Saturday, July 23, 2016

Nigeria, ethnic jingoism and religious bigotry

Nigeria for long has been plagued with primordial sentiments. Two of such are ethnic jingoism and religious bigotry. According to the World Factbook,”Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups; the most populous and politically influential are: Hausa and the Fulani 29 percent, Yoruba 21 percent, Igbo (Ibo) 18 percent, Ijaw 10 percent, Kanuri 4 percent, Ibibio 3.5 percent, and the  Tiv 2.5 per cent. Interestingly, each ethnic group lays claim to being superior to the other.  Hausas claim that their group is born to rule. The Igbos believes they are the Jews of Nigeria with superior intelligent quotient than all other ethnic groups. They cite their inventive prowess, educational excellence and humongous achievements in commerce and industry to buttress their point. The Yorubas too are not left behind. They claim to be the most sophisticated among the lot. They boasted that they are the most cultured, cultivated and civilised in Nigeria. They say they are the pace setter in fashion, music, film and the general entertainment industry. They also took pride as being the primus-inter-pares (first among equals) in the information and communication industry, particularly mass media.

This act of chauvinism has done a lot of harm than good to this country. Those fanning the embers of ethnic superiority fail to see the inter-dependent nature of the country. They ignore the hundreds of years of inter-marriages, migration and cultural diffusion that have taken place among the various ethnic groups.  It is quite unfortunate that in spite of mouthing unity in diversity with part of our old national anthem saying that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand” we are only paying lip service to unity in Nigeria.  All attempts to unite Nigeria have remained largely unsuccessful. Despite the fact that Nigerian Constitution forbids regional or state based political parties, until recently when All Progressives Congress was registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, with the exception of the Peoples Democratic Party, all the other political parties are nothing but regional parties. The Alliance for Democracy, Action Congress and Action Congress of Nigeria  only flourished in the South West; All Progressive Grand Alliance remain largely Igbo party; All Progressives Party and All Nigerian Peoples Party were Hausa/Fulani political parties because that is where they won most of their elective positions.

Another attempt to unite Nigeria, particularly after the three year fratricidal civil war of 1967 – ’70, was the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps. Perhaps, it worked to an extent as I recall with nostalgia my Youth Service year in Delta State in 1997. It did widen my horizon about the people and culture of Delta State. It is on record that many Corps members have through the scheme gotten automatic employment, married among the natives of the communities where they did their national service and have remained permanently settled in the State. Quite unfortunately, the NYSC scheme is fast losing its relevance as many students mobilised for the scheme now influence their postings to their state of origin or region. This became the norm after the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009 as well as the murder of 10 Corps members in Bauchi state after the 2011 presidential election.

Furthermore, Nigerian government is finding it difficult to properly fund the scheme due to the exponential increase in the number of university and polytechnic graduates. Today, many moblised graduates attend the orientation camp only to disappear after being posted to places of primary assignment. It is the norm now to name football clubs “united”. Perhaps copying from the Manchester United Football Club of Britain, many club sides are now going by that appellation. Names such as Plateau United Football Club, Nasarrawa United FC, Bayelsa United FC, Rivers United FC, Ikorodu United FC, Kwara United FC are now the fad. Yet, in many of these states, unity is a rare commodity as ethnic clashes are recurring decimal.

In Nigeria, there are three dominant religions. They are Islam, Christianity and African Indigenous Religion.  Though the religions preach peace, unfortunately, some of the adherents are bigots. These are the people who are giving these religions bad name. For instance, Islam is a religion of peace, however, considering the extremism shown by Islamist groups like Boko Haram and Maitatsine, many victims of terror perpetrated by these groups will hardly agree that the religion preaches peace. Even among the Christian faith in Nigeria, there is a lot of bigotry. There is both intra-faith and inter-faith bigotry. Many Christian denominations especially those with Pentecostal inclination are highly intolerant of adherents of other faiths. They quote the Bible in 2 Corinthians 6: 14 which says “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” If that is said of unbelievers, what about believers in Christ? Many Pentecostal churches preach against the practices of the orthodox churches like Catholic, Baptist, African, Methodist, and Anglican. They claimed they are too carnal and less spiritual. That is the more reasons the Pentecostal churches do not join the orthodox churches in observing the 40 days fast during the Lenten season. Christians and Muslims in Nigeria see the practitioners of African Indigenous Religion as common enemy. They see the adherents as evil and uncivilized people.

Religious bigotry is not only a group affair but could also be individual trait. There are persons who have denied their children marriage to people of other religious denominations and faiths. So many parents have disowned their children for daring to marry anyone outside of their ethnic group and religion. They do not subscribe to the dictum that love is blind. This kind of hatred for other ethnic and religious groups is not only perpetrated by the uneducated, even well lettered personalities have tenaciously held to such primordial sentiments. The major challenge is that majority of us believe in stereotypes. There is the tendency these days to typecast Islam as religion of terrorists. Even as we label all cattle herders as Fulanis who kill and maim farmers over grazing lands. The funniest thing is that even within the same ethnic group, there is high level of intolerance and stereotypes.  Among the Yorubas; Ekitis and Ijesas are believed to be very stubborn, the Ijebus are believed to be very fetish, the Ibadans are believed to be street-fighters while Lagosians are believed to be hedonistic. All these are not grounded in any scientific research.

If not for the ethnic and religious chauvinisms which have crept into our society, Nigeria would have been a better place to live in. Many of the killings, maiming and destruction of properties in defence of ethnic agenda or religious beliefs are perpetrated out of ignorance or mischief. There is need for tolerance among all ethnic groupings and religious faiths. Government needs to lead the way by ensuring that perpetrators of hate speeches among the diverse ethnic and religious groups are made to face the wrath of the law. Traditional and religious leaders also owe it a duty to foster unity among their people. It’s also important for Nigerian media to join in the crusade against ethnic and religious chauvinisms.