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Causes of tribalism in Nigeria and how to tackle them

Causes of tribalism in Nigeria and how to tackle them

Tribalism is one of the biggest problems of national integration in Nigeria. There are often cases of violent tribal or ethnic conflicts where lives and properties are lost. As the nation gets ready for the 2023 general elections, we have to consider the impact of tribalism in selecting the next leaders to lead the people in the next four years.

We already see signs of people’s views of their preferred candidates based on their tribal affiliations. Right now, there are three major powerful contenders for the presidential seat at Aso Rock, and they are from the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria – Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. We can all bet that tribalism will play a huge role for the electorates to vote in their candidates.

However, this piece is not about the upcoming 2023 general elections. It is about tribalism, the meaning, causes, and more. 

What is tribalism?

Wikipedia defines tribalism as the state of being organised by or advocating for tribes or tribal lifestyles. Now you may ask, what is a tribe? A tribe is a group of people who share common lifestyles, habits, and interests. In tribalism, people feel their tribes are superior to others. They identify very strongly with their tribes and feel no compulsion to accept other tribes.

Therefore, there are issues of favoritism where a tribalist can move heaven and earth for someone from his tribe but will not lift a finger to help someone from another. Also, marriages between tribes are often forbidden or looked down on. There is also a stereotypical view about people from other tribes and a refusal to acknowledge the faults of one’s tribes.

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Causes of tribalism

Tribalism is a social problem that can be traced back to the era of slavery. In Nigeria, this societal ill does not come without causes, and they are:

Religious intolerance

Carl Marx’s saying that religion is the opium of the people is not far from the truth. People are so blinded by their religion that they do not want to accept others who do not share the same religious beliefs. The result is religious wars and conflict, which have spanned for decades. In Nigeria, for instance, Boko Haram was born out of religion and has been a constant nightmare for Nigerians, especially in the north. Boko Haram’s primary goal is to abolish western ideals and culture and impose radical Muslim faith and Sharia law on people. Therefore, whoever does not share their goal will feel the weight of the organisation’s wrath, whether Christian or Muslim.


The 1914 amalgamation of the north and south in Nigeria has proven to be a marriage of inconvenience. There are religious, cultural, social, and political incompatibilities between the two regions which has led to constant violent conflicts. Nigeria is a country that accommodates many tribes and ethnic groups. These groups have somehow refused to come to terms with one another’s existence.


Marginalization in this context means underestimating the importance of an ethnic group. For instance, the Igbo have complained of being politically marginalized. This issue of marginalization in the south-east has led to the rise of secessionist groups like the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Eastern Security Network (ESN), etc., who are currently agitating for the region’s secession. The people of the Niger Delta are not left out in the struggle, as they have staged wars against the Federal Government due to economic marginalization. Marginalization has remained an issue that the government is yet to effectively tackle to this day. 

Resource control

When one tribe feels they have the exclusive right to control the nation’s resources, it becomes a problem for the nation. Some states in Nigeria generate more resources than others, sparking distaste towards one another. 

Lack of vision

There has been no patriotism in Nigeria since its amalgamation in 1914. As a result, no one knows the country’s common vision and goals in moving the people forward.

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Tribalism in politics

Tribalism and politics are inseparable in Nigeria. Both carry the “us vs. them” element. A situation where members of a particular tribe gang up to remain in power at the expense of other tribes is very common in Nigerian politics. Even in distributing resources, tribalism plays a major role where one tribe feels entitled to take the lion’s share of the nation’s resources.

Nigeria depends on oil for its revenue, and so there is high competition among politicians and political parties to control this and other natural resources in Nigeria, which is not a problem. The problem is tribal sentiments often ginger the motive.

In tribalism, people are more emotional and consequently less logical. Politicians take advantage of these primitive sentiments as they tap into the people’s fears and tribal instincts for their own selfish goals. This is why it will take a long time to elect good leaders into office because people have been brainwashed into considering their “brother” first before a far better objective consideration.

Tribalism in Nigeria

Tribalism in Nigeria is like bread and tea. It has caused a lot of havoc for Nigerians as some tribes will do anything to impose their ideals on others or eliminate them. For the nation to move past the ills of tribalism, here are important ideas that will make the people more patriotic and tolerant of one another’s cultures and traditions.

  • Awareness should be raised on the dangers of tribalism in Nigeria. Special attention should be given to children in their school curriculum where they should be taught to be tolerant of one another’s different tribes and backgrounds.
  • Nigerians are highly religious. Therefore, religious leaders should play prominent roles in helping to eliminate the menace of tribalism in Nigeria. They should preach about solutions to curb the problems in their sermons and act accordingly.
  • Inter-tribal marriages should be encouraged. It is already happening in the country, but more measures should be implemented to encourage such marital relationships.
  • Nigerians should be encouraged to learn other tribes’ languages. This is where schools should make learning more than one Nigerian language compulsory for students.
  • Promoting Nigerian cultures from the different tribes is important. Cultures should be examined, and the beneficial ones should be adopted while the bad ones should be eliminated. Also, people should adopt Ben Murray-Bruce’s Buy Niaja to Grow Naira.

Above all, Nigerians should be sincere and trusting to one another. It is the key to bringing unity to the country. Where mistrust is removed, hatred and prejudice will automatically disappear.

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Nonye is a Thespian, screenwriter, creative writer and an unapologetic lover of books, great movies and sports. She has over 10 years experience in content writing on entertainment, movies, sports and lifestyle. Nonye is currently a content writer at Blackdot Media and founder of
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