Not too many things bother me. However, among the very few things that do, ethnicity is one of them. Some sociologists and anthropologist and a great many scholars would tell you that ethnic identity is a modern invention, a social construct, and that in the scheme of things, it really shouldn’t matter. But have you ever wondered why, in recent years, a typical Nigerian would rather hire or give contracts to his ethnic brethren than to the most qualified Nigerian from across the River Niger; or why a typical Yoruba would not come to the aid of an Ibibio if there are no impending gratifications? And likewise, a typical Igbo father would not allow his daughter to marry a Fulani man. Ever wondered why an Ijaw man could live in Bauchi State for quarter of a century or more, and still would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find employment with the state civil service?
There are Nigerians, here in the US, when meeting you for first time — assuming your name doesn’t give you away– that would ask “what part of Nigeria are you from?” and some would go as far as asking for ones exact village or hamlet. A few have been disappointed that despite my “almost flawless” understanding of the Yoruba language and culture — that I am not “one of them.” Some Igbos, seeing me for the first time would assume I am “one of them.” So many things matter, i.e. culture, education, institutions and democracy loving, forgiving and benevolent soul and things like that.Sadly, what matters most for a sizeable number of Nigerians is ones ethnic identity.
In today’s Nigeria ethnicity is either at the core or at the ring of our problems; or at the least, ethnicity straddles it. At the core of corruption is ethnicity. At the core of nearly all the military coups we have endured was ethnicity. At the core of who gets what resource is ethnicity. At the core of the national blame-game is ethnicity. At the core of irrational violence is ethnicity. At the core of plum federal appointments is ethnicity. At the core of university admission is ethnicity. We disregard people’s skills, education, training, and work experiences all in favor of tribal affiliation. Therefore, whether one is qualified for certain position or contract is irrelevant — you get it, get in, or get by if you belong to the “right” group. This revolting pact made mediocrity and inefficiency the order of the day.
A few years ago, in my attempt to understand the world’s major religion, I bought a very illuminating book by Huston Smith: “The World’s Religion.” I have since added John Mbiti’s “Introduction to African Religion” to give me a rounded understanding of religion. I feel now the way I felt back then: religion has its purpose; and in some ways, it is good for the overall wellbeing of humans in that it gives direction and purpose to the life and time of the most faithful and healthy adherents. It is a cure-all for most. For the most part however, religion has been the source of many problems. The things humans do in the name of religion and in the name of their deity has been nothing short of stupidity.
The Muslims claim that “there is no God but Allah,” and that Prophet Mohammed is the last true “prophet of God,” yet the Sunnis are butchering the Shiites and vice versa. Consider also that there are several divisions within Islam: Sufism, the Wahhabis, Salafis, the Kharijites, and the Ijtihadists. And within the Christian faith, there are several divisions — divisions too numerous to mention. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all form the Abrahamic faith; yet, one sect is suspicious — if not outright hateful and vengeful of the others. Adherents of all faiths all pray to God. Thieves and rapist and scoundrels all pray to God for guidance and delivery. Mutual enemies all pray to God. Combatants all pray to God. Talented or not, prepared or not — opposing teams on the sporting field all pray to God. But to whom does God listen?
Of the three sects, Islam, at least in recent memory, is the most misunderstood and the least loved in non-practicing areas even though — as Smith puts it –“Of all the non-Western religions, Islam stands closest to the West” in terms of proximity and ideology. In today’s world, when some people think of Islam, they invariably think of terrorism and Osama bin Ladin. They forget that Alqeda is not Islam and that Islam is not Osama. Even those who should know cannot help but link both. In other words, Christians and non-Christians cannot disallow their mind and their intellect from this grave prejudice and insult. They rejoice making fun of Muslims. Islam has become their object of scorn and ridicule. If this is not prejudice, I wonder what is.
On this and other sites, some respondents can not hide their distaste and hatred for fellow Nigerians who belong to other ethnic groups, or to other religion. How many times have we heard of respondents who openly and proudly abuse the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Ijaw and others? How many times have we heard of, or read of respondents who ascribe all sorts of faults and abuses to the Hausa/Fulani. Others, not us, are responsible for all that ills Nigeria. The way some see it, “Nigeria would have been better off without ethnic group A, M, or Z.” Them, and not us, is the reason why Nigeria will disintegrate. The amount of hate and prejudice is just too pervasive and hurtful.
In the Nigeria of the last 3-6 years, most have not been willing to acknowledge the existence of the Ijaw Nation. Shamefully, they are not even willing to acknowledge the fact that collectively, the Nigerian State has done the Niger Delta, and more so the Ijaw, any wrong. Nigerians don’t understand the injustice and the calamity that has been brewing in that part of the world. Some have wondered: “why are the Ijaws always complaining…holding hostages…bombing oil lines and making life difficult for the government.”
One wonders whether most of those who ask such questions are genuinely ignorant or are simply acting out of deep-seated prejudice and primordial hatred; or perhaps they act and speak in such manner because callousness and indifference is embedded in their soul.
Four hundred and fifty billion dollars later, the Ijaw Nation is still wallowing in abject poverty and hopelessness. The North, the West and the East would never have tolerated these injustice, criminality and wanton underdevelopment if the oil was situated deep in their territory. They reaped the social and economic benefit of groundnuts and cocoa and other agricultural resources. Today, they are depriving the Ijaw of any and all social and economic benefit of the gas and oil in their lands and waterways.
But of course this type of large-scale prejudice is not new in Nigeria. Prejudice and psychological hatred of other groups has been part of Nigeria’s polity since the end of the civil war in 1970. Why do you suppose the North and the West and all the groups in between have been “using their jaundiced perception and misreading of history to thwart the Igbo presidential aspiration”? You see, “the North and the West have a deep-seated mistrust of the Igbo and so are bent on restricting, containing, and deny
ing the Igbo their political right. Added to this is their subtle message to other minority groups: the Igbo, as a group, are not to be trusted!” Now, who does not know that “the West doesn’t think much of the North, or that the North have contempt for the West; yet, both regions have found a way to grudgingly do “political business” and engage in “political prostitution” to the detriment of the Igbo nation” Misperception and prejudice, I must submit to you, is a huge part of Nigeria’s diseased makeup.