Map of Nigeria

Map of Nigeria



Ethnicity and Religion are two issues that have played dominant roles in the way of life and governance in Africa. As Kalu argued, Religion dominates the roots of the culture areas of Nigeria…Little or no distinction existed between the profane and the sacred dimensions of life. Thus, all activities and instruments of governance and survival were clothed in religious ritual, language and symbolism (Kalu, 1989:11). Enwerem made the same point when he pointed out that over and above the factors of environment, political organization and outlook of traditional Nigeria, the religious factor remained the major source of inspiration in the catalyst for the people’s activities and world view (Enwerem, 1995). Equally, Dlakwa has argued that the political behaviour of some Nigerians is still influenced heavily by the hyperbolic assumption that one’s destiny is intrinsically and exclusively linked with one’s ethnic, linguistic and religious identity (Dlakwa, 1997). In this paper, we give an overview of Nigeria’s political and constitutional history and the evolution of its Federal system. The paper argues that the evolution of federal system in Nigeria was truncated by military intervention. The paper also reviews the operation of federalism in Nigeria and posits that minority rights are not protected. Finally, the paper outlined the challenges of ethnic and religious diversity in Nigeria and drew lessons particularly for countries in democratic transition.


Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a population of over 120 million people of diverse ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious identities. The history of the country can be traced to pre-colonial times when there were     “elaborate systems of governance, which varied in scale and complexity depending on their geographical environment, available military technology, economic, spiritual and moral force.” (Political Bureau Report, 1987).   There were various kingdoms and empires such as the Yoruba kingdom, the Benin kingdom, the Fulani emirate, the Igbo traditional system, the Urhobo gerontocratic system etc. All these changed with the conquest of Lagos in 1861 by the British and the subsequent amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914. As a result of a lot of struggle, Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The First Republic lasted only six years under a parliamentary system of government with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister  and the military took over political power by force in 1966. The military ruled for thirteen years under four heads of state (Gen. J.T. Aguiyi Ironsi: January 1966-July, 1966; Yakubu Gowon: July 1966- July, 1975; Gen. Murtala Mohammed: July, 1975 –February, 1976 and General Olusegun Obasanjo : February, 1976 –October, 1979) and handed over power in 1979. The Second Republic changed to a Presidential system of Government under Alhaji Shehu Shagari which lasted only four years and the military took over again in 1983. The military ruled for another sixteen years under four military rulers(Gen Muhammadu Buhari:1984-1985, Ibrahim Babangida:1985-1993, Sanni Abacha:1994-1998 and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar:1998-1999) and an illegal contraption called Interim National Governmet headed by Ernest Shonekan. The military handed over power on 29th May, 1999 to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who was a military ruler from 1976-1979. Thus out of the 42 years of post-independence Nigeria, the military has ruled for 29 years. It has been argued that “Nigeria’s political misfortunes in the past and the failure to evolve a united, prosperous and just nation can be blamed partly on inadequate and defective structures and institutions as well as on the orientation which British colonialism  bequeathed  to the young nation at independence and the reluctance of succeeding Nigerian governments to tackle these problems decisively.” (Political Bureau Report, 1987).


