Nigeria is obsessed with ethnic boundaries and indigene based politics. We see it pop up in all levels of government, in the public service and even in private interactions between citizens. Long held stereotypes about different ethnic groups are used as ‘valid’ evidence to discriminate against citizens and hoard perks and benefits. As a result states of origin, an archaic concept in a country where migration is rampant and it is not uncommon to see an indigene of one state live in and positively contribute to another state, is brought up as a way to exclude and discriminate against others.
For women, indigene based politics is twice as damning. It is common practice to view women who marry a person from a different state or ethnic group as ‘lost’ to that ethnic group or state and exclude them from opportunities and deny them important benefits as a result of their decision to marry. Meanwhile, the communities into which they marry continue to address them as outsiders, usurpers who want to ‘steal’ their benefits. It doesn’t matter how many years a woman has been married to an indigene of a different state or ethnic group, she remains an outsider. And no amount of power, success or influence can insulate a woman from this, as we are seeing in the case of Mrs. Opunimi Akinkugbe, who was chosen by President Muhammadu Buhari as an ambassadorial nominee for Ondo State.
Mrs. Akinkugbe is originally from Abonnema Local government area of Rivers state and married a Yoruba man from Ondo state. As a second generation technocrat (her father was a former Chief of Mission at UNESCO), and with nearly 23 years working as an executive in corporate Nigeria and degrees in Economics and Political Science, Mrs. Akinkugbe is singularly qualified to hold an ambassadorial position. All of that means nothing to Ademario Emmanuel, the state chairman of the Ondo Youth Coalition, who has demanded the Ondo state governor reject Akinkugbe’s nomination and find a ‘deserving’ son or daughter of Ondo state to replace her.
“I urge Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state as a lovely person to play neutral selection on this, I want to believe the nomination was a mistake.”
Certainly, calling a governor a ‘lovely person’ is not the way to endear one’s self to him. Thankfully, not everyone holds this backward position. Senator Patrick Akinyelure, of the Ondo-Central senatorial district has spoken up to defend her nomination, citing her qualifications and her marriage to an Ondo state indigene and the children she has borne. Archaic, but at least someone is making sense.
The earlier we get rid of ethnicity based favoritism, the better for our democracy. These takes are getting embarrassing.