By Hannatu Musawa
Fostering unity in diversity should be a key feature for a country such as Nigeria, which has a rich ethnic and tribal diversity. Accord, acceptance and understanding are necessary to counter-conflictual division. Every so often, the camaraderie of Nigerians is tested by the very diversity that defines us.
We saw a case in point recently when social media literally went up in flames over the news report of five Nigerians who were arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, for allegedly stealing Dh 2.3 million Dinars (N225 million) from a Bureau de Change. The five-man robbery gang reportedly robbed the Bureau De Change of cash of different currencies just two days after two of them arrived on visiting visas.
The misfortune here is the manner that conversations on social media have been tilting to, since the news broke. Conversations on various social media platforms began to assume an ethnic colouration due to the fact that all the accused were from a particular region or tribe of the country. All of a sudden, the fact that they are Nigerians didn’t matter anymore.
This has been a recurring phenomenon on issues in Nigeria. We tend to view and assess issues through ethnic lenses. Stereotyping has gradually become a mainstay of our lives and discourse. And this stereotypic nuance has been amplified particularly by the advent of social media. “He is from a particular ethnic group that is why he behaved the way he did. She is from a particular tribe that is why she acts in a certain way.” These are just some of the many comments you see on various social media platforms.
Over time in Nigeria, the attribution of a person’s behaviour to his or her particular ethnic nationality has reached vast proportions. Let me say it as it is: those from one part of the country are largely seen as illiterates, uneducated and unrefined. Those from other origins are viewed as greedy and have an insatiable appetite for money and wealth. The Nigerians from some other part of the country are largely seen as fearful and two-faced. There are so many prejudiced and needless stereotypes.
These are just some of the banal manners that a number of Nigerians label other Nigerians. However, when we travel abroad and we are stereotyped and labeled, we hit the roof. Many Nigerians who have travelled out of the country have one or two stories to tell about being stereotyped. Even within countries in the African continent, just because you are a Nigerian, you are stereotyped in some places. It is not a hidden fact that Nigerians around the world are stereotyped as scammers, loud, arrogant, and violent or linked with prostitution and drug trafficking.
The world right now is rife with prejudicial sentiments. Islamophobia is abound and Muslims are largely seen as “potential terrorists” and are treated as such. A black man in many parts of the world is still looked upon and treated with disdain. Women are still generally viewed and treated as the weaker sex, only to play second fiddle to men. Africans are still accorded disrespect and treated with contempt. The list goes on and on…
It should be categorically stated that the action of these five Nigerians in Dubai was shameful and condemnable. It doesn’t matter which part of the country they are from, as long as they carry a Nigerian passport. We might stereotype them as people from a particular area but the outside World, particularly the country where the crime was committed, sees them as Nigerians and only Nigerians.
If their actions should have a negative effect on Nigeria, it is Nigerians that will pay the consequence, not Nigerians from a particular region of the country. If the United Arab Emirates decides to make it difficult for Nigerians to get a visa in going to their country, it is highly unlikely that they would have the leisure of denying visas to Nigerians from a particular ethnic group. To them and every other country in the world, a person possessing a Nigerian passport is a Nigerian, not an Igbo man, or a Yoruba woman, or a Hausa child or from the Ijaw ethnic group.
It is also pertinent that we need to begin to do away with negative stereotyping of ourselves as Nigerians. It is enough that many a “white man” has prejudicial contempt towards us, as Nigerians or black people, and we are treated in a degrading and derogatory manner. One shouldn’t be in his or her country, and experience such treatment. During the just concluded elections, our stereotypical and prejudicial contempt for one another reared its ugly head in many parts of the country.
While negative stereotypes exists around the world, as a people, we need to come together as a nation and with a single voice condemning the actions of these five Nigerians and many other Nigerians who are committing crimes in other countries, soiling our name and giving the country a bad reputation. We need to project the image that, for every five Nigerians who decide to rob a bank, fifty other Nigerians are doing great things in their host nations. For every drug peddler out there, there are many other Nigerians who are contributing positively towards the development of their host countries.
While the government’s strategy of naming and shaming the wrong doers, to serve as a deterrent to others is commendable, it also has a major role to play in promoting such Nigerians abroad who are recognised and celebrated, irrespective of creed or tribe. Perhaps the National Orientation Agency needs to do a lot more in this regard. The likes of boxing champion Anthony Joshua; the new chess whizkid, Tanitoluwa Adewunmi; the literary giant, Chimamanda Adichie; the OPEC boss, Mohammed Barkindo; the late Pius Adesanmi and so many others should all be projected as role models who are doing great things on the global stage, as Nigerians.
We must stop giving life to the stereotyping we are being lumbered with. Stereotyping is illogical, politically incorrect and morally repugnant. It is illogical because the chance that any given Nigerian of a particular tribe is an unsavoury sort is only marginally greater than the chance that anybody else who is Nigerian and from a different tribe is also an unsavoury sort. One needn’t be an ethicist to realise that it is unjust to slap such a noxious label on a whole group of people on account of the misdeeds of a few. In other words, unsavoury sorts can and do come in every colour of the tribal and ethnic rainbow.
As a people, we will continue to fail to come together on anything big if we keep slicing ourselves into smaller factions and identifying ourselves as such. We must embrace the necessity of standing together as one people united. We cannot do that if we linger on fracturing ourselves, and our identity. Nigerians need to rebuild trust in each other and see each other as one, and the best place to start is in our homes, where we can talk about the higher vision we hold for this nation.
A full comprehension of unity speaks to the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other in order to thrive. In practice, unity in diversity includes accepting both agreement and disagreement; it leads to methods that embraces consensus, while accepting contestations in ways that do not entertain far-reaching, negative stereotypes that develop into enemy images.
In this country, we must continue to work towards exploring approaches to fostering unity in diversity, while embracing all the individualistic characteristics that makes all the ethnicities of Nigeria parts of a one whole. In order to live together across ethnic and tribal differences, it is essential for us to nurture that very important concept of unity in diversity by accepting the characteristics of every one of ‘us.’ Unity in diversity, then, requires a recognition of unity without uniformity, and diversity without fragmentation. The idea builds on an understanding that stretches beyond mere tolerance of difference. It is an acknowledgment that, as Nigerians, we share the key dimension of identity.
Every Nigerian outside the country is essentially an ambassador and has a duty to project the country in a positive light. As a Nigerian abroad, your conduct and actions matters as it might impact positively or negatively on the country as a whole. However, what is more important is that as we celebrate and commend our own when great strides are achieved, so also we need to come together as a people and condemn negative acts, regardless of the part of the country the person is from.
Hannatu Musawa is a Public Affairs Analyst.