BEN MURRAY-BRUCE | Let’s Kill Tribalism Before it Kills Nigeria
By Ben Murray-Bruce
I was very angry on Friday, 23rd of October, 2015. One of my Twitter followers had tweeted a photo of an advertisement for a room to let. What was disturbing about this to let sign was that the landlord had listed a long list of tribes that he would not rent out his premises to. I would not offend the sensibilities of my readers by listing the tribes blacklisted by the landlord, but I must say I was mad as hell after reading his post. How could Nigeria have gotten to this level?
But then again, when I reflected on the matter, it occurred to me that we are all to blame for tribalism in Nigeria. First of all, we do not have any mechanism for fostering national cohesion, which would be the only lasting panacea for sounding the death knell to tribalism. You might ask yourself what about the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)? If you do not know that that noble idea introduced by General Yakubu Gowon’s administration has been badly bastardised, then you need a massive dose of reality to cure your reality distortion.
In today’s Nigeria only the most naive undergraduate does not know that it is possible, for a fee (read bribe) to ‘sort’ your posting to a state of your choice. There have been verifiable accounts of individuals who have served in their own states of origin. There have even been provable cases of individuals who went abroad for their Master’s degree while they were meant to be serving Nigeria.
And so without any first hand interaction amongst Nigerian youths to enable them know about the people and tribes that make up this blessed land, many of our youth rely on biases fed to them by their friends and family. As such, with the only mechanism we have to build a detribalised Nigeria distorted, the fault lines of division by ethnicity and religion continue to widen. And what is more, we seem to have an aversion to history in our curriculum.
The other day I was talking to a young Nigerian business owner of 42 years of age who did not know that Nigeria had fought a civil war. This young man went to good schools and graduated from a well reviewed second generation Nigerian university. If he does not know, I can only imagine how much more ignorant of our national history those younger and less educated than him would be. In response to my followers’ tweet, I released a series of tweets with the hashtag #killtribalism and I was pleasantly surprised that in less than an hour that hashtag became the number one trending topic in Nigeria according to the official Twitter trends. That the issue trended so dramatically made me realise that our youth (who largely determine what trends or does not trend) are hungry for the right information.
Basically, this is what I tweeted. Many young Nigerians do not know that the first elected Mayor of Enugu was a Fulani man named Malam Umaru Altine who was elected to that exalted office in 1956. Malam Altine was loved by the people of Enugu and at that time they would probably have stoned anybody that refused to let out his property to Altine on the basis of his tribe or religion. Malam Altine’s case was not even unique. In 1957, an Igbo man, Felix Okonkwo, was appointed a member of the Northern House of Chiefs. So integrated was Okonkwo into Kano’s society that he was better known in some areas as Okonkwo Kano.
This detribalised politics was not only limited to the then Eastern and Northern regions. The Western region also practised it. In 1950, an Igbo man, Mboni Ojike, was elected Deputy Mayor of Lagos. And I must commend the people of Lagos State for sustaining this welcoming and all embracing attitude to all Nigerians in 2015 by electing Chief Oghene Egoh, Mrs. Rita Orji and Mr. Tony Nwoolu as their representatives to the House of Representatives in the 2015 general elections even though they originate from other parts of Nigeria.
Tribalism, regionalism and religious intolerance were strange to post independence and early independent Nigeria and you and I have to bring back that Nigeria. That is the only way that all Nigerians can be at home in any part of Nigeria without being regarded as settlers in their own country. That is the only way we can kill tribalism, regionalism and religious intolerance before it kills Nigeria. The constitution recognises anyone born in Nigeria by Nigerian parents as a citizen. We must go the next step and accept any Nigerian resident in any part of Nigeria as a full fledged citizen with all the rights that indigenes of that area have.
We must amend our constitution to criminalise discrimination of any Nigerian citizen in any part of Nigeria because he is not an indigene. Indigenes and residents must pay the same amount for school fees and social services all over Nigeria. Every Nigerian must feel at home in any part of Nigeria. Ironically, while we are so focused on divisions by tribes, ethnicity and religion, the rest of the world is breaking down these barriers.
At the 2015 Conservative Party conference, British Prime Minister David Cameron showed just how far his government is willing to go to make Britain a home for all. Cameron urged British employers of labour to do more to eliminate the discrimination of people whose ethnic origins are not British.
Said Cameron: “Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a British Muslim if he walks down the street and is abused for his faith. Opportunity doesn’t mean much to a black person constantly stopped and searched by the police because of the colour of their skin. I’m a dad of two daughters – opportunity won’t mean anything to them if they grow up in a country where they get paid less because of their gender.” Continuing, Cameron condemned a true life situation where “one young black girl had to change her name to Elizabeth before she got any calls to interviews”.
Now juxtapose this to our situation in Nigeria where a state governor sacked civil servants for no other reason than because they were natives of another state. What is bad is not just that this governor sacked these innocent civil servants. No. The worst cut is that he was applauded for that inglorious act. In one of my first back page columns for THISDAY, ‘Death to Xenophobia and Tribalism”, I wrote about the rage in several African nations over the xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans by South Africans.
Is it not hypocritical that while we condemned such behaviour, we are treating each other worse back in our individual countries? Or is it only tolerable when we do it to ourselves? Only last week, I was looking at the data from the world renowned US venture capitalist firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, and their data revealed that 40 per cent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants. But that is not the story. The story is that many of these immigrants were denied a level playing field in their countries of origin which forced them to seek more equitable environments in the West.
The number one obstacle which militated against these mega successful people from reaching their potential in their home countries was a lack of social justice. Nigeria has an acute shortage of medical doctors and nurses and other health personnel, but there are more Nigerian doctors practising in the United States than there are in Nigeria. The story told by one of our doctors in the Diaspora paints a graphic picture of why many of our best brains leave Nigeria. This young man had grown to become an expert in his field of medicine and one day he was scheduled to perform surgery on a VIP. During the post Op, he found out that the man was a former Nigerian leader. After a successful surgery, the former First Lady thanked him profusely and wondered why he was not practising in Nigeria.
It took all that the young man had in him not to lose it and go on a tirade of how, through policies like quota system and federal character, he had been denied opportunities at home which were then handed over to him on a platter of gold by the nation the First Lady was asking him to leave. I have written about the tribalistic tendencies inherent in some Nigerians, however, if truth be told, some of these tendencies are fostered by the government through policies like quota system and Federal Character principles.
How can youths be loyal to a country where their cut off mark in the University Matriculation Examinations (UME) and common entrance depends on their state of origins rather than on their intelligence? Invariably what the government is telling these youths is that where you come from is more important than what you know. In short, that your state and your tribe is your identify rather than your country. I am in Calabar for the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2015 pageant as this piece is being written and watching these lovely beauties from all over Nigeria interact with each other without regard to ethnic and religion, I am moved to say that Nigeria does not have hundreds of tribes. Nigeria has only two tribes.
Good people or bad people. No more, no less. Let us kill tribalism together!
Finally, I congratulate Miss Anyadike Unoaku, also known as Miss Anambra, who has emerged as the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria 2015 (MBGN). Congratulations and may your reign usher in peace and prosperity to Nigeria.
My name is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make common sense.
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