By Peter Claver Oparah
Without a doubt, fervent ethnicity is one of the greatest bulwarks holding down the growth and progress of the country and in this mad inclination to the idol of ethnicity, all Nigerians are guilty. This single problem has so divided and calibrated Nigerians that every issue is looked at from the prism of ethnicity, judgment reached and often, these judgments have been pejorative and meant to arrest the growth of the country than to facilitate it. The country is today being held hostage by forces of ethnicity which paws and scratches at the basis of the country’s existence like a recalcitrant ennui. Ethnicity has hobbled the peace and wellbeing of Nigerians and has so wrecked the assured strength a hugely diversified country like Nigeria should draw from its diversity. In this scorched earth milieu, good policies have been shot down, killed and buried solely on the grounds of ethnicity. Good ideas have been destroyed and interred on the graves of ethnic intolerance. What serves as a measure of progress in many countries has become an albatross that seriously hold down the country. The most popular Nigerians are those that mouth cheap and banal ethnic mantras and who profess great love for their ethnicity. It is tragic.
It is not as if the situation promises to be better if and when the country divides into several ethnic entities. It is not as if all the divisive noises will die down if Nigeria breaks along ethnic lines. The terrible thing about this deliberate inclination to ethnicity in Nigeria is that there is no satiation until the break up seeps into individual families and even individual persons and that makes the Nigerian situation so intractable. In the various ethnic subsets that make up Nigeria, rivalries and contest for strength have riddled relationships within. The cohesion one should have expected to exist in these ethnic groups are missing and internecine feud marks the relationship between various subgroups in the respect9ve ethnic groups. Even within smaller settings within ethnic groups, bitter contest for fortes and other mundane considerations have so fouled up relationships that demand for further division still predominates in these smaller groups. The Nigerian factor has led to mutual acrimony and mistrust that runs all the way down to families and this has made the solution to the crisis much more complicated. Within the various ethnic nationalities, the struggle for space and supremacy endures even along such trite lines as the dialectical difference. The wild ennui of division now runs so deep in Nigeria that it seeps down to family units and this makes our case so problematic.
But diversity in the ethnic composition should rather be a source of strength if well managed. Diversity in tongue, religion and culture should offer such huge advantages if well managed as we have seen in the case of the United States of America, which itself, is a conglomeration of various people, cultures and religions that fangled a united country to live, survive and prosper together as a nation. The US has so made good use of their diversity that they still welcome people from various cultures and climes to the huge basket of opportunities which it had made of her differences. With such open embrace, the country keeps tapping the bests from other cultures to forge an impregnable country where every person finds good anchor. The reverse is the case in Nigeria where a maniacal attachment to tribe and tongue has bred a rash of endless agitations and pull-down forces unleashed to drag down the center. In the process, the subsets get dragged down as well and nothing works in Nigeria.
In Nigeria’s case, we have exerted so much strength in defining our differences and in making it impossible for us to live together as a nation. We have strained our individual selves expressing our dividing factors and sabotaging the potentials we have by living together. Various centripetal forces anchored on different cultures pull strongly at the heart of Nigeria. Various efforts have been made to calibrate Nigerians along narrow ethnic perspectives for the purpose of weakening the country and possibly tear it asunder. Nigerians are still fiercely loyal to the idols of tribe and tongue to the extent that they have sacrificed critical factors of greatness to please this idol. The pull factors are unleashed by the various tongues to show our diversity in such a way as to pull down the center, retreat to our individual tribal heirlooms and possibly view others as enemies that must be dominated or conquered.
Nigerians are still being detained by the fault line of tribal differences that they sacrifice that fervent urge to patriotically forge together, tackle common problems, carry out ambitious tasks that will benefit all. Nigerians still subscribe to the limiting tendencies of being rather members of ethnic groups than members of a strong united country. It is this that makes every issue in Nigeria susceptible to tribal and ethnic manipulation. It has so narrowed the country’s potentials because the various ethnicities tug fiercely against each other for control and in the sequel, nothing gets achieved as a united country.
The dangers of ethnicity, as I have reported earlier here, is that it unleashes a very fierce divisive demon that rips apart the ethnic subsets and pits their members against each other. The evil in the rabid ethnicity that has seized Nigerians today is that it defies control as it ravages the people down to family units thus it has become a factor in dispersing rather than building the strengths of the nation or even of the contending tribes. People now look at each other with thinly disguised suspicion. While members of every tribe play to the gallery to be identified with their tribes at the national level, they face an internal war of control and dominance in their various tribes. In this Hobbesian context, individual struggle for space and dominance has unleashed a horrific state of fear and insecurity. Untamed individualism and the quest for personal survival tears fiercely at the heart of the society such that the state of nature becomes very probable. A man-eat-man syndrome ensues as crime becomes an expression of the individualism that comes with this selfish tendency.
But then, Nigerians can decide to make the country work for every Nigerian by eschewing ethnicism and tribalism. It is not an impossible task, while I admit it is really hard in a country where the seeds of mistrust had long been sown in the minds of its citizens. We can make Nigeria work for all of us as the United States is working for the world by deliberately deciding to be more patriotic and refuse to be enslaved by narrow ethnic and tribal demons.
Peter Claver Oparah is a Public Affairs Analyst.
Seeing that we are all losers in the mad inclination to ethnicity, Nigerians can decide to adopt a revolutionary attitude that suppresses these deep ethnic tendencies in us and revs up the patriotic instinct which remains the greatest factor that made the American dream possible. We can decide to do away with what is certainly a suicidal ethnic irredentism that has so far buried our potentials’ and prospects and widen our horizon to adopt a more patriotic mindset for the progress of all. I know this is a tall order because of how deep the idol of tribe and tongue has gone in possessing Nigerians but I know that the solution to the developmental problems of Nigeria does not lie in breaking up into several smaller tribal enclaves but in resolving, as Americans did, to put Nigeria first in all things.
The leaders of this country, at all levels, will show the way here by practically committing themselves to dispense their constitutional responsibilities to all Nigerians equally and judiciously irrespective of where they come from. They must be committed to dispensing favour, justice and punishment in equal dimension to every Nigerian. They must be committed to equitable distribution of the country resources to all parts of the country. And the followers must compliment with a patriotic commitment to the country despite who leads the county. The citizenry must be totally committed to a one strong and united country by keying into the patriotic belt and not serving as vehicles for division and ethnic chauvinism as is the case today. The citizenry must shun the idea of viewing every policy with ethnic suspicion and seeing themselves merely from the lens of tribe and tongue. We must be wholly committed to make the country work because the cost of not working is telling seriously on every Nigerian and every tribe in Nigeria as it has almost totally shackled development. Nigerians must embrace a deep attitudinal change that eschews narrow-mindedness and selfishness which are the props that drive the ethnic fervency we have in the country today.
Across the board, deliberate social policies must be forged to deepen patriotism among Nigerians. Deliberate policies that reify the strength in our diversity need be given pride of place and the various ethnic groups that make up the country need be engaged in the need to evolve love and friendship and engender patriotism needed to unlock the shackled potential of Nigeria.