Femi Owolabi: What to do with our differences as Nigerians?

 Remember this country belongs to all of us; we must therefore crave for a platform that strengthens the national integration that is genuine.


I have said it in many of my arguments, and I still say it—one of the major roots of Nigeria’s problems is our inability to harmonise our cultural differences. The perceived isolationism of ethnicity has prevented us from reaching a modus vivendi—an ‘agree to disagree’ truce. Sadly, some haven’t realized this, instead they still jealously or blindly guard their cultural beliefs irrefutably—something I find really irksome. I have refused to share in this dogmatism. I do not praise one state and rubbish another, or claim to be from one particular tribe. Why? Because I love all the tribes I’ve met so far in Nigeria, and I prefer to maintain it that I am a Nigerian. But guy, what if you are asked to fill your state of origin on a form, na 36 states you go put?

By the way, If you are unsure about pronouncing the title of this piece—then I’m sorry for the confusion because I’m still trying to fathom whether it is ‘this-advantage’ or ‘dis-advantage’. Perhaps you might be able to tell by the time you have concluded with the story?

A few weeks ago I had a chat with an elderly Yoruba man from Lagos, a professor. Most times that I have such a privilege, I do take the advantage and would change the topic to what suits me—political history. Perhaps I could learn a new thing as a life student of public policy. The professor delved into the rich political history of Nigeria and I gained a lot from the discourse, but throughout his talks he would always refer to the Northerners as, “Awon eranko yen,” (meaning, “those animals”), and obviously he expected me to have known who he was referring to. I asked why. Then he started haranguing, and in the end of another story his reason for calling a Hausa man an animal was just a seemed frivolous to me.

In the same vein, years ago when I told one of my uncles that I had gotten a university admission in a northern state, instead of a ‘congratulations’ he only remarked “Ilu awon eranko lon lo?”(You are going to school with the animals?). Like my father, he says he is a pan-Awoist. Instead they—and many more like them—see themselves as erudite, while people from the North didn’t even attend the primary school. It seems my dad was unaware of the outstanding academic records of Senator Jubril Aminu, and to break the pompous wings of my University of Ibadan alumni father and uncles  I made them recollect, that Aminu was from the North who excelled at their ‘almighty premier University of Ibadan.’ Aminu’s (who is also a professor) records as a seasoned cardiologist can’t be undermined. My father who is one who reveres and appreciate academic excellence will never term the likes of the professor as eranko. He had since adjusted.

To tie this all together: It was in one of our classes back then at school. The lecturer, Engineer Muktar (who just arrived from the UK where he had gone for his masters) started the lecture by saying, “You people from the south, your advantage has turned to disadvantage while we from the North, our disadvantage has turned to advantage.” But why would Muktar first say ‘you people from the South?’ sounds kind of discriminatory, however my oga had observed that some of the best students in class came from the south—maybe. He furthered to explain what he meant which later turned to be an advice to our brothers from the South. Muktar, a good student graduated with second class upper and when the scholarship opportunity came—it was on the federal character principle, which has been enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution since 1979, ensuring that appointments to public service institutions fairly reflect the linguistic, ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity of the country. Same goes for federal scholarship grants. In the order, they would first select first class candidates. But unfortunately or fortunately for him, there was no first class from his own state, thus automatically catapulting the 2:1s to fill the vacuum. He said he knew lots of first class products from the Southern states who couldn’t make the scholarship because where they were asked to produce two, ten would surface and off course with their first class certificates. Hence the statement ‘your advantage has turned to disadvantage.’ My brother who just returned from the UK told me that he was shocked when he saw his ex-classmate Danladi at Aberdeen studying for masters’ degree on FG grant. For God’s sake, Danladi graduated with a 3rd class back in Nigeria!

When I got admission into the university, our total fee was N45,000. Without hesitating, the Niger State government at the time gave all the admitted students from Niger State N50,000 each to pay their fees and, still have change. Not only that, on the bursary scheme Niger state gave N30,000 per session to each of its students studying anywhere in Nigeria, same with some other northern states such as Zamfara and Sokoto. My father’s state on the other hand, only gives N2,000 which was not even regular—I only received bursary twice in my five years. At several points I wanted to change my name to Peter Ndakwo from Bida Local Government, just to partake in the collection of the 30k! Arguably, I like to conclude that the northern states has encouraged their children to go to school.

While this piece seems to meander through different issues it still narrows down to the same things: my main point is centred on harmonizing our cultural differences. Please the Yorubas shouldn’t call Hausas eranko. It sounds ridiculous. And do note that I haven’t decided to take sides or fight for the Northerners but in my little experience even when I was identified as a Yoruba boy in the North I was treated like a brother and I didn’t experience anyone insulting the Yorubas—unlike Lagos where my brothers summon an okada rider/shoemaker by yelling, “Aboki omo eran wa jor” (animal pikin please come).

Finally, in my musing on a subject of genuine national integration, I call on my brothers from the south and north to critically analyse the statements of Engr. Muktar—if truly the south’s advantage has taken a disadvantageous turn and vice versa for the north. Remember this country belongs to all of us; we must therefore crave for a platform that strengthens the national integration that is genuine. This promotes peace which eventually brings about the transformation we all clamour for.



One comment

  1. ThisAdvantage…The title knocks on two doors;opens one and dwells on it. Quite apt.

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