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Nigeria is not a socially cohesive country, survey shows

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Bell Ihua


Only three percent see themselves solely as Nigerians, 25 percent with ethnic groups

The Africa Polling Institute (API) recently released a report on Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey (NSCS), which highlights amongst other findings that Nigeria is not a socially cohesive country. In this interview with the institute’s Executive Director, Dr. Bell Ihua, MATTHEW OHUNE finds out more about the latest survey. Excerpts:

Why did your organization, Africa Polling Institute, decide to conduct a survey on social cohesion in Nigeria?
Thank you for the opportunity. Well, first things first; our decision stems from our mandate. Africa Polling Institute is an independent, non-profit and non-partisan opinion research think-tank, with a clear mandate to conduct and disseminate credible opinion polls, surveys, social research and evaluation studies at the intersection of democracy, governance, economic conditions, markets and public life. Secondly, we are the barometers of the country, and our job is to constantly feel the pulse of the nation on various important matters and let the people’s voices be heard. Someone has got to do the heavy lifting when it comes to scientifically seeking the opinion of Nigerians, and we have decided to take the bull by the horns to ask these difficult questions.

What is your understanding of social cohesion and why is it important to study it?
Simply put, social cohesion refers to the willingness of citizens of a country to cooperate with one another in other to survive and prosper. So there is the survival element, and the prosperity element. So a socially cohesive society is one that fights exclusion and perceived marginalization, one that promotes inclusiveness and participation of all citizens, and gives everyone a sense of belonging and a form of unifying identity that is higher than any other ethnic, tribal or religious associations or considerations. Well, in terms of importance, you need to understand what the lack of social cohesion does to the country. It is a major reason why we have tensions and agitations in several parts of our country today. It impedes national integration, peaceful coexistence, economic growth and transformative development.

The study made use of some components and parameters to measure social cohesion. What were they and can you tell us a bit about the methodology of your survey?
Let me start with the methodology for the survey. We employed a stratified random sampling technique to select a nationally representative sample across the 36 states of the country and the FCT. Data was collected proportionately from every senatorial district in Nigeria, by face-to-face household interviews. A total of 5,019 respondents were interviewed of Nigerians above 18 years and above, and the interviews were conducted in five languages: English, Pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. On the indicators and parameters, based on the literature on five indicators are used to measure social cohesion, namely: identity, trust, social justice, patriotism, and future expectation.

So firstly, identity refers to how citizens see themselves. Do they see themselves from a national perspective or an ethnic or tribal perspective? Then on the issue of trust, do citizens trust the government, public institutions and their fellow citizens from different ethnic groups and religious affiliations from theirs? On the issue of equity and social justice, the concern here is the perception as to whether the laws of the country protect everyone equally or there are certain sacred cows that are more equal than others? On the issue of patriotism, the key point here is to test the willingness of Nigerians to work together with fellow citizens to make the country a better place. And lastly the component of future expectation refers to how citizens see the future of the country.

What were some of the major findings from the survey?
Well, there were several findings from the survey, but to summarize, the survey found that with the current state of affairs in the country, Nigeria cannot be said to be socially cohesive, and a lot more needs to be done to promote unity, oneness, trust and a national identity that is higher than any other ethnic, tribal or religious identity in the country. From the perspective of the government and state-actors, a lot needs to be done to fight marginalization, perceived exclusion and promote a sense of inclusion and oneness for all Nigerians. So you see, with the level of poverty at the bottom of the pyramid, 13.2 million children out of school, 23.1 percent unemployment rate and 20 percent underemployment, that means you have over 43 percent of your population either unemployed or underemployed; these are all indicators of exclusion, which are breeding tensions in various parts of the country. It is therefore not surprising to see so much apathy towards government and lack of social cohesion. Similarly, on the part of non-state actors such as NGOs, CSOs, advocates, community and faith-based organizations, a lot also needs to be done to promote peaceful coexistence, unity and oneness.

This summary is quite in the components of identity and trust. What else did the study reveal?
There were quite a number of findings that came out of the survey, which highlighted that Nigeria cannot be said to be a socially cohesive nation. For instance, 87 percent of Nigerians prefer to identify equally as both Nigerian and from their ethnic groups. This includes 25 percent who prefer to identify more with their own ethnic groups than being Nigerian, compared to only five percent who see themselves more as Nigerians. Then you have 10 percent who see themselves only from their ethnic group versus only three percent who see themselves solely as Nigerians.

