Cultural Diversity in Nigeria: A Blessing or a Curse?

Cultural diversity is a phrase generally used in describing a society with people of different ethnic roots which manifest in their languages, mode of dressing, arts, as well as other traditional practices which are either similar or distinctively different from each group. Such traditional practices are highly valued and held with great admiration among people of an ethnic group. In Nigeria for instance, when it comes to dressing a core northerner is identified with a starchy ironed fez as a cap. In the western part of Nigeria which is dominated by Yoruba ethnic group, people generally sew their cap in a long style which is neatly folded when worn on the head. On the other hand, in the eastern side of the country the Ibo are know for their red cap which is traditional worn (but mostly) by title holders. Other minority ethnic groups within the middle belt region like the Tiv, Ngas, Idoma, Nupe, etc, also have unique cultural attributes which help in recognizing their cultural roots when appeared in the public. For example, the Tiv people in Nigeria are widely known for their a’nger, a unique traditional costume (fabric), lineally sewn in black and white features, which is generally worn by Tiv people to identify with their cultural origin.

The picture created above is that of a cultural mosaic or congress of cultures consensually residing in one community called Nigeria. However, to express how culturally diversified Nigeria is, there is need to have mental cross-section of Kaduna state which has, over the years, remained a unifying point for varying cultures.

Kaduna state is an epitome of a highly diversified sub-political entity in Nigeria with over fifteen tribes/ethnic groups. Apart from the Hausas, which dominate the northern part of the state, there are a lot of minority tribes/cultural groups settling in different parts of Kaduna state. For example, the southern part of the state has Kagoro, Moro’a, Jaba, Fantsuan, Kataf, Baju, Gbagi, Kagoma, Mada, Ninzam, Attakar, Fulani, Attukur, Koro etc. All these tribes/ethnic groups mentioned above have cultural attributes which are similar in practice or remarkable different from each other. Kagoro ethnic group, for instance, set aside January 1 of every year to celebrate her people and culture. In every Kagoro Day (1st January), there are a lot of cultural display: Dance, costumes, arts, etc. The event draws people from various parts of the country especially sons and daughters of Kagoro as well as highly dignifying chiefs within Nigeria.

On the other hand, the disparities within the ethnic groups have existed for a long time. Even in the history of Nigeria, one may agree with the writer that it was the cultural or ethnic differences which propelled polarize ideologies that made indirect rule during the colonial era to be successful in the north and failed in the south. Also, it was the manifestation of such differences that made the people of the southern part of Nigeria to demand for independence in 1958 when the northern representatives said they are not ready. After independence was finally achieved in 1960, many ethnic groups have shown secession tendencies. Some of these secession moves by some ethnic groups lead to a full blown civil war while others were overtaken by dialogue for the achievement of peace and development in the areas concerned.

All these have shown that Nigeria as a nation was created out of sheer colonial enforcement, to achieve control of peoples as well as to maximized resources within the carved boundary of the colonial sub-entity in Africa. This, however, made her peoples (tribes/ethnic groups) to be bounded together in ‘fate’. Fate in the sense that, the differences inherent in the groups have given rise to so many crisis: culturally, politically, as well as on socio-religious ground. Many Nigerians recognized this fact including Amodu (2008) who states that: “We (the peoples of Nigeria) survived as a nation and as a people united by fate and in faith of God’s glory of a brighter, prosperous future for our beloved and blessed country Nigeria”. This means that, even though fate has brought the peoples of Nigeria together, their faith in God will make them to survive against the odds bring about as a result of the differences within the groups. But as Davis (2008) puts it: “Fate as we know it sometimes lies beyond our means of understanding and surfaces at just the right moment in our lives” Hence, fate has befall us (Nigerians) with the reality of staying/living, and working together as one big family for the greater achievement of the dreams of our a nation.

However, staying, living as well as working together does not make Nigeria one, for there are so many differences which are still keeping her peoples apart. For example, religion has remained one major factor which has contributed to the disunity of the Nigerian peoples. Another divisive factor in Nigeria against the ethnic groups is politics. The trend of politics is always divided along ethnic lines. It is common for an ethnic group to feel marginalized by policies of a leader who is not from its side. In this way, the north do not feel safe with the leadership of the south. Likewise southerners often question the polices of a northern leader. When it comes to politics, the uninformed masses are easily coined or cajoled into accepting political views of the bias politicians by believing that, it must be someone from their ethnic group that will bring a positive change in their community.

Notwithstanding, there are also common areas of similarity in most of the cultures which explains that the people of Nigeria have a common origin and hence, they are capable of understanding each other. But two things are paramount in multi-cultural or highly diversified society: Similarities and Differences. While the similarities in the cultural practices of the groups bring harmony in the society and encourage peace among the people, the existing differences among these tribes/ethnic groups sometimes are negatively used by selfish minds against the unity and peace of the society. Nigerians as well as people in any culturally diversified or ethnically mixed society must be able to maximize the opportunities by fostering “unity in diversity” instead of manipulating the diversity against the unity of their various societies, for selfish purposes.