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A look at Bala Usman’s analysis of communal conflicts in Nigeria (2)

By Eric Teniola

BUT, in spite of all these consequences of violent communal conflict, these are people always organising and executing them, and even repeating these, in the same areas. This does give some grounds for the view that the whole thing is a result of some irrational forces, beyond rational explanation. But when these conflicts are investigated by tribunals and commissions of inquiry their findings, based on clearly stated and reliable evidence, are that these irrational forces, whatever significance they may have for particular individuals, do not provide an adequate explanation for the conflicts. The evidence shows that these conflicts are the results of calculations, planning, organisation and execution which within, the perspective of those involved, are rational and logical. That is, these people had tangible, identifiable material, political, and other non-material basis for their action and used these violence to seek to attain concrete political, economic and other goals. But, of course, we can only be sure when the Federal Government brings together all these reports, assesses, compiles and analyses them to see what lessons are to be learned.

Racial Conflicts

There is also the view that these violent communal conflicts are caused by deep-rooted racial differences, between the various ethnic groups of Nigeria, at very basic levels of psyche culture, behaviour and outlook.

The conflicts in Taraba and Nassarawa States are, by some people, ascribed to the inherently aggressive drive of the Tiv as a distinct race, always fighting neighbouring races. The conflicts in Plateau, Nassarawa, and Taraba States are also ascribed by some people to the inherent expansionist and imperialistic drive of the Fulani, who are said to, inherently, always trying to subjugate other people. Similar attributes are ascribed to the Jukun, who are also presented in these racist terms.

But, this racist perspective on Nigerian history, and politics, may have become widely disseminated recently and made legitimate by the proponents of the concept of “the Yoruba Race”, from Egbe Omo Oduduwa-Action Group-UPN-Afenifere political tradition,like the late Chief Bola Ige and Chief Abraham Adesanya. But, there is no empirical evidence to support  that there exist anything like a “Yoruba Race” or, any other race, constituting an ethnic nationality in Nigeria. The Tiv, the Fulani, the Jukun, and all the others, do not constitute races which have differences which provide the basis for violent conflicts between them. They certainly have come to constitute ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, but, not races as distinct biological entities separate from others. The picture painted of Nigeria, particularly abroad, as an unviable nation-state, because it is an artificial amalgam of incompatible and antagonistic racial groups, who have virtually nothing in common, has no scientific basis.

Fortunately, there is, easily available to non-specialists, a concise essay, written for laymen, on the issue by Peter Uche Isichie, a medical scientist, as an appendix to one of the books of his wife Elizabeh Isichie, on the history of Nigeria. In this appendix, titled, Genetic Markers in Nigeria, Uche Isichie, marshals the evidence to show that there is no genetic basis for the racialisation of Nigerian ethnic groups. His introduction to the appendix is quoted here, because it clarifies how authoritative genetic evidence is over this issue of ethnicity, race and racial differences. Isichie states that: Many years have gone by since historians first appreciated the value of genetic evidence from the study of blood constituents in historical analysis. Blood constituents lie entirely outside human volition; the light they shed on past relationships is therefore, invaluable. The frequency of any varies from population to population, but they are known to be almost identical in populations related to one another. The incidence of any particular gene in any population remains relatively constant and stable for many centuries and this has provided a basis for genetic studies in various populations.

From the available evidence from genetic studies of Nigeria’s ethnic groups, Isichie wrote that:

A cursory look at the provisional genetic map of Nigeria available data shows that there is some similarity in the genetic constitution of most of Nigeria’s people. Although differences may be seen between certain communities within the country, this difference in the vast majority of cases is not as great as what is found when they are compared with other racial groups or even some groups within the continent of Africa itself.  So it is possible that the original people in the area now regarded as Nigeria were descended from the same ancestral stock and that the difference in the genetic pattern within the country may be due to bombardment by external genes.

And, that:

These facts together with the overall similarity in the genetic pattern showing in most of Nigeria’s people confirm in essence the picture which historians have reached on other grounds, rejecting any idea of dramatic migration from far a field and emphasising the great antiquity and stability of settlement. Nigeria’s peoples are probably descended from quite small Stone Age populations living pretty much within the country’s present boundaries.

Clearly, the genetic evidence available shows how baseless the view that these communal conflicts arise from racial differences and antagonisms, since the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria do not belong to different races, much as there is now a determined campaign to impose racism as a significant factor in Nigerian politics, against all the scientific evidence and the historical experience of the people of all parts of the country.

The Peopling of Nigeria

Alongside this racist outlook which produces this view of the causes of these violent communal conflicts is a certain perspective on the peopling of Nigeria. According to this view, there are the original, autochtonous, indigenous, inhabitants of the area that has come to be Nigeria, from the earliest times and there are those who are foreign immigrants from outside the borders of these areas, who have no territory of their own and whose search for this is one of the major causes behind all these violent communal conflicts. The position is that these autochthons have always been here and have always occupied the areas of Nigeria where they are found, with the recent foreign immigrants like the Fulani, the Kanuri, the Shuwa Arab the Chamba and the Tiv, for example, coming in to attempt to take over the homelands of the autochthons from various parts of West, North and Central Africa.

But, this view on the peopling of Nigeria is not supported by the historical evidence available. The most substantial and reliable of this evidence is in the findings of historical linguistics. Even though the genetic origin of a people speaking a particular language today, may not be the same as the origin of the particular language they now speak, historical linguistic evidence gives us the most reliable indications at present with regards to the peopling of Nigeria. Kay Williamson who has been studying linguistics in Nigeria for the last forty seven years, and is now one of the world’s leading historical linguists, still working at the University of Port Harcourt, has fortunately addressed this issue of the linguistic evidence of the early peopling of Nigeria. She, like Uche Isichie, started out her contribution on this by giving an explanation as to the theoretical significance of the evidence from historical linguistic. She states that:

“A genetic classification is one which classifies languages in terms of their origin and development from earlier languages. It is normal for a language to develop different dialects, and these will, if left to themselves, gradually develop into distinct languages. The original language is called a proto-language, and the languages which have developed from it at a later time are culled its daughter languages. The daughter languages may in turn give rise to their own daughter languages in which case they have in their turn become proto-languages. By observing the similarities between languages, especially those which have developed ill one particular proto-language, as innovations and have been retained by the daughter languages, a family tree showing the approximate development and relationship of the various languages can be drawn up.

What, Kay Williamson, is bringing out is the fact that that all languages, which constitute in most cases, the most important single basis of the identity of an ethnic group, have never been fixed, immutable, unchanging, phenomena. Languages, as she brings out, change and are transformed. The proto-languages of dialects, sometimes dying out, or, also becoming transformed from what they originally were. Hence, ethnic groups: nations and nationality are not natural, or, biologically fixed entities, but historical formations which are changed by the historical process, one of the most crucial dimensions of which has always been language development and differentiation.

When we turn to the question of the peopling of Nigeria and the issue of the autochtonous and the settlers, in the Nigerian area generally, Kay Williamson, proposes that the linguistic evidence available indicates that of the language groups in Nigeria, the earliest to settle in the Nigerian area are those speaking the Gur and the Adamawa Ubangi languages .The Gur languages are spoken in northern parts of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and the Borgu areas of Nigeria.

 


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