Perceptions are usually firmly rooted on fallacies and subjectivity. Perceptions are hardly scientific and if they pass near the blast furnace of superior reasoning, they melt like wax. And to continue, I want to submit that Nigeria as a country is grounded on fallacies and perceptions – perceptions of leadership in business/commerce, politics and in the academia/bureaucracy. The curious thing about it all is that these fallacies are skewed in favour of an ethnic and geographical tripod that accentuates the hegemony of the Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and Ibo over and above the so-called minorities of Nigeria. Take for instance when the idea of contriving a national language for Nigerians was mooted, someone naively coined a name WAZOBIA, based on the linguistic preferences of only three ethnic groups. Nobody gave a thought that there were about 360 different Nigerian ethnic groups and languages and therefore when the WAZOBIA tomfoolery died naturally, it did not come as a surprise.
There are other perceptions. There is this one that political leadership is the exclusive preserve of the North. Easterners are said to ‘control’ business activity while Western Nigerian is an academic region or is just good enough to carry out the instructions of a master. There are no reasonable perceptions about the South, except maybe to see southerners as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the North, East and West. In fact, some of my brothers in the North that I spoke with concerning our political quagmire once made it clear thus that ba Hausa, ba Nigeria – and even though I was emphatic as well that ba Ibibio, ba Isoko, ba Hausa, ba Yoruba, ba Ibo, ba Kanuri, ba Ijaw, ba Nigeria, it didn’t make any sense to them. And I sense that the killings in the North have been triggered by this sudden realisation of the veracity of my belief – that Nigerians, no matter where you come from, or who your father is, are stakeholders in the Nigerian enterprise, and we all have equal dividends in its failures or successes. I am also sure that the motive for the killings in the North that led to the Civil War in Nigeria cannot be any different from the motive and the perceptions that ignite today’s fire and blood. I am also persuaded that the people being used in these senseless killings have not realised a fact: that fact that in spite of the many years that our Northern brothers have held power, that that power has been held only in trust for the Northern oligarchy and oligopoly. Take a look: if you are examining the poverty index for the whole of West Africa, and if you were looking for the least developed people in Africa, most of them are in the North – in Borno and Yobe and Kebbi states. And I guess that was what the president meant last week when he said that the Northerners should solve their own problems. That region has had (and still has) so much power – politically and economically – to the extent that it has never translated to the well-being of the average northerner. And before I continue, I would say – what a shame!
But these perceptions should no longer hold any water, especially from the vortex of events that have taken place internationally and locally. Let’s take the very recent presidential debates in the United States as an example: against a backdrop that the contest was between a black man who in spite of the perception that nothing ennobling could be expected of him, put himself up for re-election. Not only did he beat the white man pants down, his election revealed that he was better organised, that he had stronger arguments and that we was more focussed than the oyinbo. Now is it really true that the Ibo man controls business activity in Nigeria? If that is true, then the Globacom man Adenuga or Aliko Dankote, the 40th richest man in the world must be Ogbuefis from Onitsha in Anambra state. Is it true as well that the Yoruba ‘control’ or are expected to control the arts, the academia and bureaucracy? Then Chimamanda Adichie, Mallam El-Rufai who are as cerebral as any Nigerian I know of today must be impostors of the tribes they presently lay claim.
I believe that the time has come for Nigeria to move from being a giant on paper to being a real one in Africa. I believe that to do this, we must dismantle all of the perceptions and chains that hold us in captivity. Nigeria should be a mighty cauldron of boiling beans, where the energy from the fire of productivity gives every bean in that boiling cauldron a chance to rise to the top. But that is hardly the case. We are still comfortable in those tiny cocoons of thought where we believe that we have certain inalienable rights and birthrights to certain positions of power, of commerce, and of cerebral power.
While writing this, I spoke with my neighbour. I will not mention his tribe but from what you will hear him say, you are likely to make a guess. I asked him: don’t you think it would be expedient now to give the Ibo man a chance to run this country? I based my question on the perception that Ibos are independent-minded, that they represent the entrepreneurial spirit and are agents. ‘Don’t think about it’, he said. ‘If you give them a chance, they will sell this country to the highest bidder…they will resort to a war of attrition from the way they were nearly exterminated in the Civil War of 1967-1970’.
But as I walked back to my apartment, there were two things I was thinking. One, it is not only the Ibos today who are doing the killings and being the carpetbaggers…other people are. And two, how could I drive away this quote from Frederick Forsyth’s book The Odessa File that kept at me: that peoples are not bad but individuals.
Hmmm, wahala dey o…