The Platform

Small children in Benue, Gboko, Nigeria. (Victor Nnakwe)

Throughout Nigeria, minority cultures are being invisibly sabotaged.

For decades, the debate over the precise number of cultural groups within Nigeria has smoldered, much like a slow-burning fire refusing to be extinguished. Estimates vary wildly; some scholars argue for over two hundred distinct groups, while others, citing less verifiable sources, posit numbers as high as four hundred.

Regardless of the exact count, one irrefutable truth remains: Nigeria is a cauldron of cultural diversity. Mirroring the social dichotomy evident in many Western nations, Nigeria has partitioned its myriad cultural communities into either majority or minority categories. The three most dominant groups are the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, relegating all others to a marginalized “minority” status.

This systemic partitioning has incited demands for secession among these minority factions. Although Nigeria’s federal system theoretically accommodates cultural diversity, these marginalized groups argue for their legal right to a distinct existence. Recent events have heightened their call for recognition, as they are frequently misclassified under the umbrellas of the three majority groups. They contend that their unique voices deserve amplification; their distinct characteristics warrant acknowledgment.

Take, for instance, a recent conversation I had on Twitter with a Fulani individual. Growing up, I had considered “Fulani” and “Hausa” as interchangeable terms. The man was quick to correct me. Despite my initial skepticism, his arguments were compelling enough to convince me of the Fulani’s unique identity. Unlike the Hausa, the Fulani speak Fulfude and traditionally embrace a nomadic lifestyle. Like many other minority groups, they too have been struggling for years to safeguard their distinct interests.

The Efik, another marginalized group, suffer a similar fate—often mischaracterized as an offshoot of the Igbo people. This oversimplification neglects unique cultural practices exclusive to the Efik, such as the bridal fattening room ritual—completely alien to Igbo tradition.

Strikingly, the Yoruba majority does not display as many conspicuous differences as the Hausa and the Igbo. Nevertheless, minority groups like the Igbomina and Awori exist within Yoruba culture, yet their calls for individual recognition remain subdued. One wonders why.

The underlying issue here is that minority cultures are being invisibly sabotaged, particularly when they don’t align themselves with a majority group. Nigerian media, disappointingly, has been complicit in this erasure, seldom highlighting the rich tapestry of the country’s minority cultures.

So, how can we move forward? The onus falls on both media and academic institutions to intensively research and clearly distinguish these groups, affording them the recognition and respect they deserve. It’s imperative for the majority cultures to abandon their patronizing stance and remember that, ultimately, “the minority makes up the majority.”

In an era teeming with secessionist and revolutionary undercurrents, collaboration between majority and minority groups is not just ideal—it’s essential. More critically, government backing is required to fund in-depth research into the vast landscape of Nigeria’s cultural identities. Without this, the irony is stark: many Nigerians, shrouded in ignorance, can only identify the so-called majority groups.

The call to action is clear: we must foster a more inclusive understanding and respect for all ethnic groups if we aim to secure Nigeria’s peace and progress. After all, our strength lies in our unity.

Editor’s note: Journalist Mohammed Taoheed is providing hands-on instruction to arm the next generation of young Nigerian journalists.

Fathia Kuti is a Nigerian freelance journalist and Law student at the University of Ilorin, Kwara State.