Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Education, Ethnicity and National Integration in the History of Nigeria: Continuing Problems of Africa's Colonial Legacy

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

Education, Ethnicity and National Integration in the History of Nigeria: Continuing Problems of Africa's Colonial Legacy

Article excerpt

Nation-building is no simple process. History has demonstrated the difficult, complex, and varied developments needed to unite a people under a government and to create among them a stable cultural, economic, political, and social community. The process has been especially strenuous where the people to be united have included diverse, large groups distinguished by their own customs, language, or separate identity. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, several of the nations that achieved independence during the decolonization of the 1950s and 1960s have continued to be beset by problems of integrating ethnic groups within the nation--as illustrated by the experience of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in West Africa.

The colonial legacy of patently artificial borders drawn for the convenience of European conference tables bequeathed to many newly independent African nations a motley mix of people, each with their own separate ethnic loyalties and traditions. Nigeria's population well illustrates the diverse ethnicity encompassed within sub-Saharan nations that followed in the wake of Ghana's independence in 1957. Nigeria has a multitude of distinct ethnic and linguistic groups. The ethnic contentions among the largest of those groups--the Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa-Fulani--have littered the pages of the new nation's history. (1)

When Nigeria achieved independence from Great Britain in October 1960, like most other countries decolonized in Africa, it was a nation in name only. It existed as a political and legal entity, not as an effective and emotive identity. It was not a nation in the sense of community and common character. It was a state encompassing many ethnic nations, each claiming their own separate heritage, language, and culture. (2)

At independence, Nigeria's peoples for the most part had not yet come to think of themselves as Nigerians. Ethnic loyalty took precedence over national identity. The nation's people identified themselves primarily as Hausa-Fulani, Ibo, or Yoruba, for example. Their identity as Nigerians lay in the shadow of their tribal and parochial allegiances. (3)

Historical hostilities and rivalries among many of the peoples agglomerated within Nigeria accounted for some of the conflicted sense of common national identity. The colonial legacy contributed significantly, however, to furthering the collision of loyalties in the new nation. For instance, the structure of British colonial administration of the artificially drawn territory restricted development of a national consciousness within the broad expanse of Nigeria's borders. (4)

Britain's practice of indirect rule in colonial Nigeria perpetuated separate ethnic and local identities. By using traditional native institutions and tractable tribal chieftains as their functionaries in exercising the doctrine of indirect rule that colonial administrator Frederick Lugard fashioned, the British sheltered the parochial political patterns of many ethnic groups. Particularly in the north, where Hausa-Fulani tribal leaders resisted European education, indirect rule contributed to the persistence of isolated tribal identity. (5)

British regional government further compounded the persistence of separateness. Although united under a governor, colonial administration from 1906 to 1922 divided Nigeria into the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, which included Lagos, and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. That administration was further fragmented into the Northern, Eastern, and Western Regions maintained from 1922 to 1957, with the Federal Territory of Lagos created in 1954. These regions became essentially self-governing in 1960 at the time of Nigeria's independence as a tenuous federation. (6)

The colonial structure maintained ethnic isolation and reinforced it with regionalism--a situation inherited by the independent nation. With the larger ethnic groups dominating the separate political regions, the colonial experience provided little basis for fusing ethnic groups in any common sense of nationalism. …

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