Picking Sides

Race, Ethnicity and Recruitment in the Colonial Nigerian Army

January 2025 9781787388178 352pp
EU Customers


Nigeria’s colonial history matters. It shaped the destinies of hundreds of ethnicities into the most significant black nation by population on earth. However, Nigeria’s ethnicities were not viewed as equal by its colonial masters. Particular ethnic groups were propped as superior to others, which generated tensions in the colonial army and society.

Omeni argues that an understanding of the origins of ethnic politics in Nigeria requires a rigorous historical and sociological study of the ethnicisation of the colonial army. The idea that certain ethnicities in Nigeria had more “Martial” features than others underpinned colonial-era policies and dynamics introduced at a malleable time of proto-state formation. Such dynamics developed their own momentum over a century. By Nigeria’s First Republic (1960-1966), the army was stratified not only along ethnic lines but also along class lines. Unfortunately, Nigerian society also replicated these pathologies. Indeed, both became virtual mirrors in some respects, with consequences for Nigeria’s democratic integrity.

This book, which explores themes of race, ethnicisation, and recruitment within the colonial army, goes beyond the discourse on colonialism and the Nigerian military and contributes to the debate on plurality and multi-ethnic politics in Nigeria today.


Akali Omeni (PhD, Kings College London) is Lecturer at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews. His three previously published books include Policing and Politics in Nigeria.

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