic profiling became the order of the day, and tales of ethnic domination by strangers and non-indigenes became rife.
The just-concluded 2023 governorship elections in Lagos were no different, as the entire world watched the ethnic battles that occurred simply because the selfish elites wanted to hold onto power.
Almost a month after the February 25th Presidential elections, and there is already palpable tension as candidates from the three major ethnic groups head to court to battle over the winner of the elections. From public sentiment it is already possible to predict how the country would be thrown into chaos if the court rules against the candidate of the South East, at a time when the Muslim-Muslim ticket has created displeasure amongst the Christian folk, and the last-minute disregard of the zoning formula raised ethnic displeasure.
It is clear, without all doubt, that the political elites in Nigeria have chosen to ignore the fact that Nigeria is on the edge of a precipice, and would fall swiftly into the dark abyss, never to be heard of as a singular country again, if something isn’t done to stop the ethnic and religious battles that continue on-end.
Nigerians must also wake up and battle their slave masters and oppressors garbed as ethnic, religious, and political leaders who continue to exploit their ethnic and religious inclinations for personal gain. Think about it for a minute. When has the average Nigerian ever gained something from these ethno-religious conflicts? Never. Can you say the same for the nation’s leaders? Absolutely not.
Nigeria might already be destroyed beyond fixing, but who knows? It might not be too late to prevent the ultimate destruction.