Nigeria has had a very rich history of constitution making. There has been at least ten attempts to make constitution for the country. These include the 1914 amalgamation constitution, the 1922 Clifford Constitution, the 1946 Richards Constitution, the 1951 Macpherson Constitution, the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution, the 1960 Independence Constitution, the 1963 Republican Constitution, the 1979 Constitution, the 1989 Constitution and the 1999 Constitution. Nigeria was brought together as one country by the amalgamation Constitution of 1914 which united the Southern and Northern protectorates. But the first main constitution was however the Clifford Constitution of 1922 named after the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford. The constitution was made following agitation by Nationalists at that time. With the introduction of this constitution, for the first time in the history of the country four people were elected into the legislative council of 46 members(Three from Lagos and one from Calabar). After the Second World War, the fight for the right to self-determination and struggle against colonialism increased in tempo leading to a review of the Clifford Constitution. In 1946, the Richards Constitution was made also named after the Governor, Sir Arthur Richards. With the Richard Constitution, twenty-eight people were elected into the legislative council of 46. Four of the twenty-eight were directly elected and the remaining twenty four were indirectly elected from their regional assemblies. It has been documented  that the lack of consultation that characterised the making of the Richards constitution angered many Nigerians. According to Dare and Oyewole, “With the promulgation of the constitution, many people were angry because the Governor did not consult the nation before the constitution was drawn up. It was therefore regarded as an arbitrary imposition on the country” (Dare and Oyewole, 1987:132) As a result of the non-consultation, the criticism and rejection of the Richards constitution was immediate. This led to a series of activities that culminated in the making of the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 also named after the then Governor Sir John Macpherson. It is instructive to note that before the Macpherson constitution was promulgated into law, the draft was debated at village, district, provincial and regional level. In addition, there was a general conference held in Ibadan to discuss the draft. According to Sagay, ‘the 1951 constitution came into being after an unprecedented process of consultation with the peoples of Nigeria as a whole…..On 9 January, 1950, a general conference of representatives from all parts of Nigeria started meeting in Ibadan to map out the future system of Government in Nigeria with the recommendation of the Regional Conferences as the working documents” (Sagay, 1999:14). The Macpherson constitution provided for a central legislature with 147 members out of which 136 were members elected from the three regional houses.

Despite the consultation that went into its making, the implementation of the Macpherson Constitution was ridden with crisis. This led to the 1953 London Conference and the 1954 Lagos conference culminating in the promulgation of the Lyttleton constitution in October, 1954. Under the constitution, Nigeria became a federation of three regions, Northern, Western and Eastern regions. According to Oyovbaire et al, the Lyttleton constitution “removed the elements of unitarism contained in the 1951 constitution. Consequently, the constitution for the first time established a federal system of government for Nigeria (Oyovbaire et al,1991:193). In preparation for independence, the London Constitutional conferences of 1957 and 1958 were held leading to the 1960 independence Constitution. In 1963, the Republican Constitution was made. According to Sagay, “both the 1960(Independence) constitution and the 1963(Republican) constitution were the same. The only differences were the provisions for a ceremonial President (1963) in place of the Queen of England (1960) and the judicial appeals system which terminated with the supreme court (1963) rather than the judicial Committee of the British Privy Council (1960) (Sagay,1999)

The military intervened in the political scene in 1966 and the 1979, 1989, 1994 and 1999 constitutions were made during military regimes. The 1979 constitution was written by a  constitution drafting committee made up of 49 wise men (no woman). A draft of the 1989 constitution was debated by an elected Constituent Assembly (with one-third of the members appointed by the regime). But as Jega pointed out, fundamental alterations were effected through another review process undertaken by the regime(Jega,1999:11) A Constitutional Conference was convened to discuss the 1994 constitution. However, the election into the conference was boycotted as a result of protest against the annulment of the June 12th 1992 election believed to have been won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola. The result was annulled by the Babangida regime. More than one-third of the membership of the conference was appointed by the regime. In addition, ‘the regime effectively used its control of the technical/executive committee of the constitutional conference to literally, alter decisions arrived at on the floor of the conference”(Jega,1999:12). The 1999 Constitution was promulgated into law by the Military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar after the Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee led by Justice Niki Tobi submitted its report. The Tobi Committee had barely two months to consult with all Nigerians before submitting its report. On 19th October, 1999, the Obasanjo regime inaugurated the Presidential Technical Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution to co-ordinate  and collate the views and recommendations from individuals and groups for a review of the 1999 constitution. The review process is still on.


