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The Benefits Of Ethnic Integration To Nigeria: A Case Study Of The Tiv Nation By Leonard Karshima Shilgba

This day, to me, marks the beginning of a pursuit of a new agenda for my Tiv nation and the Nigerian federation. It is now 53 years since Nigeria got political independence from Britain, the founder of Nigeria. And in those 53 years, we Nigerians have generally found it difficult to say openly, responsibly, and in faith those truths that we must speak up for national healing, national re-birth, and national integration. Considering the topic I have been sentenced to address this day—on the first Tiv Day in Adamawa State, there are 10 questions I consider necessary for common consideration:

This day, to me, marks the beginning of a pursuit of a new agenda for my Tiv nation and the Nigerian federation. It is now 53 years since Nigeria got political independence from Britain, the founder of Nigeria. And in those 53 years, we Nigerians have generally found it difficult to say openly, responsibly, and in faith those truths that we must speak up for national healing, national re-birth, and national integration. Considering the topic I have been sentenced to address this day—on the first Tiv Day in Adamawa State, there are 10 questions I consider necessary for common consideration:

Who is a Nigerian? How do we easily identify ourselves in Nigeria? Are our religious affiliations more consequential to us than our ethnic identification? Can we ever achieve religious integration? What is ethnic integration, and what benefits does this confer on Nigeria? What are the obstacles of ethnic integration in Nigeria? How are Tiv people viewed by other ethnic groups in Nigeria? How do Tiv people view themselves? What is the position of the Tiv people in the social evolution of Nigeria? What is the strategic interest of the Tiv nation within the larger Nigerian federation?

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Who is a Nigerian?


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The extant Nigerian Constitution, Decree 24 of 1998, provides a faulty foundation of the Nigerian citizenship by birth. Section 25 (1) states as follows:


The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth, namely—

  1. Every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria:

Provided that a person shall not become a citizen of Nigeria by virtue of this section if neither of his parents nor any of his grandparents was born in Nigeria;

  1. Every person born in Nigeria after the date of independence either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents is a citizen of Nigeria; and
  2. Every person born outside Nigeria either of whose parents is a citizen of Nigeria.


Subsection (2) states that: In this section, “the date of independence” means the 1st day of October, 1960.


This section has made the matter of Nigerian citizenship by birth nebulous, and what date does the constitution consider to be the birth day of Nigeria; 1900, 1914, or 1960? Certainly, from the tenor of this section, 1960 date is not the contemplated date:


  1. What qualifies a people as a community indigenous to Nigeria?
  2. Provided the question of indigenous communities is answered, then how does one belong to an indigenous community—by ability to speak their common language or by living in the community for a specified minimum number of years (the constitution does not provide answers)?
  3.  Suppose neither my parents’ grandparents nor parents were born in Nigeria, but by some definition of inclusivity within some community indigenous to Nigeria, they belong (or belonged) to such community, then my parents by virtue of section 25 (1) (a) are NOT citizens of Nigeria. And I, according to section 25 (1) (b), am NOT a citizen of Nigeria.


The current constitution of Nigeria has shut the door of citizenship by birth firmly against many people who assume they are Nigeria’s citizens by birth. And the question of citizenship is the beginning of the journey toward national patriotism.


I make a firm conclusion therefore that persons who are not citizens of Nigeria by either registration or naturalisation, but who may assume citizenship by birth, may be making a costly assumption. By a chain of inquiry, they may not be Nigerians after all. Accordingly, the definition of citizenship by birth is tendentious. There is an urgent need to define:


  1. Communities indigenous to Nigeria;
  2. Processes of gaining inclusivity in those communities; and
  3. Citizenship by birth in a manner that is more inclusive.




How do we easily identify ourselves in Nigeria?


In the wild assumption of citizenship by birth, it is very common in Nigeria for people to identify themselves by their ethnic tribes, groups, or religions. Phrases such as “I am Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Tiv, Ijaw,…” or “I am a Niger Deltan, South-southerner, Northerner, Middle Beltan, South Westerner, etc.,” or “I am a Muslim, Christian” are most common with us than those like “ I am from Benue State or I am from Adamawa State.” While those identifications are in themselves not wrong,   it is disturbing how we rely so strongly on them to “fight” for political power, economic advantage or social justice at either national or local levels.  And when we are constrained to choose between ethnic identity or religious affiliation, we most often choose the latter. This, in most cases is the cause of many a crises we have had in our country. Most disgusting is when we view any criticisms against our men and women in public offices through the dual lenses of ethnicity and religion.  We tend to assume that if someone who professes the same religion or ethnic identification with us occupies some political or public position, then our interest is protected or we at least can gain some vanity of pride, just mere sense of pride even if there is no tangible gain that comes to us thereby. In the midst of fuel subsidy protests last year, a lady from the president’s ethnic group said, “If Nigerians don’t want President Jonathan, then they don’t need our oil.” This vanity is behind the principle of zoning in the so-called “biggest party in Africa”, and it is gradually being destroyed by the same vanity.

Can we ever achieve religious integration?

Can we ever achieve religious integration? We don’t need religious integration in Nigeria, and it is never ever possible anywhere on earth to achieve harmonization of religions; rather we can achieve and must attain religious tolerance in Nigeria. While we can never choose our ethnic groups, being a natural gift, we can and in fact do choose our religions. Religion is a personal adventure.  It is a vain effort to attempt to either “Islamize” or “Christianize” someone. We humans can neither change nor monitor the motions of the heart of another. Many who claim to be “Christians” or “Muslims” live in complete opposite to the tenets of those faiths. Did not Mahatma Ghandi say in response to a question by a Christian missionary on why he had rejected Christ and yet quoted Christ’s words often, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ”?

And has not the courageous Sheik Ahmad Abubakar Gumi made it plain even as he said, “If you attack Church, where people are worshipping, what is the profit and for what purpose? Is it Allah or Prophet that sent you? Is there any Muslim that said you should attack a church? Talk of mosque, they are being used in destroying Islam and may Allah help them to know. Our strength is our unity and the practice of real Islam. And anybody who thinks he will be using force like this, Islam and Ummah have no greater enemy than him.

  Religion is a heart issue and should be left to individuals. If I truly loved someone, I should respect them enough to allow them to make their choices. I may advise and inform; but never must I compel them or threaten them.


Inter-religious dialogue is a phrase that doesn’t make any sense to me. Rather, we should have meaningful inter-personal dialogue. But Nigerian politicians make this most difficult to achieve for their lack of vision and power of communication of same. In this their poverty, they assault our ears with either religious appeals or ethnic campaigns.


What is ethnic integration, and what benefits does this confer on Nigeria?

Ethnic integration is not the absence of recognition that ethnic groups exist. It is not a denial that a people have come from different ethnic groups with distinctive cultures. Rather, it is a conscious effort to not exploit those differences. It is a refusal by national opinion leaders and the political class to keep projecting ethnic differences on the screen of national consciousness.  It is this diagnosis that has revealed to the pondering mind the existence of a severe social gangrene in Nigeria called zoning. The zoning principle that has been accepted by the Nigerian political class is a major cause of tension and violence in the land. It is more exclusive than it is inclusive; it tears apart more than it brings together.  All ethnic discriminatory considerations that relate to employment, admission to national or state institutions of learning, and political contests must be not only discouraged but criminalized if we will achieve ethnic integration.

The benefits of ethnic integration are legion, but the most recognized is that it reduces national tension. And that is what Nigeria needs at this time. It is the best service our politicians can provide us at this defining moment of our national history. Furthermore, ethnic integration enhances mutual economic benefits and a sharing of economic prosperity among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. We cannot achieve common prosperity so long as we place economic barriers before our brethren from other parts of Nigeria. We need to preach boldly against the evils of economic exclusion as well even as we have not been oblivious of political exclusion for the most part. There are certain businesses in Nigeria that are difficult to engage in if one belongs to certain ethnic groups. The Nollywood industry, for instance, is dominated by a certain ethnic group in Nigeria. I understand that this situation is not for want of effort or interest by our brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups in Nigeria, especially given the wild unemployment scourge in the land. Such perceptions do not encourage ethnic integration. The Tiv people are the dominant producers of oranges in Nigeria. But while they allow Nigerians from other ethnic groups to gain access to their orange orchards even in the countryside, they are not allowed to derive the optimal benefits because they don’t control prices. They have therefore become slaves for the rest of Nigeria in this regard. The Tiv people are known for the production of yams and other crops such as soya beans, melon, tomatoes, etc.,  from which they derive only marginal benefits because they do not control the prices. I think the time has come for us the Tiv people to ponder this and demand of our brothers and sisters in Nigeria a just bargain.

On Tiv People

The Tiv people, by population, are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, with a population of about 7 million. We are most known for our music and dancing, bravery, courage, and farming ingenuity. Some Nigerians “fear” us. But we view ourselves beyond those considerations. We believe in our intricate abilities to create wealth, our strong independence of mind. The “ka hen awe m ye m tse ga” (You are not the one that feeds me) common expression of a Tiv man was to express this independence disposition.

 We were the last ethnic group to migrate to the area now called Nigeria, but  our forefathers were able to obtain for us a foothold in Nigeria. That was an agenda that they accomplished successfully. By the time we first came into contact with the British colonial lords in about 1907, we were firmly planted.  But what should be our strategic interest today? Our unapologetic opposition to oppression pitched us against the Sir Ahmadu Bello-led government of Northern Nigeria. Our decision to form an alliance with the Awolowo Obafemi-led political group eventually led to the Tiv riots of the early 60s. Our involvement in the civil war understandably to save Nigeria earned the Tiv people the hatred of the Igbos. At this time, we the Tiv people of our generation refuse to play the second fiddle to any ethnic group. We shall join no ethnic group in Nigeria to pursue a narrow interest that is not even ours. However, we accept any economic  or political partnership on the basis of equality and mutual interest. We cannot love others more than we love ourselves.

The Fulani herdsman that used to be a friend of the Tiv has lately turned the dagger on his friend. So, like the Jews, we appear to stand alone in our island within the ocean of Nigeria. Don’t Tiv people deserve the right to farm and not have their crops destroyed by the cattle of their erstwhile Fulani friends? And must nomadic cattle-rearing still be allowed in this age of cattle ranching? The Tiv blood has been shed enough on our land, and we cannot afford it any longer.  The bill on forced acquisition of grazing land across Nigeria for the Fulani cattle men, which was proposed by Hon. Tsokwa does not meet the interest of the Tiv people, and we reject it.

The Tiv of our generation have taken sad notice of developments around our people—their growing artificial impoverishment, lack of appropriate voice on their behalf, and the quiet acceptance by the majority of the Tivs that their ancestors brought them into Nigeria, and now they have become slaves on their land, gradually being turned into beggars.

Above is the speech delivered by Leonard Shilgba at the Tiv Day Adamawa State event held at the Ribadu Square, Yola on October 5, 2013.

Leonard Shilgba is a Mathematics professor and social commentator.

Email: [email protected]; TEL: 08055024356.


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