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Ethno Religion Definition Essay

Eric Brahm

November 2005

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe. Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals' identity, any threat to one's beliefs is a threat to one's very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.

Additional insights into religion and conflict are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world. This aspect of religion and conflict is discussed in the parallel essay on religion and peace. This essay considers some of the means through which religion can be a source of conflict.

Religion and Conflict

Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God's will to fruition.

Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God's wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God's will.

Some groups, such as America's New Christian Right and Jama'at-i-Islami of Pakistan, have operated largely through constitutional means though still pursue intolerant ends. In circumstances where moderate ways are not perceived to have produced results, whether social, political, or economic, the populace may turn to extreme interpretations for solutions. Without legitimate mechanisms for religious groups to express their views, they may be more likely to resort to violence. Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine have engaged in violence, but they also gained supporters through social service work when the government is perceived as doing little for the population. Radical Jewish cells in Israel and Hindu nationalists and Sikh extremists in India are other examples of fundamentalist movements driven by perceived threat to the faith. Religious revivalism is powerful in that it can provide a sense of pride and purpose, but in places such as Sri Lanka and Sudan it has produced a strong form of illiberal nationalism that has periodically led to intolerance and discrimination.[1] Some religious groups, such as the Kach and Kahane Chai parties in Israel or Egypt's Islamic Jihad, consider violence to be a ‘duty'.[2] Those who call for violence see themselves as divinely directed and therefore obstacles must be eliminated.

Many religions also have significant strains of evangelism, which can be conflictual. Believers are called upon to spread the word of God and increase the numbers of the flock. For example, the effort to impose Christianity on subject peoples was an important part of the conflict surrounding European colonization. Similarly, a group may seek to deny other religions the opportunity to practice their faith. In part, this is out of a desire to minimize beliefs the dominant group feels to be inferior or dangerous. Suppression of Christianity in China and the Sudan are but two contemporary examples. In the case of China, it is not a conflict between religions, but rather the government views religion as a dangerous rival for citizens' loyalties. All of these instances derive from a lack of respect for other faiths.

Religious fundamentalists are primarily driven by displeasure with modernity.[3] Motivated by the marginalization of religion in modern society, they act to restore faith to a central place. There is a need for purification of the religion in the eyes of fundamentalists. Recently, cultural globalization has in part become shorthand for this trend. The spread of Western materialism is often blamed for increases in gambling, alcoholism, and loose morals in general. Al-Qaeda, for example, claims it is motivated by this neo-imperialism as well as the presence of foreign military forces in the Muslim holy lands. The liberal underpinning of Western culture is also threatening to tradition in prioritizing the individual over the group, and by questioning the appropriate role for women in society. Of course, the growth of the New Christian Right in the United States indicates that Westerners too feel that modern society is missing something. Conflict over abortion and the teaching of evolution in schools are but two examples of issues where some groups feel religious tradition has been abandoned.

Religious nationalists too can produce extremist sentiment. Religious nationalists tend to view their religious traditions as so closely tied to their nation or their land that any threat to one of these is a threat to one's existence. Therefore, religious nationalists respond to threats to the religion by seeking a political entity in which their faith is privileged at the expense of others. In these contexts, it is also likely that religious symbols will come to be used to forward ethnic or nationalist causes. This has been the case for Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Serbian Orthodox church in Milosevic's Yugoslavia, and Hindu nationalists in India.

Popular portrayals of religion often reinforce the view of religion being conflictual. The global media has paid significant attention to religion and conflict, but not the ways in which religion has played a powerful peacemaking role. This excessive emphasis on the negative side of religion and the actions of religious extremists generates interfaith fear and hostility. What is more, media portrayals of religious conflict have tended to do so in such a way so as to confuse rather than inform. It does so by misunderstanding goals and alliances between groups, thereby exacerbating polarization. The tendency to carelessly throw around the terms ‘fundamentalist' and ‘extremist' masks significant differences in beliefs, goals, and tactics.

Religion and Latent Conflict

In virtually every heterogeneous society, religious difference serves as a source of potential conflict. Because individuals are often ignorant of other faiths, there is some potential tension but it does not necessarily mean conflict will result. Religion is not necessarily conflictual but, as with ethnicity or race, religion serves, as a way to distinguish one's self and one's group from the other. Often, the group with less power, be it political or economic, is more aware of the tension than the privileged. When the privileged group is a minority, however, such as the Jews historically were in much of Europe, they are often well aware of the latent conflict. There are steps that can be taken at this stage to head off conflict. Interfaith dialogue, discussed further below, can increase understanding. Intermediaries may help facilitate this.

