Tribalism in Nigeria: the disguised saviour of Nigeria

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Around 2013, Akwa-Ibom state government organized a competition for the different choir groups in the state. Each group was led by a choirmaster, and composed of five different sections: soprano, treble, tenor, bass and instrumentalists. Each section within the choir groups had been trained to collaborate for producing specific sounds that complement the sounds of the other sections. Each section freely produced and projected their sounds in response to the command of the choirmaster for a beautiful harmony. The ability to collaborate within sections to produce sounds for the whole choir illustrates the saving capacity of tribalism in Nigeria.


Many political commentators  have blamed ethnicity and tribalism in Nigeria for most of the crises and underdevelopment in Nigeria.[1][2] They insist that Nigerians must remove the attachment to their tribes and ethnicity for a better Nigeria.[3] Some people even argue that Nigerians should no longer include their town, local government and state of origin in official documents. This practice, they believe, will erase Nigerians’ emotional attachment to their origins, and automatically redirect the emotions to Nigeria.


Tribalism is the love for one’s tribe; “It is the state of being organized in or an advocate for a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their own tribe or social group.”[4] It involves a positive contribution to the social, political and economic development of one’s tribe or social group towards sustainability. These smaller groups eventually merge with other groups to form larger societies or countries for better socio-economic collaboration and sustainability. In a choir instance, tribalism would imply the loyalty to one’s particular part of the main choir for better sound-production.


However, there is a negative dimension of tribalism, which involves supporting one’s tribe to the detriment of other tribes. This is the version of tribalism blamed for crises and underdevelopment in Nigeria. It arises from the fear of domination or oppression from people of other tribes in a common enterprise. This constant fear of people from other tribes makes an individual seek to fortify and surround himself with his tribesmen.


Nigerian tribes, kingdoms and ethnic communities were brutally merged under a federal government[5] without true consent for productivity. Following the same colonial force, these ethnic communities were also stripped off the rights to their mineral resources[6][7][8] and lands.[9] With the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act, the federal government confiscates and auctions the mineral resources to foreign companies. Eventually, the revenue from the resources are shared at the discretion of the federal government to the different states into which the country has been partitioned.


Since resource-revenues from all sections are pooled together at the centre before sharing, people closer to the central are tempted to favour their kinsmen. By favouring their kinsmen with contracts and positions, they strengthen their influence and grip on their lucrative positions. The manifestation of negative tribalism is seen in the award of contracts, appointments and employment opportunities to one’s tribesmen, even when they are less-qualified. Just like in the arbitrary creation of Nigeria, the states were not created with the consent of the constituent ethnic communities, and thus manifest some negative tribalism.



The major purposes for social collaboration between social groups in a nation are security, enlightenment, productivity and trade. These purposes are achievable and guaranteed when the different social groups deliberate and agree to collaborate for mutual gain. Unfortunately, the social groups in Nigeria have never truly deliberated towards agreeing on these social purposes, especially productivity. Instead, different federal regimes auction the mineral resources that should have been used for productivity, and resort to sharing proceeds. Thus, the focus on sharing opportunities for sharing mineral-resource-revenue diverts Nigeria’s productive mentality.



Positive tribalism is characterized by love for one’s social group, manifested in contributing to their social and economic development. The social development requires modifying the social institutions for the security, freedom and self-actualization of one’s social group. The economic development involves the provision of practical education for productivity and access to necessary resources for productivity. Tribalism will save Nigeria, when different tribes educate and organize themselves to utilize their resources for social development. Eventually, they will appreciate the need for other tribes and contribute different percentages of their productivity towards the administration of the country. (Just like a choir)


Charity begins at home; the eyelashes cannot love the legs or whole body more than it loves the eyes. This is because it is primarily linked to the eyes, where it functions, before linking to other parts of the body. Also, it will be unrealistic to expect tribesmen to love other tribes equally, or more than their own tribesmen. Instead, tribesmen love and collaborate with other tribes to the degree of their tribal agreement and collaboration for mutual interests. We are humans with emotions, not robots with remote controls for turning off our ethnic alliances. The natural instinct of self-preservation in humans require a guarantee of interest to relate freely.


True tribalism in Nigeria includes an insistence on the eradication of illiteracy, poverty, hunger and insecurity in one’s tribe. It includes the manifestation of the socio-economic virtues for progress and peace with other social groups. It includes enlightenment for peaceful and productive living in one’s tribe. Our use of tribalism in this article encompasses love for one’s family, village, town, kingdom and every natural social group to which we belong.


Unfortunately, real tribalism in Nigeria may be difficult to find presently, as the cultural foundations are quickly phasing out. The people in top-government positions may not be classified as being truly interested in positive tribalism in Nigeria for social liberation. Their few ‘tribal’ actions may be described as fortifying their alliances from and for participation in “the national cake”. It may be difficult to say that they truly care about the lower class in their tribes, and not conveniently whipping tribal sentiments for support.


Before there can ever be a true nationalism in Nigeria, there has to be a true tribalism in Nigeria. This is because the whole can only be as strong as the parts and the connection between the parts. Without proper management of tribalism in Nigeria, we will be left with a terrible identity crisis, confusion of origin and cacophony of alliances. Without proper distinction and fortification of the different parts in a choir, the choir may never perform well.


[1] Stella Oduah, “Tribalism, ethnicity, bane of Nigerian development” In Vanguard reported by Taiwo Bello, October 28, 2013.

[2] Emeka Nnaya Nwodo, “Politics of Tribalism, sectionalism and the future of Nigerian youths” In Vanguard December 17, 2017. retrieved December 21, 2017

[3] DailyPost, “Tribalism, Nepotism, Cronyism and general poverty in Nigeria” In DailyPost July 18, 2012 retrieved – 30th November, 2017

[4] Definition of tribalism; Definition of tribalism by Macmillan dictionary In

[5] S. O. Oyedele, “Federalism in Nigeria” in Issues contemporary political economy of Nigeria (edited) Hassan A. Saliu, op.cit, p.57

[6] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 2

[7] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 2, paragraph 1

[8] Nigerian minerals and mining act 2007 act no. 20, chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, paragraph 3

[9] 29th March 1978, Land use act. P7