Normative Approaches to Ethnic Recognition and Accommodation: Their Applicability to the Nigerian Experience

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Abstract

This article explores the central theme in the normative philosophy arguments of Michael Walzer; Charles Taylor; and Will Kymlicka and their applicability to the state building processes and constitutional politics in Nigeria. The main argument of these scholars is that, in a multicultural society, equality and justice; unity and stability are likely to prevail if state building and constitutional processes of a country recognises and accommodates ethnic diversity. Critically applied, the article observes that since liberal democratic values are not well rooted in the Nigerian body politics, the specificity of the Nigerian state would have to be recognised for the normative arguments to be completely applicable. Under the given, the article concludes that, strict application of the normative prescriptions in Nigeria's multiethnic society could trigger escalating cycles of ethno-political tensions, institutional instabilities, and demand by groups for exit from the Nigerian state.

Key words: Ethnic accommodation; Ethnic diversity; Ethnic recognition; National unity; Nigerian experience; Normative approaches; Political stability

Ali S. Yusufu Bagaji, Joseph O. Achegbulu, Moses Etila Shaibu (2012). Normative Approaches to Ethnic Recognition and Accommodation: Their Applicability to the Nigerian Experience. Cross-Cultural Communication, 8(3), 65-71. Available from URL: http://www.cscanada. net/index.php/ccc/article/view/j.ccc.1923670020120803.2924 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/j.ccc.1923670020120803.2924.

INTRODUCTION

One of the greatest challenges facing both the politically advanced and developing societies, especially Nigeria in the contemporary time is how to meet its pre-set national goals-recognising and accommodating ethnic diversity, achieving national unity and political stability. For this reason, state building strategies and political institutions in both the advanced and the developing world have come under severe criticisms for failing to adequately take into consideration the interests of all citizens. The nature of the challenge is both a lack of commitment of the political institutions involved in state building to securing equality and justice on the one hand, and a disagreement on what it really entails to grant equal rights for all the diverse groups in a country.

In most liberal theories, especially those ones advanced by John Rawls (1988); Bruce Ackerman (1980); and Ronald Dworkin (1978; 1981; 1983), the distribution of uniform or equal rights for all without consideration for ascriptive criteria has been the standard mode of ensuring equality. This thinking however, has come to be regarded in recent time by scholars such as Michael Walzer (1983, 1987, 1994); Charles Taylor (1991, 1994); and Will Kymlicka (1989, 1995) as partial, exclusionary and oppressive. Instead, there is the insistence on the part of the above mentioned scholars that, the issue of equality entails recognising what is specific to each group in the society. In the opinion of these scholar therefore, the challenge is how to ensure explicit recognition of differences or particularities among groups by the political institutions in the process of distributing rights.

Until recently, John Rawls; Bruce Ackerman and Ronald Dworkin had no difficulty devising a model of society in which groups in a country such as Nigeria with diverse social and cultural backgrounds receive fair treatment. In the model the above mentioned scholars advanced, the state was separated from the private. That is for instance, the separation of state from religion- and anything particular to an individual or group was banished from the former. This means, the state provided a neutral ground for groups to stand as equals in the distribution of rights, privileges and power without regard to social difference. Thus, the project of ensuing equality and justice requires political institutions to proceed from a neutral turf to put in place a "difference-blind system" of rights and liberties of the citizens (Williams, 1995). …