Religion and Conflict Escalation

With religion a latent source of conflict, a triggering event can cause the conflict to escalate. At this stage in a conflict, grievances, goals, and methods often change in such a way so as to make the conflict more difficult to resolve. The momentum of the conflict may give extremists the upper hand. In a crisis, group members may see extremists as those that can produce what appear to be gains, at least in the short-term. In such situations, group identities are even more firmly shaped in relation to the other group, thereby reinforcing the message of extremists that one's religion is threatened by another faith that is diametrically opposed. Often, historic grievances are recast as being the responsibility of the current enemy. Because at this stage tactics often come detached from goals, radical interpretations are increasingly favored. Once martyrs have been sacrificed, it becomes increasingly difficult to compromise because their lives will seem to have been lost in vain (see the essay on entrapment* for more on this problem).

What is to Be Done

In the eyes of many, religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths. Communicating in a spirit of humility and engaging in self-criticism would also be helpful.[4]

[1] David Little, "Belief, Ethnicity, and Nationalism"

[2] David Little, "Religious Militancy," in Managing Global Chaos, eds, Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (Washington DC: USIP Press, 1996).

[3] R. Scott Appleby, "Religion, Conflict Transformation, and Peacebuilding," in Turbulent Peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict, eds, Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (Washington DC: USIP Press, 2001).

[4] David Smock, Building Interreligious Trust in a Climate of Fear: An Abrahamic Trialogue,

Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Religion and Conflict." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: November 2005 <>.

Additional Resources

The linkage between ethnic crises in Nigeria in relation to how the integration of diverse ethnic groups in Nigeria can be attained was the focus of this study. The integration of Nigeria is an issue at boiling point that needs to be urgently and collectively tackled by the Nigerian government and indeed Nigerians; this aroused my interest in the study.

Inquiries were made into the effects of ethnic crises on the integration of Nigeria. Struggle for ethnic dominance, leadership problems, resource control, religious differences and undying quest for power, among others, characterized the emergence of ethnic crisis in Nigeria.

This study held that the major cause of disintegration in Nigeria could be linked to the frequent and unending ethnic crisis which in turn leads to political and economic disability as no meaningful development could take place in a crises driven society and the existing ones are been destroyed.


Nigeria is made up of different ethnic units. In actual fact, it is a multi-ethnic society. According to Gaye (1999) the integration problem in Nigeria is likely one of the most complex in the world.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country with over 250 ethnic groups on a land area of 923,768 sq km (2008 Mongobay world statistics) with over 140 million population, none of the three main ethnic groups which are the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo constitutes a majority of the population (Gaye 1999). With over 520 languages spoken (Ethnologue 2009) it is of no doubt that Nigeria is truly a multi-ethnic Nation.

Nigeria was created during the British colonial rule. It was established in 1914 when Lord Fredrick Lugard (the First Governor General) joined the two British protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria and Lagos as the crown colony into a single entity in other to promote unity and development.

Nigeria gained independence in October 1960 and had since experience much of Military intervention in its political affairs. Since the current return to civil rule in May 1999, there had been over 150 ethno-religious conflicts resulting in tremendous loss of lives and properties (Eliagwu 2004).

Religious membership in Nigeria is strongly tied to ethnicity. Ancient Nigeria comprises of many religions which are practiced by different ethnic groups, but all this religions had since been overpowered by Islam and Christianity with only a few practicing the Traditional Nigerian Religion. According to the Nigeria census report (2003); 50.4% of Nigerian population practice Islam, 48.2% practice Christianity while 1.4% practice the Traditional Nigerian religion. In terms of major ethnic-religious memberships Islam mainly dominates the Northern (Hausa) part of Nigeria; Christianity is prevalent in the Southern (Yoruba and Igbo) part of Nigeria while in the Southwest there is no leading religion.

According to Emenloye (2011), there is usually an inseparable linkage between ethnic and religious conflicts in a multi-ethnic society such as Nigeria where ideals of federalism and constitutionalism are still in transition. Conflicts as a result of ethno-religious tensions are not new in Nigeria, but the unending occurrence makes it an issue that requires urgent attention if Nigeria is to remain integrated as a Nation.

Ideally; the spirit of federation, patriotism and nationalism is expected to override all ethnic, tribal or religious affiliation of Nigerians. Unfortunately, this is not the case as most conflicts were based on ethnic or religious identity (Emenloye 2011).

