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ETHNIC POLITICS AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF AKWA IBOM STATE (2000-2015)
1.1 Background of the Study
It is a common place fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation State with socio-cultural difference between it component ethnic groups all of winch have resulted into cultural dissimilarity. This cultural dissimilarity has been manifested by, for instance, the difference in languages, dress and types of social system. Shrewd observers have noticed that some recent events such as globalization have not significantly diminished these differences. This situation has been due to the fact that reason. The indigenous languages, help to identity the various ethnic groups are still spoken by almost the entire population of Nigeria, which arises principally from the hostility that from competition between ethnically different people for wealth and power (Cohen, 1974).
It is rather an indisputable fact that ethnicity has marred political participation in Nigeria and the electoral choices are ethnically coloured as patty formations are ethnically designated and motivated. About five decades after Nigeria gained independence, the Nigeria diverse social structure in terms of her heterogeneity has not changed significantly. The diversity nature of the society has made identification with “nation” a difficult task. Today, identification is easier at both family and ethnic levels, the consequence of this is that many of the citizens may never develop a proper political behavior and this kind of ethnic group relation signifies a negative dimension and which may mean much fur Nigerian political system (Ajayi, 1992). Therefore, a discussion of the effects of ethnic politics on political participation to the survival of democracy is or seems to be highly desirable. It even becomes necessary given the cry of political marginalization coming from various ethnic groups in the new democracy. In all political activities in Nigeria, the factor of ethnicity is reflected. It is particularly obvious in areas like voting, distribution of political offices, employment and government general patronage of the citizens.
Consequently, ethnicity has become synonymous with Nigeria’s political participation such that virtually all elections conducted from 199-2015 in the country are ethnic –ridden (Ojo. 2014). Although the Nigeria general election which was held in 2011 was relatively peaceful, however it was also marked with some irregularities. According to Okpi (2001), although the national assembly election held on April 9, 2011 has been adjudged by many as successful, though some case of malpractice and violence recorded across the country had threatened to dim light on democratic progress.
Prior to independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria as a nation was already divided along ethno-regional lines, paving the way for inter-ethnic political rivalries along ethno-regional lines, paving the inter-ethnic political rivalries and bickering. This can be traced to British colonial policy that was based on the belief that the satisfaction of eh yearning and aspirations of the three dominant tribes: Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani and Igbo, in the west, north and east, respectively, could ensure political stability in Nigeria. This mistaken notion as later debunked by the bitter rivaries and political violence that characterized the socio-political life of Nigeria and its people. This is as a result of the undemocratic tendencies, deception, violence and ethno region lines that characterized political system. Commenting on the political apathy and ethnic cleavages by Nigeria citizen during the 2011 general election, the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega lamented thus:
There exists voter’s apathy in Nigeria is no longer contentious. Voter’s turnout in the just concluded elections had provided a scientific and empirical evidence of the existence of the voter’s apathy, ethnic differences and disinterestedness of sections of the electorates in election. This ugly scenario has implications for popular participation and governance (Odebode 2011).
The political scenario engendered lukewarm political attitude and low political participation among some citizens in Nigeria. In Akwa Ibom State, for instance, ethnic has earned us unforgettable in bitter experience such as bloodbath, arson and wanton destruction of property worth millions of naira. The 2011, PDP and APC and their candidates clashed can be attributed to politics of ethnicity. While the former comes from Annang section of the state the latter is Ibibio. During the clash, people were injured, cars, buses, tricycles (keke), etc were set ablaze.
It is against this background that this work discusses the effect of ethnic politics on democratic governance in Nigeria with emphasis on Akwa Ibom State.