My name is Adebayo and I am not a detribalized Nigerian.
When I meet people, the first question I ask them is: “where are you from?” And I find it mighty funny when I meet people who fire back with the question, “why do you want to know?” Or “why do you ask?”
I ask because I want to know what new thing you bring to the table, as a Yoruba boy who has spent most of his life in the south west, I am interested in learning something I don’t know before about a different culture. If you are Yoruba like me, great! We’ll probably chat about our shared culture. If you are from another culture, that’s even better, because through you I have a chance to learn something new.
When God told Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt, he didn’t give a damn whether they had been in Egypt for four hundred years or that it was Joseph, an Israelite who saved Egypt from being destroyed by famine. God just gave the command to Pharaoh “let my people go!” in other words, “they have lived on your land, they have blended in with you, but you cannot detribalize them, they are not you, they are different.”
In case we have all forgotten, some weeks ago a letter reportedly written by the Governor of Adamawa state Vice Admiral Murtala Nyarko (rtd) to the Northern Governors forum on terrorism in Nigeria became the subject of divisive debate on media, both traditional and online. It was a letter that again brought up the unpleasant reality of how much Nigerians still resented one another in spite of the fact that we’ve been technically one for a hundred years now. But the noteworthy thing is not the points it raised or the people it was trying to accuse, it was the glaring identity effacement. Goodluck Jonathan for example is a “Southerner” regardless of wherever he comes from and all “Southerners” have an agenda against the north, regardless of whether they come from the South West or the South East or the South South. It left me pondering on why a “governor” of a state in a nation which is celebrating a hundred years of togetherness would commit such a blatant crime of identity effacement, and then I realized that we brought it all on ourselves. For so long we have gone around preaching a message of de tribalism and forgetting who we are. We like insects, are trying to forge a hive mind, because, we feel that by erasing our individual identities and keying into the vision of “one Nigeria” we are removing the differences that prevent us from working together and trying to identify the things that make us the same. This is nice, but it is clearly not working and it is hurting us seriously, as Governor Nyarko’s letter shows.
Erasure of identity never benefits anyone. Have you ever noticed that in Lord of the Rings, when the camera pans to the good characters, we see so much about their individuality, their joys, their living habits, the people they love, their culture, but the Orcs are often presented as a mindless horde, with no individuality except a lust to pillage and destroy? That is why it is easier for us to side with Aragon, because we know he has a woman that loves him and a kingdom to claim, against the Orc, who does not have any wife, or culture, or house or individuality. The Orc is just part of a shambling hive mind. That is what being detribalized does to us as Nigerians, we have been taught to subsume our identity under “one Nigeria” and thus if we can’t even recognize our own identity, how do we even recognize the identity of others? Because of “one Nigeria” we adopted English, (which is nice since almost every country in the World has done the same) at the expense of who we are. “respect” comes from knowing that the other person is different and that you have something to learn from him/her, but how can respect come if we have been told to simply lump them with everybody else with which they share the same geographical location and call them “Northerners” or “Southerners” or whatever cardinal point happens to be in fashion at the time?
Being detribalized is easy on your conscience, it makes you able to kill people, to kidnap them and to steal from them, without you having to worry about whether the people you are making miserable have their own lives, their own unique culture, and their aspirations. It makes you want to appropriate other people’s resources and feed fat on it without contributing anything while spouting the “after all we are all Nigerians” argument. Being a detribalized Nigerian allows you to believe that the power must be concentrated in the centre, creating a federal government with too much power and no face. Being a detribalized Nigerian allows you to pick someone you don’t like and put him with the other people you don’t like and say “see? They are all the same.”
You can be a detribalized Nigerian all you like, but until we all start to realize that each individual is a part of a family,( of an ethnic group if you like), with unique worldviews, before we are Nigerians that we will start to respect each other and maybe this experiment called Nigeria will finally start to work.
As for me one thing I know is that my name is Adebayo, I am a Yoruba boy, and I am not a detribalized Nigerian