So essentially, while most Nigerians prefer the dual identity of being Nigerian and from the ethnic groups, there seems to be more leanings towards the ethnic groups, and this is at the heart of social cohesion. In addition, 45 percent of Nigerians said the country is much more divided today than it was four years ago. And this is compared to only 26 percent who said it is much more united today. Interestingly, when you zoom in on those who believe the country is much more divided, significant proportions were found to be from the Southeast region with 70 percent, South-South region with 59 percent and North Central region with 47 percent. The survey further showed that 55 percent of Nigerians said they are truly proud of the nation, compared to 30 percent who said they feel disappointed. Also, 70 percent of Nigerians believe there are persons above the law in country. A female respondent asked me in Markurdi, ‘with all the killings that have taken place in this part of the country, have you ever heard that anyone was arrested, prosecuted and sent to jail?’

Nonetheless, the survey showed that Nigerians remain resilient and willing to cooperate with fellow citizens to fix the country, as the survey reported an average of 70 per cent of Nigerians are willing to work with other citizens, participate in the political process, and possibly join the military to make the country a much more united, peaceful and prosperous nation. These are just a few of the several findings that came out of the survey.

Apart from what you’ve discussed above, what were some of the recommendations that came out of the survey?
In terms of recommendations, there are no silver bullets to creating a socially cohesive state. It is the responsibility of all Nigerians to work together for a more peaceful and prosperous country. However, the government needs to take the lead. So for starters, with the high rate of poverty and unemployment, particularly amongst the youth demography, there’s need for a widening of the social investment programme to accommodate more Nigerians and promote a sense of belonging for all, especially those at the bottom rung of society. But beyond that, there needs to be a new narrative on peaceful coexistence, unity, oneness and mutual trust amongst Nigerians. There’s also the need for a national dialogue to help renegotiate the fractures that currently exist in our shared existence as a nation. The National Orientation Agency (NOA), civil society organizations, traditional institutions, religious organizations and the media all have a role to play towards promoting oneness, mutual trust, social justice and hope.

These are really interesting findings, but who needs to hear them?
Well, I’ll say everyone needs them. Everyone who wants to see a more united, peaceful and prosperous Nigeria needs to hear the findings of this study. Governments at all levels and the three arms need this data. Certain key ministries, departments and agencies of government such as the ministries of information, women affairs and social development, and interior need the data. The National Orientation Agency needs to hear what the data is saying; same with the National Social Investment Programme. The media, civil society organizations, NGOs, advocates, and the donor or development community needs this information, because it is the responsibility of everyone to make Nigeria a better and more inclusive society for all.

API seems to be playing a very important role in the area of providing credible research data. What is the driving force for this kind of work?
Yes, the answer is not farfetched. The mission of API is to produce and disseminate credible Africa-led and Africa-owned opinion polls, surveys, social research and evaluation studies to inform better decisions, public policy, practice and advocacy. So it falls right within the heart of our mandate.

Are there some new polls and surveys we should be expecting?
Oh yes, we are always thinking creatively and brainstorming new areas to conduct fresh policy-relevant opinion polls, surveys and social research studies. We have a study in the pipeline which we tag ‘Deconstructing the Canada Rush.’ Of course, it’s no news that Nigerians are seeking emigration opportunities to Canada in droves, and there’s need to interrogate the issue and understand what is going on. So yes, we are currently collecting data on the study which seeks to understand why all of a sudden there seems to be a rapid increase in the number of Nigerian professionals seeking emigration opportunities to Canada.

This is a genuine concern with implications on the economy, brain-drain, education, international development, foreign relations and so on. We also recently completed a study on sexual abuse in tertiary institutions with one of our partners in Lagos known as Heartminders. In the study we investigated the subject of sexual abuse across six tertiary institutions in Lagos State, and it would be due for release shortly. Also, we have conducted a major survey on mental health in Nigeria, with our partner Epi-Afric, and that would be due for release before the end of the year. So in terms of research activities, we try our best to be constantly active by bringing out new policy-relevant research ideas. This is our own way of contributing to a better society, and as you know, the strength of knowledge workers is their thinking capacity. That’s why we are a think-tank.

What in your opinion is the future of opinion polls, surveys and social research in Nigeria?
This time I would attempt to answer with an eye on the continent because we see ourselves as a continental institute that is dedicated to generating credible African-led and African-owned data. In the emerging new world of knowledge and artificial intelligence, it has been said that data is the new oil, and China has become the new Saudi Arabia for its role at stimulating the new data-driven world order. By extension, as long as there are transitional economies as we have them in Africa, there are constantly emerging issues calling for inquiry, research and data. With the new push for data, I foresee a time where government’s policymakers, business executives and advocates in Africa would seek more data to help them understand the world better and make better decisions. And for us at Africa Polling Institute, we are strategically and deliberately positioning the institute and its work for continental influence.


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