Tribalists vs. Manifestos

A friend once told me that all Nigerians are tribalists. I found it strange. How could he just sit down and generalize without any research or statistic. I replied him; “Comot for here joo. You are just a typical Yoruba man, sitting here and thinking you have all the facts. Una too dey do like say na una know book pass for Naija sef.” He looked at me and started laughing. I was trying to understand what was funny about what I had said. Then it clicked; I had just proven him right. How did I reach my own conclusions by categorizing the entire Yoruba tribe? I had become guilty both of tribalism and generalization all at once. Needless to say that the rest of the evening was spent with him doing most of the talking while I sipped on my drink with all signs of defeat.
Racism is one of the biggest societal problems in the world today. Even in the world’s super power, the USA, it still rears its ugly head in pockets; sometimes with violent consequences. From the UK to South Africa to Brazil, there are always constant signs that people are judged primarily by the color of their skin, before anything else. A black man walks into a store and is instantly treated differently from the white man who walked into the same store a few minutes earlier.  Sometimes, it happens in the subtlest ways. A black professor I know talked about going in a cab recently and leaving the taxi driver with a $20 tip. The diver’s words were; “Wow! I didn’t expect a tip. Black men never tip.” The Professor was angered by those comments and took his tip back telling the driver to learn to stop being judgmental based on people’s skin color.
But interestingly, the USA in spite of all its (subtle) racial divides, still went on to vote a black man into power. A lot of people had sworn that it would never happen in their lifetime and understandably so. What started like a joke quickly gathered momentum even outside the USA and everyone fell in love with Barack Obama. He spoke and people saw intelligence. People realized that he seemed to know where to lead the country. Most importantly he was obviously ready to lead the country and change business from where President Bush had left it.
People stopped seeing his skin color and his African heritage (except of course you were drinking some John McCain juice at the time); and started seeing a man who genuinely looked smart and ready to turn America around. It was no longer about having a black president but about having a president to bring change to America. He was voted for across races and ages and today, sits as the most powerful man in the world.
Yet the subtle racism still persists. In fact, some would say that racism has become more of an issue since he came into office as more people seem to feel the need to point out that it is a  “black man making a mistake” whenever something goes wrong at the White House. It also goes to point out the fact that issues of racism are a lot deeper than one candidate can handle. It is centuries old and will not suddenly disappear. But the most important lesson for me is that at the time when it mattered most, Americans pushed racism aside and unanimously voted in the candidate whom they felt would most likely deliver on the job.
For a lot of people, tribalism may not be as big a problem as racism. But it is hard to accept that anymore with the way events have been panning out these past few months. In fact, it is almost safe to say that tribalism in Nigeria is in a worse state than racism is in most countries around the world with terrible racial histories.  As much as our own history is unique and we have been able to deal with our tribal differences without necessarily being offensive, the current events do not bode well for the country.
The constant war of words between people in the South-South and the North, has become endless and a cause for concern. One side claims that one of their own would not become president only over their dead bodies. The other says that it is their turn and so would take the Presidency fairly or by force. As much as it may even be forgiven if it were just indigenes of these zones making all the noise, it becomes very scary when supposed candidates who want to be president, use this as a means to get into power. I keep imagining what America’s reaction would have been if President Obama for example, had started his campaign by saying that it was the turn of black people and that white people should give them their chance.
Even in South Africa where the whites had run the country for so many years under a system of apartheid, the dreaded National Party led by F.W. De Klerk still ran for office and came second behind President Nelson Mandela and the ANC in 1994. No one told them that they had no right to run because they had been in power all these years and had led the country through some of its darkest years. They had decided to start practicing democracy, a system that allows for a freedom of participation by everyone. There was no point limiting people or cutting them off because of their tribe or race. Thus, you would expect that over 16 years later, Nigeria who helped South Africa conquer the apartheid regime, would know better and probably have improved on things. For where…
The month of August is almost up; and that would leave 2010 with less than 4 months to go. At the start of the year, there was a lot of talk about Nigeria’s 50th anniversary, which would be celebrated in October; as well as the fact that the year would naturally be characterized by some major politicking since 2011 is an election year. We had gone through hurriedly organized elections in 1999, another very controversial one in 2003, before the 2007 show of shame. Most Nigerians agreed that we should never see a repeat of the sham that occurred that year and thankfully, the incumbent President at the time; President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had said that it was one of the major goals of his presidency.
Fate sadly came up with its own twists and 2010 took a different turn. We now have a different president than we started out with in 2007 and as such, many targets set to be achieved this year, have now become compromised. There is even talk about a possible postponement of the 2011 elections. For the average Nigerian today, besides the cry for steady power supply, what is most important to them right now would be the organization of free and fair elections in 2011. Nigerians are hungry for change and want to see that come with the next elections. Sadly the signs are all pointing to a repeat of the past.
Candidates have started declaring their intention to run for President. From former Heads of State and Vice Presidents to Governors, it is shocking that most of them have nothing to tell Nigerians as to why they should be voted. A lot of them are simply armed with the titles of the former offices they held while in power, added to the now annoying; “it is our turn to be President.” One of the candidates, who is probably the biggest advocate of zoning, even said that he honestly did not have a manifesto for Nigerians yet but is just declaring for now and would show us his manifesto later. So if they eventually win, at what point do we start seeing them as true national leaders instead of sectional heads of the zones they represent, whose turn it simply was?
As usual, weird Presidential primaries will be hurriedly held in the coming months and these parties will handpick whoever they want and leave Nigerians with sad choices to pick from. No one is asking for the American style year long campaign; but even these candidates themselves must admit that it is a little insane to want to be elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in January 2011, yet Nigerians as at August 2010 do not know what you stand for.
We are making the same mistakes all over again despite the fact that history has shown us that placing tribe over the nation will never get us anywhere. Parties that encourage that should be apologizing to Nigerians for promoting divisions and candidates who want to lead an entire nation because they feel it is their tribe’s turn, deserve to cover their face in shame and never speak of wanting to promote peace and unity as our national anthem preaches. As much as we have our own little tribalism issues to deal with, this should be a time when we look beyond that and put the nation first.
But whom am I kidding? This is Nigeria and you and I have no say in deciding whom these parties produce as their nominee. All we can do is sit and watch them pick their pre-chosen ones. This time, we will definitely be voting and hopefully the best candidate will win. Where there is no great candidate, there will always be the lesser evil.
Change must come this time even if it will be slow; and kicking against tribal sentiments would be a great way to kick start that change.
Do the indigenes of Eti-Osa have a right to protest against toll fees; or will letting them have their way, set a bad precedent for tolls (and ultimately, good roads) across the country?

Comments (5)

  1. What is your policy for quoting a few of the work in your web site? I was hoping to reference your web site in a future post, but I need to do it suitable so as to not trigger any trouble.

  2. Glad i stumbled on this article.. that is y we are going to RSVP… it shouldn't b cause of turn or zones but what the person can do… sad that 2 months after the article, none of them has still come out to say WHAT they are going to do…. I weep for my country. RSVP

  3. dont have the answer to uer question directly, however, 2011 is indeed THE YEAR OF -THE- ELCTION! This is the time of MAGNIFICENT CHANGE NO DOUBT. BY faith and NOt by Sight, we act.
    Have JOY

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