I have come to the observation that despite all the outrage about current and past violence in this country we often neglect to blame ourselves for tribalism and ethnic/religious sentiment that whether we like it or not remain at the back of many minds in this country. Of course some people are going to say I am generalizing but am I? From my personal observation, it has been proven time and time again that sometimes some people do not mince words when talking about stereotypes of this and that tribe/region/religion, they often say the most offensive things without regard to the presence of people of the said tribe/region/religion.
Before you say I am making this up, in Nigerian speak, I tend not to look like a “northerner’, in fact I ve walked out of a bank and the security guard starts speaking Yoruba to me, and no this was not in Lagos, it was in Abuja. Sometimes I m mistaken for an Igbo chap. In fact, I am hardly ever mistaken for a “northerner”. Guess I m ethnically ambiguous in Nigeria. My point is the other day while standing in line to vote (this was during the national assembly election before any of the violence), there were 3 middle aged gentlemen in front of me having a conversation and it went something like this:
Oga #1: Those northerners are stupid o, see those daft abokis and mallams thinking that it is only them that can rule this country. Uneducated bunch of fanatics. They are using underage voters, that is how back in the day they used to count goats and cattle when census was done
Oga #2: My brother, its true o. Whether they like it or not we will have our own president. The first educated president of Nigeria.
Oga#3: What of Shagari and Yar’adua?
Oga #2: They were half baked products jo. Do any of those cattle rearers have an iota of intelligence in their body. All they are good for is making suya and kilishi.
Oga#1 (turns to me): My brother isn’t it true?
My dad then walks over to me and speaks hausa to me. The three gentlemen instantly shut up.
I m sure each and everyone of us have examples where people insult other regions, where they call Igbos money hungry shylocks with no respect and call Yorubas a bunch of fetish people. This is beside the point. The point is we tend to drive ethnic and religious sentiment into almost every facet of life and then we wonder when uneducated people take up knives and start killing people of other religions.
If you don’t know it, know it now. You are as guilty of killing these people as those who committed the violence if you have ever voiced ethnic or religious bigotry, if you have ever given a job to someone because of his religion or tribe, if you have ever refused to allow your son or daughter to marry someone from another tribe, if you have ever gone into a tirade insulting people of another tribe. It is as simple as that.
The sad thing is that clergy are no exception to this. Pastors keep preaching about how you shouldn’t be unequally yoked to a non-believer and write books about the evils of Islam, Imams preach about infidels and sometimes incite their congregation to violence.
The real tragedy is that people are passing on this ignorance and divisive message to their children and future generations. Of course, the educated people are less likely to take up machetes and kill people of other religions and tribes, however the mental divisions that plague this country will continue until we do something about it.
This is just a food for thought because there are many more issues and the solutions are bountiful enough that books can be written about the subject. What do you think? Is your mother, father, brother or sister an undercover regionalist/tribalist/religious bigot? How do we further shape a Nigerian identity as opposed to a Yoruba identity, Urhobo Identity, Middle Belt Identity, Muslim identity?