Saturday, 22 October 2016

THE EMERGENCE OF THE NIGERIAN ETHNIC IDENTITY

Nigeria is usually described as a country with diverse peoples and cultures. With over 250 identified ethnic groups, Nigeria often boast of being one of the most culturally diverse entities in the world. This diversity is reflected in our constitutions (the famous or infamous federal character policy), political parties (zoning), our first national anthem and our education system. The matter of ethnicity is usually a very divisive issue in Nigeria and is a key factor in political, social and economic issues concerning Nigeria. However, let me ask this question: “is it unreasonable to talk of the ethnic group called Nigeria or of a Nigerian ethnic identity?” For most Nigerians, the reply would be an instant and loud “NO!” Nigeria to us  is just “a political entity created by our colonial masters to further their selfish agenda”. Still let us look at the facts. An ethnic group is a collection of people who have several of the following characteristics: common origin, shared history, common language and common traditions (food habits, religion, forms of dressing, marriage customs etc.). Also necessary for the identification of an ethnic group are: the belief by members that they are culturally distinct from outsiders; their willingness to find symbolic markers of these differences (i.e. the characteristics listed previously); and the willingness to organize relationships with outsiders so that a kind of ‘ethnic boundary’ is maintained with outsiders. I will go through these characteristics in the case of Nigeria. Let’s start with the issue of common origin. It is easy to say that we have many different stories of our origins. This is true, yet in all these stories we find common threads and similarities. I will avoid cumbersome details but a comparison of stories of origin from any two Nigerian groups will show similarities very common ones include fleeing  from war in the north and migrating from the east or north-east. Moving on to consider shared history, it would be terribly close-minded to say Nigerians do not have common history. As single entity, we have come through 46 years of colonization and 56 years of independence. During this period, we struggled for and obtained political independence; we have fought a civil war; created new problems (and solved some); we have set many awards and records, changed regimes, political structure and economic structure; we have helped to set up and pull down foreign governments; we have created a fearsome international reputation; and we have made our own laws while resisting foreign influences. Our shared history fills many volumes. The next characteristic is common language, here also it is easy to point out the many languages; my ‘state of origin’ Cross-River supposedly has over 50 languages. Okay, Pause! How many Nigerians born within the last 40 years cannot speak Pidgin English? Most of our ‘educated’ and ‘literate’ people speak, read and write what can only be called ‘Nigerian English’, in which phrases like ‘timber and calibre’ and clauses like ‘driving one way’, have meanings which are unknown to an Englishman. This is in addition to others like ‘yawa’, ‘gobe’, ‘wahala’, ‘kai kai’, ‘how fa?’, ‘wetin?’, ‘kober’, ‘wooze you slap’, ‘bokwu’, ‘whining’, ‘flex’, ‘kampe’, ‘gbedu’ and many  more. Do you still think we can not understand each other? And we move on to the big one, common traditions. So we all know that ‘calabar’ food is different from Igbo food, which is different from Hausa and so on, right? Now let’s answer this, how many Nigerians have never eaten rice and stew, jollof rice, eba (garri), fufu (akpu/santa), pounded yam (poundo), boiled yam, pap (ogi/akamu), bean cakes (akara), bean pudding (moi-moi/mai-mai/okpa), soaked garri, beans and garri or just boiled beans? Show me such a one, and I am sure we will all agree that he or she is not a true Nigerian. Let us speak of religion, almost every Nigerian is officially a Christian, Muslim or does juju. In practice, some even combine two or three. Further talk leads us forms of dressing. Gather together some 6 years old Nigerian children and ask them which tribe wears ‘gele’ as part of their traditional dressing. Some answers will make you laugh until you are no longer fit for sensible thought. For my ‘official’ ethnic group and some others, the historic traditional male dress is a loin cloth and a wrapper. (Please save yourself insults and do not ask any one less than 60 years old to wear that today.) Across, the country we find a mixing of dress forms. It is now the craze among people to wear a large white danshiki over a trouser or an Agbada over a trouser. It has long been the culture of our politicians and top businessmen to wear Agbadas or Babarigas (the one-thousand-five-hundred) irrespective of tribe. In most occasions, you find the women wearing geles and aso-okes and beads (especially the Igbo type). Another point is marriage; we go crazy any time we hear marriage and most Nigerians love wedding ceremonies. In the past we would hear of Fulanis demanding that a man prove himself for marriage through rigorous physical exercises and whipping; today Fulanis are asking for bride prices or cows as dowry. It is now possible to see the father of an Edo bride-to-be presenting a suitor with a hefty list (the much maligned Owerri/Mbise custom) or an Mbano man returning most of the bride price received for his daughter. It is also generally accepted and expected that a wedding has two or three parts: the traditional wedding, the church/Islamic wedding and the court wedding. Couples now combine any two or three of these by choice and with family support. It is thus reasonable to say that we have an emerging Nigerian marriage tradition. And now we can consider our relationship with foreigners and how we are viewed. Describe yourself as Nigerian when out of the country and instantly some things are expected of you. You are expected to be shrewd, industrious and cunning. This shows us that we have a common reputation; we have established an ‘ethnic boundary’ in our relationship with outsiders by exposing consistently certain qualities to them by which they now define ‘Nigerian’. Despite or in spite of these points, many will still stick to the belief that Nigeria is not an ethnic group and therein lays the most important aspect of conscious adoption of an ethnic identity: belief in a cultural distinction. Public policy and the media often build up the idea of a multi-ethnic Nigeria which is only a political entity. This ignores the truth, the two most successful political parties in recent times have a large spread of followers across the country (it is impossible to win national elections otherwise). Amongst the younger generation ethnicity is a less important factor in social relations, marriage, political affiliations and financial partnerships. As we see the emergence of the younger generation into prominence, we see the simultaneous emergence of the Nigerian Ethnic Identity. 










