Cultural Relativity: the Root Cause of Conflict in Nigeria

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Nigeria is a diverse country with more than 250 distinct ethnic groups. Culture plays a pivotal role in shaping individuals and impacting their identities, encompassing beliefs, habits, modes, and attitudes developed through experiences within a specific environment. Culture arises from the interactions and interpretations of individuals’ experiences.

The classical ethnic groups in Nigeria, such as Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba, exemplify cultural relativism. Their identities as separate groups have been shaped by their distinct environments and experiences. According to Marquet’s perspective on culture, it is defined as “the entirety of knowledge and behavior, ideas and objects that make up the collective heritage of a people.” Culture is a shared experience specific to a particular group. Therefore, the interplay between individuals’ experiences in a specific environment and their interpretations forms the foundation of cultural relativism.

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Cultural relativism is the notion that societies establish and maintain their own traditions gradually, employing both incentives and penalties. People manifest their cultural principles through various means such as art, economics, politics, social interactions, religion, and personal growth. Individuals consistently partake in diverse endeavors to regain or address what they perceive as lacking in their fundamental identity. This phenomenon is evident in the ongoing crisis observed in specific Northern States subsequent to the unexpected outcome of the presidential election.

The election result exceeded their expectations, leading them to engage in acts of violence to reclaim what they believed was rightfully theirs. Cultural differences contribute to the uniqueness of each culture’s value system. Cultural relativism suggests that moral values are established by society. In Hausa land, for example, killing a millipede might result in immediate decapitation. Similarly, in certain parts of Igbo land, burying a python is done with the same respect as burying a human.

Examining different ways of life can lead to the perception that certain cultural values are foolish and purposeless. However, despite their lack of depth, these values hold immense significance for those who uphold them. Each individual may have personal preferences that differ from others. What one culture considers valuable may not carry the same worth in another culture. The environment plays a vital role in shaping people’s value systems.

Herodotus, the Greek Historian, believed that everyone regards their own native customs and religion as superior. According to Herodotus, not only do we adopt the religious and ethical values of our cultures, but we also tend to dismiss the values of other cultures as inferior to our own.

This tendency for superiority among various cultures is at the root cause of conflict in Nigeria – any form of violent action (political, economic, social, or religious) resulting in loss of both life and property.

Cultural and religious conflicts stem from varying understandings of reality, leading to clashes over values. These conflicts are essentially crises centered around defending specific cultural or religious values. The intense emotional attachment to these values is evident in people’s fervent willingness to staunchly defend them, even at the cost of their own lives. In Nigeria, religion holds a significant influence in shaping cultural norms across institutions, systems, and individuals.

By acquiring a more profound comprehension of religion and culture, we can aptly tackle problems like ignorance, conflict, homelessness, fanaticism, disequilibrium, and lack of sustainable development. In Nigeria, numerous crises occurring in different eras have resulted in the loss of numerous lives. The immense suffering that these crises have caused includes pain, anguish, fear, psychological trauma, and economic instability which have affected families, communities, states and the entire nation. Survivors frequently endure continued suffering following these acts of violence.

The April, 2011 election had a story that was not unlikely. Some States experienced severe violence during the election. However, the Northern States were most affected, with loss of human lives and valuable resources. This unfortunate event resulted in the termination of several promising individuals who were seen as the future hope of our nation. While compensation was given to the victims’ families, there is no way to restore the lost hope, ambitions, and talents of these individuals. To acknowledge the harmful impact of such terrible acts on our country, it is crucial to take measures to tackle this issue.

Since the history of each people has varied, their value systems will also differ. Therefore, it is necessary to embrace the ideas of understanding, acceptance, and cooperation in order for us to coexist harmoniously as a nation. What I propose is the concept of unity amidst diversity. Let us establish a common ground for dialogue and the exchange of values. It is crucial for individuals to intellectually adapt their perspectives in order to appreciate the richness of other cultures.

To fully grasp the significance of different cultures, it is crucial to broaden our cultural outlook and avoid imposing judgments by favoring one culture over another. Apprehending individuals through their culture entails comprehending their core beliefs about existence, worldview, life objectives, as well as the methods they utilize to attain them. The Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo people each possess distinct viewpoints on life that are manifested in their lifestyles.

Mbiti, our existence and identity are intertwined with others in our community. By working together and embracing the communal spirit, we can overcome conflicts and create a harmonious society.

The spirit of brotherhood, known as “Ujamaa” by Nyerere, is essential for achieving harmony in any nation. It is important for us to embrace the philosophy of “live-and-let-live” and foster wholesome human relationships. This idea is eloquently expressed in the Igbo saying “egbe belu ugo belu, nke siri ibe ya ebela, ya gosi ya ebe oga ebe.” Thus, no specific culture or religious group is superior or more self-sufficient than another. Religious education plays a vital role in addressing conflicts in Nigeria due to its transforming nature, ability to empower individuals, and promote self-awareness.

The aim is to eliminate the lack of knowledge seen during the dark ages. The objective is to create a curriculum that will educate and enlighten followers of religion on the most effective ways to advance Nigeria. It is vital to improve the mindset of religious factions in order to promote a harmonious and equitable understanding between followers of different religions in Nigeria. The majority of conflicts in Nigeria stem from cultural disparities. Every conflict within our nation is rooted in cultural variations and interpretations. Culture shapes, educates, and transforms individuals’ lives.

Religion is at the heart of Nigerian culture, which is why many crises in the country have religious undertones. Cultural relativism has led to religious fanaticism, ignorance, lack of development, and the undermining of cultural values throughout society. To reduce conflicts, particularly those related to religion, we must foster tolerance rather than condemnation. This can be achieved through sympathy, dialogue, mobilization, public enlightenment, participation, and sharing instead of withdrawal.

Unless every citizen of this country acknowledges the undeniable reality that no culture or religion is superior to others, societal divisions will persist. Each culture possesses its own distinct qualities and contributes to society.

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

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