1.1 Background to the Study
Nigeria has witnessed the transition from the military regime for a quite long time to a
democratic system of government since the year 1999, Nigeria failed to resolve its ethnoreligious and political violence which contributed to the weakening of democratic governance
and national integration. As a multi-ethnic nation, with diverse religious and cultural background
the political system is expected to cope with and control both human and natural resources
effectively, but in contrast this diversity becomes the source of ethno-religious and political
violence. The issue of ethno-religious violence has tended to occur constantly in Nigeria since
during the period of fourth republic 1999 where organized ethnically based actions with their
ethnic and regional agenda escalate into series of violent conflict (Edlyne 2002). Studying
ethnicity as a political characteristic one has to consider the following questions: Does the
concept of ethnicity be regarded as a means for the political actors to depend their political
interest? Why then any political struggle in Nigeria is often misinterpreted as an ethnic or
religious struggle? Is there any empirical findings outline a relationship between the social
construction of ethnic identities and the probability of ethnic violence?
Research attention has been shifted now from technological and scientific development to centre
on the politics of religion and the democratization of Nigeria and religion in politics in Nigeria‟s
new democracy. This tacit reality has been discovered that not enough justice has been done to
this phenomenon in recent times, most especially on its significance to the multiple conflicts and
violence that has engulfed the entity called Nigeria. This illusion caused Sulaiman (2009), to
observe however that there have been competing interests amongst the various religions and
ethic nationalities as to who should run the government of the country, this is premised on the
fact that most ethnic nationalities have developed along religious conglomeration between
Christians or Muslims?
It is as a result of these conflicts of interests amongst the adherents of the various religious and
ethnic nationalities and their political leaders that have generated these spates of violence in the
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country. This is so because different political parties came around with different candidates and
different interests in terms of party manifestoes and regions where the presidency should be
zoned to. This has resulted in a lot of accusations and counter accusations being made as to
which zone should lay claim to the presidency and the zone that should not. It is a known fact
that if equity is to be preserved, the north in its entirety should not even seek to hold the
presidency in the next 20 years since they have produced the first civilian president in 1979-
1983, after which the military took over and since then till the return of the country to civilian
rule in 1999, it has always been the north and nobody else. Shehu Shagari, Mohammadu Buhari,
Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsallam Abubakar, before Olusegun Obasanjo took over
in the civilian regime and handed over to another northerner Umar Musa Yar‟ Adua and back to
The need for political stability in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, all segments of the
Nigerian society are interested in the political future of the nation. However, this interest is
approached from various dimensions. A major interest in the Nigerian polity is the relationship
between religion, ethnicity and politics. The Nigerian society is religiously and ethnically
pluralized and this significantly influences political decisions and policies of the nation. On the
other hand, there are people who hold the strong opinion that this relationship should not be
stressed and that religion, ethnicity and politics should be allowed to operate separately without
one interfering with the other. Those who hold this view argued essentially from the position that
religion mixed politics or ethnicity mixed with politics is mostly like to imbibe various vices
associated with politics. Also that politics may not be properly and dispassionately played if
mixed with religion and ethnicity.
The use of ethnicity and religion in political competition is a common feature in the politics of
many African countries. In countries such as Kenya, competition between ethnic groups has
dominated the political scene since the introduction of multiparty politics, and also in Zambia,
ethnicity has emerged as an important factor in political contention (Posner 2005; 2007; Bratton
and Kimenyi, 2008). In Nigeria, both religious and ethnic competition has been a distinctive
feature of the country‟s political history, and one that has frequently led to violent conflict.
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In terms of religion, throughout Nigeria‟s independence history both Christian and Muslim
institutions have actively sought to influence political issues of their concern, and in particular
the Muslims have developed narratives of discrimination vis-à-vis the state and the Christian
institutions. Skirmishes between Christians and Muslims intensified and became more public
from the mid 1980s throughout the 1990s, which raised concerns about the future state of
religious relations in the country ( Heilman and Kaiser 2002; Mbogoni 2005; Mesaki 2011;
Tambila 2006; Liviga and Tumbo-Masabo 2006).
With over four hundred (400) ethnic groups, belonging to several religious sects, Nigeria since
independence has remained a multi-ethnic nation state, which has been grappling and trying to
cope with the problem of ethnicity on the one hand, and the problem of ethno-religious conflicts
on the other. This is because over the years the phenomena of ethnicity and religious intolerance
have led to incessant recurrence of ethno-religious conflicts, which have given birth to many
ethnic militias like the O’ dua People Congress (OPC); the Bakassi Boys; the Egbesu Boys; the
Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC); and the Igbo People Congress (IPC). Others include the Arewa
People‟s Congress (APC) the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra
(MASSOB); and the Ohanaeze N’digbo (Daily Trust;’20/8/2002! p.; 16). With the emergence of
these ethnic militias and the deep divides between the various ethnic groups, religious
intolerance has become more violent and bloody with more devastating results using the ethnic
militias as the executors of ethno-religious agenda.
