The Tribal Card: Labellings And Misconceptions

by Mazi Ogbonna & Akintokunbo A Adejumo

Following one of the authors’ article about the problem between the Attorney-General of Nigeria and Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC, there was an inundation of protests from persons who purported, judging from their indignation, to come from the same state of origin as the AGN. Please, we are not casting aspersion on any state or tribe in Nigeria. That is not our way and upbringing. Normally, if these people had tried to defend the issue or throw more light on it, rather than to throw the charge of tribalism, that would have been the end of it. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It was an attack based solely on tribal sentiments, thereby negating whatever useful purpose they felt their replies would be worth. They did not even attempt to address the issues, rather it was pouring of outright venom, vituperations and crude abuses on what they perceived was the author’s tribal origin. It was an unfortunate and sad situation, however as Winston Churchill was quoted to have said “when arguments are prolonged and well drawn out, men of mediocrity and of low intelligence are apt to be rude”.

This world is full of LABELS. People pander to labels as legitimate instruments to get over depending upon their motives. In Nigeria, among other things, the struggle for “leadership” to get to the government treasury and then loot it seems to be the driving forces for most of our politicians, and not to serve as touted in their pre-election pledges.

Labels are abundant in our every day life and there is nothing one can do about it than to accept and keep forging ahead. Labels are every where in the world. This is how:

– Religion: There are so many religious groups, namely Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and so on. What do they all do? You guessed it. Each labels the other as untrustworthy in an eternal struggle for world domination and religious supremacy. Each claims supremacy over the others in spite of the word in their respective doctrines never to judge others. Now let’s isolate them a little better. Judaism has over 20 branches such as Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstruction, Reform, Hasidism, Zionist, to name a few. Islam seems to be the most unified religion with only two main branches-Sunni and Shiite. Buddhism has six main branches. Among the Christians you have Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants. Catholicism has two main branches-The Roman Catholics and The White Robed Benedictines (Catholics without a Church) and a new emerging one termed the Charismatic Catholics that play bands and instruments similar to Evangelical churches. Among the Protestants, we have Methodists, CMS-Anglicans, Seventh Day Adventists, Apostolic, Evangelical, Baptists, Pentecostals, Mormons, Cherubim and Seraphim and Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do they all do? You guessed again. Each labels the other as not good enough or not to be “trusted” as the path to Heaven or eternal life.

If you belong to one of any of faiths listed above, even though you may not directly label, trust me, the mentality is that your group must be involved on one form of label or the other. That explains why the Protestants and Catholics seem not to trust each other and why there are hardly any marriages between these two faiths.

– The Human Race: The White Man labels Blacks as never to be trusted and vice versa. Need we continue? But should we continue?

– Culture/Language: This is especially true, but not unique, of African cultures, where every African culture labels the other and when the White Men see that, they widen and promote such sentiments so that they can achieve their aim of “Divide and Rule or Divide and Conquer”. We now know how effective this has been in Africa, and especially so in our “obodo/ile” Nigeria. Furthermore, in religion, it was said that God created all these several languages, cultures and tribes for the same reason that we will never be united on a common ground to plan against His infinite wisdom. Remember the “Tower of Babel” where people in Biblical days were building to reach heaven. God destroyed it and since then everybody started speaking in several tongues and languages.

So the Igbos, Hausas, Yoruba, Efik, Ibibio, Nupe, Tiv, Isan, Ishekiri, Borno, Edo, etc who have not trusted each other as one group must find cultural or linguistic difference as a reason of their inherent resentments.

– The Family: In the Holy Bible, we see how Rebecca discriminated against her first son Esau and deprived him from getting the blessings reserved for a first born. So even in families, there is always that inherent feeling where the eldest does not seem to trust the youngest, and vice versa, especially in less financially capable families where resources are scarce or in polygamous families where the children from one wife do not trust others from the other women. No matter how strongly the man of the house tries to hold everybody together, it is always there – the label, especially after the man passes on.

– Education and Schooling: In Nigeria, we see how we put each other down based on which secondary school or university we attended. The people who claim to have attended the “elite” schools do not trust the rest and the reverse is the truth as well. We see the difference between the “Ivy League” universities in the USA and the normal “run of the mill” universities. In the UK, you are either from Cambridge or Oxford, the rest are not elite universities, and this forms the basis for the “old boys’ network” in getting jobs, political appointments, juicy contracts, etc.

– The Smart and the not So Smart: Imagine the label at all opportunities. When we were in schools and at work and in everyday life. Remember the label between Science majors and the Arts majors in the university.

– The Military versus the Civilians: You understand the label. Our Senate President, David Mark is the prime example of this, despite the fact that he is now a democratically elected leader. His pronouncements when he was still in uniform still rings a bell and will forever be remembered. Labels!