It is notable that the number of such conflicts in recent years is clearly much higher than those that had previously occurred in the history of the country (Oke Ogunde, 2002).

According to Nwaobi Godwin (2009), this ethno-religious disunity has disturbed, complicate and had made every developmental effort undertaken by government to be unrealizable. This was what prompt Martin Ike (2009) to posit that Nigeria effort at achieving national integration have remain largely unrealized.


The combination of ethnicity with religion had since put Nigeria into unrest. Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has struggled with the challenges of managing its religious and political differences. The major test of Nigeria’s ability to manage this diversity and promote national integration has been ethno-religious conflicts and there devastating effects on the Nigerian polity (Emeye 2011).

The concept of ethnicity and religion cannot be separated in the explanation of social conflicts but at this end it is important to separate the two words ethnicity and religion in other to be able to trace the problems back to the roots so as to be able to get a clear understanding of the research problems. Though fused together and inter-woven, one must note that not all ethnic motivated crises in the Nigerian polity has religious undertone and not all religious motivated crises as an ethnic undertone though they mostly come side by side.

Problems of ethnic conflicts in the Nigerian polity.

Ever since Nigeria attained independence from the British colony in 1960, The Nation had since been battling with integration as a result of inter-ethnic cum religious conflicts. Will it then be right to posit that the colonial existence of Britain in Nigeria and the force associated with colonialism united the entity called Nigeria before independence? It is worthy of note that the Biafra conflicts which almost divided the nation started in 1967 which is a few years after independence. The conflicts lasted for almost 3years because the eastern states attempted to break away from Nigeria.

To be factual, most of the ethnic conflicts which rage Nigeria today could be traced to the events which took place while Nigeria was under the colonial rule of Britain. However, Nigeria still ignorantly continued to tread that path till this present day.

It is important to note that the entity called Nigeria does not exist before colonialism, what existed was many different scattered communities and tribes in which some of their territories even over-lapsed the geographical territory of the present day Nigeria. The different ethnic groups which had different beliefs, cultures, religious practices and languages where all brought together by Britain to form a nation without seriously considering the characteristics of these groups and how they could peacefully co-exist. These ethnic nationalities on the other hand do not legitimately see themselves as a citizen of one united Nigeria but as that of whichever ethnic groups they originate. So from beginning the patriotic spirit needed to move the nation forward was lost because the ethnic groups never agreed and were not willing to co-exist. So ever since after independence in 1960, Nigeria had been battling to cope with different inter-ethnic crises arising as a result of trying to forcefully co-exist together as one indivisible entity as it was established in 1914 before independence. These seems unrealizable, due to the faulty foundation on which Nigeria was established as some ethnic groups still desire to break away from the present entity called Nigeria.

However, the economic system of Nigeria is another contributing factor to frequent ethnic crises. The economic system introduced to Nigeria from inception was not in-line with the political system of a country with such historical developments as Nigeria. The capitalist economic system that was introduced creates high level of competition and strives for economic relevance among the amalgamated regions. Every individual since then and till present day, strive for the development of its own affiliated region not the development of a united Nigeria, therefore division became further drawn along the lines of ethnicity.

Worst still, the ever un-sincere and bias constant intervention of the western world due to their own selfish driven interest, in the political-economic affairs of Nigeria had continually led to nothing but chaos among the Nigerian ethnic groups. Nigeria as a sovereign nation needs no external interference, and should be independent to run its affairs in the ways and manners it deems fit. Nigeria is a nation with many mineral resources like crude oil, which is needed by developed nations to survive. The favors and special treatment in terms of loans, aids and grants to one region because of what they stand to gain from such regions had continued to set Nigeria ethnic groups against one another. A good point of reference is the constant and undying interest of the western powers in the oil rich south-south, Niger-delta region of Nigeria due to its richness in crude-oil and the outright neglect of Northern Nigeria which does not possess such vital mineral resources they need. Invariably whenever there are crises in these regions, the western powers takes sides and this tends to guarantee the re-occurrence and prolong such crisis.

