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Tribalism in Nigeria: A Call for Unity and Understanding

Tribalism in Nigeria: A Call for Unity and Understanding 

-Uyanwune, Chekwube

My name is Chekwube, born in the nineties in the beautiful coal-city state of Nigeria. I am Igbo, and I have lived my entire life witnessing the destructive effects of tribal conflicts on the people of my country.

Growing up, I heard countless stories of violence and bloodshed that resulted from clashes between different tribes. I vividly remember the first time I watched a documentary about the Biafran War on YouTube. The conflict, which took place between 1967 and 1970, resulted in the deaths of millions of Igbo people. My heart sank as I watched the documented works of the horrors that took place during that time.

Sadly, Nigeria, home to over 250 different ethnic groups, has struggled to overcome tribal tensions that have plagued it for decades. In many parts of the country, tribalism remains a major issue, leading to countless conflicts and violent clashes.

I have seen first hand the devastating effects of tribalism in my state of Anambra and my birth state of Enugu. In the early 2010s, there were violent clashes between tribes, resulting in dozens of deaths and many more injured. To keep people of other tribes safe, they were asked to go to the nearest MOPOL barracks for security. It was a stark reminder of just how dangerous tribalism can be.

Tribalism creates an “us versus them” mentality that leads to a breakdown in communication and understanding. It breeds distrust, suspicion and often leads to violence.

The consequences of tribal conflicts in Nigeria are far-reaching, leading to the loss of countless lives, the displacement of millions of people, and the destruction of entire communities. Tribal conflicts have also hindered economic development and prevented Nigeria from reaching its full potential as a nation.

Tribalism has also affected individual lives in many ways. I had a situation in 2019 where I could not rent an apartment in Lagos because the landlords would not rent their houses to me because I was Igbo. In another case, a friend of mine could not marry the love of his life because his family forbade him from marrying a person from another tribe.

The government has rolled out some programs to combat tribalism, including the National Youth Service Corps and the Unity School, which foster national integration and build detribalized citizens of academic excellence.

However, the sad reality is that tribal conflicts in Nigeria are mostly fueled by politicians who use tribalism as a tool to gain and stay in power. They stir up ethnic tensions to mobilize their base and win elections. This is a dangerous game that puts the lives of ordinary citizens at risk.

To combat tribalism, we must first acknowledge it as a problem. We need to have honest conversations about the role that tribalism plays in our society and work together to find solutions. We need leaders who are committed to promoting unity and who are willing to put the interests of the nation above their own.

Education is a crucial tool to combat tribalism. We need to educate our children about the dangers of tribalism and the importance of embracing diversity. We need to educate them that our differences should be celebrated, not feared.

Above all, we need to promote a culture of peace and understanding. We need to build bridges between different tribes and work together to promote harmony and mutual respect. This will require patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen to others.

As an Igbo person, I am proud of my heritage, but I also recognize that I am a Nigerian first and foremost, and I am not more Nigerian than anyone else. Igbos have a proverb: agbusi gba ala, ya na onye adi na mma? means when the ant bites the ground, who will be there for him again? We are all we have, we need each other, and we must all work together to build a better future for ourselves and for generations to come. Tribalism has no place in a modern, progressive society, and it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to combat it.

Today, tribalism has taken 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 it has been politicised in Nigeria. In pre-colonial times, tribal conflicts do exist, 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 cause 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 become.

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, who lack every concept of political morality, 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 tribalization 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 have only thrown themselves at each other since 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, tribalism 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.

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, this are the easiest ways to discriminate.

We must begin to identify ourselves as Nigerians first, before identifying our ethnic groups and national interest, not ethnic interest, should be given supreme importance. A deep understanding of the principles of citizenship must be shown by Nigerians. Power must also be decentralized rather than be concentrated in the hands of an unproductive and clustered centre, headed by the president. 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 tribalization in our political atmosphere.

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