1.2 Statement of Research Problem
Nigeria‟s struggle for democracy and good governance has so far been pursued within the
federalist logic, though under a perverse practices condition of the successive military regimes
with no exception to the ethno-religious and political crises. Most notable of such perversions
relates to the recent Boko Haram and the recurring bomb attacks in Nigeria. Scholars and
political commentators have argued that it is an attempt to impose religious ideology through
terrorism (Bagaji, et al, 2012). Religion has manifested itself as a potent force in the political
development of the Nigerian state from time immemorial. More so, it is very difficult to separate
the state from religion-voting behavior and many times ascension to political offices is circulated
on the basis of religious affiliation (Kukah, 1994; Danjibo, 2009; Omotola, 2010). In a religious
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country like Nigeria, it is expected to be at peace with itself and all those living within its
sovereign territory. Paradoxically, recent studies have revealed that the role of religion and
ethnicity in Nigeria is in negative light than its positive contribution.
Nigeria remains underdeveloped and always ranked low in indexes such as health care, poverty
reduction, capacity building, educational standard, unemployment reduction, water supply and
sanitation. The reason behind this is as a result of the various ethnic and religious politics played
and social conflicts caused by our leaders, religious fanatics, greedy politicians and self-centered
individuals (Coleman, 1995). As religious as Nigeria is, the country‟s major „national issue‟
remains largely an unresolved political, economic and social crisis. The steady growth and
consolidation of communal allegiances and ethno-religious identities among various ethnic and
religious groups in pursuit of competing material and value preferences, and their negative
aftermath effect have characterized most of Nigeria‟s political, economic and social
underdevelopment, particularly since the 1950s ( Usen, 2010). Across the length and breadth of
Nigeria, ethnic and religious considerations in political, economic, social and academic matters
can hardly be avoided. Politics is ethnic oriented; ethnicism is more often than not the
consciousness of Presidents, Heads of states, Ministers, and those on National assignments. This
has been one of the most important causes of social conflicts in Nigeria, especially in a situation
where this consideration do not favour the minority group and some elites in the majority group.
This social conflict in the form of violence resulting from destruction of lives and properties has
been perceived in general as a major obstacle to the overall political, social and economic
development of the country.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The main objective of this study is to evaluate the impacts of Ethnicity and Religion on the
political processes in Nigeria. The specific objectives are;
To examine the relevance of religious groups on the political processes in Nigeria.
To evaluate if ethnicity and religion are distracting factors to the political processes in
To determine if ethnicity and religion are the basic causes of political conflicts in Nigeria.
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1.4 Research Questions
To evaluate the impacts of ethnicity and religion in the politics of Nigeria, this study intends to
provide answers to the following research questions;
What is the relevance of religious groups on the political processes in Nigeria?
Ethnicity and Religion; are they distracting factors to the political processes in Nigeria?
Ethnicity and Religion; are they the basic causes of political conflicts in Nigeria?
1.5 Research Hypothesis
This study will be based on the following assumptions;
1. Ethnicity and Religion have strong impacts on the politics of a nation
2. The influences posed by ethnicity and religion on the political processes of a nation are
not always negative
3. Leadership choices of the members of a country‟s population are as a result of the ethnic
and religious classes they belong to.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This work will succinctly and specifically cover the historical and present perspective of the
Nigeria political system and the impacts of ethnicity and religion on it. The work will also cover
some of the political challenges that have been encountered within the political system of Nigeria
over the years.
1.7 Limitation of the Study
The following are the constraints and shortcomings which the researcher encountered in the
course of the study
1.7.1 Time Factor: This was the major constraint I encountered was carrying out the research
in conjunction with my other academic engagements.
1.7.2 Cost expenditures were incurred in the course of exhuming relevant facts from various
sources till the completion of this research work.
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1.8 Operational Definition of Terms
1.8.1 Sub-nationalism: is the movement of people to exit or pursue independent state hood or
regional autonomy within a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state. We also refer to sub-nationalism
as a movement or revolt of peoples against the unitary nature of state, reinforced by indigenous
rights and contention of power. Sub-nationalism leans to mobilization and ethnocentrism for
political and economic advantage of one ethnic group against another.
1.8.2 Ethno-religious conflicts refer to all conflicts which regiments primordial identities of a
group in competitive relations with other groups or disputes arising from ethnic and religious
differences. Such conflicts are often associated with ethnic or religious sentiments.
1.8 Organization of Study
Chapter one is the introductory section which contains Background to the study, statement of
research problem, research questions, significant of the study, scope and
limitation of the study, operational definition of terms and plan of the study
Chapter two contains Literature review, conceptual framework and theoretical framework
Chapter three contains Research methods, research design, area of study, research population,
method of data collection, Data Analysis and Technique.
Chapter four contains data representation and interpretation of findings.
Chapter five contains the summary and recommendations
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