30 January 2013

Nigeria: The Original Sin


One of our biggest problems as a nation has always been our ethnic divide. With approximately 250 different tribes, tribal dichotomy has always played its part in making sure this nation remains on its knees. But in recent times things seem to have changed.

While politicians are busy tugging each other's hair out by playing the ethnic card, on another front Nigerians are coming together by engaging more and more in inter-tribal marriages. The marriage of two people from different tribes in Nigeria has gone a long way in changing the ingrained ethnic discriminatory attitude we all seem to subconsciously harbour but refuse to admit.

A couple of decades ago, the vast majority of the nation was undoubtedly trapped by a racist, subjective view that poisoned ethnic relations and made national unity an elusive goal. At that time, inter-tribal marriage was unheard of and those that found themselves in a situation where they married members of another tribe came under intense ridicule and exclusion. Even a few years back, marrying a person from another tribe would have still been an uncomfortable, no-go area for many. The situation was so bad that even marriage between people from the same geographical area but different tribes was discouraged. For example, the marriage of a Fulani woman from Kaduna and a Kataf man from the same state would have been highly frowned upon. What makes this form of discrimination complete double standard is that, for some reason, inter-racial marriages are more acceptable than inter-tribal marriages for most tribes. It seems almost natural for a northerner to marry an Arab or a southerner a European, or the other way around as long as they share the same religion. In fact, Nigerians who opt to take a spouse from another race are usually commended and admired. But once they decide on marital bliss with a Nigerian partner from another tribe, regardless of whether they share the same religion, they will come under criticism and become the object of gossip. This trend is quite common throughout Africa and it shows that, as countrymen, we identify less with our various countries and more with our respective tribes. It is very revealing and leaves one wondering whether it is this same unpatriotic attitude, where we don't identify with the motherland so much, which hinders our development as a continent.

It is a problem that, 99 years after our amalgamation, Nigerians still tend to identify themselves by tribe first before considering themselves as Nigerians. Without doubt, the genesis of our misunderstandings and differences is sheer ignorance and a lack of communication. What fuels such ignorance is this lack of knowledge, lack of understanding together with certain unconventional beliefs about different tribes. During my NYSC, I was sent to a very, very rural part of the east and, before going there, I heard all sorts of ridiculous horror stories about cannibalism and kidnapping of strangers. "They will kidnap you and have a banquet to eat you as a delicacy raw," I was told by one. To my surprise upon taking up my post I learned that people in the area were themselves highly sceptical of northerners. They had heard tales that in the north people were randomly having their limbs cut off; brothers and sisters could marry each other; women were stopped in the streets and beaten; and many more things that were just out rightly absurd. I remember asking one of the women I had become close to whether she would allow one of her children to marry a northerner. Although throughout my time with her she had always made it a point to be ultra-kind to me, without hesitation her 'no' reply could not have been more categorical had she tried. Her response was slightly offensive to me until she turned the question on me and asked whether I would allow my children to marry from her tribe. I wanted to give her a positive answer to prove how shallow her response of saying she wouldn't allow her children to marry from the north was, but I was unable to. Had I said yes, I knew it would have been a lie and I didn't want to lie to her, so I shamefully replied 'no' in a manner that was probably more vehement than hers. Now, I have always considered myself to be objective and open-minded on such matters, especially since most of my friends are from the south, but at that time I was proved wrong and confronted with the reality of my racist prejudice where I was forced to admit that I myself was a model of the innate discrimination that tears this country up. Since that time, I have tried to adjust my way of thinking when it comes to inter-tribal marriages. As of recent I have witnessed people I know and love beat that prejudice and marry from various tribes and maybe, had I met that woman now, I just might have had a different response to her question.

The major concern for anyone engaging in a marriage, inter-tribal or not, should be their similarities and compatibility as a couple. For every considerable disparity a couple has, they must make personal compromises. And when there are so many compromises and dissimilarities, the relationship will require a colossal amount of hard work to manage, and this may well take away from the energy needed to keep the marriage flourishing. More likely, when people have the same exposure, grow up in the same neighbourhood and enjoy the same form of entertainment, they think similarly, regardless of their race. When two people are similar in thinking not just by tribe, they have an easier time communicating and forming a happy life together. As a result, a Hausa man and Yoruba woman with the same hobbies and outlook on life may do better as a couple than if that same Hausa man was to marry a Hausa woman with no interest in his hobbies or views. Even if society doesn't give them a chance, the likelihood is that they will have a happier life together. This is even more valid because people seem to marry for frivolous reasons and end up leading unsatisfactory lives.

In time, it is unlikely that inter-tribal marriage will be such a big deal. As we continue to interact, learn to place our national identity ahead of our tribe, develop and become more exposed to other cultures by technological and other mediums, inter-tribal marriages will become as natural as day and night. If we teach our children to see themselves as Nigerians first, then, the wish of an inter-tribal couple to formalise their union won't come at a great price. But, better still, we can consider ourselves as a nation and not, as someone once said, "a collection of tribesmen".

Discrimination towards inter-tribal marriage is tribalism and tribalism is a kind of racism. No matter what justification or reasoning we have for looking down on another tribe, we should remember that discrimination is not only one of the vilest sins, it was the original sin in some faiths. In the Islamic belief when Adam was created, God asked the angels and Jins to prostrate to Adam. The angels prostrated but Satan, a Jin, refused because he was made out of fire while Adam was made out of sand and Satan thought he was better than Adam. God cursed him because of his arrogance. This very act of Satan was discrimination in its most basic form. Those who discriminate are arrogant and, the next time we choose to look down on others because we think we are better than them, may we remember the consequence to Satan when he committed this original sin!

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