Further-more, the style of governance imposed on Nigeria was totally unfit for a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. According to Katy, (2008) Britain imposed a west-minister style of government which was totally different from the ways the diverse ethnic groups formerly governed themselves. This included the starting of political parties; it is notable that various parties under the British rule were often made up of members of specific tribes and this concept exist till date in Nigeria as political parties are formed on the basis of ethnicity and not national interest. Nigeria currently has over 60 different political parties. During colonialism, it is important to note that political parties and groups despite their different aims and objectives once shared a common goal: which is to get autonomy from the British colonialist. This became their major national interest and for that short-while, tribes were united under a common aim. Once independence was gained it became evidently clear that Nigeria was not naturally a nation; no wonder Nigeria had to battle with civil war from 1967-1970. The systems in place were not really established to deal with such large amount of ethnic groups. Politics till date in Nigeria is base on ethnicity, instead of the parties coming together to share common aim, they all tread the path of regionalism. The natural order of regions, division along tribal lines with each ethnic groups striving for political-economic relevance and superiority had continually result to constant conflicts.

In recent years, since the return to democratic rule in May 1999, ethnic crises in Nigeria had been a more constant phenomenon and had since been inevitable due to the lucrativeness attached to politics and democracy in Nigeria. To be factual Nigerian political system and political offices are too profitable for any ethnic group not to strive for power dominance and recognition.

Nigeria practices federalism in written but not in its true context, the Federal Government oversees the entire resources and regulates the economic affairs of the Nation while resources are been distributed to the states and local councils on a monthly basis. The political elites of each ethnic group had since view control of the central as an automatic way to selfishly enriched themselves and maybe also better the living standards of the people of their community. Each ethnic group passionately strive hard to be in the realm of power, to be able to regulate national affairs at the center and are not willing to settle for anything less thereby making politics a “do or die” affair.

Each region in Nigeria have their own dreaded groups: the Odua people’s congress (o.p.c) fighting for the interest of the west, Militants and so called “freedom fighters” in the east and south-south and the most dreaded one recently tagged a terrorist group by the united states, which is also currently threatening the unity and peaceful co-existence of the Nation is the “Boko-haram sects” in the North. This sect is responsible for the recent bombing of the United-Nations house in Nigeria as well as other recent insurgents in the country. The sects had since constantly and are not ready to give up in terrorizing the unity of Nigeria until the south-south region currently in hold of the federal power releases it to the North, so also are other regions clamoring for this same power.

The challenges of Nigeria regarding integration are that Nigerians no longer view Nigeria as their own entity. The sense of patriotism needed to unite and fast track developments in the country had been long lost. According to Katy, (2008) a Nation cannot be created by simply drawing of lines on a map, it must be to some extent a natural product of the unity of its population.

Problems of religious conflicts in the Nigerian polity:

Religious conflicts are as old as ethnic conflicts. Religion is a double edged sword which could serve as an instrument of social integration or serve as a motivation for violence (Maregere 2011). With endless religious cum ethnic conflicts in the Nigerian polity, religion has served more as an instrument and motivation for violence than for social harmony. Over the years the relationship between ethnic and religious groups had grown worse. Religion in Nigeria had become a divisive issue that creates a growing conflict flash point (shadrack 2001). A brief analysis of the background reasons behind those religious conflicts in Nigeria will help the purpose of this research and also create a better understanding of the situation.

Religious intolerance, fanatics and extremism is the basis of religious crises on which other causes of religious violence rest upon. This implies the strict obedience and faithfulness to the doctrines of a religion. Often time’s modernization is been used to weaken original religious teachings to encompasses intolerance. This involves the obstinate and bias devotion to ones opinions and prejudices especially the exhibition of intolerance and hatred towards persons of differing beliefs (baird and rosenbaum 1999). According to Abdul Balogun (1988:166) religious intolerance is the hostility towards other religions as well as the inability of religious adherents to harmonize between the true principles and practical aspects of a religion.

However, the wrong scriptural interpretations by some selfish and shallow-minded religious leaders according to Ahmad (2008) gives wrong impression about other religions because of the wrong religious orientation been impacted on the religious faithful. This make people to be used indirectly for violence without knowing they are been used, especially when religious leaders and Nigerian political elites lack the power and support to gain access to something they hide under the shadow of religion (Usman 1987).

Religious dominance, struggle for relevance and superiority among religious groups is another problem of religious conflicts in Nigeria.

The introduction of Sharia doctrine in some Nigeria Muslim populated states had always been forcefully rejected by other religious groups. The Islamist claimed that the introduction of Sharia principles in the states will put a stop to bad acts such as corruption, rape, alcohol consumption, kidnapping, bad dressing and other evil things which are believed to be done by other religious faithful in the states. The governments felt that such behaviors will pollute the minds of Islamic faithful whose population dominates the states. This met stiff resistance by other religious faithful who claim that it is an attempt to turn Nigeria into an Islamic nation and put a stop to other religions, this in turn spark up religious conflicts in Nigeria.

