AM I IKWERRE? AM I IGBO?
Daily, I get to introduce myself to at least two or more persons. I do so in a simple 5 worded sentence: “my name is Chizzy Odilinye”. The follow up question is usually “are you Igbo or Ikwerre?”, and depending on which is being asked, I can almost decipher the tribe of the person asking.
In Port Harcourt, saying “I am Ikwerre” will usually be welcome with a warm smile and an “Nda” (how are you?), but if I were in the coal city [Enugu], it will be responded with “I thought you people claim you are not Igbos”, and the underlying and unspoken statement being made through this is “what are you doing in our land?” The same can be said of the Ikwerres’ too when the tables are turned. So I adopted a strategy; if after accessing you, I can decipher your origin (which is really difficult to do), I tell you where you are from instead of where I am from. By that, I am assured of acceptance.
What does this mean for me as a Nigerian nationalist? It shows the extent to which tribalism has been enshrined in our DNA. Your fate is almost dependent on your state of origin and ethnicity.
In 2015, I participated in a much publicized recruitment exercise for a new refinery. I had just resigned from my previous company and was thinking through available career options. The number of candidates was so much that we had to use Nigerian law school Lagos as venue, and still write the examination in batches.
The recruitment process was in four stages, and as part of the successful ones, each of the stages cost me 10,000 Naira spent on transportation. On getting to the last stage, we were given a form to fill indicating our tribe and states of origin. I was perplexed at such request. We were being recruited for the soon to be biggest refinery in Africa for Christ’s sake! What else would have mattered if not intellectual prowess and some soft skills? I quickly counted the number of chemical engineers in the last stage whose native state was Anambra, and the hope of possible recruitment slowly ebbed away.
Shortly after my NYSC, I went to Abuja, briefly with a slight hope of getting employed in either the Ministry of Petroleum or Science&tech. On getting to the Civil Service Commission, I was ushered to the high commissioner’s office covering Enugu and Imo states, where I was frankly told that our quota for such employment was already filled, and that, except I was from Zamfara or the likes, I didn’t stand a chance of being employed. This experience is all too familiar with several people in Nigeria. Need I say that all the forms I filled in Abuja had slots for ‘state of origin’ and ‘LGA of origin’?
In his book “Because I am involved”, Dim Ojuwku questioned why a national document should have columns for ‘state of origin’ and ‘LGA identification’. I agree with him on this, for all we need is our green passport.
What does tribalism mean to millennials? A chunk of it I fear is the name calling on social media. It is either ‘Biafraud’ or ‘Afonjas’, ‘Yoruba demons’ or ‘Igbo ritualist’ amongst other social stereotypes.
However, tribalism is to me what stands in our way of economic dominance, true leadership and intellectualism. It diverts our focus from nationalism to fight for resource control. It forces me to cast my votes along ethnic and religious lines and if I do otherwise, I am considered a traitor by/to my entire tribe. It rubs millennials of their power to make a change because they would rather justify villains than let their kinsmen be punished for their crime. The cycle keeps repeating itself, preventing us from addressing real issues of accountability and transparency in government.
It appears that it is on this basis of tribalism that Goodluck Jonathan pardoned Diepreye Alamieyesigha of all charges levelled against him. In a similar feat, General Buhari may have as a similar result, in 2008, ‘absolved’ Abacha of any financial crime with the claims that Abacha never stole from the covers of the country.
Ending tribalism in Nigeria will be a very slow but steady stride if young people can have the same oneness of mind they had when they together voted Efe as the winner of the just concluded BBN. Though I never watched the show, I however followed the discus (thanks to FGGC Owerri old girls’ association) and saw how Nigerians all over Africa came together with almost undivided unity, for what they considered to be a common cause.
Young folks need to get indoctrinated in the Nigeria mantra with such strong sense of patriotism as can be observed in the USA. We need be to have an ownership mentality of the nation. The word ‘minority’ should be eschewed from our national discuss.
Frankly, questions pertaining to ‘State of origin, LGA or Home towns’ should not be included in official forms. If we claim to need the results from them for demographics, then, a visit to the National Population Commission can solve that, or rather, candidates can fill those forms anonymously.
If we must we must continue this steady stride towards true unity, Federal Character should not be celebrated. My famous example will always remain the cut off marks for the Unity colleges across the federation.
‘Much ado’ has been made in view of ethnocentrism and tribalism, with heightened religious and cultural differences and crises. And unlike the Shakespearen classic, this ‘ado’ is not about nothing.
So, the next time someone asks about my tribe/origin, I will simply answer “Nigerian”, for therein lays our unity.