In this essay, we will explore the impacts of ethnicity and religion on Nigerian politics and how it affects the country’s democracy. Nigeria is a diverse country with over 250 ethnic groups, each with its own unique culture, traditions, and languages. This diversity has had significant impacts on Nigerian politics and elections, particularly in terms of ethnic identity politics.
Religion on the other hand has plays a significant role in the lives of many Nigerians, and it is no surprise that it also influences politics, including elections. Nigeria is a multi-religious society, with Christianity and Islam being the two dominant religions, and both have a considerable impact on the country’s political landscape.
Ethnicity, religion and politics have been intertwined in Nigeria since its independence in 1960. The country’s political leaders have always used ethnicity and religion to gain support from the electorate, and this trend continues till today. In the past, political parties used religious affiliations to appeal to voters, but in recent times, religion has now been used as part of political campaign strategies. Stated below are the 5 major impacts of ethnicity and religion on Nigerian politics and how to address the challenges.
Ethnicity has played a major role in the formation of political parties in Nigeria. Many of the country’s political parties are based on ethnic or regional lines, with the parties being dominated by members of a particular ethnic group or region. For example, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is largely dominated by the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group from the northern part of the country, while the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is dominated by the Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups from the south.
This kind of political alignment often leads to ethnic polarization, where voters are more likely to vote for candidates from their own ethnic group or region, rather than for candidates based on their policies, values or track records. The use of religion in Nigerian elections has also had negative consequences for democracy. It has led to the polarization of society along religious lines, and this has made it difficult for political leaders to unite the country. The emphasis on religious affiliations has also prevented the emergence of competent leaders who do not belong to the dominant religious groups.
Ethnicity has also influenced the voting behavior of Nigerians during elections. Many voters tend to vote for candidates based on their ethnicity rather than their qualifications or abilities. This is because there is a strong sense of ethnic identity among Nigerians, which often leads people to support candidates who are from their own ethnic group or region. As a result, some candidates will focus their campaign efforts on specific ethnic groups, often through targeted messages or campaign promises that appeal to their ethnic identity. This practice is referred to as “ethnic mobilization” and is a common campaign strategy used by Nigerian politicians.
Again, one of the most notable ways religion has impacted Nigerian elections is through the voting patterns of citizens. During elections, voters tend to support candidates from their religious group, believing that such candidates would represent their interests better. This trend is particularly strong in Northern Nigeria, where the majority of the population is Muslim. Here, religion is a key determinant of voting patterns, and candidates from the North who are Muslims tend to win elections.
Ethnicity has led to a lack of trust in the electoral process in Nigeria. Due to the perceived bias towards certain ethnic groups, many Nigerians do not trust the electoral system and believe that the results of the elections are often predetermined. This lack of trust has led to incidents of violence during elections, particularly in areas where there is a significant population of a particular ethnic group. In some cases, election results have been disputed, leading to legal challenges and further polarization of the country.
In recent times, religion has also played a role in electoral violence in Nigeria. Religious differences have led to clashes between supporters of different candidates, and this has sometimes escalated into full-blown violence. During the 2011 presidential elections, for example, there were reports of violence in several parts of the country, with Christian and Muslim supporters clashing in many places. This violence led to the loss of many lives and property. The divide between the Muslim-dominated North and the Christian-dominated South has been a significant source of tension and conflict.
Ethnic sentiments have led to the marginalization of certain ethnic groups in Nigerian politics. Despite Nigeria’s diversity, some ethnic groups have historically held more power and influence than others. This has led to a sense of exclusion among certain groups, who feel that their voices are not being heard in the political process or their place matters. As a result, some ethnic groups have resorted to violence and other forms of protest to demand greater political representation.
Furthermore, the use of religion in Nigerian elections has also reinforced the power of the ruling elites. Politicians who use rhetoric, religious messages and ethnic symbolisms to gain the support of voters often neglect the interests of the groups or supporters once they got to power. Thus, the use of religion and ethnicity in politics has therefore become tools for maintaining the status quo rather than the means for promoting performing democracy and good governance in Nigeria.
The impacts of ethnicity and religion on Nigerian politics has also led to a lack of national unity. The strong sense of ethnic identity among Nigerians has often led to a “us versus them” mentality, where people from different ethnic groups view each other with suspicion and distrust. This has made it difficult for Nigeria to achieve national unity, as the country has struggled to develop a shared national identity that transcends ethnic, religious and regional lines.
Religious leaders and traditional institutions in Nigeria can also play significant roles in fostering national unity. Many religious and and traditional leaders in Nigeria have enormous followings and can influence the voting decisions of their followers. They often endorse political candidates who share their religious beliefs and values, and their endorsement can sway many voters. This practice should be replaced with deliberate efforts to support and promote candidates of other tribes, religions and regions in Nigeria.
Ethnicity and religion have had significant impacts on Nigerian elections, affecting the country’s democracy in numerous ways. Ethnic politics has led to political formations based on ethnic or regional lines which have influenced the voting behavior of Nigerians, and led to a lack of trust in the electoral process. It has also led to the marginalization of certain ethnic groups in Nigerian politics and contributed to a lack of national unity.
If Nigeria is to achieve true democracy and national unity, it is essential that the country’s leaders whether political, religious or traditional rulers work towards developing a political system that is based on merit rather than ethnicity. This will require a concerted effort to promote national unity and a shared sense of identity that transcends ethnic and regional lines.
The impacts of ethnicity and religion on Nigerian politics have been affecting the country’s stability, economic development, and social cohesion. To address these challenges, there is a need for a national dialogue on issues of ethnicity and religion, the promotion of national unity and cohesion, and the creation of an inclusive political system that represents the diversity of the Nigerian people.
As Nigeria moves towards the 2023 general elections, it is essential for political leaders to recognize the negative impacts of using religion and ethnicity in politics and strive to promote unity and democracy in the country. Only then can Nigeria truly become a united and democratic nation.