First of all, it is a difficult task trying to tag any Nigerian as a racist. Yes, Nigerians are a complex group of people. In actual sense, they might be guilty of many crimes they are being accused of. However, if you know Nigeria and Nigerians very well, you will realize that racism is not something Nigerians understand very well. It’s not just that Nigerians are not racists, in fact, more often they don’t even understand what racism is all about.
I know I cannot speak for a whole nation. When I speak in general terms in this article, I am primarily relating to the average statistics. On average, Nigerians are not racists. They could be anything else but not racists. I have had a lot of experiences to prove this. I have been living on this planet earth for close to 50 years, 30 of which I have spent outside the shores of Nigeria. I have seen Nigerians in different situations and circumstances. From the complex to the ridiculous, yet racism is not something that could be attached to them.
I remember when as a 19 year old lad, I in the company of about 300 other students arrived in Europe for the first time on a government scholarship. We met a very huge pool of international students in the then former Soviet Union. In my university alone, we had people from 99 countries of the world. 99 countries? I think that is a good test. It is a good enough stage to test yourself out including in the area of racism.
That was probably my first experience to see how people from other nations related to races. We Nigerians, either Igbos, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Ijaw, Ogoni, Edo, Idoma, etc. were all taken aback to see that the black students from South Africa for example were very resentful of the white population they were meeting in Europe. Other people from French speaking countries kept complaining about why Africans were poor and blaming Europeans for it. Again, Nigerians could not understand this because Nigerians were used to blaming themselves and not Europeans for their plight.
We also noticed that some other smaller countries in Central Africa and the Islands, were paying too much regard and respect to white people. Again this was totally unfathomable to us. Nigerians were different. They were confident. They saw themselves as equal to people from any race and nation. Kenyans, Namibians, and Zimbabweans for example, talked about how all the investments in their nations were being taken over by Indians or white people but again Nigerians were surprised. Nigerians didn’t have this kind of sentiments. When needed, Nigerians respected their white hosts and when needed they also didn’t hesitate in getting involved in some fracas or fist fights with them.
Whatever you say about Nigerians, their questions were not questions of race, but questions of honor, respect and dignity. They were giving that to other races and they expected to be treated the same. Even though Nigerians were constantly involved in some fights with their European hosts, this was not because they were racists, but because they demanded respect. If other African countries would simply let bygones be bygones, Nigerians would not allow those kind of moral and ethical demands to stop them from retaliating for any injustice done to them.
I hope this article is being read by our European brothers and sisters. I myself have been involved in bringing large groups of Europeans, Americans, Scandinavians, Russians and other nationalities to Nigeria. There have been mixed feelings every time. My experience is that whenever our European brothers have tried to engage in some act of belittling or debasement of their African hosts, there has been a sharp resistance if not a violent refutal of such acts.
I remember a situation when some of my team members were taking photographs of the Maroko slum. Some zealous Nigerians came around to stop them from taking pictures of people living in the slum and in abject poverty. My European friends were taken aback by the aggression and anger of their Nigerian hosts. After further discussion with these men, the reason became clear. These Nigerians were concerned about the superiority attitude of some of the Europeans. Pointing to the high rise building of Mary land and Victoria Island, they questioned why the Europeans didn’t take the pictures of the good looking places in Lagos. They explained that it is a common practice among some Europeans to always show the ugliest and the most horrifying images of Africa, especially in their news media.
It is this type of one sided portrayal of Africa that has led the world to think that Africa is only about poverty, hunger and famine. I personally can attest to that. A lot of people in Europe today will find it difficult to believe that there are parts of Africa that are as good as some European cities. The general picture of Africa is negative with poverty stricken images of the continent. When similar clashes occur either in the streets of Lagos or in the parks of Amsterdam, between Africans and Europeans, some Europeans tend to think that these Africans are simply racist. Not true! Their concern is about respect, honor and dignity.
They, especially Nigerians, believe that they deserve enough honor, respect and dignity as the Europeans who visit them or who they meet in Europe. Their thinking is that they too deserve at least a reciprocal attitude. To the credit of my fellow Nigerians though, I can attest to the fact that a lot of the teams that have come with me to the country, generally go back with the impression that Africans are very respectful and extremely honoring to their European visitors. So, the problem of Nigerians is not necessarily a problem of race or racism, as I have said earlier, it is a problem of honor.
