.Ethnicity: A Threat to Nigeria Nationhood: Social Studies Education as A Panacea


Ezeuzo Pauline U. Department of Social Studies,Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe,Anambra State.


Ethnicity is one of the factors that have caused serious embarrassment to Nigeria nationhood. Almost all national issues in Nigeria are based on ethnicity, ranging from award of contract, siting of important projects, employment, appointment, etc. This paper explained the concepts of ethnicity, nationhood and social studies education and it critically examined characteristics of ethnicity and how it affects economic and political life of Nigerians. The paper emphasized the need for effective teaching of social studies education in Nigerian schools as a panacea to Nigeria ethnic problems. The paper recommended that social studies teaching materials should be distributed to our schools, exposing teachers to workshops, seminars and reviewing social studies curriculum from time to time among others.

Keywords: Ethnicity, Nigeria, Nationhood, Social Studies.


In today's global village, there is hardly a nation that is completely same in terms of having only one ethnic group. Countries like Canada, Sweden, United States of America and Norway are multi-ethnic nations (Meziobi, 1998). The abundance of ethnic groups or nationalities in Nigeria is a major factor in Nigeria's continual national underdevelopment that has defied functional settlement.

Almost all issues in Nigeria are based on ethnic consideration. Onigu (1990) stressed that when the British left this country in 1960, the emerging leaders misconceived the realities of our cultural backgrounds and worked from the theory that once we were called sovereign state, every section magically becomes Nigerian in spirit making it possible for ethnic loyalties to vanish. But this is not so till date. Right from time, Nigerians have not seen themselves as one people. For instances, the formation of political parties like Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Lagos Youth Movement, Action Group (AG), for the Yoruba, Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) and so on. It is observed that the current President Mohammadu Buhari regime has toed ethnic line in his appointments into sensitive political positions. It is important to note that all the top security officers in Nigeria, for example, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief Air Staff among others are all northerners. This development does not augur well in a secular state like Nigeria where the constitution makes provision for the principle of federal character.

Okafor (2013) observes that, throughout the development of Nigeria from a colonial territory to a republic, it has been rare except from a small political elites for Nigerians to think of themselves first and foremost as Nigerians, rather than Hausa, Yoruba, Tiv, Igbo and so forth. Okonkwo (1988) observes that the evil of ethnicity split the efforts of the nationalists, the question towards the end of 1940s was who next should head the only viable party, the Nigerian Youth Movement. The ethnic consciousness destroyed the political party and the political aspirants withdrew to their respective base.

Conceptual Frame


According to Mezieobi (2014), ethnicity can be defined as a collectivity of persons who are held together by shared cultural traditions or heritage pivoting on common ancestry, mother-tongue or language, religion, etc, which traditions are tenaciously held to from time immemorial, not disorganized out-rightly by acculturation process, and which are not only a given group's identifier, but also distinguishes a given group from the others outside the group. Okafor (2013) sees ethnicity as consciousness on a part of a group of its distinctive language, norms and values and they put up action towards developing and glorifying their languages, norms and values.


It is more commonly called a state or country. Okafor (2013) identifies a country that has achieved nation-hood as having territory, government, represented by symbols such as flags, national anthems, etc.

Social Studies

Scholars in the field of social studies have given many definitions of the subject matter. Kissock (1981) defines social studies as a programme of study which society uses to instill in the students the knowledge, skills, attitudes and actions it considers important concerning the relationships human beings have with each other, their world and themselves. Orakwue (1991) sees social studies as the study of man in his unending interactions with his environments and the attempts to make them better places. Social studies is the study of man in his physical and social environments.

Characteristics of Ethnicity in Nigeria

There is scarcely any nation of the world without ethnic groups. What is however, indisputable is that there are variances in the number of ethnic groups that may constitute any given country. Therefore, there are no universally acclaimed features of ethnicity that will apply with equal facility in all nations in the globe. While some characteristics may be commonly shared by all, the number of ethnic groups in any given country such as Nigeria may generate additional characteristics that may be very peculiar to it.

Mezieobi (2014) highlights the characteristics of ethnicity in Nigeria to include the following:

  • Too many Ethnic Groups in Nigeria: There are controversy on the number of ethnic groups in Nigeria. According to Arinze (2011) and Orisa (2013), ethnic groups in Nigeria number over 250. In the words of Obi and Obikeze (2006) "the abundant ethnic groups in Nigeria total about 389". Nigeria is not just ethnically diverse, the ethnic fragmentation is irredeemably too many.
  • Common Historical Ancestral Origin: One vital element that gives any ethnic group its distinctive identity is common ancestor to which the group traces its existence or history. All ethnic groups in Nigeria trace their historical origin to one commonly shared ancestor or the other.
  • Common Mother Tongue: Language is one of those elements of cultural heritage or tradition which people share in common in order to merit the name, ethnic group.
  • Strained Ethnic Relations: According to Mezieobi (2014), "the major ethnic groups have consistently behaved as though Nigeria is a nation of themselves alone". The strained ethnic relations in Nigeria culminate not only in ethnic mistrust, suspicion and ethnic confusion but in disharmonious co-existence, rivalries, ethnic turmoil, etc.
  • Variance in Ethnic Groups' Population: The population size of each of the 389 ethnic groups in Nigeria is not the same. It varies from one ethnic group to the other. Nonetheless, the three acclaimed major ethnic groups, in their collectivity, constitute between 54 percent of the population of all ethnic groups in Nigeria combined.
  • Ethnic Cleansing: Ethnic cleansing in Nigeria is reminiscent of the ethnic cleansing incidents in Rwanda and Bosnia at a given point in time. It is not in dispute that there was ethnic cleansing or purging of an ethnic group - the Igbo by the Hausa/Fulani of Northern Nigeria in 1966 that culminated in the civil war or the Nigeria/Biafra war. An elder statesman, General T.Y. Danjuma has openly declared the killing of his kinsmen in Taraba State by the Fulani Herdsmen as ethnic cleansing. He called on his people to use whatever they have to defend themselves.

