By Plangnan Simon
Ethnic rivalry or conflict has become one of the more serious challenges in Nigeria and Africa at large, particularly to development, which perhaps explains why ethnicity is seen as a reigning concept in African studies. Ethnic conflict is one of the major threats to both national and international peace and security.
Nigeria has suffered scourges of ethnic clashes that consumed many lives and properties for centuries. The epidemic has attracted the world’s attention in seeing how its ugly face can be erected in Africa and Nigeria, yet it has become “Abiku”.
An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, economic or religious, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group’s position within society. This final criterion differentiates ethnic conflict from other forms of struggle.
In Nigeria, there are popular ethnic clashes that started a long time ago and are still ongoing without putting a stop to it. One of which is the Southern Kaduna Crisis is part of a series of ethnicity conflicts in Nigeria between the ethnic groups of the region and the Fulani with the Hausas on the other side. It is tied in with issues of religious and ethnic tension and the Fulani herdsmen crisis, as well as the growing tide of banditry and general insecurity particularly in the north of the country.
Also, the Tiv-Jukun conflict has a long history of occurrence and recurrence over a period of time. In many instances, the conflicts have resulted in the destruction of lives and properties and internal displacement of civilians.
The conflict has affected the relationship between the two ethnic groups who have been living together cordially. Previous studies on the conflict have not given proper attention to the socioeconomic perspective on the conflict, but some findings indicate among others competition over land resources and the desire for each ethnic group to attain political position for the benefit of its ethnic group in terms of socio-economic amenities such as education, healthcare services and employment.
Other examples of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria in include Hausa/Fulani-Sawaya in Bauchi state; Yoruba/Hausa community clash in Shagamu, Ogun state; Eleme-Okrika in Rivers state; the intermittent clashes in Kano, Kano state; Chamba-Kuteb in Taraba state; Itsekiri-Ijaw/Urhobo in Delta state; AguleriUmuleri in Anambra state; Ijaw-Ilaje conflict in Ondo state; Fulani-Irigwe and Yelwa-Shendam both in Plateau state; Hausa-Yoruba clashes in Mile 12 and Idi Araba in Lagos state; and Ife-Modakeke in Osun state; Basa-Egbura in Nasarawa state; Ogoni-Adoni in Rivers state.
A number of political scientists argue that the root causes of ethnic conflict do not involve ethnicity per se but rather institutional, political, and economic factors. These scholars argue that the concept of ethnic war is misleading because it leads to an essentialist conclusion that certain groups are doomed to fight each other when in fact the wars between them that occur are often the result of political decisions.
Moreover, primordial accounts do not account for the spatial and temporal variations in ethnic violence. If these “ancient hatreds” are always simmering under the surface and are at the forefront of people’s consciousness, then ethnic groups should constantly be ensnared in violence.
However, ethnic violence occurs in sporadic outbursts. For example, Varshney points out that although Yugoslavia broke up due to ethnic violence in the 1990s, it had enjoyed a long peace of decades before the USSR collapsed. Therefore, some scholars claim that it is unlikely that primordial ethnic differences alone caused the outbreak of violence in the 1990s.
Whether ethnicity is a fixed perception or not is not crucial in the instrumentalist accounts. Moreover, the scholars of this school generally do not oppose the view that ethnic difference plays a part in many conflicts. They simply claim that ethnic difference is not sufficient to explain conflicts.
Mass mobilization of ethnic groups can only be successful if there are latent ethnic differences to be exploited, otherwise politicians would not even attempt to make political appeals based on ethnicity and would focus instead on economic or ideological appeals. For these reasons, it is difficult to completely discount the role of inherent ethnic differences.
Additionally, ethnic entrepreneurs, or elites, could be tempted to mobilize ethnic groups in order to gain their political support in democratizing states. Instrumentalists’ theorists especially emphasize this interpretation in ethnic states in which one ethnic group is promoted at the expense of other ethnicities.
Furthermore, ethnic mass mobilization is likely to be plagued by collective action problems, especially if ethnic protests are likely to lead to violence. Instrumentalist scholars have tried to respond to these shortcomings. For example, Russell Hardin argues that ethnic mobilization faces problems of coordination and not collective action. He points out that a charismatic leader acts as a focal point around which members of an ethnic group coalesce. The existence of such an actor helps to clarify beliefs about the behavior of others within an ethnic group.
