A Critique of Ethnoreligious Fundamentalism and Ideologies of Secessionist Groups in Nigeria


Ethnoreligious fundamentalism and separatist ideas have once again been brought to the forerunner of political discourse.  There is an increasing demand for restructuring and zoning, giving regions more independence. There are also calls for Nigeria to be divided into different nation-states based on ethnic groups. These ideas play a divisive role within the working class. Coworkers and neighbours who have co-existed normally for decades now argue that they cannot stay in the same country together because of some cultural difference or the other.

 Working-class and radical youth activists must critique ethnoreligious ideologies and the secessionist movements behind them in Nigeria, because they serve only the interests of the bosses, by undermining working-class unity and struggle 

Ethnoreligious fundamentalism

So firstly, I want to talk about the ethnoreligious ideologies in the northern parts of the country which are also on the rise in the southern parts too. During every election, clergymen from both dominant religions always endorse politicians who claim allegiance to their faith. During the last elections, calls for Muslims to vote to protect their religious dominance and for Christians to take back their country were rampant. These calls received significant support, including from the ranks of the working-class Nigerians on both sides of the divide. But this ideology is a bourgeois ideology, as the so-called Muslim domination and Christians saving their country don’t address the core issues that face working-class people in Nigeria. What has the dominance of the political space by politicians of a particular religion done for working people of that creed? It is just a means for the ruling class to divide working people and get us on their side for their class interests.

We have also seen attempts to repress people from voting in some states outside their region of origin, in contravention of the very basis of national citizenship. We saw this with the rise of sentiments such as the Yoruba own Lagos and everyone else should go back to their homeland and let only Yoruba decide. Also the idea of voting for a politician based on religion or ethnicity was also present despite the fact that the working people from the same ethnic group  as a ruling President have never been any more favoured than other working-class people in the country .

The idea that the Yoruba own Lagos or the South west and Igbos own the South East or other ethnicities own the region they are native to makes no sense and distorts reality. Firstly, what does it mean? Does the idea mean that everyone native to a particular place has the right to a piece of land? Or is it just simply ideological and a way to assert pointless domination of minority groups living within that area? This idea has been used by the ruling class to get themselves into power or remain in power by claiming that they are more indigenous than their opponents and that they represent the “owners” of that region even when the people they claim to represent rarely benefit from their power and government. The dangerous ideology of ethnoreligious fundamentalism has been weaponized for violence a good number of times in Nigeria’s history against working people that are supposed to be working together and has been the backbone of fascist ideologies around the world. We must fight it within the ranks of the working class to stop the divisive tendencies it promotes.

Secessionist Ideologies in Nigeria

Secessionist groups in Nigeria such as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Yoruba Nation Now Movement cite injustices against the people they claim to represent and the uniqueness of “their people” as reason the secede from Nigeria. They also say that Nigeria is an illegal construct of British colonialism as it is “Lugard’s Nigeria”.

There is indeed marginalization in Nigeria but there is way more evidence to suggest that it is primarily on class lines rather than ethnic lines. The claim is that the Hausa/Fulani political establishment is exploiting their people. But if this alleged exploitation doesn’t benefit the working class of Hausa/Fulani, can it still be considered ethnic exploitation?

They talk of a lack of marginalisation of the people from their ethnic groups. But the far northern states with Hausa as the majority ethnic groups suffer far higher poverty rates, with working people experiencing exceedingly low standards of living in these states.

The would-be-secessionists want control of the natural resources on their indigenous soil but somehow don’t think it can still be taken and used for personal purposes as it is being used right now, by the handful of capitalists which cut across the different ethnic groups. They talk about how exploitation will end in their new “paradise” without ever talking about how the material conditions of the working people they claim to represent will be improved and how the exploitation of workers, poor farmers, artisans and other working people will be ended.

They also claim that a distinct homogenous ethnic nation exists and that the homogeneity and uniqueness of this nation is being compromised by its mixing with people of another culture or ethnicity. They also claim that the different “ethnic nations” cannot coexist because of inherent cultural differences. They also preach anti-colonial sentiments and portray the dissolution of Nigeria as anti-colonial which is very contradictory as the idea of the ethnic homogenous nation is a product of colonialism and the borders they point to as theirs are just borders of old protectorates created by British colonialism which they claim they are against.

These borders also include minority ethnic groups which don’t in any way fit into the secessionists’ idea of an ethnic nation. This situation will most likely lead to the repression of minorities in such envisaged new nation-states, to maintain and preserve the myth of a pure ethnic nation. The idea that people from different ethnic backgrounds cannot work together is false as people from different ethnicities already engage in production in the country and do so successfully. The problem is that only the business and political class (also of all ethnicities) benefit from their hard work. The movements pushing for secession are also based on a great strong leader ideology, which is similar to the fascistic worship of Hitler, Mussolini and many other deified leaders of some pure nation or the other. This is seen in the IPOB movement as Nnamdi Kanu declared himself their supreme leader and his ideas were rarely ever challenged before he got jailed. They are also exclusionary and demonise a particular outside group as inherently wrong and sub-human while their people are pure and always right.    

The real solution is for all the workers and youths of this country to unite and fight to defeat the ruling class of capitalists. Uniting under some ethnic or religious banner only serves the interests of these capitalists. They will only make use of us and ride on our backs to power. We can see it already, President Jonathan Goodluck did not make life in the Niger Delta better. Major General Muhammadu Buhari did not make life in the North better and Tinubu is not making life in the South West better. The only people who won in those governments are the exploiters and we should wake up, see that, organize and liberate ourselves from their exploitation.

by Emmanuel IRO-OKORO



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