From Felix Oti, Texas
The current terrorist campaign unleashed on the nation by the Boko Haram terror group, and the piggyback ride by anti-Igbo and anti-Christian elements in the north, has caused the re-emergence of this question on the lips of many Nigerians at home and abroad.
The last time we raised this very serious question was in 2001/2002, when communal clashes among long-standing enemies turned into another anti-south murder and mayhem campaign, forcing the Obasanjo administration to take undemocratic steps to pre-empt the likes of then governor of Abia state, Orji Uzo Kalu, and a well-armed MASSOB and other vigilante groups like Bakassi Boys, from carrying out their threats of mobilizing Igbos to carry the war to the north. Though there has been clashes since then, they have been far and few in-between, and confined to northern or Middle Belt communities quarreling over grazing rights and the like.
However, today, the story is different. Nigeria is under a terrorism siege, regardless of what the government thinks, and, as is always the case, a specific ethnic and religious group has borne the brunt of the casualties. Christians and Igbos have, through the web and in open fora, questioned the justification for Nigeria remaining one; they have openly called on their brothers and sisters living or serving in the north to abandon business and friendships and come home, with a stern reminder that the alternative is death and/or eventual loss of business and homes. In telephone conversations and opinion polls conducted in Diaspora, many Igbos have volunteered to either abandon their businesses and jobs here and head home, or, in the alternative, finance an armed group to defend their kindred in the north and anywhere else they may be endangered. International organizations and governments like the UN, EU, and the US have been made formally aware of the killings in the north. Insults are constantly exchanged among the three major ethnic groups as to who should bear the blame for where Nigeria found itself today; so much so that the majority consensus is pro breakup of the entity called Nigeria.
Honestly, are we really, and can we continue to sustain this contraption called one Nigeria? Culturally, socially, religiously and in economic practices, we are not one and can never be one. Lets walk down memory lane for a while; the three major tribes were at odds on how to approach the fight for independence, with one saying it is not quite ready; another favoring a gradual approach, and the other ready and willing to forge ahead. Religiously, we have a mix of Shiite muslins in the north, Sunni Muslims and Christians in the west, and mostly Christians in the southeast. The two Muslim sects have never been known to have the same religious principles, let alone working together with Christians. Culturally, the three tribes could not be less different than day and night. Regardless of how long Igbos lives in the north or West, they can never quite achieve an assimilation level that makes them pass as natives of their host tribes, and vice versa. Therefore, making it easier for these migrant tribes to be easily identified in times of crises and massacred.
Even in business approach and preference, the tribes have exhibited significant differences. The Igbos are retail-trade enthusiasts, making them more likely to migrate in great numbers to other tribes, where retail-style opportunities exist. They are equally more likely to engage in businesses of daily-need and essential goods and services, like food items, clothing, over-the-counter medicines, and cyber cafes. Very few Igbos are engaged in imports and wholesale distribution in the north or west. On the other hand, the Hausa which dominate the north prefer the bulk warehousing and wholesale supplier types of business like imports, farming, joint ventures, and establishment of schools. Very few of them are in the retail sector. Ironically, the two tribes seem to need each other’s business preference. The main business domain of the Yorubas seems to be in finance and real estate, because they are the dominant tribe in this sector. Most of the banks, insurance companies, investment institutions, and commercial real estate are either outrightly owned by Yorubas or majorly owned by them. Though each tribe may venture into the other’s business domain, the major players remain easily identifiable.
In Nigeria, the political style and approach to governance is different among the major tribes; The Igbos are republican in nature and this informs their approach to politics and governance. It is a to-your-tents-oh-Israel system that impedes their intermittent efforts at cohesion and consensus approach to issues of tribal and national interest. Internal squabbles have been, and will continue to be the bane of Igbo local, state, and national-level politics. One prominent Hausa politician joked that it would be easier “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” than for Igbos to present a consensus presidential candidate for ANPP in 2003. The same rings true at all levels today. The Yorubas, on the other hand, make their deals, reach agreements and select their candidates behind closed palace doors. Regardless of party affiliations, when it comes to national political pork (appointments, contracts, citing of federal projects), they usually close ranks. They all understand what the ultimate goal is; know when to sheath the political sword, and when to stop the usually fake public political dissent. The Hausas prefer the trickle-down political system; the crumbs-off-the-table system of the Arab world where a few families and big names dominate the system for generations until death, living behind very little succession system. This is evidenced by the disparity between the northern rich and poor, versus their counterparts in the south; especially when one considers the fact that the north has been in power for 39 of Nigeria’s 52-year existence.
When it comes to forming relationships between the tribes, frictions borne out of suspicions, past history, religion, and cultural differences, makes it difficult to establish a free-flowing unencumbered business, political, cultural or social relationships. Though the National Youth Service Corp program was designed to erase these barriers among the tribes, it has not been able to achieve this singular objective to the satisfaction of the visionaries of this program. Southerner and their counterparts from the North still make efforts to scheme their ways out of postings to either region. Southerners who ply their trade for months in the north or west of the country hardly marry from, or give in marriage to, indigenes of their host tribes. The same applies to the very few northerners resident in the south. It is only recently that one could see intermarriages between Igbos and Yorubas; it is still a rarity to see an Igbo/Hausa couple – except if you are Atiku or Babangida, and a handful of others who by the nature of their profession have spent most of their lives with southerners.
This lack of inter-tribal socialization is more glaring in Diaspora than in Nigeria itself. For example, in my 25 years of living in the United States, attending several social functions by various tribes, holding several positions in an umbrella Nigerian organization in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, I have NEVER seen an Hausa person in any of these functions. Though they exist, because I have been given the name and email address of one, he never returned my call or responded to my emails, they have chosen to make themselves scarce. This glaring absence from social and business functions with fellow Nigerians makes it almost impossible to interact and develop a relationship with them. Though one is willing to acknowledge the frosty relationship between the Igbos and other non-Hausa tribes in the metropolis, the fact is that there is a relationship; it may be professional (nurses, lawyers, doctors & pharmacist associations), but it is a relationship that is blooming and continues to grow. One that is being enhanced by our very de-tribalized children who have minimal connection with Nigeria’s deeply divided tribes. One only wishes that our Hausa brothers and sisters – or their children – would see it fit to be part of this neo-One Nigeria in Diaspora.
Back to the question; are we really one? It depends from what aspect one is looking at it; business-wise, we work together to achieve one goal –profit making. Culturally, we are as different as day and night, and not interested in blending cultures. Socially, intermarriages and other close relationships seem to depend on economic and business benefits to each other. Politically, the tribes climb on each other’s backs to achieve their different, selfish objectives. There is that absence of patriotism among Nigerians, irrespective of tribe, and this makes it extremely difficult for Nigerians of various tribes to work as one. Nigeria means many things to many people, depending on what they want out of it. With is frame of mind, we can never be one, and need to consider calling a national conference on how to do away with this Utopian idea of One Nigeria.
Arlington, Texas USA. firstname.lastname@example.org