Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Effects of Regionalism on the History of Identities, Violence, and Stability in Nigeria

Regional cleavages and identities evolved from the structures created and consolidated by the colonialists in the process of state formation in Nigeria. The most fundamental of the cleavages is that between the North and South, these being the initial structures of the colonial state which were administered separately even after the two units were amalgamated in 1914. The other cleavages emerged with the introduction of a three-region structure (North, East, and West) in 1946. A fourth region, Mid-West, was created in 1963, but partly because of its status as home to minorities, the creation did not fundamentally alter the tripartite regional structure existing
before the First Republic was sacked by the military in 1966. The ethnic majority-minority cleavage and the majoritarian basis of politics took roots within these structures. The emergent elite were regionalized from inception, and especially after 1946 when the political space was opened to more Nigerian participation, the majority elite segment deployed strategies of ethnic mobilization and exclusionary politics to establish hegemonic control of the regions.

With the meaning of regionalism reduced to “North for Northerners”, “East for Easterners” and “West for Westerners”, a discriminatory system under which people from other regions living in these areas were deprived of rights and privileges and excluded from the political process has become entrenched. This was how the infamous distinction between indigenes and non-indigenes strengthened. Although the erstwhile regions were abrogated in 1966, they remain crucial political cleavages for reasons which have already been advanced. They also provide the basis for new forms of exclusionary politics that have evolved alongside new political-administrative structures and reinforced discrimination against non-indigenes, namely ‘statism’ and ‘localism’.

Another category of regional identities that has gained currency is the one that developed around the six geo-political zones into which the country was divided in 1996 for the purpose of sharing and rotating federal power and resources – Northeast, Northwest, North central, Southwest, Southeast, and South south. To a large extent, the zones reinforce the old regional cleavages: the Southwest and Southeast are coterminous with the Yoruba core of the old West and Igbo core of the old East respectively; Northwest covers the so-called ‘core-North’; Northeast is the core of the old ‘Borno axis’ of the North; North central encompasses the old Middle Belt (in fact, leaders of this zone have a strong clamour for the name to reflect the old reality); and South south covers the old league of Southern minorities. Even so, the old regional divisions remain very strong, particularly with the efforts by the various elite segments to re-organize along old regional lines. A case in point is the Northern elite, which, through organizations like the Northern Elders Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum, has continued to mobilize around the theme of pan-regional unity.

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