The unreasonable statements and publications by religious elites in the media had always spark up unending conflicts among different religious groups who feel insulted by such publications and adversely react angrily. Example of such conflicts occurred in 1999 as a result of the intentional wrong spelling of an Islamic word on the cloth of a Muslim faithful by a tailor in Kano state Nigeria. The tailor removed two alphabets from the word spelling; meanwhile the two letters he omitted from the word changed the meaning of the word which is now interpreted as an insult to Muslims. this made the Muslims angry as it later broke out into a serious religious conflicts. Another good illustration is the religious conflict that happened in Nigeria in 2001 a result of a comment in the media by an unbeliever regarding Islam as a religion of “pieces” instead of “peace” This statement is an insult, bad and unreasonable. The Islamic youths and faithful were annoyed and this lead to conflicts as such statements and publications had always led to religious conflicts in Nigeria.

The lack of punishments for past offenders who had intentionally caused chaos among religious groups in Nigeria had constantly brought about conflicts. The religious groups seek revenge by themselves for the killings and damages done to them by other religious groups. The recommendations of previous probe committees set up by government are not been implemented. This makes it looks as if offenders will go unpunished and it encourages more conflicts in the country.

The fusion of politics with religion by most political actors in Nigeria is another problem. Most times during elections, contesters of various political offices tends to hide under religious tenets to get their votes which makes them to be loyal to such religious groups when they get to power. They therefore involve in religious activities and this brings hatred among religious groups as the opposition candidate will hide under another religious group during the next elections. The dirty game of politics is been brought into religion and this foster conflicts.


To this extent it becomes imperative to inquire into the basis of ethno-religious crisis and how true nation-hood can be attained in Nigeria via the following research questions:

Why has ethno-religious conflict affect integration in Nigeria?

Why did ethno-religious relationship worsen in Nigeria?

How has the Nigerian government been making efforts to re-integrate Nigeria?


This research aims to proffer solutions to the problems confronting Nigeria integration. This study therefore essentially seeks to examine how ethno-religious conflicts have led to the disintegration of Nigeria.

This work seeks to analyze and evaluate ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria, in other to determine the extent of their relevance and irrelevance to the problem of Nigeria’s integration. However emphasis will be placed on finding out the attitude of the governments towards preventing constant ethno-religious conflicts as well as the strategy government adopts in tackling the remote causes of various ethnic or religious identity motivated crisis in the country in other to checkmate if not eradicate future occurrences.

More so, this study will examine the efforts of government in re-integrating Nigeria.

The significance of this study cannot be under-estimated as attempts will be made to bring out recommendations to the Nigerian government, which if adopted may establish a better peaceful co-existence among the diverse ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria, aimed at re-awaken the consciousness of national unity.

On a final note this research seeks to contribute to the academic world as the problems hindering integration in countries with high level of multi-ethnicity and religious beliefs like Nigeria will be explored.


The nature of this research will be qualitative, in other to reasonably accomplish the task set out in this study. According to Myers (1997), it is an inductive approach of gaining deeper understanding of a social and cultural phenomenon. Qualitative research is based on gathering deep understanding and knowledge about human behaviors, the foundational reasons behind such behaviors and decision making. The researcher often infers knowledge base on constructivist perspectives (Creswell, 2003). This form of research is necessary in this study because it will investigate “why and how” the conflicts happen, not just where, what and when. It involves the use of inductive reasoning by observing data’s in other to develop a generalization which will explain the relationships between the variables observed. ( Schriver 2001)

This study will involve the use of historical and content analysis, to discover facts and gain further insights since the study seeks to enhance the understanding of how ethnic conflicts disintegrates Nigeria and also aims to recommend possible solutions aim at solving the integration problem in Nigeria.

Method of data collection

This study would make use of secondary data collection. The research will be base on review from several works. Sources of data will include:

Official documents: Like communiqués, correspondences, government policies and international agendas.

Newspaper and media: The reports, speeches, figures, internet and papers delivered by stake-holders will be used, but the internet will be discreetly used to avoid bias as events will be checked from different sources in other to validate its authenticity.

Publications: In form of books, thesis and article in journals. All the information gathered will be analyze in a systematic way hence it deals with complex social issues.

All the information gathered will be written down and analyze systematically, hence it deals with complex social issues.