The Areas Ethnicity Have Threatened Nigeria Nation-Hood

Nigeria Political Life:

The country has not fared well in its political life. Adeniyi (1993) observes that when Shehu Musa was about to enter the presidential race in the aborted third republic, people asked a lot of questions in respect of his ambition to politics, one of which was, should one who hails from Niger State aspire to succeed President Ibrahim Babangida, another Niger man? One can easily see from the foregoing that there is the trait of ethnicity in the above question.

Chukwuma (2014) has decried the neglect of the South-East zone of Nigeria in sensitive political appointments in President Goodluck Jonathan's led government. He observes that the Central Bank Governor, Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Controller of Custom Services, Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Federation, the Defence Chief, National Security Adviser, the Vice-President and the Inspector General of Police, all came from the North. According to him, the only thing to celebrate in the South-East is the refurbished Akanu Ibiam Airport and non-functional Onitsha Port. He insisted on the adherence to the principle of federal character in sensitive political appointments rather than basing it on ethnic sentiments.

Nwabueze (2000) as the former scribe of Ohaneze Ndigbo canvasses that the only choice is either confederation or complete break up, his allies in the South-West, the Afenifere or Yoruba parapo, remain steadfast in their belief that only a sovereign national conference (SNC) will offer an appropriate platform for Nigeria's future. For South-South zone, what appears to be milder version of the Yoruba position is canvassed in the form of a national conference, which should lead to constitutional restructuring.

Ethnicity and Economic Life of Nigeria

The complaint about the allocation of economic resources and infrastructural imbalances are legion. According to Udenta (1998), the marginalization of the Igbo nation goes beyond military and political appointments, social infrastructure is one area where Igbo nation has continuously held the short end of the stick. The few federal roads in the East exist in a permanent state of disrepair. He also observed that the federal government is always in a hurry to execute afforestation projects and purchase fertilizer with public funds for distribution to farmers in the north but has continually down-played the issue of gully erosion which has diverstated the East, sometimes cutting parts of it from the rest.

Furthermore, the unwanton quests for material things have become responsible for high rate of corruption in the government resulting to economic dislocation. The national economy has been looted, the weak is defenceless and there is wide gap between the rich and the poor. There are indications that legislation cannot help to restore the economic order. The reason is that many laws have been made but they have not made much impact on the economic life of Nigerians. High profile corruption cases in president Buhari regime has been ethnicized and politicized. Yakubu (2019) observes that NNPC $25 billion contract scam linked to the Group Managing Director Maikanti Baru and multi-millionaire grass cutting scandal linked to the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal were all over looked as a result of ethnic and party affiliations.

The Impact of Ethnicity on Nigeria National Life

Ethnicity has led to misallocation of economic resources, establishment of elephant projects, appointment of unqualified persons to sensitive political positions, and unhealthy rivalry and opposition in national and state affairs.

Corruption is also one of the greatest impacts of ethnicity in Nigeria national life. In the government sector, corruption ranges from the wrong use of government property, the abuse of public office for private gains, diversion of public funds to private use as well as receiving bribes from contractors before contracts are awarded.

It is observed that the Igbo nation has suffered economic set back and economic backwardness in the present General Mohammadu Buhari regime. General Mohammadu Buhari has confessed that he received few votes in the South-Eastern Nigeria during 2015 general elections, based on that, the area has continued to suffer economic and political backwardness.

Effective Teaching of Social Studies Education As A Panacea

Social studies education is not mere schooling. It is a subject that will make the individual to be aware of his duties as a good citizen. The overall objective of social studies education as a discipline should be to produce good citizens that will take over from the present crops of leaders at the local, state and federal government levels.

The content of social studies education teaches the students the symbol of National Identity and how to respect them. Such symbols of National Identity include the national flag, the National Anthem, the National Pledge, etc. Students are made to recite both the National Anthem and National Pledge daily in their schools. Mbaba (2007) maintains that as the students continue to practice these every time, the spirit of national consciousness will be imparted in them, which will make them good and effective citizens in their future endeavours as administrators, ministers, governors, president, etc.

Nwuzor (2002) underscores the role of social studies as a vital agent of socialization and moral transformation of citizens. He noted that social studies education inculcates in the students the spirit of fair play, justice, honesty, tolerance and patience, all of which are indispensable for the well being, progress and general development of every human community. It will also reduce rivalry, division, separation which are associated with ethnicity.


Ethnicity is one of the factors that have continued to pose a very serious challenge to Nigeria nation-hood. Almost all national issues in Nigeria are based on ethnic consideration. This has polarized Nigeria and threatened its existence. Social studies education holds immense potentials in contributing substantially to the production of people imbued with the desired behavioural and attitudinal dispositions to push Nigeria in the direction of achieving national unity.


Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are hereby made:

  1. The government should ensure that there are enough teachers of Social Studies education in schools who impart this knowledge.
  2. Social studies teachers should be exposed to workshops and seminars for the effective teaching of the subject in our school system.
  3. Social studies teaching materials should be produced and distributed to schools.
  4. Social studies curriculum for upper basic education, secondary and tertiary education should be reviewed from time to time to meet with the required standard.


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