Vote My Tribe Or I Kill You

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Democracy has been turned into coup at the polls – and the result is announced in the darkest wee hours when robbers are wont to strike!

The Nigerian elections of February 25 and March 18 were turned into deadly battles akin to brutal tribal war.

It’s not my wish here to dwell on the partisan politics of the dangerous state of affairs of this benighted country that is now in tatters.

Even as the politics of Nigeria divides the nation tragically, literature somewhat comes to the rescue.

Prom­i­nent Nige­rian politi­cians al­ways mouth the ideals of “One Nige­ria” but they hap­pen to be the great­est apos­tles of clan­nish­ness, nepo­tism, tribal­ism and all the sundry isms that di­vide the peo­ple.

Be­ing a so-called tribal claimant of a section of the country trumps be­ing a bona-fide Nige­rian cit­i­zen desirous of living in any part of the coun­try.

It is against this sordid background of tribe-baiting that I decided to pick up the novel Where Are You From? by Lola Akande published by Kraft Books Ibadan in circa 2018.

Lola Akande pre­sciently puts Nige­ria’s fault-lines of identity on the front burner in Where Are You From?

The plucky pro­tag­o­nist of the novel, An­jola Adeniyi, dares to en­gage her beloved coun­try Nigeria in mul­ti­form di­men­sions on the identity question.

A sprightly grad­u­ate of English from the Univer­sity of Ilorin in her na­tive Kwara State, An­jola Adeniyi em­barks on an event­ful Na­tional Youth Ser­vice Corps (NYSC) pro­gramme in Anam­bra State.

The chal­lenges of the Nige­rian eth­nic mix of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are sucked into the demand­ing whirlpool of sur­vival in a dire land­scape.

Start­ing from her place of birth, the iden­tity ques­tion ran­kles given the his­tory of Ilorin, and indeed, Kwara, in the 19th cen­tury when Afonja “li­aised with the Fu­la­nis, who were Ji­hadists” to undo the old Oyo Empire.

According to Lola Akande, “Af­ter killing the Afonja, the Ji­hadists fully es­tab­lished the first admin­is­tra­tion in Ilorin in 1837 and be­gan to over­run, one by one, all the towns and vil­lages in Kwara.”

It is thus in­cum­bent on the young one to ask the fa­ther: “What about us, Fa­ther? What and who are we? Fu­lani? Yoruba? What?”

The iden­tity is­sue of course cuts across the Nige­rian ter­rain as peo­ple must per­force change their bona-fides to fit into the needs of di­ver­gent mo­ments.

For in­stance, An­jola’s boyfriend and even­tual hus­band, Ifeanyi – Ify, for short – and his en­tire fam­ily, orig­i­nally from the Igbo state of Anam­bra but born and bred in Jos, Plateau, “had to hide their links with Anam­bra to be ap­proved. They were ed­u­cated to be­lieve that they had to re­nounce their fa­ther’s na­tive name and state of ori­gin and ac­quire Plateau State Cit­i­zen­ship cer­tifi­cates be­fore they could ad­vance their in­ter­ests. They had also had to dis­card their Igbo names – at least of­fi­cially – and adopt Plateau-sound­ing English or Bib­li­cal names.”

Anjola thus be­comes Mrs. An­jola Jeremiah upon her mar­riage.

In the hunt for a job in Kaduna, An­jola is made to un­dergo the prob­lem­atic process of go­ing to the Kaduna High Court to swear to an af­fi­davit of Change of Name, thus be­com­ing An­gela Adnoyi of Zango Kataf in Kaduna in­stead of An­gela Adeniyi of Kwara.

She dis­cov­ers that she even needs to go fur­ther by claim­ing to be­come a Mus­lim with hi­jab to be fully ac­cepted, whence her adop­tion of the name Ha­jia Zainab Abubakar.

Of course, the move goes awry as her tribal marks eas­ily give her away, and she con­fesses to com­ing from Kwara State.

After being told “You are ob­vi­ously Yoruba by de­scent”, she is com­pas­sion­ately not ar­rested and pros­e­cuted for forgery but gets this ad­vice: “Go o Ibadan. I have it on good au­thor­ity that Oduduwa In­ter­na­tional is on re­cruit­ment drive and will hold a se­lec­tion in­ter­view in De­cem­ber.” Get­ting to Ibadan to vie for the job, she gets this ouster: “This is Oduduwa In­ter­na­tional. This inter­view is for ap­pli­cants from the west­ern re­gion, not for north­ern­ers.”

She is dis­missed as an alien, only for the out­raged An­jola to cry out: “You called me an alien in my coun­try?”

An­jola can only wal­low in lament: “I can’t find a job, Fa­ther. No­body seems to know where to place Kwara in the comity of states in Nige­ria; and it tears my heart to think that I’m lost in a coun­try of my birth. I’m a com­plete stranger in my own coun­try.”

A pa­tri­otic Nige­rian per ex­cel­lence, An­jola dares all tra­vails to forge ahead with her in­ter-eth­nic mar­riage to her Igbo lover, Ify, de­spite the evil machi­na­tions of Ify’s elder brother Ca­jethan.

She tri­umphs in the end as a teacher of the com­mu­nity in the dear “home” of Ma­gaji Njeri in Kaduna State.

The schisms in Nige­ria point to the fact that Lola Akande’s Where Are You From? needs to be made rec­om­mended read­ing for stu­dents, and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers alike, all over Nigeria.

In get­ting mar­ried to Ify, the Nige­ria of An­jola’s dream runs thus: “In my mind’s eyes, I saw how our union would of­fer hope and en­gen­der greater har­mony be­tween our dif­fer­ent eth­nic iden­ti­ties just as the mar­riage be­tween the par­ents of Maj-Gen Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu did. Nwachukwu was born to an Igbo fa­ther and a Hausa-Fu­lani mother and he grew up in La­gos. In no dis­tant fu­ture, Ify’s blood and mine would form a for­mi­da­ble con­nec­tion and we would have adorable chil­dren who would be true spec­i­mens of Nige­ria. Through our chil­dren, a new generation of Nige­ri­ans with a com­mon iden­tity would evolve and it would be dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to take up arms against one an­other.”

This is the way to go instead of the “Vote my tribe or I kill you” crude tribal war that passed for a gubernatorial election in Lagos on March 18.

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