The concept of federalism has attracted the attention of scholars, political activists, politicians and public affairs commentators over the years. It has been noted that federalism did not begin as a concept of social and political organization evolved by reflective philosophers or postulated by didactic political scientists (Ramphal, 1979). The earliest most profound theoretical exposition is probably the 85 essays that appeared in 1788 under the now famous title “the Federalist”. These essays were actually written in defence and support of the 1787 constitution of the United States. In any case, the discussion of contemporary federalism normally starts with K.C. Wheare who stressed the formal division of powers between levels of government. According to him, the federal principles include the following:

1.   The division of powers among levels of government

2.   Written constitutions showing this division, and

3.   Coordinate supremacy of the two levels of government with regards to their respective functions (Wheare, 1943 34.)

Wheare’s formulation has been criticized as being too narrow and legalistic. A scholar, William Livingstone suggest a process approach which points to the phenomenon of intergovernmental cooperation that cuts across and formal constitutional division of powers. According to him, The essential nature of federalism is to be sought for, not in shading of Legal and constitutional terminology but in the forces-economic, social, political, cultural-that have made the outward forms of Federalism necessary …………….. The essence of Federalism lies not in the constitutional or institutional structure but in the society itself. Federal government is a device by which the Federal qualities of the society are articulated and protected. (Livingstone, 1956:1-2).

Livingstone distinguished between a federal constitution which is the legal document and a Federal Society which is characterized by historical, cultural and linguistic background and geographical location. According to Ramphal, the broad patterns of classical federalism include:

       1.   The need for a supreme written constitution.

2.   A predetermined distribution of authority between federal and state governments.

3.   An amending process which allows revision of the federal compact but by neither the federal government nor the state government acting alone.

4.   A supreme court exercising powers of judicial review.

5.   Some measure of financial self-sufficiency (Ramphal, 1979).

From the above, three things are clear. First is that constitutional specification is the starting point of any federal arrangement. Second, economic, social, political and cultural factors determine and affect the nature of any federal system. Third, federalism is a concept for promoting unity in diversity and has to be worked upon by the country to reflect economic, social, cultural and historical reality.

The federal system in Nigeria is unique. There are specific factors that  led to federal formation in Nigeria which  include among other reasons diversity of the country, desire for political unity in spite of ethnic and religious  differences, shared colonial experience since 1914 amalgamation by the colonialists, problems associated with the emergence of tribal nationalism and ethnic based political parties, desire for economic and political viability as a country and general disenchantment with experimenting of unitary constitutions and the eventual breakdown of the Macpherson Constitution.

From the constitutional delineation above, it is clear that the move for federalism in Nigeria started with the Richards constitution of 1946, which created three regional councils for the Western, Eastern and Northern Regions. The Macpherson constitution consolidated this by providing that whenever central and regional laws were inconsistent, the law which was made later would prevail. The Lyttleton constitution concretized the federal Structure for Nigeria. It provided for exclusive legislative list which specified the items on which the federal government could legislate and concurrent list stating the items that the Federal and Regions could legislate. Although, whenever there is a conflict, the federal law would prevail over regional laws, the residual powers resided with the regions. The independence and republican constitutions retained most of the provisions of the Lyttleton Constitution. Thus at independence, each region in Nigeria had its own constitution, coat of arms, motto and semi-independent missions. The federal list contained items such as archives, aviation, external borrowing, copyright, defence, currency, external affairs, extradiction, immigration, meteorology,  armed forces, nuclear energy while the regional list contained items such as antiquities, arms and ammunition, census, higher education, labour, prisons, security, traffic etc. The advent of military regime completely undermined federalism in Nigeria. The regions were broken into States by the military (from four regions to 12 States in 1967 to 19 states in 1976 to 30 states in 1991 to 36 states in 1996). The constitution was suspended throughout the 29 years of military rule. On return to civilian rule in 1979, there is only one constitution for the whole country.

