Tribalism, enmity and restructuring
The current buzz word in political circles is “restructuring” which it’s claimed will cure all Nigeria’s problems. There is no doubt that our most fundamental need is to organize our affairs in such a manner that ensures everyone feels safe, has a sense of belonging and feels respected. But the problem is that the main bane of growth and development in Nigeria isn’t political structure, it’s tribalism and enmity.
The main reason why so many citizens feel marginalized, discriminated against or threatened, and fear for their future, is because tribalism has robbed the nation of the spirit of nationalism which existed in late 1950’s and 1960’s. In its place, we have developed a parochialism, selfishness and enmity which now suffuses our political space.
Today we are reaping what we have sowed over the years and no amount of propaganda, threats, prayers, appeals for unity, promises or bribing of prominent citizens can bring back true unity. Nigeria has become a country of tribality overpowered by a political pretence of nationalism. The only way forward is to fight tribalism in all its ramifications. Our inability to do so is simply another example of failure of the Ministry of Information and the National Orientation Agency to be relevant to national development. Government’s abdication of their responsibility to fight tribalism has freed highly political leaders to promote tribalism for their own benefit under the guise of “ethnic nationalism”. They have highjacked the democratic processes by encouraging people to cast their votes on tribal identity rather than ideological affiliations.
Tribalism has negatively affected the business environment because people are encouraged to do business only with their tribesman. It has also affected positive social interaction by creating negative social stereotypes. It’s the main reason why Nigeria despite its riches in human and natural resources has failed to reach its full potential. It’s indisputably a curse and hindrance to national development. This doesn’t mean Nigerians are necessarily evil, but they do believe in a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates them from other groups. We simply conform to a way of thinking or behaving in loyalty to our own tribe as regards kinship, oral communication, genealogy and mythology. We are simply more comfortable sticking with the familiar.
Indeed, many Nigerians refer to their tribesmen with their language’s word for “people”, and refer to other tribes with derogatory names. The challenge for Nigeria today is that tribalism has been elevated into the status of a national culture which controls how we think and talk and determines who we support or oppose. It has been promoted by the most powerful amongst us and passed from generation to generation. It has even become institutionalised in our Constitution through Federal Character, Quota System, State and Local Government creation.
This institutionalised tribalism and pervasive enmity, not our political structure, is responsible for the mediocrity, suppressed merit, corruption, and communal violence which stands in the way of national cohesion and progress. Most Nigerians who refer to themselves as “detribalized” aren’t really aware of the influence that tribalism has upon their way of lives. We all identify ourselves as members of some sort of tribe. When Nigerians argue about issues, in the most part their views are shaped by agreeing with the beliefs of their tribe. Nowadays tribalism in Nigeria is so prevalent it overrides reason and controls a lot of people’s behaviour.
Despite the invasion of the western way of life in our culture, we are yet to respect the culture and traditions of other tribes. Each tribe throws disrespectful jibes at the other. Some cultures in Nigeria are alien to anything that comes from another culture, in recognition of this before political restructuring can commence we need to learn to become more tolerant of each other and accept that just because someone doesn’t speak our language or practice our culture it doesn’t make them less of a human being. The real issue is how to bring it all to an end.
Sadly, tribalism has been deeply embedded in our psyche and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon. It’s quite clear that the National Assembly who are pre-occupied with allocating themselves outlandish allowances and perks cannot be trusted to be patriotic in this matter. In the absence of controlling institutions fake tribal champions get into government only to deceive Nigerians to kill each other while they are busy lining their pockets. The irony is that their treasury looting doesn’t take tribe or religion into consideration. By the same token the general poverty and oppression in the nation isn’t limited to any tribe. Some commentators place the blame for the current mess on our founding fathers who all made statements that support tribalism. Others blame our history which has been glorified and refuses to fade into the past. Others blame our underdevelopment. Whatever the reasons the glorification and institutionalization of tribalism has bred the enmity which is at the root of our problems. Nigerians are closing tribal ranks and becoming enemies.
Until this situation is reversed no amount of political restructuring can bring about progress. Ironically the worst enemies of most citizens aren’t even strangers, but rather their own family or tribal members, because as we say in Nigeria “na who know man dey kill am”!