I’ve spent countless sleepless nights figuring out just how to write this article without rehashing the same old rote of complaining that has become commonplace while talking about Nigeria and the relationship of its constituent parts. I have started and deleted this piece about four times now, for want of a perfect way to begin to write about the process of transformation that I think has taken place since independence worthy of celebration, or at least of some sort of embrace as the direction to the future.
The first one I wrote dwelt on my disgust with the amount of vitriol in the comment section of the article by Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Uwaubani who had dared to claim that tribalism and ethnocentrism in Nigeria is and should rightly be a thing of the past. The article, first published in the UK Guardian was reproduced on Sahara Reporters (arguably the biggest portal for anonymous rage from mostly left-wing, passionate and often misguided, and often faceless citizens) and had pissed off a bunch of faceless people who felt that she had sold out by even considering getting married to someone from a different ethnic group. And thus went my optimism for a submission on the prospects of a more metropolitan future devoid of really redundant arguments of ethnic purity or superiority.
Then I thought about all the friends I knew whose circumstance of birth and growing up has defied all limitations of ethnocentricism: the colleague whose parents came from the Old Bendel State but who was born in Abeokuta and has lived all his life in Lagos and Ibadan with his Yoruba girlfriend, the friend who was born to Hausa parents in Kaduna but whose sisters have all married Igbo and Yoruba men and who is now dating a Yoruba man, and the neighbour I grew up with in Iwo road who has lived in Ibadan, away from his hometown in the East, for decades and raising his three children there in a home away from home. Then I thought of my other friend in Lagos who was born in Kano to Yoruba parents from Ondo, spoke Hausa as a first language, went to school in Jos, but now lives in Lagos because his family was evicted from the North after the 2002 riots heralded by the 2002 Miss World protests. So I closed that page, and told myself that I would not successfully write this article. Nigeria is a hopeless irredeemable mess of people ever so slowly embracing the value of civilization and peaceful co-existence. Behind around every silver lining was always a dark looming cloud.
Then I thought about this quote: “I tell you my country no be one/ I mean no be yesterday I born”. It was written by Wole Soyinka in his musical album of the eighties: Unlimited Liability, referring – of course – to the fact that the way each of the constituent parts of the country called Nigeria looked at the nation differed depending on where one lived, or the socialization process of one’s growth into adulthood. The problem with looking at the quote from the dark side is that we tend to overlook its redeeming tendencies. Nigeria, indeed, is not one country, just as the United Kingdom or the United States isn’t either. Like the many nations born out of compulsion, and sometimes necessity, it usually takes a long while to evolve into a state of true homogeneity. It has taken America more than four hundred years, and still, the attitudes in Chicago still differ greatly from the ones in downtown St. Louis just a few miles away. Diversity, and a different way at looking at the world may yet be the best gift with which we would head out into the second fifty years of this country’s existence, and may hold the key to the success we seek.
Then I remembered that we are a country with over 500 languages and 250 ethnic groups. Let us develop our agricultural system to have good food, good roads, good governance, good healthcare and good social services/amenties, then maybe we will forget our differences and not base every general election on where the president comes from as is bound to play itself out in the next election when the non-thinking General rolls out his agbada into the arena which he soiled seventeen years ago with a national military broadcast. Well then, it won’t really be politics if there is no mud-slinging and silly ethnic sentiments. After all, even the most advanced democracies have their racist tea party activists to provide the national political drama on cue. It is for this reason that I submit that I really have nothing to celebrate in the progress of ethnic socialization in Nigeria beyond the simple consolation that not only are the jingoists no longer in the majority, they do not have more than their own poisonous opinions to peddle and will become less and less capable of bringing other people into their fold as globalization makes intercultural integration possible.
And there’s nothing really special about a “One Nigeria” anyway. Let us seek means of expression of the many Nigerias present in this melange, but let them all be happy. The future could be more exciting.