We have argued elsewhere that federalism in Nigeria particularly as it affects resource allocation and minority groups can be divided in to two phases: the phase before military rule and the phase after the military take over in 1966. During the first republic (1960- 1966), the revenue of the country was distributed based on derivation principle.  50 percent of the revenue from mineral resources was given    to the region from where the minerals were extracted. Another 30 percent was put in a distributable pool, which is divided among all the regions including the producing region. Only 20 percent went to the Federal Government. The military took over power in 1966, which was followed by a 30 month civil war. Most of the oil producing communities was in the Republic of Biafra that was declared by then Col. Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. In 1969, when the Federal Military Government had successfully “liberated” the oil producing communities, it promulgated the petroleum Decree (No 51) of 1969 that vested all the lands and the resources in, under or upon the Land on the Federal Military Government. There is no doubt that the Federal Government has continued with this war strategy on the Niger Delta people till date (Igbuzor, 2002).


The ethnic and religious composition of Nigeria and its manipulation by the political elite has posed a lot of challenges to governance and security in Nigeria. This has been aggravated by the failure of the State to perform its core duties of maintaining law and order, justice and providing social services to the people. For instance, the failure of the State has led to the mergence of ethnic militias in several parts of the country such as the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and Baakasi Boys.

Meanwhile, it has been documented that the nature of violent conflict in the world is changing in recent times particularly in terms of the causes of the conflict and the form of its expression (Bloomfield and Reilly, 1998). According to Harris and Reilly, one of the most dramatic changes has been the trend away from traditional inter-State conflict (that is, a war between sovereign States) and towards intra- State conflict (that is one which takes place between factions within an existing State) (Harris and Reilly, 1998). They argued that conflicts originating largely within states combines two powerful elements: potent identity based factors, based on differences in race, religion, culture, language and so on with perceived imbalance in the distribution of economic, political and social resources (Harris and Reilly, 1998).

Various Scholars have written on the politicization and manipulation of ethnic and religious identities in Nigeria (Otite, 1990; Nnoli, 1978). In the past twenty years, there is a resurgence of ethnic and religious violence in Nigeria. It is instructive to note that this resurgence coincided with economic crisis experienced in Nigeria and the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) (Ihonvbere, 1993; Osaghae, 1995 and Egwu, 1998).  Shawalu has argued that the sources of conflict in Nigeria include militarism, absence and distortions of democracy, economic problem, collapse of the educational sector, the growing army of almajirai1, security inadequacy, intensification of micronationalism, absence of justice and equity and weakness of Civil Society groups (Shawalu, 2000). One common thread that runs through the writings of scholars is the argument that most ethnic clashes in Nigeria often have religious dimensions (Okafor, 1997; Alemika, 2000 and Okoye, 2000). The table below shows a survey of ethnic and religious clashes in Nigeria.


Table 1: Survey of Ethnic and religious Clashes in Nigeria


1754-1817 Pre-Independence – Usman dan Fodio Jihad which led to the conquering of the Hausa  States in Northern Nigeria

1960-1966 First Republic – External mutual respect but internal spite and disaffection

1967-1970 Civil war period – Although not a religious war, Biafran propaganda argued that they were fighting and resisting Muslim expansion.

1970-1975 Gowon regime – Religious cold war. Christian Mission schools in the South were taken over by Govt. but Koranic schools in the North were funded and preserved by Govt.

1976 Murtala/ Obasanjo Regime – Riot between Chamba and Kuteb in Taraba State over alleged manipulation of electoral wards.

1976-1979 Murtala/ Obasanjo Regime – Sharia controversy during the drafting of the 1979 Constitution: To have provisions of the Sharia written into the laws providing for the supreme Court of Nigeria. The compromise reached was the establishment of  Sharia Courts and Customary Courts of Appeal at the State level for those States that deserve them.

18-29/12/1980 Shagari Regime – Kano Matatsine Riot when a Muslim sect attacked all those they considered pagans and infidels including Muslims that did not belong to their sect. Approximately 4,179 people lost their lives.