Ekpa, Theophilus K. Department of Electrical Engineering, Kampala International University

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Sapped of Manliness

The first batch of slaves was shipped away to the West in 1526, and the last batch was “planed” away just today.


Picture this: You accidentally barge into a small home of about five people; a man and his family. You are lost (or claim to be) and on wandering in, you notice that there is plenty of food lying everywhere – rice, garri, milk. But these folks do not know how to prepare jollof, or eba, or tea. If you have people at home to be fed, wouldn’t you take as much supplies as you want, and even more, since they seem not to know the value of what they have.
Now, as you’re busy gathering these things, the man says, “Hey stranger, why not take my son and daughter and give me that bottle of dry gin that I may get high and sleep off while you loot my house dry! Come on, be sincere, wouldn’t you toss him that bottle, make his children carry enough food to your house, go fetch more bottles and return for more. It’s only the natural thing to do; as humans, we tend to want more for less – the true mother of all invention.
If you could make a mental screenshot of the above, then you can understand what ensued in Africa from the 16th century through 19th century (and is still happening now in subtlety). 
In terms of work force, Africa is grossly blessed. Africa arguably has the highest count of men (and women) able and willing to work, learn and create, but majority of who are diligently “tilling another man’s land”. Apparently, riches do not lie in the possession but in the adequate utilization of resources. One can therefore say, without fear of doubt, that Africa has great work force but little human capital and Slavery is the chief cause – “paleo-slavery” as well as “neo-slavery”. The first batch of slaves was shipped away to the West in 1526, and the last batch was “planed” away just today.
Approximately 15 million able bodied men and women were shipped across the Atlantic to serve as plantation tenders, factory workers, maid servants, builders, gladiators, miners and even ‘zoo animals’. A huge number were clubbed to death, left to suffer and die of curable diseases, thrown overboard during sea waves, or just killed as examples to others. Unimaginable inhumane deeds were meted on African slaves acclaimed to have contributed greatly to development in Europe and the Americas in the days of the transatlantic slave trade.
Has much really changed in this era of neo-slavery? From the early 20th century to date, millions of Africans have made their way, and are still clamoring, to move to the West. Some may argue that they do this at their own will, but you do not have to program a computer each time you want to use it. You just use it! Things have already been programmed to Africa’s disadvantage, so, her children just act. An alarming number of the neo-slaves work tirelessly for ridiculous sums, suffer brutal victimization, are accused falsely, are shot for being black, and are psychologically tortured. So, they variably suffer the same fate as the paleo-slaves, have no choice, work and weep internally and hope to buy themselves freedom someday, someday.
A small portion of the blame lies on the African of course. The high-sea robber and exploiters, who guised as explorers, looted Africa’s valuables and employed them in developing the streets of Birmingham, Lisbon and Boston but when the African manages to exploit ‘his own’ resources, he uses it to develop the house of Chief Ciroma Chukwuma Adekunle – his own very mansion. The typical African is yet to outgrow seeing to his needs and his needs alone. Sorry, I really meant frivolous wants.
One of the commodities the Europeans gave to chiefs in exchange for slaves was ‘mirror’. With a mirror, the chief could focus on HIMSELF, and admire his awesomeness. Another commodity was gun (and gunpowder) to destroy his neighbors and become the only powerful chief in the province, all, gearing towards SELF-concentration and narcissism.
Relating to African leaders of the past, the contemporary leader gathers common-wealth to HIMSELF in a bid to out-own his counterparts and become the most powerful around. As a result, resources have become scarce causing batches after batches of slaves to jet out in search of bread, for the will to adapt and survive is an irrepressible human trait. These good looking slaves wear ironed clothes and polished shoes. The chains have turned to paychecks, the whips have transformed into targets, the bells have morphed into alarm clocks, the plantations are now small tables and the consolation songs are now in form of phone calls from home.

Perhaps, someday, African leaders (indeed African men in general) will learn to look beyond themselves and begin to sincerely build the nation. Perhaps, soon, this craving and craze for purchasing properties in Dubai, dumping national loots in Switzerland, holidaying in France and buying Spanish wine to shake and pop will naturally wane. Perhaps, in a short while, there will be a clarion call for all the children of Africa to come home and develop their land whilst enjoying its ample hospitality. But till then, should the African child not labor in Canada as long as bread is sure? Shouldn’t he toil in Germany and at least stay alive until his overfed leader finally decides to stop trading him for egotistic commodities?