Cultural Relativity: the Root Cause of Conflict in Nigeria

Nigeria is a multicultural nation with over 250 ethnic groups. Human beings are product of culture. Culture has made people what they are. Culture is the totality of experience of people in a given environment. Culture is complex whole of the people- this complex whole includes the beliefs, habits, modes and attitude of people. Culture is the result of interaction of people in a particular environment and the interpretation of their experiences.

This is epitomized in the classical ethnic groups in Nigeria Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba. Their environments and their experiences in them markedly made them different set of people. No wonder Marquet viewed culture as “the totality of knowledge and behaviour, ideas and objects that constitute the common heritage of people. ” It is common living experience shared by particular group of people. So, the inter-relationship between peoples’ experience in a certain environment and their interpretation of these experiences is the mother of cultural relativism.

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Cultural relativism is the notion that societies create their own traditions, pass them along from one generation to another, and continually reinforce them through rewards and punishments. Man’s cultural quest is made manifest in his arts, economic, political, social and religious activities, as well as his ethical development. Man always engage himself in variegated activities of building in order to restore what he either has lost or finds lacking in his fundamental constitution. This is made manifest in recent crisis in some Northern States accruing from their ‘unforeseen’ result of the presidential election.

The result of the election is far beyond what they thought it will be. Sequel to this, they decided to indulge in different violent acts so as to restore what they inchoately thought that belong to them. As a result of cultural differences, the value system of every culture is unique. Cultural relativism is a pointer to the fact that moral values are created by the society. In Hausa land for instance, if you kill a mere millipede, they might decapitate you immediately. In some places in Igbo land if you kill a python you will bury it like human being.

When you look at these ways of life, it appears as if those cultural values are stupid and useless. However, soulless these values may appear, they of great significance to those who practice them. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What is valuable in a particular culture may not be valuable in another. It is the environment that determines the value system of people. The Greek Historian Herodotus opined that ‘every one without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was born to be the best. Herodotus view is that not only do we all adopt the religious and ethical values system of our respective cultures, but we typically go a step further and denounce the value system of other cultures as inferior to our own. It is this superiority tendency in our different cultures that forms the bedrock of conflict in Nigeria. By conflict in Nigeria I mean any form of violent act (political, economic, social, and religious) that tantamount to the destruction of life and property of a lot of innocent life.

Conflicts, be it cultural or religious conflicts are about the nature of reality and different interpretations of it. In fact, cultural or religious conflict is nothing but crisis and clashes of values. All cultural aspiration is a moral aspiration. This may explain why people passionately and tenaciously defend their cultural values and are even willing to die in defense of such values. People are emotionally committed to their cultural values. Religion is the centrifugal configuration of Nigerian cultures. Religion is the matrix of Nigerian culture, which cut across institutions, systems and people.

If one should better understand the issue involved in religion and culture in general, it will go along way to stem the tide of ignorance, conflict, homelessness, fanaticism, disequilibrium and lack of sustainable development. Crisis in Nigeria has taken hundreds of lives of different people in different era. The pain, anguish, fear, psychological trauma, and economic instability it has caused the families, communities, states and the nation is innumerable. Some of those who survived those violent periods spend the rest of their life in perpetual suffering due to the aftermath of such violent act.

The story is not far fetched, the April, 2011 election has the story to tell. Some States experience serious violent act in the course of the election. But the most pertinent one is that of Northern States, whereby human and material resources were destroyed. Some of the future hopes (corps) of this nation were terminated. Although, the families of the victims were compensated, nevertheless, the hopes, aspirations and talents of those corps have been lost forever. Knowing fully well the harm this unholy act is causing the nation, something must be done about.

Since the history of each people has differed, the value system of each people will automatically differ. As such, we need to imbibe the spirit of apprehension, tolerance and collaboration, for us to co-exist together as one nation. What I advocate for is the principle of unity in diversity. Let us have a meeting point for dialogue and sharing of values. It is of paramount importance that men must intellectually adjust their positions, themselves, so as to grasp the value embedded in other people’s culture.

We need to transcend our cultural horizon to see what is good in other peoples’ culture. We should jettison culture imposition that is imposing a particular culture in other culture in judging them. In other to comprehend people through their cultures, necessarily have to do with comprehending their basic assumptions about reality, their word view and life goal and how they pursue it. An Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo man has a different conception about life. This is obvious as we can is the way they live their lives.

If various ethnic and religious groups should seek the common good of the entire Nigeria, conflicts in the nation will be a thing of past. Each of the religious groups should know that there is more to life than religious inclinations. I call on all religious leaders, and every kind hearted Nigerian to re-imbibe the African communalistic spirit. Let us adopt ideology “I and thou” relationship. As J. Mbiti rightly pointed out “I am because we are, since we are therefore, I am. ” So, individual is what he is because of the community (others). Then, in the words of J.

Nyerere, the “Ujamaa’s spirit” (the spirit of brotherhood), is inevitable for there to be harmony in any nation. Let us imbibe the philosophy of “live-and-let-live” and wholesome human relations. This is well articulated in the Igbo aphorism “egbe belu ugo belu, nke siri ibe ya ebela, ya gosi ya ebe oga ebe. ” Hence, there is no particular culture or religious group that is self sufficient and more important than the other. Religious education is prerequisite for combating conflict in Nigeria, because of its transforming nature, empowerment and man’s self-awareness.

It is capable of eschewing ignorance associated with dark ages. Here, religious education has to do with drawing a program that will educate, inform and enlighten religious adherents on how best to move Nigeria forward. There is need to enhance the mindset of religious groups in order to induce sound, balanced and mutual understanding among adherents of religion in Nigeria. In Nigeria, most of the conflicts are culturally oriented. Cultural differences and understandings is at the base of every conflict in our nation. Culture configures, informs, and reforms peoples’ life.

At the center of this culture lies religion. This is why most of the crisis in Nigeria has some religious connotations. Religious fanaticisms, ignorance, lack of mobilization, cultural demeaning and lack development are the resultant effects of cultural relativism, as we can see in every facet of the society. To reduce conflict especially that of religion in our nation, we need to generate the spirit of tolerance instead of condemnation, sympathy, dialogue, mobilization, public enlightenment, participation and sharing instead of backing out.

Unless, every citizen of this country accepts the obvious fact, that there is no particular culture or religion that is superior to the other, things will continue to tear apart. Every culture unique in its own way and have something to offer the society.

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Cultural Relativity: the Root Cause of Conflict in Nigeria. (2017, Jan 19). Retrieved from