By Ruth Richard
We must renounce our tribal identities; I’m a Nigerian NOT Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. The recent current of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US has surged tremendously in Nigeria – a country in the thrall of its own unique kind of ‘’racism’’ – tribalism. Nigerians held protests at the embassy of the US in Abuja recently, condemning the murder of George Floyd, an African-American, by a Caucasian Minneapolis police officer. Really? While the protests are for a right cause, no doubt, we need to re-wheel and deepen them to square up to our own fundamental imbalances.
The US is a society that is attuned to its frailties and rises to the occasion when need be to confront them. While there are laws to address issues of racism in America like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are no laws assiduously tackling tribalism in Nigeria. In fact, the laws we have in Nigeria are designed to accent tribalism and nepotism; for example, the Quota System, ‘’Federal Character Principle’’ and ‘’catchment area’’ policy.
I must say, while the Quota System and the Federal Character Principle were ideated to rugby-tackle concerns of ethnic representation in the public sector, they have over the years, become the fulcrums on which tribalism, nepotism and ethnic dominance are scaffold. These policies have also enthroned incompetence, discrimination, lack of healthy competition, indolence and indiscipline in the national life while supplanting meritocracy and competence.
A source is quoted, “I scored 284 in JAMB – high above the cut-off marks of the course, I applied to study at university. But I could not secure admission at the university I wanted which was in another part of the country where I am supposedly not a native. I was robbed of choice because of the ‘’catchment area’’ policy”. This was many years ago, but the academic apartheid still persists in Nigeria today. There is no change even in 2020!
You go to apply for a job in a public or private firm, you are given a form to fill your state and local government of origin, which can make or mar your chance of securing that job depending on who the ‘Oga at the top’ is. You get to our law courts; you still find judges ask where you are from that is, your local government of origin again instead of you being a Nigerian.
Someone once said, “I have an eight-year-old son, and if I elect that he studies in Nigeria, that will be putting him through the same mill of discrimination and institutional apartheid that I faced. I think this is the worst kind of ’native racism’”. We really have got to make Nigeria work for all Nigerians.
We live in a country where to transact any official matter you have to declare your ‘’state of origin’’ and not your ‘’state of residence’’ – even when you have lived in a particular area in the country since your nativity. Even in politics, remember the case of the renounced actor, Desmond Eliot who is representing the people of Surulere constituency in the Lagos State House of Assembly after an outcry by most people regards his state of origin.
It could be recalled recently, the Cross River State House of Assembly rejected the appointment of Akon Ikpeme as substantive Chief Judge of the state — because she is from Akwa Ibom, even though she is married to a Cross Riverian. What a height of native racism!
In a voice vote at a plenary session, the assembly rejected Ikpeme’s appointment after receiving a report by the committee on judiciary. In the report, Godwin Akwaji, representing Obudu state constituency, and five others, recommended her rejection on the loony grounds that she is not a native of the state. Ikpeme hails from Akwa Ibom state, but she is married to an indigene of Cross River. See how nativity has deprived her of a position she is qualified for but we are quick to protest #blacklivesmatter in other climes when we ourselves don’t matter in our country. Is this not apartheid? We subsist on the worst kind of discrimination based on tribe and religion. And what is more tragic is that these prejudices are institutionalized.
We cannot pontificate on racism in the US when some Nigerians cannot buy land in certain parts of the country. We cannot sit in judgment on racism in the US when some Nigerians kill other citizens in the cognomen of ethnicity and religion. We cannot be indignant with racism in America when some Nigerians cast ethnic slurs like — “Iyamiri” “Ofe nmanu”, “Aboki” – on their fellow countrymen. We cannot be more outraged by a foreign blight than by the sickening plight of our own people and the system. That is classical hypocrisy. We must begin to erode ‘’tribal identities’’ and revive the ‘’Nigerian identity’’ to make progress as one country. I am a Nigerian. That is my tribal identity.