As you can see above, the title of this article is called HELP, THE BEAUTY AND POWER IN NIGERIA’S DIVERSITY. I have slightly touched on racism and why I or any other Nigerian cannot be regarded as a racist. It is just not in our bones! This is because most Nigerians never had close interactions with the white colonialists. Even though Nigeria was a colony of Great Britain, yet not too many Nigerians felt the presence of European oppression personally.
The tactics of rulership that was adopted in Nigeria was called Divide and Rule. This method of domination is when the Europeans won the trust of the ruling class of Africans especially the royal houses who in turn represented the interest of the Europeans. They had more direct interactions with the local population carrying out the will and commands of their European masters.
West Africa was more fortunate than their eastern and southern counterparts. The Europeans could not survive long in our part of the world, thanks to our deadly mosquitoes that infected them with malaria and other diseases. The red hot sun of West Africa did not help matters either. It was not just hot, it was deadly for the Europeans especially in a century that was before air conditioners and electronic ventilators.
Unlike in Eastern and Southern parts of Africa where the weather was more conducive to the Europeans, not too many of the European colonial masters moved to the Western part of the continent. In South Africa and East Africa, the weather seemed to be like a paradise to many European sojourners. Some of them settled down in those countries owning properties and becoming part of the population. The rate of settlement of Europeans in Eastern and Southern Africa meant that the African population witnessed firsthand the injustice of colonialism.
Apartheid is the case at hand. This kind of system of oppression cannot but call for a form of reaction. Even strong reactions like this probably explain why some Africans have either anger or fear towards Europeans. But to a large extent, it is Africans that are generally being discriminated against, rather than Africans discriminating against other races. More Africans have been on the receiving end of racism than on the giving end.
RACISM AND TRIBALISM
Racism and tribalism are two words that should catch your eyes; one is the word racism which I have already addressed above while the other word is tribalism. To my European audience, that word might not be too familiar.
Tribalism is a term that is more locally used in Africa, when describing the unequal relational interactions between the various neighboring tribes. Tribalism is defined as loyalty to a tribe or other social group, especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.
Now what prompted me to address this topic, especially of tribalism, to my dear African audience and anybody reading this article especially Nigerians, is because of the manipulation in the use of the word which has become prevalent recently. As I keep on writing my articles on different issues connected to social and economic political questions, I sometimes have to touch on issues concerning my native land Nigeria.
I have noticed a tendency from the comments that come each time that I touch on some sensitive national issues. This sentiment is largely coming from a segment of our society accusing me of being a tribalist. At first glance, you could think there may be some accuracy in this accusation especially bearing in mind that Nigeria is a country with over 516 tribes and 521 languages. It becomes more troubling however when it is only one of the 516 tribes and 521 languages that keep on complaining about the same thing. That is a little bit suspicious, leading me personally to think that this is the work of stereotypes, brain washing and indelible memories.
In the beginning of this article, I spoke about the fact that Nigerians don’t understand racism. More so, they tend to look down on people who use race as an excuse or reason for their failures. If you have related with Nigerians you will find that they don’t believe they are worse than anybody else. They also don’t blame racism or other historical facts for their failures. For example, when Nigerians see the black population of America putting the blame for their lack of success on slavery or racism, the average Nigerian will normally abhor that argument.
The typical Nigerian attitude is that even if you are brought as a slave to another country, you should be so good, and do so well, so that you outperform the very citizens of the land. That is the attitude of Nigerians. Most Nigerians don’t care how you bring them to America, or Europe, with or without documents. They will prove to you at the end of the day that nobody is better than they are, even the citizens of the land. To now begin to blame historical events that occurred a hundred or two hundred years back is not the habit of Nigerians. This is one aspect of racism that Nigerians will never understand.
This attitude of Nigerians to the question of racism changes sharply however when it comes to the domestic questions about tribalism. In my opinion, Nigerians have also fallen victim of what they accuse other people of in regards to racism, especially outside the country. Within Nigeria, it is like we have been bewitched into blaming almost everything that is wrong in our society on tribalism.