– In Politics: We see the Democrats versus the Republicans (USA); Labour versus the Conservatives (UK); in our own country, Nigeria, despite the lack of clearly defined political objectives, ideologies and convictions, we have the various parties all playing murderous games to eliminate each other. Again labels! Labels!! Labels!!!

– The Rich versus the Poor: Need we expand? This is all over the world and it is an eternal struggle which will continue to the end of time. Again, our Senate President expressed that very well when he was a “One in all” military Communications Minister and he said “the telephone is not for the poor”. The poor will always suffer at the expense of the rich.

– Man or Woman: Boy or Girl. Let’s live that alone. But we must mention the label between tall, handsome and stout against short, ugly and chubby males. On the other hand, how about the label for beautiful, yellow (light skin) slim-built against ugly, dark skin (blackie) and heavy set? How about beautiful and smart versus beautiful and dumb (empty)? Religiously, the Catholics and the Muslim faith seem not to believe women should be trusted. Otherwise, how come there has never been a woman Pope, in spite of the staunch Catholic Church’s belief in the Virgin Mary? In politics, Americans don’t seem to believe women should be trusted in the highest rung of political ladder either. That in itself may explain why it is taking ages for a woman to be a President in the so called “Land of the Free”. Same applies to Nigeria and many other cultures as a matter of fact. Further more without a LABEL, how soon can we expect to see a BLACK POPE?

– The USA versus the UK: This applies mainly to those of us in the Third World who wants to escape from the poverty, deprivation, inequality, etc to the civilized world to find a better life style. We cling to labels to judge which place is better. Which education system is better? What technology is better? Where is most money made? Labels! Labels!! Labels!!!

Now, with these few points we should develop as a thesis, labels make the world go round and without it we wonder where the world will be. However, it is very bad when we don’t go beyond it or rise above it to achieve a purpose. The facts are that somebody could say the Yoruba cannot be trusted and it is quite possible that when you go among the Yorubas, a certain individual or group may not be trusted. However, this is an unfortunate, mischievous, evil and misguided generalisation. It is the individual that counts. But this same argument may also apply amongst the Igbos, where people from each state within the region may not trust each other; yet they all acknowledge they are all Igbos. Incidentally and ironically, this is how Nigerians are similarly generally labelled all over the world, and they do not know if you are Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw or Ogoni.

The reverse applies also. As Nigerians, it may not be far fetched to see a small town comprising five villages that do not trust each other either. Even that, many people of the villages may vow not to trust their most illustrious son/daughter because of his/her personal and honest ways to making things work. Suddenly, a lot of people are intimidated by it and what do they do? They label him/her. Amongst our people as soon as somebody starts dropping valuable and helpful ideas, the community begins to see that individual as a person who is looking to lead them, or as a threat to someone’s personal ambitions, when the individual hardly nurses political or leadership ambitions. This is a classic case of “A prophet never being appreciated in his own land. Jesus Christ our saviour, of course, was a classic example.

One of the reasons why we are not moving forward as a country is the bane of tribalism. Aside from corruption, this is another problem we have in Nigeria since independence. It is detrimental to our development, as with corruption. Everybody is using this charge against the other and hiding under its cloak in everything we do. The military used it very well, and the civilian politicians are experts and adept at using and playing the tribal card to suit their nefarious agenda. It was this label that led to a civil war in which millions of Nigerians, mostly Igbo, died and suffered. The scars are still there today. Some people are even still fighting the war in various ways.

Yes, we all have our various agenda and prejudices based on religious, tribal, political, educational, and individual tendencies for survival. But there are sincere and truly patriotic Nigerians working very hard towards getting rid of these various agenda, but the forces of retrogression and selfishness are bent on preserving this evil status quo. It does not augur well for the country.

Our point here is this: those who label one Nigerian or the other as being “tribalistic” are themselves prejudiced and tribal. If someone accuses another, for example, of supporting Obasanjo because Obasanjo is a Yoruba man like the person being accused, then it makes sense to use the same argument against the accuser; that the reason why he does not support Obasanjo is because Obasanjo is not from his tribe. This substantiates tribalism as a vicious cycle any Nigerian can hardly escape. It works both ways. So what happens to an Igbo or Hausa man who supports Obasanjo, a Yoruba man? Usually, rather than keeping quiet, we find another dangerous “LABEL” – suddenly a supporter of another tribe becomes known as a traitor. A traitor to what? To humanity or nationalism?

