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African historian, Toyin Falola, fingers bad leadership, unequal representation as drivers of ethnic tension in Nigeria

One of Africa’s greatest historians, Professor Toyin Falola, has stated that bad leadership and unequal representation have made some ethnic groups in Nigeria feel excluded, thereby leading to tension.

Professor Falola while delivering his lecture at LASU

One of Africa’s greatest historians, Professor Toyin Falola, has stated that bad leadership and unequal representation have made some ethnic groups in Nigeria feel excluded, thereby leading to tension.

The erudite scholar from the University of Texas, Austin, gave this observation while being the guest speaker at the Second Distinguished Lecture series organised by the Department of History and International Studies of the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Lagos.

In the lecture titled: ‘History and the Nation’, Falola revealed that “bad leadership and unequal representation of each ethnic group in the country’s political and social matters have led some ethnic groups to believe that there is no place for them in the country. These are logical reasons for seeing another ethnic leadership deprive the other of opportunities and development.”

Drawing from his rich knowledge of the nation’s ethnic diversity, he argued that “Nigeria is a marriage of people of different and diverse ethnic origins and cultural backgrounds who had thrived independently for many years before colonialism. These societies and communities had developed identical social constructions, orientations, and ideologies that have grown through history and have been passed down through practices. Based on this, one can agree that these different groups could be considered independent nations with their own shared history and differences.

“However, the independence of these nations came under attack, and caliphates and kingdoms were invaded at the conquest of the British colonial government one after the other.

The northern part of present-day Nigeria was taken over by the Royal Nigeria Company on January 1, 1900, and made the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria under the leadership of Lord Lugard. The colony of Lagos continued to be under William McGregor, and the Niger Coast Protectorate was made the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.

The establishment of British rule continued, and by 1914, the whole country was amalgamated to form present-day Nigeria. At this point, all political and social structures of different communities, empires, caliphates, and kingdoms had to give way to the establishment of a single British colonial rule.

“Scholars have rightly posited that the amalgamation of the country was not done merely because the British government had the best interest of the country and its people at heart, but for administrative convenience and ease of economic exploration across all communities. As some other scholars have rightly stated, the 1914 amalgamation was the beginning of the prolonged debates on Nigerian unity. The question of Nigeria’s unity takes a different trajectory of whether or not the amalgamation was supposed to be the origin of contemporary problems and insurrections that have been our foe for a long time.

“However, against what many scholars or Nigerians would believe, it would be wrong to say that the different ethnic groups and kingdoms that existed before the amalgamation of the country were totally independent and that they never had historical property and events to share together. Precolonial Nigerian societies and groups were linked together by many factors that make them share similar histories. One of the factors of inter-community relationships was the necessity of trade and commercial transactions amongst the ethnic groups.

“Although precolonial Nigeria was largely based on an agricultural economy and production for the immediate needs of the people, many of the materials, food, and products that could not be found or produced in a particular community were sought from other communities and ethnic groups. Goods like salt and horses from the north, which were obtained largely from up Sahara, were exchanged for kola nuts and palm oil, which were also abundant in Southern Nigeria. For trades to occur, individuals had to embark on long journeys to the north or down south to make these exchanges or buy their needed goods and materials.

“Precolonial Hausa and Yoruba had been involved in the trade for many years, and the itinerary traders in the respective societies were widely known and respected. The Yoruba popular Alajapa traders would travel up north in search of rare goods in southern Nigeria. The Igbo communities were also not isolated in their commercial interactions. In addition, many of the Nigerian pre-colonial societies shared similar social structures and religious orientations that linked them together. For instance, the Arochukwu customs of the Igbos were shared by all Igbo societies, including the Ibibio and the societies in the Niger Delta. In addition, the Yoruba had common religious and political affiliations with the Benin kingdom.

“The precolonial societies also witnessed intercommunity social relationships, including alliances, to carry out certain objectives. Marriages were organised by different royal families, and traders had also picked their wives from these communities, explaining early inter-tribal marriages among the people. These relationships allowed for cultural diffusion among the people, and other artifacts were also exchanged along the process. Heavy cultural diffusion and similarities existed among the Ekiti, Oyo, Ijesa, and other current Yoruba ethnic groups believed to have shared similar histories. Also, the use of masquerades had spread among the Yoruba, Nupe, Igala, and Ebira ethnic groups.

“Aside from these, there is evidence of cultural diffusion in the linguistic construction of many of the ethnic groups. For instance, words like iwaasu which means sermon, tunfulu for babies, and sanmo for sky, were borrowed from the Hausa vocabularies. Other evidence of cultural exchange and diffusion include hair and dress styles, as well as vocabularies.

This cultural exchange and the precolonial relationship are evidence that these societies and ethnic groups were not entirely strangers who did not know anything about themselves or who had no prior interactions. The marriage of 1914 was not between strange people but between acquaintances. This fact made it possible for the different ethnic groups to thrive under colonial rule and jointly demanded their independence when the time came.

“Could it be argued that these similarities are masked by the differences between the communities and groups? No. Tension had been rising even before the advent of colonialism, continued during the colonial rule, subsisted into post-colonial Nigeria, and developed into a major problem in the country. This diversity tension thickened by 1967 when the nation broke into the Nigerian Civil War that threatened national unity. The threat to Nigerian national unity has grown in recent years, with the Boko Haram insurgency demanding an Islamic state through terrorist attacks. In the south, Biafra apologists and secessionist believers continue to threaten citizens and the government, making demands and enforcing sit-at-home orders. In the South West, there are agitations for the Yoruba nation, calling for the country’s disintegration. These agitations and their tensions keep growing daily.”

He, therefore, asked for a better restructured nation to be able to deal with the problem of representation.

The event was attended by members of the university’s community, including traditional and political leaders.