Ethnicity in Nigeria – “we” versus “them” Social Construct

Ethnicity in Nigeria – “we” versus “them” Social Construct

Man by nature is good, but in the course of inter-action with external objects, bad elements were found, seen and grew.

I never knew how ethnically different I was in the circles of my “Contreymen” until I was rejected for a prefectorial position in high school, on the basis of “tribal” affiliation.

Though I took it in good faith, but in the course of life evolution I found it derogatory to use in defining my person and social band.

For which many have antagonized my perspective, which I have no problem with, because knowledge variety is the beauty of enlightenment.

The term “tribe” has a racist etymology, which refers to the social division of people, especially of a preliterate people, defined in terms of common descent, territory, culture etc.

However, the concept of tribalism has often been confused with a rational product called “ethnicity.”

Some scholars use the two concepts as though they carry the same meaning and are strongly inseparable.

However, it is pertinent to note that there is a difference between tribalism and ethnicity even though the difference is water-tight.

For instance, Nnoli (1978) sees ethnicity as a “social phenomenon associated with the identity of members of the competing communal groups seeking to protect and advance their interest in a political system.”

If we go by Nnoli’s position, tribalism which has to do with a tribe is only an element that could constitute ethnicity, hence ethnicity in this case is wider in context than tribalism.

My high school experience is still fresh in my mind, but that cannot deter me from addressing the necessity to half the social division experienced by citizenry on the basis of tribe or ethnic sentiment.

The thesis being posited therefore, is need to avoid the use of the term “tribe” to describe ethnic groups or social bands or as a defining parameter for social status acquisition or elevation.

More so, the term tribe is almost exclusively a label which emerges with imperialism in it’s application to those who were non-Europeans, which vividly show a racist inclination of the concept of tribe.

And as we are attempting to discard the prejudices of imperialism, it is in our best interests to discard the use of the term “tribe” when referring to the ethnic groups of Nigeria.

Ethnicity in the words of Nnoli above shows that it does not yet exist until a demand is made by one group to seek for advantage and benefits for its group relative to what another group is seemingly enjoying.

In support of this argument, ethnicity matters because of ethnicism. And ethnicism is absurd because it’s being rejective of an outside group. It’s not about the blood you have, it’s about the prevailing social construct of “We” versus “Them” kind of ossification.

Ethnicity is not biology; ethnicity is sociology!

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2 thoughts on “Ethnicity in Nigeria – “we” versus “them” Social Construct

  1. I think the Author is wrong in his presentation. Tribe is a sub unit of Ethnicity. Ethnicity refers to a racial group or race with same cultural belief, religion and deity, but different languages. while tribe is the description of a subethnic community of people with shared language, traditional beliefs and practice.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, I stated it clearly that “tribe is only an element that constitutes ethnicity.” But the difference is water-tight.

      However, that ain’t much of a concern in my analysis but the use of the concept of “tribe,” which I feel is pejorative as well as inaccurate in referring to ethnic groups and social bands.


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