Nigerians with tribal or religious tendencies and apologies never see the bigger picture. They are quite incapable of seeing it. They circle round the issues, either deliberately or because their vision is clouded permanently with biases and prejudices. In fact, in most cases, the same “tribalists” and religious zealots are the corrupt Nigerians – they will always put their tribal or family affiliations first before national interests. These make such people inevitably, and sometimes, unwittingly corrupt.

Coming to think about it, the word “tribalist” does not exist in the English Dictionaries or language. It is a fabrication that is unique to Nigerians. It was invented by selfish and divisive Nigerian politicians a long time ago, and forced down our throats and used to perpetually keep us apart and feuding eternally. Tribalism is now so much part of us, that in conjunction with corruption, it is another vice keeping us down in that country. This is totally unnecessary, as we have enumerated above. It is just a label. Siblings of the same parents have their prejudices, not to talk of people from the same village, and there is very little evidence that when people unite to fight common enemies, or address common issues that should be advantageous to them, they succeed. Otherwise, Nigeria would have been a better country long ago.

Corrupt and inept people, instead of putting all efforts into developing their own immediate community, are always looking for excuses and blaming their shortcomings on tribalism. Tell us, why should an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State be blaming a Yoruba man or Hausa man for their plight, when an Ijaw man entrusted with, and given vast resources to serve his people and alleviate their problems, is instead and deliberately looting his state’s treasury and lining his pockets with his state’s monthly allocation? Our brothers and sisters, let us call a spade a spade and do not let us shy away from the truth. Tribalism is not the cause of the problems of the Niger Delta, other issues are. Take away the tribalism charge, and everything else will fall into place, or at least, we can address them logically, to arrive at the proper solution.

For instance, we see how happy both the writers of this article are to know each other, not in person, but in virtual space. We see the level of two way contact and the mutual respect we generate despite our cultural and environmental differences. That is called Unity of Purpose; that is called Diversity, and Maturity. These traits are beyond labels.

Compatriots! Political charlatans, pretenders, nonentities and mediocres will try to pull down the aspirations of genuine patriots. These types come in different sorts. The disappointing tough “Label” comes when some of the people one thinks one trusts join the band wagon of seeing “a positive mover” as “too-know”, successful, and getting too much world-wide attention. Some will be paid to either slow “the positive mover” down or to discredit his efforts as something else he, “the positive mover” never imagined. There are so many wolves in sheep’s skins. It is tough to separate them.

Genuine patriots must rethink the scope of who will travel this journey with them. All negative and mediocre people do not like people with ideas. When there are people who have a bundle of ideas and are very honest by the way they want to share ideas, knowledge, skills, and experience and ask questions without pretences, many agents of destruction will work against them. Fake people pretend to be their friends and that is why we do not go far in this world. We refuse to give credits when credit is due. We do not recognise and celebrate excellence, selfless service, achievements and righteousness. We compete unhealthily and murderously. These are our domestic problems. Tribal differences should not be added to our problems. Racism, tribalism, and all sorts of discrimination are in this world. We however must learn how to manoeuvre around them to achieve our greater goals.

We should and must keep moving forward. We should not let the differences in our cultures, languages, traditions and religions or any other diversity hold us back. Great leaders and great achievers do not look back. And remember, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Therefore, let us not resort to lazy workmen that quarrel with their “TOOLS”. We must utilize our diversified talents, experiences and resources for the common good of improving Nigeria!

You may also like


Ben Tugur September 28, 2007 - 4:00 am

One of the best pieces and very thought-provoking article I have read for a long time. Kudos to the authors.Part of the problem of the Nigerian nation is

tribalism. It has really beclouded the sense of an

average Nigerian that the sense of reasoning no longer

prevail. We insulate ourselves with the tribal card, just because we want "our own" son or daughter to be there despite the fact they cant do it.

Well done, gentlemen. You have said it as it should be said

Jubril Olabode Aka, (MBA Aviation, Ph.D) September 27, 2007 - 11:24 pm

This article should be read by all Nigerians especially elites aspiring to leadership as well as leaders in all spheres of world endeavours.

The authors of the article put a lot of efforts into this work which highlights the bases of most human problems in the entire universe. It is hoped that people will learn from this, and embark on serious behaviour modification for the benefit of humanity.

A lot of those highlighted problems and recommended solutions can be found in my books titled:- (1) Blacks Greatest Homeland Nigeria Is Born Again; (2) A Female US President Is Salvation, Blessing, Peace & Prosperity.

We must continue relentlessly to condemn all acts of discrimination in our society, perhaps we can all live together in peace and harmony, with equity, justice and fair play all our lives according to the wish of our God Almighty.

I thank you exceedingly for sharing this wonderful piece of work with me.

God Bless Nigerians.


Leave a Comment