Rethinking Ethnic Identities in Nigeria By Gimba Kakanda
There is no need to put you through some 360 meaningless “isms” of political wisdom—Nigeria is not a mistake. But we are a country languishing in the cruelty of our political and intellectual elite. Go to the hinterlands and see the productso of intermarriages crushed by insensitive elites—to preclude their actualising the truth of their heritage, one that is based on inclusion. My Igbo friend’s family is a case study; none of them speaks or understands Igbo, let alone aligns with the East. Their “mother-tongue” is Nupe and, yes, Kenneth speaks Hausa better than I do.
It is an insult to repeat the bromide that “Lord Luguard brought us together”. Nope, we didn’t just land in the Niger-Benue basin and the surrounding hills and plains from the outer space. Our ancestors were not aliens; they were neighbours who co-habited in this stretch of land before Frederick Lugard’s great-grand parents learnt how to babble ABC. The Europeans allied with our kings and chiefs to have some of us destroyed through the transatlantic slave trade, before he returned to organise us in the name of colonialism—why do we forget that first in our haste to side with the “Lugardian Centrality” idea? Thus, the homesteads and villages in our chiefdoms and kingdoms were merged to form protectorates and provinces—this amalgamation, and Lord Lugard, came much later, definitely closer to the end of our history of community. Definitely not at the start of that same history!
The 1914 amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates was the beginning of our identity crises. The Yoruba were not a single people before the Whiteman interposed his system. So also were the Igbo and the Hausa not a single people. “Yoruba” was a creation of our identity crisis, as the antecedently unfriendly and ideologically unmatchable city-states and kingdoms in today’s south-west were given the same “ethnic” identity popularised by the Christian missionaries. “Hausa” too was not known in the composite north. A “Hausa” man is either a Bakano from Kano or a Bakatsine from Katsina and so on. He is either a Basakkwace from Sokoto or Bagobiri from Gobir. Igbo land too was rife with emphatic identification with dialects as a man from Aro didn’t see himself as one with one from Onitsha. The ancestors of today’s “Igbo” men may start a communal war over this political taboo if they could resurrect today. To restate my meaning clearly, until very recently, identity was defined by characteristics close at hand, such as dialect and residency—not language broadly, not people and definitely not race.
I hate veering from the commonsense to the academic, but the categorisation of identities I simplified here is detailed in Peter Ekeh’s 1975 paper, Colonialism and the Two Publics. Here Peter Ekeh reveals that the General Secretary of Ibo Federal Union, B. O. N. Eluwa, who had toured “Igbo land” from 1947 to 1951 – “to convince the Ibos that they were in fact the same”, returned with the truth that the people “rejected identification as Ibos”. So where are those agents of destruction whose political devilry seeks to tell us that we were the same people before the Whiteman coerced us into this union? Every nation is a “misalliance” of unlike minds. No stretch of map in this world has a complete set of like minds.
The United States of America, which Nigerians shamelessly dubbed “God’s Own Country”, would be the most “fraudulent” merger in history. And yet this “fraud” exploited its diversity and became the most prosperous nation in the world today. If the descendants of the many American people had not drawn a curtain against memories of evils and insults here and there, they may today seem as we are now, a bunch of devils tiptoeing to power in the name of ethnic or religious or regional advocacy. Thankfully, they are not as we are—and for this, we ascribe ownership of their deliberate effort to the Divine. God’s Own Country.
The common man in Nigeria doesn’t really pay mind to his existence in “fraud”, only that self-serving advocates of his identity, who are the actual confidence tricksters, have employed politics to attract his attention and participation in an anti-unity schema in which they, frauds that they are, are the chief beneficiaries. He’s brainwashed to see himself as a bastard from an illicit affair.
But before the common man responds to their tricks, there are a million and one questions to address. Let the politicians account for their wealth and management of funds while they were in power. Let the politicians tell you the schools their children attend(ed). And the intellectual elite beating “secession” drums from New York, Ontario, Berlin, London, Paris, ask them to return from their snow-deluged habitats and tell us about the marriage between the Red Indians and European settlers. You may never respect them after that! Our major concern as the most populous black nation on earth ought to be exploiting our diversity to prove South Africa’s anti-Black former president P. W. Botha wrong. Botha declared that the Black race can’t run a government!
The Nigerian politician is a selfish vampire and his intellectual partner, who may not necessarily be his friend, only sees Nigeria as a laboratory for twisted ideological experimentations. His academic scholarship would rather be spent on theorising the doom and predicted split of the people than in being part of an “African” government. While the Politician sees Nigeria as a goldmine to exhibit his atavistic pilfering skills, the Intellectual sees it as a “case study” to which he earns grants and fellowships for his lazy and skewed intellectualism. Our resolve as a nation torn apart by political saboteurs and intellectual fraudsters must be to resist these binary temptations formulated to destroy us. May God save us from us!
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