Pius Adesanmi: Nigeria should have a one-day identity holiday

by Pius Adesanmi

But for the giveaway that is in our names, I would have called for a daunting challenge: a national day of identity neutrality in the management of our humanity and phatic communion.

I am talking about your myriad transactional moments today. Can you take a one-day break from letting the ethnic identity (or religion, or politics) of whoever you will deal with today predetermine, prequalify, and massively underwrite your impression of them?

Your car has broken down on third mainland bridge. Your mechanic is not picking his calls. A passerby gives you the phone number of his own mechanic. What’s his name: Okechukwu? Lamidi? Shehu? Are you going to make that phone call? Please make it. Take a one-day break from whatever demons you are automatically wired to associate with the ethnicities these names carry. I beg you: just phone a fellow human being, a fellow Nigerian and let him come and help you get your jalopy off that bridge.

At Oja Oyingbo today, please buy your tomatoes, efo, atarodo and other nkan elo without carrying the burden of the identities of those market women on your head. Your husband is hungry at home. Your wife is hungry at home. Your kids are hungry at home. Yet, you must only buy from Iya Kubura or Mama Ogechi and they are not around today. You are sniffing around, facially scoping the other market women to determine where they come from before you can buy anything. Please buy from a fellow human being, from a fellow Nigerian. I am begging ni o.

In hundreds of thousands of government offices today – in Abuja, in the state capitals – can you please just do your job and attend to a fellow Nigerian today? When I was a graduate student, I once phoned a Nigerian diplomatic mission to make inquiries. Miraculously, they answered their phone. A Nigerian Embassy actually answering calls on the lines advertised? Thank God o.

Then came the telephone rudeness that is ingrained in the DNA of Nigerian embassy officials when they are dealing with Nigerians. Eventually, the rude lady at the other end remembered to ask for my name. Pius Adesanmi. Ah, Adesanmi ke? Laughter at the other end. The mood changed. Why didn’t you tell me you were Yoruba? I wasn’t a public figure in 1998 so she wasn’t recognizing the name. She wasn’t getting all chummy and helpful because she was star struck. She had sniffed her own ethnicity in my last name. And this was a Nigerian embassy official on foreign posting to help Nigerians. Imagine if my last name had been Kwankwaso or, worse, Nwosu?

This is what millions of Nigerians going into Ministries and government parastatals in Abuja and the state capitals will face today. Ah, so you are Ogochukwu! Ah, so you are Ogungbemi! Ah, so you are Danlami? And civil servants who are supposed to attend to you though tribe and tongue differ will seal your fate based on the ethnic provenance of your name. I am saying to you, civil servant, can you take a break from this practice just for today and attend to a fellow Nigerian?

And to millions in social media Nigeria, for whom right and wrong, fact and fiction no longer exist as ontological givens, can you take a one-day break from the partisan cataracts that are blocking your eyes and preventing something as simple as the ability of an adult to determine right and wrong?

I am saying that I should be able to say Nigerian gained her independence on October 1, 1960 and stop at that without fears of an attack today. Such is the ethnic and religious bitterness that even such a simple statement of fact is no longer possible.

Nigeria gained her independence on October 1, 1960.

“Ehen, Prof, is that all you have to say? Why did you not add that Hausa-Fulani people really didn’t want that independence because they were not ready?”

“Why did you not say that the nationalist movement and the fight for independence was mainly an Igbo affair?”

“For where? Ever heard of Herbert Macaulay? Mojola Agbebi and co? Your Zik received the baton from such people.”

“This is where I get tired with Awusa and Yorobber. They can’t handle the truth. We single-handedly fought for your independence. Go and eat shit!”

“Gerrout. Stupid Yanmirin!”

Bla bla bla bla all day. Just because of one simple statement: Nigeria gained her independence on October 1, 1960.

This is an accurate mirror of Facebook and Twitter Nigeria.

I am asking you to observe a day, just a single day of simple truths and simple facts not coloured by partisan bitterness.

Do you think you can do it?

We have to learn to take baby steps in relating to the human again. We need to learn to take baby steps in humanity and humanism all over again.

Where is Petra? This is where we urgently need the epp of your Oga. Tell Governor Yahaya Bello to declare a public holiday that Kogi peeps will spend learning to love and engage the human beyond ethnic invidiousness. That way, I won’t come to Lokoja hoping to get routine service from a government office only if I happen to bump into an Okun civil servant. David Shuaibu will not leave Okene for a transaction in a government office in Lokoja praying to bump into a fellow Igbira before any serious thing can happen for him today.

Tell Ogbeni Yahaya Bello that were he to declare such a public holiday, I’d have his back gidigba and hope that the rest of Nigeria would learn from our learning to love and engage the human again in Kogi.

We need a break from this orgy of national bitterness.

I want to be able to come to this Wall and say good morning (statement of fact) without fellow Nigerians accepting the greeting or abusing me depending on my tribe and tongue.

Phatic communion devoid of bitterness should still be possible in Nigeria.

We can do it.

Una good morning o!

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada

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