Even as I write this now, some people are ready to quit reading this article. Others are raining curses on me already believing that I am ignorant. Some will think my position is dictated by the fact that I come from one of the major and most privileged tribes in Nigeria. As I have said above, Nigeria is blessed with 516 tribes of which 3 are the dominant ones: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.
Bearing in mind the above reality of things in Nigeria, it seems obvious that there would be complaints of tribalism from the minority groups especially those that are not in the top three. Yet the funny thing is that usually it is the three main privileged tribes that keep on accusing each other of tribalism and discrimination.
Before I continue my deliberation on this topic, let me take you dear readers back to an experience that opened my eyes to see how blessed Nigeria is as a nation. Thanks to the large number of nationalities and tribes we have in our country.
THE BEAUTY OF DIVERSITY
When I was growing up in my 40-hut village of Idomila western part of Nigeria, the most I had traveled was to our state capital of Abeokuta just a few minutes away. My experience of Nigeria’s diversity did not even reach the then nation’s capital Lagos, which was only two hours away. My concept of Nigeria was limited to the village talk of the elders and the local wise men. What they said was the truth to be believed by all and sundry. There was no need for research or establishment of historical facts.
“News told, rumors heard, truth implied, facts buried.” ― Toba Beta
So growing up, when I heard that the problem of Nigeria is the North, talking of the Hausa-Fulani tribe of our nation, I did not even think, I did not even consider questioning it. On the other hand, when I was told that Hausa-Fulani have ruled Nigeria for most of our independence, I swallowed the gossip without any questions.
A recent research however claims that even though Fulani’s have ruled Nigeria or a mixture of Fulani and Hausa, it has been discovered that Hausa’s have never ruled Nigeria before, even though they are about 20% of Nigeria’s population. Another largely believed rumor says that Hausa is the largest tribe in Nigeria while in the real sense they are second to Yorubas who are the biggest singular monogenic group of tribe in Nigeria. Fulanis are only about 9%, Yorubas 21%, Hausa 20% and Igbos 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4 % others are minority groups.
Of all these groups, let’s examine which tribes of the 521 have ruled Nigeria before.
- Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Middle Belt Bauchi) 1960-1966 (Bageritribe from Sefawa dynasty)
- Nnamdi Azikiwe 1960-1966 (Igbo).
- Major General Aguiyi Ironsi (Abia) Jan-Jul 29 1966 (Igbo)
- General Yakubu Gowon (Middle Belt Plateau) 1966-1975 (Angas tribe)
- General Murtala Muhammed (Middle Belt Plateau) 1975-Feb.1976 (Berom tribe)
- General Olusegun Obasanjo (Ogun) 1976-1979 (Yoruba)
- Shehu Shagari (Sokoto) 1979-1983 (Fulani).
- General Muhammadu Buhari (Katsina) 1983-1985 (Fulani)
- General Ibrahim Babangida Badamosi (Middle Belt Niger) 1985-1993 (Gwari/Gbagyi tribe).
- Ernest Shonekan (Ogun) 1993-Nov 1993 (Yoruba).
- General Sanni Abacha (Borno/Chad) 1993-1998 (Kanuri tribe).
- General Abdusalami Abubakar (Middle Belt Niger) 1998-1999 (Gwari/Gbagyi tribe).
- Olusegun Obasanjo (Ogun) 1999-2007 (Yoruba).
- Musa Yar’adua (Katsina) 2007-2010 (Fulani)
- Dr Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa) 2010-2014 (Ijaw/Igbo?)
According to these statistics, we can see that there is no need for the kind of speculation and hatred that is being circulated in my part of the country. As a matter of fact, most people in the western part of Nigeria still believe that the problem of Nigeria is the Hausa. Meanwhile, the statistics above show that no Hausa has ever ruled Nigeria.
The people who complain most about the Hausas are the people I come from, the Yorubas. They have ruled Nigeria most of all. Yorubas have ruled Nigeria for 12 years, Igbos have ruled Nigeria for 6 and half years, Fulanis have ruled Nigeria for 5 years. Others are from minority groups. But when our society is more reliant on rumors, village talk and tales rather than on facts and research, we end up having a society of sentiments, hatred, and purported tribalism.
