Nigeria’s ethno-geographic diversity is often cited as a major stumbling block towards its unity, cohesion and oneness of purpose. It is generally believed that a heterogeneous country like Nigeria is more unlikely to evolve a national consensus over sectional interest than a homogenous country. Taking into cognisance the fact that unity of purpose among constituents of a nation state is a condition precedent for political stability, economic growth and development, the argument is that heterogeneity is more synonymous with failing and failed nation states like Nigeria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while homogeneity is commonly associated with succeeding and successful nation states like China, India and the Scandinavia. The heterogeneous nature of Nigeria arising from the amalgamation of many native kingdoms, ethnic and cultural groups into one geographic entity has often been blamed for its failure to develop to its full potential.
However, a closer analysis of the morphology and physiological make-up of the constituent peoples of Nigeria, side by side their history, geography, sociology and anthropology, all of which are indices of measuring the extent of diversity, will reveal a nation that actually qualifies as homogenous, contrary to the widely held notion of being heterogeneous. While no nation on earth is a fact of nature, it would seem as though Mother Nature acquiesced to the birth of the Nigerian nation.
Fundamental to the question of diversity is physical appearance and recurring features of a sample population. Like China (Mongoloid), India (Indo-Aryan) and the Scandinavia (Caucasoid), Nigeria is mostly a black mono-racial country. The majority of the indigenous peoples of Nigeria belong to the Negro race. Those who hold strongly to the belief that Nigeria is a heterogeneous country fail to realize that diversity is measured on the basis of race, not ethnicity. That some are born black while some others white makes race a fact of nature, while ethnicity is artificially created by man as a result of biological accident of birth and environmental happenstance. The United States, which is a leading centre of diversity, categorizes its diverse peoples on the basis of race, not ethnicity. All American citizens and residents of Negro African descent are identified as African Americans, not Igbo Americans or Tutsi Americans, as the case may be. Similarly, the aboriginal population of the U.S. is not identified separately by tribe (Incan, Mayan, Apache, Cherokee, etcetera) but collectively as Native Americans, because they are considered one people on the basis of race.
On the basis of sociology and anthropology of the constituent peoples of Nigeria, historical evidence suggests an intricate web of connections among pre-colonial Nigerians throughout the length and breadth of its modern geographical reality. It is a fallacy that Nigeria is made up of multiple ethnic groups who had little or nothing in common and were forcefully merged for the convenience of British colonial enterprise. From the four cardinal points of the country, there existed and still exists an organic socio-cultural interconnection between the various peoples and cultures of Nigeria that reveals so much in similarities and less in differences. For example, Igbo-speaking communities of Onitsha, Asaba and Agbor are descended from Benin, a kingdom that shares a common ancestry in the mythical figure Oduduwa with the Yoruba of western Nigeria. Similarly, the north of Nigeria is linked with the south through the Igala, an ethnic group from central Nigeria whose roots are buried deep in the soil of Jukun land in the ancient Kwararafa kingdom (descendants of Bayajida, the founder of the 14 Hausa and non-Hausa states) that shares close cultural and traditional ties with Benin kingdom as well as its legacy Igbo states of Agbor, Onitsha and Asaba. The Igala migrated southwards and founded a flourishing kingdom at Idah, from whence they came in close contact with the migrating party out of the ancient Benin Empire, under the leadership of Eze Chima. Through trade, diplomacy and marriage, the Igala integrated seamlessly with the migrating party out of Benin and together established some of the indigenous communities that make up Onitsha and Asaba. Out of the nine villages that make up native Onitsha, two, Ogbeotu and Obikporo, are of Igala origin.
Long before colonialism, the Aro, a sub-group within the larger Igbo ethnic group in present-day Abia State co-founded the Oracle of Arochukwu (Ubinu Upkabi) with the Ibibio of present-day Akwa Ibom State. Famously known as the Long Juju, the Oracle of Arochukwu was a major centre of spiritual pilgrimage and commerce all over Igboland.
The deep-rooted inter-relationship that exists between the various peoples of Nigeria is further illustrated by the similarity of languages, norms, customs and traditional forms of worship. From the way marriages are contracted to the conduct of funeral and chieftaincy rites, a common thread of commonalities with just slight variations in line with individual community’s peculiarity runs through. Therefore, Nigeria does not qualify to be a diverse country but a plural one, as most of its 500 ethnic linguistic groups are nothing but dialects of the original language spoken by a common ancestor. Chances are that, if a DNA sample is obtained from a Kanuri man in Borno, it may match perfectly with an individual from Asaba. Herein lies the folly of sectionalism; a man from Daura might Just be marginalising his cousin from Onitsha.
China is a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria. There are hundreds of ethnic groups in China. The difference between China and Nigeria is in the failure of Nigerians in 2022 to cast away petty ethnic differences by looking at the bigger picture of the enormous commonalities inherent in the native peoples, like the Chinese did over two millennia ago. Under the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) the various Chinese communities from the west, east, north and south came together as one people. By recognizing and accepting their similarities far outweighed their differences as people of one race, they adopted the Han identity as citizens of China and were bound together, not by dogmatic ethnic demagogy, but, by the ideals of Confucianism. This is the easy and right decision Nigerians must take in order to establish the fundamental condition precedent for political stability and economic development, national unity.
To achieve national unity, Nigerians must evolve a national identity that is Nigerian and de-emphasize ethnic sectional identity in the new consciousness of our shared cultural and racial heritage. Therefore, there is no such thing as a ‘’Yoruba race’’ or ‘’Igbo nation’.’ The Yoruba and Igbo as well as other ethnic groupings belong to one race, Negro, and one nation, Nigeria.
Evolving a Nigerian nation from a “mere geographical expression” of over 500 perceivably different ethnic groups is possible under the self-enlightened realization of Nigerians about their oneness. Individual survival of Nigerians depends on the collective survival of the Nigerian state in a fast-paced globalizing world. Whereas the Chinese have come together to explore and exploit the rest of the world for extra sources of material and natural resources, the various superficial ethnic groupings in Nigeria, urged on by local ethnic champions, are locked in a bitter struggle to have advantageous share of its meagre internal natural resource endowments. The immediate consequence of this sectional competition is that Nigeria’s resource base is infinitely depleted without concerted efforts at replenishment and, if the trend continues, every constituent part of Nigeria will be the loser.
Nigerians must pool their energy by replacing sectional competition for local resources with global competition for world resources, in order ensure surplus and banish want.