by Richard Chilee
When I asked the young man whom I met in Port Harcourt to tell me what he feels about the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, and how the president’s policies affects his life personally, he looked at me quizzically and explained as courteously and proudly as he could bring himself to: That he wasn’t hugely satisfied with President Jonathan’s administration so far, but that he was not complaining because for once, his brother, a south-southerner from Bayelsa state is occupying the revered office of the President, and soon “our share will come to us, after all he is our son.”
As intrusive as the question was, it was also important. If you live in Nigeria, and are concerned about Nigeria’s future, you will agree with me that we have countless problems impeding our growth and development as a country. Among these problems, tribalism is one which seems to be the ugliest case after corruption.
Tribalism blights every sphere of the Nigerian economy, and the success or failure in curbing it, will constructively define, strategically position, or continuously plummet the political landscape. It is also clear that you cannot discuss or sanitize our political terrain without understanding and grasping the deep influence of tribal hucksters.
Many Nigerians say they disapprove of corruption, but we always tend to forgive or even support the perpetrator if she/he is of our own tribe. Most of us see nothing wrong with stealing state funds especially if they were used to benefit not only us but members of our community. Some of us expect the ‘ogas at the top’ to use their powers to help us and keep us connected with jobs, contracts, and promotions at the expense of merit and competence, because we are kith and kin. A glimpse into the Nigerian public and private service will reveal the stinking and deep trenches of unabashed tribalism. No wonder we are still stagnated.
Today, it has gone a step further; it has become an avenue, a springboard, for ethnic conflicts. Why is this so? The simple answer lies in the fact that our tribal differences have been politicised in Nigeria.
In pre-colonial times, tribal conflicts existed, tribes fought over such things as territory and water, but their battles were usually short-lived, restricted and not especially bloody. But today, because it has been politicized, tribal animosity has escalated into full scale bloodbaths inflamed by unscrupulous political leaders. Total control of the country is now the biggest prize which many jingoists are willing to die for in the struggle.
It is imperative to understand that it is not tribal feelings themselves that causes trouble, there is nothing wrong in feeling a special love for your tribe, it is their politicization. And most of the ethnic troubles have its roots in the manipulation of ethnic loyalties by politicians who tend to stir up, rather than soothe, ethnic passions to suit their selfish purposes which are, but not limited to, winning elections. These politicians understand that when voters assume that politics is a struggle between tribal groups, they tend to vote along ethnic lines. The more these politicians win power, the more tribal politics subsists.
It is a truth that more Nigerians feel deep loyalty to their tribes than to the country of which they hold their citizenship. People tend to identify themselves through their region before they identify themselves as Nigerians, so corrupt politicians are using this loyalty to their advantage. They often stir up conflicts between tribes as a means of staying in power. This happens because the cords of tribal loyalty are so strong that they are, often, very difficult to break.
History is replete with dire consequences of tribalisation in Africa. If you look closely, you’ll find that beneath the problem of the Boko Haram bloodbath presently plaguing Nigeria, there are traces of corrupt politicians who incite this menace to their own advantage. This menace is also likened, as an extreme example, to the Hutu and Tutsi bloodshed in Rwanda and Burundi.
It must be pointed that this problem had a source; it is not a primordial and irretrievable fact of nature. Hutu and Tutsi only threw themselves at each other after their political leaders started urging them to do so; the genocide was carefully planned by a small clique of criminal politicians to maintain their grip on power.
To arrive at a peaceful and healthy Nigeria, this must stop. Tanzania has dozens of tribes with different and perplexing cultures but the politicians have stayed away from advancing tribal differences as a way of winning elections, and as a result, the country has been almost peaceful since independence. This too can be done in Nigeria.
How do we curb this problem?
What Nigeria needs is a Nigerian president, not a northern, southern, eastern or western president.
A government is supposed to represent the entire population of the country they rule, to favour one tribe over the other immediately defies that principle. One strategic solution is the separation of tribe and state, government must not discriminate or favour on grounds of ethnicity. One way to adhere to this strategy is the abolishment of ‘state of origin’ and, if possible, ‘religion’ on any kind of application form. These are the easiest ways to discriminate.
We must begin to identify ourselves as Nigerians first, before identifying our ethnic groups. A deep understanding of the principles of citizenship must be shown by Nigerians. Power must also be decentralized rather than concentrated in the hands of an unproductive and clustered centre, headed by the president. In my opinion, if regions are self financing and self governing, they will have themselves, instead of other regions, to blame if things eventually go wrong. These will help in curbing the high spate of tribalisation in our political atmosphere.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @richardchilee