. This type of research does not carry out its interpretation in numbers instead it is carried out through visual data presentation in the form of maps, photographs and diagrams indicating how ideas are conveyed and relate all the works within the framework of the subject matter.

Method of data analysis:

According to Marshall and Rossman (1989) Historical analysis will be useful in obtaining background and knowledge of previous unexamined areas and re-examining questions for which answers are not as definite as desired.

Data would be interpreted through historical and content analysis. The analysis will be done using speeches, text books, policy statements, journals, local and international magazines, internet, articles, federal government reports, and communiqués and so on. The analysis will look into the roots and basis of ethnic and religious crises in Nigeria, how such crisis had threatened the integration of Nigeria as a nation, the relationship between ethnic and religious crises, as well as look into the efforts of government in re-integrating Nigeria. The historical analysis will pave way in getting a clear understanding of why conflicts occurred in the past, gain some certainty of the facts, establish the reasons and effects between those facts so that one can understand the relationships between variables which will help in getting solutions to the problems of this research.


The theories of ethnic identity conflicts in political literatures are the theory of Primordialism, Instrumentalism and theory of Social Constructivism. These theories are used to explain ethnic conflicts (Esman1994). The primordial’s theory best fits into the conflicts situation in Nigeria and that of other nations with multi ethnic groups as it brings to our knowledge how difference in ethnic identities always results to crises. However the instrumentalist and social constructivist views will be used to back up the view of the primordial’s in the ways they reflect on the Nigerian conflict situation.

This framework focuses on the primordialism theory of conflicts.

The primordialism theory of conflicts can be traced to the philosophical ideas of German Romanism particularly in the works of Johan Gottlied Fichte,(1792) and Johan Gottfried Herder, (1792) it was popularly propounded by Donald Horowitz.(1996) Primordialism in relation to ethnicity as posited by Fichte and Herder (1792) is that ethnic groups and nationalities exist because there are traditions of beliefs and action towards primordial objects such as biological factors and territorial locations. Primordial’s are of the view that ethnic identity is fixed once it is constructed; this concept established that difference in customs form the basis for national disunity in most multi-ethnic nations. Donald Horowitz (1985) and Steven Grosby (1994) posits that ethnic factions will do anything to preserve and protect the language, beliefs, territory, background and cultures against external forces; in a competitive society, threats and sense of danger usually meets strong resistance which brings conflict. primordialism remains influential in identifying the strength of ethnic ties and peoples commitment to the ethnic alliances of their own immediate ethnic groups. Primordial’s believes that an irreconcilable difference due to diverse orientation and cultural background causes the fear that begets conflict. To the primordial, conflict experienced during the Nigerian civil war in 1967 and other ethnic conflicts was unarguably due to difference in norms, cultures, traditions, backgrounds and beliefs which brings rivalries between ethnic groups.

The theory of instrumentalism in this framework is balancing the primordial’s theory in the aspect of leadership interest in ethnic conflicts as it touches some aspects in the Nigerian conflict situation. Instrumentalism became prominent in 1960s and 70s in the works of Anthony Smith. It is mainly on ethnic persistence as an effective melting point to ethnic issues. This theory focused on the actions of community and regional leaders who used their ethnic groups as site of mass mobilization in competing for dominance, power and resources. Such leaders hide under the shadows of ethnicity to brain-wash and set there subordinates against other ethnic race in other to realize there individual goals. The Instrumentalist believes that if ethnicity is not viewed as instrumental identities which are means to a particular end there will be no crisis, they’re of the position that there is more to ethnic crises other than relevance. A good illustration is some leaders of the Niger-delta region in Nigeria who sponsored militancy groups to terrorize other ethnic groups and the country at large while there major aim is to gain control of crude-oil in the area.

Also supporting the Primordial’s theory in this framework is the theory of social constructivism which was formalized by Jean Piaget (1975) through the accommodation and assimilation principles. Social constructivism view ethnic crises base on the unwillingness of ethnic groups to accommodate and assimilate each other’s principles. According to Jean (1975) Ethnic groups cannot integrate until they are genuinely ready to shift grounds for one another by willing to accommodate the good and ugly of each other, and are as well ready to assimilate each other’s principles, beliefs and way of life. Jean believes that if the components of this theory could be applied by ethnic groups then ethnic conflicts might no longer occur constantly.

The primordialism theory is the major theory of this framework while social constructivism and instrumentalism theory tends to balance and back-up the major framework. All these views put together better explains the indebt reason behind ethno-religious conflicts among the over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria.