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Nigeria Won’t Break. It’d Evolve. Here’s How

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Nigeria will be 60 years old as a formally independent country next Thursday, but th...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Nigeria will be 60 years old as a formally independent country next Thursday, but the divisibility and tiresomely endless feuding that have emerged as some of its defining features since its forced birth more than a century ago show no sign of abating.

The immobilizing factiousness of the past five years have particularly conduced to the growing sentiment that Nigeria won’t be around much longer.  Opinion leaders of major ethnic groups are plotting exit strategies from the Nigerian union.

But as much as I respect the rights of any people to dissociate from a toxic Nigerian union that seems to hold everybody back, I think that news of Nigeria’s imminent dismemberment is greatly exaggerated.

What I foresee happening—bits of which are actually already manifest—is that Nigeria would use its current ethnographic resources to evolve into a completely different country. And here’s my admittedly imperfect ethnographic forecast of an evolved Nigeria.

Let me begin from northern Nigeria, Lugardian northern Nigeria, that is. Home to more than half of Nigeria’s over 500 ethnic groups, northern Nigeria is Nigeria’s most diverse region. Even the two major ethnic groups from Southern Nigeria are represented in the North.

There are Yoruba people who are native to Kwara and Kogi states and there are Igbo people—of the Ezza, Izzi and Effium sub-groups, who are also found in Ebonyi State—who are native to at least four of Benue State’s 23 local governments. That makes northern Nigeria the microcosm of Nigeria.

But I prognosticate that an evolved northern Nigeria would be monolingual with a few holdouts. The Hausa language already predominates in 16 of northern Nigeria’s 19 states. Only Benue, Kogi and Kwara states have so far resisted the linguistic hegemony of the Hausa language.

Every subsequent generation in the 16 Hausaphone northern Nigerian states internalizes the logic and desirability of Hausa-inflected linguistic uniformity and a corresponding abandonment of the plethora of native languages that dot the region’s linguistic map.

Even Fulfulde (as the language Fulani people speak is called) is dying in such northeastern states as Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi, and the resistance to Hausa in Kanuri-speaking Borno and Yobe weakens every generation.

The relentless march of the Hausa language in Northern Nigeria will ensure that a somewhat unified mega identity, riven only by religion, would emerge, and memories of previous ethnic and linguistic identities would recede or disappear—in the same way that many Hausa-speaking communities in northwest Nigeria have no memory that their distant ancestors were not Hausa-speaking people.

So two dominant identities would emerge from northern Nigeria: Hausaphone Muslim northerners and Hausaphone Christian northerners. The Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Igbo, etc. people of Benue State who have historically resisted the Hausa language would share more in common with the emergent ethnic alchemies of southern Nigeria than they would with Hausaphone northern Christians.

The Yoruba-speaking people of Kwara and Kogi states would also fit more easily with their kith in the Southwest, with Ilorin Emirate being a holdout even though its sociolinguistic and geographic singularities would not permit its seamless fusion into the Hausaphone northern Muslim identity.

The people of what has been called Kwara North—the Baatonu and Boko people of Baruten and Kaiama local governments and the Nupe people of Pategi and Edu local governments— who are culturally more similar to other Muslim northerners than they are to the Yoruba-speaking parts of Kwara State would easily meld well into the Hausaphone Muslim identity. Both the Igala and the Ebira of Kogi have cultural and linguistic kith in southern Nigeria and are easily amenable to Hausaphone Muslim/Christian identities.

The former Eastern and Midwestern Nigeria are already witnessing the incipience of an alchemic ethnic fusion of disparate groups enabled largely by the enormous creolization of Nigerian Pidgin English and the Pentecostalization of the Christianity of the regions.

By creolization, I mean the transformation of Nigerian Pidgin English from an anarchic, emergency contact language for episodic encounters to a stable, rule-governed, self-sufficient native language that millions of people speak and identify with on an emotional and cultural level such as is the case with the Krio of Sierra Leone.

The creolization of Nigerian Pidgin English seems unstoppable and appears primed to play the role Hausa is playing in northern Nigeria as an ethnographic glue to coalesce otherwise historically disparate people. The shared Christian identity of the people of the regions, which is now increasingly Pentecostal Christianity, would accentuate this process.

As anyone who pays attention to Edo State would testify, the new identity formation among southern Nigerian minorities is already killing Islam in Edo North where it has existed for decades. There is a mass Christianization of Muslims in northern Edo, and this would only intensify in the coming generations.

As I’ve shown previously, Islam is a strong building block for identity formation in Northern Nigeria, so that “Hausa” and “Muslim” have become misleadingly synonymous in the Nigerian popular imagination. That is why people of northern Edo used to be erroneously called “Bendel Hausa” even though they speak an Edoid language that is almost mutually intelligible with the Bini language.

The association of Islam with Hausa—or, to use the trendiest hyphenated identity formation, Hausa-Fulani—is leading to its repudiation in even historically Muslim polities in southern Nigeria such as Yorubaland. Stories of Yoruba Imams who aren’t allowed to lead prayers in the North and of the distrust of the authenticity of the Islam of Yoruba people by Hausa Muslims help to solidify resistance to Islam. Today, overtly Muslim Yoruba people are seen by the non-Muslim Yoruba as perfidious toadies of the Muslim North.

If this attitude persists—and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t—it means southern Nigeria would become wholly Christian a few generations from now.

It is not clear to me now if Pidgin English in the former Western Nigeria would be creolized like it is becoming among southern minorities because of the social prestige of the Yoruba language and the numerical power of its native speaker base, but there are already signs that this is happening among the Igbo people.

The Igbo language is the only Nigerian language with millions of native speakers which is nonetheless classified as an “endangered language” because of the tendency toward what Professor Chukuwma Azuonye has called “the fetishization of English” among the Igbo, including code-mixing and  code switching, assimilation of Pidgin English into the Igbo language, among other factors he identified in his article titled “Igbo as an Endangered Language.”

I have a personal encounter with this. In 2000 when news filtered through that there were retaliatory mass slaughters of northerners in the southeast, the editor-in-chief of Weekly Trust where I worked requested that I travel there to cover it.

He said I could easily pass for an Igbo man and that my linguistic handicap in the Igbo language wouldn’t be an issue since Igbo people actually revere their kith who are monolingual in English. What he said turned out to be accurate. Throughout the five days I traveled all over the region, not once was I suspected to be anything but an Igbo.

I got along with a mixture of Pidgin English, Standard English, and a strategic sprinkling of “nna” and other popular Igbo intensifiers in my speech. In fact, when I was returning to Kaduna, someone in Onitsha actually asked why I was going to “where they are killing our people.” “Nna, na my business,” I said.

In other words, generations from now, the fissiparity that drives Nigeria’s current ethnic tensions will dissipate and the fresh contradictions of an evolved Nigeria would frustrate its dismemberment.

For instance, Hausaphone northern Christians, who are a huge chunk, would be invested in a united Nigeria for their self-survival. Although they would share linguistic affinities with the Hausaphone Muslim North, their apprehensions about religious domination would connect them to a creolized Christian South.

More than that, though, Nigeria has generated an enormous repertoire of collective national identity symbols that the upcoming generations, who won’t be moored to the same identities as us, would find hard to throw away.

Of course, as the example of Somalia shows, nations don’t endure merely because of the similarities and shared memories of the people that constitute it. That was why Steve Goodier once said, “We don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note. Only notes that are different can harmonize. The same is true with people.” 

Oshiomhole and His Lizard and Lion Hyperbole

I watched a video clip of Oshiomhole's interview with ChannnelsTV a day before the Edo governorship election where he characterized Obaseki's promise to extirpate his "godfatherly" tentacles in Edo as the threats of a "lizard" to a "lion." (Obaseki is the "lizard" and he is the "lion.")

That's an unusually over-dramatic hyperbole, which aggrandizes the enormity of Oshiomhole's defeat--and the deep psychic rupture he must be nursing now. 

The defeat of a lion by a lizard is the stuff of legends. The Bible's "David and Goliath" story pales miserably in comparison!

Related Article:

Obaseki’s Win, Tinubu, and the Power of American Threats


  1. Replies
    1. lol igalas are so close the igbo that some part of there lands were carved into Anambara and many of them have actually become igbo now e.g Senator stella oduah.

  2. "Stories of Yoruba Imams who aren’t allowed to lead prayers in the North and of the distrust of the authenticity of the Islam of Yoruba people by Hausa Muslims help to solidify resistance to Islam." This assertion is true in some decades ago. The northerners are seriously going through an attitudinal reformation towards Southern Muslims (especially the Yoruba). I have lived in three different core northern states as a Yoruba for more than a decade; and on different occasions I was made the imam in neighborhood dominated by the Hausas. Not only that, I have established Islamiyah in most cases, and my students are predominantly Hausa. In fact, the northern state I reside presently (Yobe), I have over a hundred students in my Islamiyah with no single Yoruba student or any ethnic students of southern origin. What is more, many Hausa prefer to bring their wards to my Islamiyah with the conviction that their wards are in the right hands in terms of sholarship and training.
    And my case should not be seen as a peculiar one or an exemption to the common practice. There are many Yorubas I know with similar experiences here in the North. So, the opinion expressed by Prof. is true of yesterday's North; not that of today. If they are in doubt of the authenticity of Yoruba Muslims, they will of course, not pray behind them; nor will they (the Hausas)entrust the Islamic education of their wards to the Yorubas. And finally I maintain my Yoruba identity anywhere I had lived in the North and where I live right now. Therefore, I am not a mistaken identity to them (the Hausas).

    1. I entirely agree with you on all fronts. Nowadays, most Islamic schools in the North are tutored by Yoruba Muslims while Masjid management committees are equally occupied by Yoruba Muslims erudite in Arabic language.
      No matter the resistance, both the Hausa, Fulani and even Kanuri bow down to anyone with erudition in Arabic.

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  4. Prof, I will not characterise the non-popularity of Hausa in Benue, Kogi and Kwara as indication of "resistance" to the language by the people there, although this would be a fashionable presumption in today's Nigeria. I think they are simply not well-exposed to the language as other northerners. Human beings will take up any culture that they are exposed to with the level of uptake dependent on the level of exposure or immersion. The numbers of Hausa speakers in these three states have never reached the threshold of inducing a wide uptake. The internet is also full of claims of resistance to the Sokoto Jihad by some middle belt peoples particularly the Tiv. But in reality, there is hardly any historical record of jihad being waged in Tiv land. Those who make these claims never mention which emirate under the Caliphate had attacked the Tiv and the dates of such attacks. There could have been slave raids and minor incursions into Tiv land from Muri, Keffi and Lafia emirates but there was no jihad activity or notable battles like the ones the emirates waged against the Jukun.

    1. There were violent protests in the 1960s (?) in Benue when Hausa was imposed as the language of early education in Northern Nigeria. That was what I referencing.

    2. Prof put it most succinctly here when he states that there was a resistance by the Benue people especially the Tiv in speaking the Hausa language. With respect, I think it is disengeneous to assert that the Tiv were not exposed to Hausa language and so did not know the benefits thereof. What further exposure to the language is being referred to here when the Tiv right from the pre colonial period were itinerant traders to even far flung Hausa speaking areas and so exposed to the Hausa language and its variants.

      To most Tiv, speaking Hausa was tantamount to embracing Islam and so resisted that urge vehemently including engaging in battles that would infiltrate the Tiv land with the religion. Evidence indeed abound of the Tiv being the last tribe to be pacified by the Europeans for colonial regime.

      It is a fallacy to say what happened at places like Keffi or Lafia were minor slave incursions. This is far from it as we are no doubt left with the vestiges of such "incursions" which firmly planted Islam in their wake. Same cannot be said of nearby Makurdi. And this was not for want of trying. The jigadists indeed tried but were rebuffed by stiff resistance by the the Tiv bordering Lafia that t is why they had to make a detour to Agatu, Lokoja and down to Edo.

  5. Interesting read. Remind me next time though to have my dictionary handy 😀

  6. You've said it all Proff. Please keep educating us, because we're all pretenders. More grease.

  7. This is your best article in a long time.

  8. This article like I said in my previous comment is good. But the future is not set in stone. Can you come up with an alternate version of this future you have painted, as a sort of counterbalance. Other possibilities could emerge and become dominant. The probabilities and possibilities are worth exploring. This could be the follow on article to this one.

  9. Brilliant projection. Doesn't have to be accurate. Unabashedly bold.

  10. Let's hope Nigeria won't break up, but the reasons given - mainly linguistic and ethnic-religious - for this not possibly going to happen seem rather weak. You almost entirely ignored the most important considerations driving the campaign for "restructuring" - political and economic factors. The main demands of the proponents of restructuring are: shift in political power from North to South, greater resource control by states,decentralization of the police force, and the weakening of the central government by removing certain items from the Exclusive List to the states. To most Nigerians,these are the things that would either hold the country together or disintegrate it, and not necessarily the factors you presented above. Were the country to break up, the Core North (12 "Shari'a states") would conveniently form a block while the Middle Belt would ally itself with the South to form a predominantly Christian entity. Just as you'd have a Muslim minority in the South in such a dispensation, so there'd be pockets of Christians in the new North. Hausa could still be widely spoken in parts of the Middle Belt. Unlike the partition of India in 1947, however, involving primarily Hindus vs Muslims, the division of Nigeria would be dictated more by political and economic factors than by religious or linguistic considerations.


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