10/1982 Shagari Regime – Burning of Churches in Kano. This has been described as the first open and  violent religious conflict between Christians and muslims allegedly caused by the laying of the foundation of a Christian Churh near a Mosque

26/10/1982 Shagari Regime – Two years after the Maitatsine riot, some members of the group escaped to Maiduguri and a violent episode occurred when police tried to arrest  them for allegedly threatening the lives of the people of Bulumkutu area of Maiduguri.

27/2/1984 Buhari Regime – The Jimeta uprising by members of Matatsine Movement  who survived the Bulumkutu Riot

29/5/1985 Buhari Regime – With the crushing of the Jimeta riot, Musa Makanaki, who was in charge of defence in the Jimeta uprising moved  to his home town Gombe and settled with other surviving Maitatsines. After a few months, another riot broke out.

1/1986 Babangida Regime – Nigeria applied for membership of Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC)

3/1986 Babangida Regime – The Ilorin disturbances. A Christian procession during Palm Sunday  angered the Muslims and they attacked the Christians. Eight persons were injured and two churches were damaged.

3/5/1986 Babangida Regime – The Students Union of the Usman dan Fodio University organized a gala night to commemorate the achievements of Nana Asaman, the daughter of Usman dan Fodio. Among the events scheduled for the night was a Miss Nana Beauty contest. This angered the Muslim students Society who thought that it was absolute abomination to associate the name of Nana, a virtous woman with the parade of nude girls in the name of beauty contest. They stormed the scene of the programme which led to a fight.

5/1986 Babangida Regime – Clashes between Bassa and Gbagyi against Ebira in Nasarawa State

5/5/1986 Babangida Regime – On 5 May 1986, the University of Ibadan Statue of the risen Christ was burnt by unknown persons.

18/7/1986 Babangida Regime – Muslim Students Society of the University of Ibadan demonstrated on campus destroying offices and halls of residence with inscriptions “cross must give way to the mosque”

6/3/1987 Babangida Regime – During the Federation of Christian Students Annual Fellowship in Kaduna, a preacher and  convert from Islam, Bello Abubakar from Kano State was attacked by Muslims mainly of the Izala group. The crisis spread to Zaria and Kafanchan. The Christian Association of Nigeria recorded that 153 churches were burnt.

3/1978 Babangida Regime – In Zaria, the land that has been housing St. Michaels’ Church for 50 years belonged to Muslims and they demanded the land back. The Christians refused and it led to fighting

5/1988 Babangida Regime – A clash occurred between Izala Muslim movement and Darika Muslim group over disagreement on the conduct of Ramadan Koranic reading

6/1988 Babangida Regime – Violence broke out at the Ahmadu Bello University when it became clear that a Christian student would win the Students union election. Earlier, the Student (Mr. Stephen) had earlier campaigned on the slogan of “a vote for Steve is a vote for Christ”

20-22/4/1991 Babangida Regime – A ten year old Muslim boy bought Suya meat from a Christian. Another young boy challenged the boy that the Suya bought from the Christian could have been pork or dog meat. This led to fight.

11/10/1991 Babangida Regime – A group of Muslim Youth attacked people in Sabongari and Fagge area of Kano metropolis as a protest against the religious crusade organized by the State Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria with a renown German Preacher Reinhard Bonke.

10/1991 Babangida Regime – A Story in Fun Times, a Daily Times of Nigeria Publication tried to show that a prostitute who repents can lead a decent life. He gave examples with the Bible & Koran. He mentioned that “Prophet Mohammed had an affair with a woman of easy virtue and later married her” . An Islamic preacher used this to mobilize against the Governor of the State  who is a Christian and they destroyed the offices of Daily times.

4/1992 Babangida Regime – On 2 April 1992 there was an uprising in Bauchi which led to the destuction of many Churches and Mosque. The clash was over the use of abattoir in Tafawa Balewa town . The abattoir had three sections: one for the Izala Muslims, one for the other Muslims and the other for the Christians. The muslims protested the “Desecration” of the abattoir and this led to the clash.