According to the information above, if anyone is supposed to complain, the complaints should come from the over 500 tribes that have never gotten a chance to rule the country. What I am trying to say ladies and gentlemen is that when we rely more on rumors, gain sayings, folktales, we risk the danger of destroying the beauty and harmony of diversity. The diversity of our Nigerian nation is such a beauty, a glorious demonstration of Gods very own nature. Yet when diversity is not appreciated, it is abused and perverted.
“Celebrate diversity, practice acceptance and may we all choose peaceful options to conflict.” ― Donzella Michele Malone
If Nigeria had not consisted of these over 500 tribes, we would not have been as big and great as we are today. Today, Nigeria is the 7th most populous country in the world and could soon become the third most populous in a number of years to come (between year 2030 – 2050). What that means is that Nigeria could soon overtake countries like, the USA, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
At times we underestimate the power of population. Friends, despise the size of a nation to your own detriment. The size of a nation plays a vital role in their positioning in the world. For example, no small nation can ever become a super power. This is not an assumption, this is a fact.
Have you ever wondered why countries like Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Singapore, Denmark, Belgium or other countries that are rich countries per capita are not super power nations? It is because it is not the amount of money each citizen earns that determines the status and might of a nation. No matter how prosperous a small nation is, it is already limited if it has a small population. There is no way a small population could compete in production capacity with large countries with bigger populations.
This explains the reason why despite the fact that Nigeria is a third world country, our economy is bigger than the economies of some so called first world countries like Belgium, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, etc. Our economy is fast heading to be one of the top 20 in the world despite all our troubles and challenges.
Can you just begin to imagine what might happen when things begin to work for Nigeria? Our economy could easily double or triple if only the electricity supply would be constant. If we deal with the questions of infrastructure, we could be talking of Nigeria as being in the top 10 economies of the world. This is all thanks to the fact that we have a big population. The credit goes to all the tribes that make up Nigeria as one nation.
Another reason why countries with a large population should never be disregarded in this world is because these countries can easily become military super powers. That is why European countries like Sweden, Belgium cannot be military super powers while poorer countries per capita like India, Pakistan possess nuclear weapons. It is also for the same reason that while India was able to launch missions to outer space and the moon, it is still poorer per capita than those European countries.
Dear Nigerians, our population is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to us. Our population is our trump card. If we had not had the population we have, things would have been desperate for us. It is a pity that Nigerians talk more about tribalism and other things dividing us instead of celebrating the beauty and the majesty we possess, thanks to the fact that we are together.
Just for comparison, let’s assume that the United States of America did not have the population it has, let’s say it had only 30 million people, there is no way they would have become the super power of the world that they are today, neither economically nor militarily. Small nations don’t become super powers, not economically or militarily.
That is why when America was smaller and consisted of only 13 states, they embarked on a mission of buying and taking over more lands and territories for the purpose of becoming a super power in the future. That is what led to the addition of other territories like Texas, California, Florida, Porto Rico, to the entity of the United States of America, making them a super nation on the earth.
Can you imagine Russia being a super power without its population? When Russia was a super power, there were about 300 million people as well. After losing half of that population, Russia is no more the same anymore even though they are still a large nation of almost 150 million people. As the case may be, if Russia had 10 million or 20 million people, their production capacity would not have been able to pull them through to becoming a super power. Only large populations create large economies.
There are many factors that make great nations great. The most important of those factors is the population. Apart from the production power of a huge population like China, there is also the vantage position of their purchasing power.
Let’s take China for example, people say China has the largest number of poor people in the world, but that is only a matter of time. The events of the last few decades and the rapid development of the Chinese economy has left no one in doubt that China indeed is the future of our world. It is on its way to overcoming the USA to become the strongest and largest economy in the world. It is just a matter of time. The same thing with India. Even though there is a large number of poor people in India today, it also has one of the largest number of millionaires, the same as China.
Today India, despite the fact that it is a developing country, now ranks as the 4th largest economy in the world. It is all thanks to their population. Nigeria and Nigerians therefore should be rejoicing and bragging about their good fortune to have managed to bring together so many diverse nations under one umbrella.
Have you ever heard of The European Union coming together? Do you think they had no reason in doing that? No my friends, it is because they know the power and the strength of diversity. They know the place of population in human development. Small, small nations even if they are 50, scattered all over Europe, are weak and defeatable without the strength of a combined population.
