Every time our country goes through a period of challenges propagated by violence, the one characteristic of the Nigerian that seems to surface is one of skewered finger pointing and self denial that borders along ethnic and tribal lines. Even when the facts are clear and responsibility has been claimed for acts of violence, it still seems to be difficult for us to accept that such an act could be attributed to a member of a tribe of which we belong.
Some weeks ago, when discussing our dire security situation with some friends, the subject of who was responsible for starting the spate of bombings in Nigeria came up. My colleague, who hails from Rivers State made the statement that the Hausas were responsible, to which another colleague from Kano vehemently disagreed. “Yes, it is true that Boko Haram has been responsible for the recent bombings”, she said, “But let us not forget that before Boko Haram had unleashed their insurgence, MEND had been responsible for bombing and killing innocent people in Abuja and Lagos.” My friend from Rivers took great offence to this and they proceeded to have a very heated debate.
Assessing the discussion from the point of view of a third party, I found both their points quite implausible, especially when conspiracy theories came into the fold. Instead of labelling both MEND and Boko Haram as the murdering criminal organisations they both are, they made excuses. My friend from Rivers asserted that the October 1st bombings were not perpetrated by people from Niger Delta but carried out by northerners who had paid Henry Okah to claim responsibility. My friend from Kano came out with a theory that Boko Haram was not really made up of Northerners but was orchestrated by the Niger-Delta people in order to perpetuate the breakup of Nigeria. As a third party, these claims seemed ridiculous, but what I found most interesting was that I was also guilty of harbouring similar beliefs not so long ago. At the time the Boko Haram violence started, it was easy for me to buy into such conspiracy theories.
Who is to say if any of these theories are true, if there really are a group of tribal covert men in grey suits who sit in some sort of a secret society to design these events in order to achieve some end result? But even if they do exist, the fact of the matter is that the way in which we assess issues of tribe and our natural denial of anything that reflects negativity of anyone that comes from the same tribe as us exemplifies the kind of disunity and aversion that is tearing at the core of this country
It is becoming harder and harder to escape the sense that the narrow-minded idiosyncrasy we apply to the issue of tribe is the core threat to the unity of this country. Being unable to assess issues objectively without giving it a tribal and ethnic dimension is disturbing and a further reinforcement that what we have got in Nigeria is a most disunited and leery order.As a people, our way of reasoning requires a stronger focus on inconvenient truths which are much too often swept under the carpet in exchange for an optical illusion that exonerates what we consider to be our own kind.
It honestly is a woeful decree in the assessment of Nigeria that, 111 years since our formation; we are still unable to shed the garb of suspicion, intolerance and disparity. Still, unable to see beyond ethnicity, religion and regional origin. We; the black race, the people of Africa, Nigerians far and wide want to be accepted and seen as equals by the Europeans, the Americans, by the whites all over the world. We complain when the Westerners make documentaries depicting our nations decline. We curse and cry bias when they refuse to grant us visas to their countries and when fellow Africans accuse us. Who are we to label anybody else prejudice against us? We have no right to claim discrimination when we fail to exhibit the equality and understanding that we yearn from outsiders to our own people and in our own home. All ethnic and religious groups in Nigeria are equally as guilty as each other of promoting the disharmony that is now drowning us.
There is no doubt that we are a different people with different cultures, features, religions, languages and traditions. It is true that we have had to cope with the colonial legacy that lumped incompatible ethnic groups into one. But we seem to miss the fact that, even amidst our differences, we are a people with the same story, with the same history, with the same plight. And if nothing else, that has got to be a virtue, not a vice. The treasure of any nation is formed from the union of the people within its territory and its worth is characterised from its variety. The diversity and range of our different cultures and beliefs is where our strength lies and our weakness comes from our non recognition of this fact.
I am a staunch believer of the Nigerian project and have always believed the prosperity of Nigeria comes from the proficiency and force of its 150 million people with our multiplicity of values, traditions, and language, not from our natural resources. The fact that I know exactly the ethnic group I come from and am proud of my identity and religious belief does not take away from my appreciation and acceptance of others who have as much passion for their religion and ethnicity as I do. In any society, ideological face-offs are encouraged, pride in identity is essential, but the ethno-regionalism and ethnic fundamentalism that is so rife in this atmosphere has got to be defeated because it threatens the very fabric of our existence.
In any forward-thinking society that adopts fitting ideals, zonal and religious sentiments and emotions are not abused because it corrupts the atmosphere. In a cultured setting, individuals, not the tribes they originate from, would be responsible for their actions and Nigerians would cease from viewing every challenge through jaundiced eyes. The vast majority of us seem to have massive blind spots when it comes to our ability to tame prejudice and subjectivity when tribe and ethnicity is involved.
This primordial and regressive ethnic thinking that we all seem to be slightly guilty of has no place in our future and if we do not want this country to spontaneously combust, we must not allow our emotions to get the better of us.
Our country is desperate for a break; there is a lot of work ahead of us. But even before the need for a good leader or the need for electricity, what Nigeria needs first and foremost is a united atmosphere that will improve our sense of belonging and give each of us the opportunity to flourish. In order to have that, each of us has to stop forming part of the chain that preys on ethnic and religious identities and sentiments.
It’s time to get our acts together so that diverse groups can develop a cohesive and genuine democracy fostered by federalism. A democracy where our differences will be split along ideological lines not ethnic insularities. It is by Gods’ will that Nigeria came to be made up of a variety of religions and 250 ethnic groups. It is up to us to be grateful for this gift and make this country work.
The downfall of any multi ethnic country is usually enhanced through the flaw of reasoning, social dogma or ignorance. Unless we are able to overcome our flaw in reasoning and ignorance that accentuates our ethnic distinctions, then we will remain unable to address our troubles, because even though we clearly see the truth, we deny it merely because it is an inconvenient truth.
Article Written by Hannatu Musawa