5/1992 Babangida Regime – In Zangon –Kataf, the Local Govt Chairman Mr. Ayoke, a Kataf Christian, ordered the relocation of a market. The order was opposed by Alhaji Mato, the Uncle of Dabo Lere the then Governor of Kaduna State. This led to a fight.

12/4/1994   Abacha Regime – Clashes as a result of protest over the appointment of an Hausa man as the Chairaman of the Caretaker Management Committee of Jos North Local Government.

15/5/1999   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Struggle for Local Government Headquarter in Niger Delta. 200 people died.

18/7/1999   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Clashes between Hausa and Yoruba over traditional rites in Shagamu. 60 people were killed.

22/7/1999   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Clashes between Hausa and Yoruba, retaliation to Shagamu’s conflict in Kano. 70 people were killed.

5/8/1999     Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Clashes between Ijaw & Ilaje over oil rich land in Niger Delta.

11/8/1999   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Conflicts between Kutebs and Chambas (causes unknown) in Taraba state. 200 people were killed.

9/9/1999 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Conflict between the Yoruba separatist and the Oduas People Congress in Lagos. 16 people were killed.

4/10/1999   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Fight over the control of land near Nigeria’s biggest oil Refinery at Port Harcourt between Okrikas & Elemes. 30 people were killed.

21/11/1999 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Ijaw Youth were accused to have killed 12 Policemen in Niger Delta. The retaliation of the Federal government to the above accusation by the Military led to the death of 60 Civilians.

25/11/1999 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Riot between Yoruba and Hausa over the control of a market in Lagos. 100 people died.

21/2/2000   Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Fight between Muslim and Christians in Kaduna. 100 people died.

20/5/2000   Obasanjo Civilian – Fight between Muslim and Christian in Kaduna. 100 people died.

27/5/2000   Obasanjo Civilian – Crisis between the Urhobo and Itsekiri near the oil rich town of Warri in Niger Delta.

21/6/2000  Obasanjo Civilian – Proclamation of Sharia law in Kano.

25/6/2000   Obasanjo Civilian – Fight between Tiv and Hausa speaking ethnic group in Nasarawa.

15/10/2000 Obasanjo Civilian – Four days fight between OPC and Hausa Fulani in Lagos. 100 people died.

18/10/2000 Obasanjo Civilian – Three days fight between OPC and Muslim Hausa Fulani in Lagos. 100 people died.

26/11/2000 Obasanjo Civilian – Implementation of Sharia Laws in Kano.

7/8/2001     Obasanjo Civilian – Conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Jos 165 died while 900 were injured.

12-23/10/2001 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Communal fights between the Tiv and Jukun. The Military intervention led to the death of 19 Soldiers and 200 Civilians.

25/10/2001 Obasanjo Civilian – Clash between Itsekiri and Uhrobo in Niger Delta. 5 people were killed Regime.

11/2001 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Relocation of Sanga Local Government Headquarter in Kaduna State. 10 people were killed.

4/5/2002 Obasanjo    Political parties crisis in Jos ( PDP)

13/10/2001 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Violent riots in Kano against USA led air strikes on Afghanistan 8 People were killed and 5 Churches burnt.

11/2001 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Another Ethnic crisis between Junkun/ Chamba Settlement in Taraba State. 50 people were killed.

4/2002 Obasanjo Civilian Regime – Conflict between Olusola Saraki’s faction versus Governor Lawal’s faction at Ilorin the Headquarters of Kwara state. One killed and property worth millions of Naira were destroyed.

2/2002 Obasanjo Civilian – Ethnic Conflicts btw Hausa and Yoruba in Lagos.

15/10/2002 Obasanjo Civilian – Ethnic crisis in Jos, the headquarter of Plateau state .16 people killed.