We don’t need to begin to go through that process of bringing tribes and ethnic groups together. It is already done for us either by chance or default. Whatever the case might be, Nigerians should be some of the most hopeful people on the planet, especially if we get our act together politically and economically.
It is my firm belief that our nation Nigeria is just on the verge of announcing her arrival on the world stage as the Rising Sun of the new age. This is not the time for us to begin to use tribalism to pull ourselves down. It is not the time for us to begin to lay emphasis on our old and outdated stereotypes, blaming one tribe or the other for all the woes of our nation.
AM I A TRIBALIST?
To those who traditionally blame tribalism for any opinion that differs from theirs, I say it is a pity. I see that each time I express a political position that is my personal belief, some people come back at me, attacking my personality and calling me a tribalist.
The argument of tribalism seems to be the only one left when people are weak, devoid of facts and simply sentimental. Those who resolve to blaming tribes for their political losses are simply unknowingly pulling down the bricks of strength that our nation stands on. Let us learn to be gallant losers. We should not blame our political misfortunes on other people’s sound judgment.
The president of Nigeria today is not a Yoruba man. I support him only because I can see by the facts of his life that he is the most qualified person to bring our nation out of the political and economic devastation we have found ourselves in, in the last decade. I support his Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo only because I have the privilege of knowing him personally. His qualities are impeccable and he is most qualified to be in that position not because he is a Yoruba man
I cannot be a tribalist, at least judging by my antecedents. This is not an attempt of self-defense, it’s just a fact of the matter.
- How could you accuse a man that is the only black man in the world with the largest number of followership from another race and culture of being a tribalist?
- How can you accuse a man of racism and tribalism when he is the only person in the whole world who pastors the largest cross-cultural congregation?
- How can I be a tribalist, when my premier and my most prominent Nigerian disciple is not from my tribe? He is an Igbo man called Prof. Vincent Anigbogu from Anambra State.
- How can I be a tribalist, when my best friends are not even from my tribe? People like Pastor Tony Rapu, John Enelamah.
- How can I be a tribalist, when in my house we have so many Nigerians stopping over and living, who are not even from my tribe?
- How can I be a tribalist, when I don’t even speak my tribal (Yoruba) language anymore, because I have refrained from speaking in the midst of others so that I will not appear to be discriminatory all my life?
- How can I be a tribalist, when I addressed the United Nations where all nations are present?
- How can I be a tribalist, when my church consists of 99% white Europeans?
- How can I be a tribalist, when I spoke at the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) to Jews who don’t look like people from my tribe?
- How can I be a racist when I was welcomed to speak in the United States senate?
- How can I be a tribalist when I was invited to speak in the Japanese parliament?
- How can I be a tribalist, when my immediate assistants including domestic staff are not even related to my tribe, race or nationality? My drivers are Europeans, my security guards are Europeans, my kitchen staff are Europeans, and my Pastors are Europeans. How can I possibly be a tribalist?
- How can I be a tribalist when my disciples, sons and daughters are from 50 different countries of the world?
- How can I be a tribalist, when my books are printed in different countries of the world and various languages including Chinese, Japanese, etc. yet they are not in my native Yoruba language?
- How can I be a tribalist when none of my 3 children speak Yoruba? When my son was given the option of choosing a Nigerian language to learn, he chose Igbo, he was good at it and got 93% in his exam. He still doesn’t speak the Yoruba language.
“Achievement has no color” ― Abraham Lincoln
Ladies and gentlemen, what I am trying to say in this article is; let us quit using racism and tribalism as a cover up for our weaknesses. Let us stop emphasizing on things that divide us as a nation, as a people group and as ethnic groups. Let us acknowledge the Grace of God which has made it possible for different people groups to live together under one nation.
If you are a Nigerian reading this article, I want to appeal to you to begin to celebrate the enormous advantage we have in our diversity. Let us begin to see the positive sides of our various tribal groups. Let us begin to give God the glory for our future and let go of our past. Yes, a lot of things have been done wrong in our history but let us move forward to build a more glorious and prosperous country for posterity.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHURCH AND NATION
By Pastor Sunday Adelaja