Over the last year especially, I have read several articles, compliments of the various Nigeria newspapers and websites across the globe. Indicated in most of the articles are the reactions of Nigerians who strongly believe that a fellow Nigerian has no right to speak about an ethnic group unless they are of that group and/or ethnic origin. There is a high propensity among some to vehemently criticize others because they believe non-indigenes possess no right to discuss certain subject matters because of where they are from in Nigeria. Some examples of such actions are the Igbos reacting fiercely to a Yoruba man speaking about the Igbos. The Yoruba criticizing the Igbo man or Hausa man for speaking on the history of the Yorubas. The Calabar man criticizing the Bini or Ishan man for speaking about the Calabars. Most Nigerians are guilty of this crime especially in a country we all want to see united. Is Nigeria not a single country? Didn’t we fight to preserve the unity of the country in the sixties? Did the men and women who lost their lives fighting under Yakubu Gowon die in vain? I recall the days when the acronym GOWON was changed temporarily into “Go On With One Nigeria.” It is sad enough that an Igbo man born and raised in Lagos State can’t run for the governorship of Lagos State because of our weak and ugly laws that invariably forbids an indigene of one state from running for a key position in another state. Where will this myopic reasoning lead us?
I recently reacted fiercely to an article written by a fellow Nigerian not because of his fundamental points but for several reasons among which, was to make a statement. Regardless of how I felt writing the response, I was reacting to two main points. First, the involved Nigerian had sent me a clearly spiteful and insulting personal letter questioning my right to speak about the Igbo presidency article I wrote earlier titled “Igbo Presidency: Not Now, Not Later, Unless A True Solidarity Is Established.” I, in my usual way ignored it, as I don’t respond to personal mails of such nature. Upon noticing his response to a different but similar article, I took it upon myself to respond, agreeably, in a strong fashion. My intent, secondly, was to make it clear that regardless of where we are from, we can’t be marginalized. We have a right to speak, write, marry, live, die, and do whatever we deem fit, within the law, with other Nigerians. I strongly detest the idea of a Nigerian from one region questioning the right of another because they are not of the same “language speaking” or “ethnic group.” We must move past that retroactive reasoning. As a man who was born and raised in a region completely different from mine, I grew up in a highly diverse environment and in the process built a foundation of value for all regardless of their ethnic affiliations. This diversity is what has engrained in me the right to speak of others as they can of me. It has engrained in me the experiential knowledge of knowing that ethnic linkages should not be used in building assumptions and attitudes that could lead to negative causal factors. It has engrained in me the need to look past the label of identifying Nigerians as Ibo-man, Calabar-man , Ibuzo-man , Ijebu- man, Owo-man, Onitsha-man, Eket-man, Ekiti man, Orlu woman, Port-Harcourt-woman, Tivi-man, Idoma-woman, etc. We must identify people as Nigerians and that only. All other identifications or cultural labeling must be secondary rather than primary. It is realistically appalling when Nigerians in Diaspora that have lived among the complex ethnicities in the world and have seen (hopefully), the varied lives/kinds of people, to keep maintaining this antiquated reasoning of identifying people solely by their ethnic origins.
I once read an article on one of the web sites about a Nigerian who met a fellow Nigerian who made conscious efforts to “modify” their accent to avoid being noted or identified as a Nigerian. I shook my head in sadness because the loser is the person who has little or no pride in their sense of self to identify themselves as a Nigerian to others. I admit it, I have meet Nigerians who sometimes can’t (don’t asked me why) tell if I am a Nigerian. I go out of my way to embrace these folks and identify myself. This doctrine was reinforced when I lead the Ishan Association in Northern California in the early 90’s. We were one as with other Nigerians. Today, a Nigerian can run as a governorship candidate in California simply as a naturalized American and as a resident of California. Regardless of where you are born, what matters most in America and other developed countries, is the right to live as one, in all fashion, once you naturalize. Can we adopt this reasoning and broad liberal rules as Nigerians? There are Nigerians in America and Europe who currently serve as Mayors, Council men/women, etc. Would a foreigner be allowed to serve in this capacity in Nigeria when we can’t even allow a Kaduna man to run for a position in Oyo?
Arnold Schwarzenegger was neither born nor raised in America but today, he manages the fifth largest economy in the world as the governor of California. When will a Nigerian named Chukwuemeka Okonkwo born and raised in Surulere, Lagos State be able to run for the governorship of Lagos State and truly stand a chance? When will a Rivers man named Dipreye Briggs born and raised in Kaduna be able to run in Kaduna State as a governor? If we, the able-bodied sharp shooters in our mid ages can’t orchestrate a change in reasoning, our children would not do it neither. If our current leaders have bought into the stigmatization of Nigerians by their places of origins, must we sit and simply embrace it as the right thing to do? A few years ago, we had a state named BENDEL and people identified themselves as Bendelites. Today, you have Edo and Delta State created out of the old BENDEL state. How sad will it be if suddenly, a Delta person tells an Edo person he or she has no right to speak of the history and/or issues of the other state? There are borders and at times, ten steps will take a person from one state to another and in this case, how do they truly, from a practical standpoint identify themselves if we remain stuck with state, regional, language or ethnic myopia?
Nigerians should embrace each other both at home and in countries where we find ourselves. It will only lead us forward. We must set the example for others to follow and in the words of Nelson Mandela, “as we let our light shine, we consciously give others people permission to do the same.” Let’s go shine the light on the eradication of the ethnic stigma that is starting to eat deep into us as people and in our efforts, we must adopt consistent, patterned behaviors that can move Nigeria forward.