Sources: Udoidem, 1997:154-181, Ikubaje, 2002 and CFCR, 2002

A cursory glance at the table above surveying ethnic and religious crises in Nigeria will bring out clearly some trends. First, it gives the impression that the crises are caused mainly by religious reasons. But as alluded to earlier, the reasons for the crisis go beyond religion to include political and economic factors. As Williams has argued, as the political class lacks national acceptance and cannot spearhead a national mobilizing ideology, it resorts increasingly to the politicization of ethnicity, fetishization of religious differences, and the awakening of pristine and atavistic norms and practices(Williams, 1997). Second, it can also be seen from the above survey that the Muslims were always on the offensive. But some scholars have pointed out that “Muslims are often provoked into violent action by offensive preachings by some Christian Evangelists” (Udoidem, 1997:179). Thirdly, the frequency and intensity of conflicts increased during the Babangida regime. This may not be unconnected with the controversy that engulfed the nation when Nigeria applied for membership of Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). Finally, there has been a lot of crisis since return to civil rule in Nigeria. Studies have shown that when countries emerge from long years of authoritarian rule through pacted transition programmes, there is the tendency for increased violence particularly if focus is not placed on the building of institutions and mechanisms.

Okafor has documented measures that have been taken to curb ethnic and religious conflicts (Okafor, 1997). These measures include:

·           Adoption of Federalism in Nigeria: It was reasoned that with the diversity of Nigeria, federalism would be the best system suited for the country. As noted earlier, the move towards federalism, which started with the Richards Constitution of 1946, was consolidated by the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954 when there was co-existence of the Federal Government alongside the Regional Governments of North, East and West. In 1963, the Midwest region was created bringing the number of regions in the country to four. Each region had its own police, Courts and Prisons. The intrusion of the military into governance changed all these and turned the country into more or less a unitary State after the manner of military high commands.

·           Entrenchment of fundamental Human Rights provisions in the Constitution: During the 1954 Constitutional Conference that led to the making of the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, minority groups in Nigeria expressed fears of discrimination, marginalisation and oppression. This led to the setting up of the Willinck Commission on 26 September 1957. The Commission recommended the entrenchment of fundamental human rights in the Constitutioon. This recommendation was accepted and fundamental human rights provision has formed part of Nigeria Constitution from the Indfependence Constitution of 1960 till date.

·           Adoption of Multi-party system: It was reasoned that multi-party system would give the ethnic minorities an opportunity to protect their interest.

·           Modification of Electoral system: As from the second republic, to become a president of Nigeria, a successful candidate is not only required to obtain a majority of votes cast but must also obtain not less than one-quarter of the votes cast in the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the States of the Federation. This was provided for in Sections 125-126 of the 1979 Constitution and replicated in sections 130-132 of the 1989 Constitution and sections 131-134 of the 1999 Constitution.

·           Constitutional prohibition of Ethnic and Religious parties: In the first Republic, the major political parties were of ethnic origin. The Northern Peoples Congress(NPC) emerged from a Northern based cultural group known as Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa with the support of Hausa-Fulani while  the Yoruba cultural organization Egbe Omo Oduduwa metamorphosed into the Action group with its base in Western Nigeria. The National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) had its base within the core of Igboland in Eastern Nigeria. Other smaller parties like Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU), United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) and Niger delta Congress had their ethnic support from the Hausa/Fulani peasants, Tiv and Ijaw/Kalabari respectively. It has been argued that the ethnic orientations of the political parties was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the republic (Abubakar, 1997). In order to address this pitfall, the 1979 Constitution of the second republic prohibited the formation of political parties with ethnic or religious connotation. Section 202 of the constitution provides that “No association by whatever name called shall nfunction as a political party unless-

a.     The names and addresses of its national officers are registered with the Federal Electoral Commision;

b.    The membership of the association is open to every citizen of Nigeria irrespective of his place of origin, sex, religion or ethnic grouping;

c.     A copy of the constitution is registered in the principal office of the Commission in such a form as may be prescribed by the commission;

d.    Any alteration in its registered constitution is also registered in the principal office of the Commission within 30 days of the making of such alteration;

e.     The name of the association , its emblem or motto does not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of the association are confined to a part only of the geographical area of Nigeria; and

f.     The headquarters of the association is situated in the capital of the federation.