A major source of ethnic conflict in multi-ethnic democracies is over the access to state patronage. Conflicts over state resources between ethnic groups can increase the likelihood of ethnic violence. In ethnically divided societies, demand for public goods decreases as each ethnic group derives more utility from benefits targeted at their ethnic group in particular.
These benefits would be less valued if all other ethnic groups had access to them. Targeted benefits are more appealing because ethnic groups can solidify or heighten their social and economic status relative to other ethnic groups whereas broad programmatic policies will not improve their relative worth. Politicians and political parties in turn, have an incentive to favor co-ethnics in their distribution of material benefits.
Over the long run, ethnic conflict over access to state benefits is likely to lead to the ethnification of political parties and the party system as a whole where the political salience of ethnic identity increase leading to a self-fulfilling equilibrium: If politicians only distribute benefits on an ethnic basis, voters will see themselves primarily belonging to an ethnic group and view politicians the same way.
They will only vote for the politician belonging to the same ethnic group. In turn, politicians will refrain from providing public goods because it will not serve them well electorally to provide services to people not belonging to their ethnic group. In democratizing societies, this could lead to ethnic outbidding and lead to extreme politicians pushing out moderate co-ethnics.
Patronage politics and ethnic politics eventually reinforce each other, leading to what Chandra terms a “patronage democracy”.
The existence of patronage networks between local politicians and ethnic groups make it easier for politicians to mobilize ethnic groups and instigate ethnic violence for electoral gain since the neighborhood or city is already polarized along ethnic lines.
The dependence of ethnic groups on their co-ethnic local politicians for access to state resources is likely to make them more responsive to calls of violence against other ethnic groups. Therefore, the existence of these local patronage channels generates incentives for ethnic groups to engage in politically motivated violence.
If going by the above assertions, then it suggests that the difference in the level of socio-political and economic development of the various ethnic units in Nigeria may be or is responsible for ethnic conflicts. It is true that deep-seated feelings of aversion often exist between groups at different levels of development which co-exist in the same society due to uneven socio-economic opportunities.
It is here pertinent to note that crisis in whatever form hinders growth and development in a community, society and or country at large. Scholars have argued that as good as development is, it cannot take place in a turbulent environment.
Unarguably, stability is one of the pillars of development, and once fuelled, ethnic tension can and does result in destruction. It forces productive human beings to channel their energies into ethnic clashes instead of using them to develop their community/country.
In Nigeria therefore, the system lacks the capacity to manage its resources effectively and efficiently to improve the quality of life of the people because ethnic conflict has become a significant cause of concern since it undermines economic progress and impedes policy changes for the required development.
In a departure from this, ethnic conflict impacts on poverty through a range of welfare effects; direct effects, indirect effects and instrumental effects.
The direct effects include household breakdown through killings, injuries and physical and mental disability; effects on assets and cycles of displacement and poverty. Indirect effects include the effects on local institutions, social networks and community relations, political institutions and governance as well as macro-economic effects. Instrumental effects include disruption of coping strategies as a result of its destructive nature.
In justifying this claim, it then means that poverty can be a basis for mobilization through grievance, and can also be the basis for becoming a supporter or even a participant because of the provision of shelter, food resources, or information and also through reducing the danger of denunciation. Factors such as selective incentives, socio-emotional incentives, coercion and fear and cost of non-participation may force someone to participate in conflict. The creation of a climate that is conducive to poverty reduction, promotion of peace and social cohesion reduces conflict and opens the door to development.
The assumption therefore is that ethnic conflict flourishes in an environment devoid of socio-economic and political security. As the state disengages from critical, basic social provisioning, only the continuances and clients of those who control state power actually continue to have access to state resources through patronage. Patronage relates to mutual dependence and reciprocity, instrumental to political mobilisation and resource distribution along ethnic and patronage lines.
Thus, under these conditions, groups have tended to rely on identity-based politics to struggle for access to the state and the resources that it controls, in order to protest exclusion and oppression, as well as to demand basic rights and socio-political and economic provisioning.
Perhaps one can say that ethnic conflict and development are variables where ethnic conflict is seen as a means to an end though destabilizing. This is because the demand for socioeconomic and political rights of the citizens challenges the established power structures that have prevented each ethnic group as well individuals from reaching their developmental goals. Here, it is clear that there is a link between ethnic conflict and development.
In other words, there is a direct effect of the devices of ethnic conflict on development. If for example, development is conceived to include the capacity of a government or system to manage resources efficiently to improve the well-being of the citizens, then ethnic conflict can be regarded as one of the challenges to development.