This provision was repeated in Section 220  of the 1989 Constitution and section 221 of the 1999 Constitution.

·           Constitutional prohibition of State Religion: Section 10 of both the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions and section 11 of the 1989 Constitution provides that “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion”.

Apart from the measures described above, government usually sets up a Commission of Enquiry after every major crisis in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the reports of most of the Commissions are neither made public nor acted upon. In the recent past, the Federal Government set up an Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. Meanwhile, there is no mechanism for early warning signal and conflict prevention in Nigeria.



There are a lot of lessons that can be learnt from Nigeria’s experience in managing ethnic and religious diversity. First, constitutional engineering after the failure of the first republic in Nigeria has prevented the emergence of religious parties in Nigeria. Although some of the political parties have more following in certain regions of the country( Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) in South Western Nigeria, Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) in Northern Nigeria, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in eastern Nigeria, the outlook, programmes and mobilization of all the parities are national. Second, the Nigerian experience has shown that constitutional provisions alone cannot prevent ethnic and religious conflicts. Furthermore, the constitutional prohibition of State religion has not prevented Governments (both Federal and State) from giving preferential treatment to certain religions. It has also not stopped some State Governments in Northern Nigeria from introducing the Sharia legal system.  In addition, the experience of constitution making in Nigeria shows that the people have never really participated in the making of a constitution for the country. Since the people did not participate in the making of the constitution, they cannot relate to the final product as their own. They are therefore alienated from the political process and the end result is lack of respect for the rule of law, corruption and conflict. As we have shown in the paper, religion is used by the elite as a tool to manipulate to have access to power. There is therefore a big difference between constitutional provisions and reality. The challenge is to ensure the creation of institutions and mechanisms that will anticipate, forecast and try to prevent these conflicts and mobilize the people to ensure good governance, accountability and transparency while ensuring that there are institutions of horizontal accountability that are independent.



Nigeria is a nation with great ethnic and religious diversity and a very rich history of constitutional development. This diversity has posed a lot of challenges to governance in Nigeria manifested by many religious and ethnic conflicts. There have been various efforts to address these challenges but the manipulation by the political elite has led to the persistence of the problems caused by this diversity. At present, there are a lot of efforts to tackle these challenges. Other countries have a lot to learn from Nigeria’s experience. But whether the problems posed by these challenges will be resolved will depend on the balance of forces within the Nigerian State and the mechanisms and institutions that are put in place for political accommodation, and management of social diversities and religious difference.




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Mr. Otive Igbuzor is a Pharmacist, Political Scientist, human rights activist and consultant on constitution, gender and development issues. He was a founding and leading member of many human rights and mass democratic organizations in Nigeria in the 1980s and 90s. He is a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Nigeria Political Science Association (NPSA), Social Science Academy of Nigeria, African Association of Political Science and Third World Academy of Sciences. He is also a member of many community development associations.

Mr. Igbuzor holds a bachelors degree in pharmacy and two Masters degrees, one in Public Administration and the other in International Relations. He is about completing his doctorate degree in Public Administration specializing in Policy Analysis. He has published many scholarly articles on democracy, health, gender, politics and development. He was a lecturer at the Delta state University, Lagos Centre where he taught Nigerian Government and Politics, Research Methodology and Policy Analysis. At present, he is a Programme Co-ordinator of Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD), an independent research, information and training institution dedicated to policy-oriented scholarship on questions of democratic development and peace building in the West African sub-region. He also serves as the Secretary of Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR), a coalition of over one hundred civil society organizations committed to a process led and participatory approach to constitutional reform in Nigeria.