n Africa, accusations of racism are often directed towards ‘Whites’ from Western nations, yet a more profound glance within reveals a fabric of ethnic tension that binds the continent in a complex web. From the bustling streets of Lagos to the captivating landscapes of Cape Town, ethnicity is not merely a badge of identity but a shadow that looms ominously over daily interactions, policy-making processes, and public perceptions.
Resentment, in this context, brews not just against foreign entities but extends to the neighbour who speaks a different tongue or worships at a different altar. This article seeks to expose the mirror to our collective prejudice, positing the argument that we are all guilty of this divisive sentiment. In doing so, we shall delve deep into the heart of Nigeria as a microcosm that vividly illustrates the broader dynamics of African ethnicity.
Nigeria, often called the ‘Giant of Africa’, is a nation of colossal proportions, not just in its geographical expanse but also in its cultural and ethnic diversity. This land, rich in diverse tongues and traditions, is home to hundreds of ethnic groups. Yet, amidst this rich tapestry, the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa ethnic groups stand out as the principal actors, each deeply rooted in their unique cultures and historical narratives.
The 2023 elections in Nigeria weren’t just a routine dance of democracy; they served as a reflective mirror, unveiling the silent waves of ethnic undercurrents that have long been at play in the nation’s political theatre. During this election season, these waves gained prominence, revealing the inherent ethnic loyalties that many Nigerians, often unconsciously, harbour.
When President Tinubu ascended to the corridors of power, it was seen not just as a triumph for his political ideologies or his party’s manifesto. For a significant segment of the Yoruba population, especially those aged fifty and above, it was perceived as an ascent of their own. This victory evoked a sense of ethnic pride and representation. This sentiment, while deeply personal and rooted in a historical quest for recognition and voice, inadvertently laid the foundation for a new paradigm in political discourse.
In this new paradigm, criticism or opposition against President Tinubu’s policies or decisions began to be viewed by some as political dissent and as an insult to the Yoruba lineage. This conflation of political critique with ethnic sentiment complicated matters significantly, rendering genuine policy debates difficult without them being overshadowed by perceived ethnic biases. It also meant that one’s ethnic identity became an unspoken yardstick in political discussions, with any opposition risking being labelled as ethnically motivated rather than policy-driven.
While the Yoruba sentiment was especially pronounced given President Tinubu’s heritage, it is crucial to note that similar emotions bubbled under the surface among other ethnic groups, too. The Igbos and Hausas, each with rich histories and aspirations, are not immune to viewing the political landscape through ethnicity. For some individuals, it always boils down to ethnic arithmetic, where political alliances and oppositions are meticulously calculated based on potential ethnic dividends rather than the broader national interest.
The socio-political landscape of Nigeria, much like several other nations across the globe, has been significantly shaped by the challenges and intricacies of ethnicity. This complex web of tribal affiliations often plays a pivotal role in dictating political alignments and voter sentiments, as was starkly evident in the 2023 Lagos gubernatorial election.
Another alarming trend was the barring of individuals from exercising their democratic right to vote based on their presumed tribal affiliations. Such acts are not just a blatant infringement on the democratic rights of citizens but also serve as a stark reminder of the extent to which tribal biases can become institutionalised.
In numerous societies worldwide, ethnic solidarity is cherished and celebrated, often viewed as a powerful force that unites communities and strengthens their collective resolve against external pressures. However, a different narrative often emerges when one scratches beneath the surface and peers into the depths of political dynamics.
Whenever the matter transcends to sharing the nation’s wealth, the political elite often sheds its ethnic garb, revealing a more united front in pursuing greed and corruption. The case of Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, provides a startling testament to this dichotomy.
The tendrils of ethnic bias reach far and wide, intricately woven into the fabric of our societies. Acknowledging this reality is not a self-castigation exercise but a journey towards self-awareness and growth. The use of derogatory slurs, whether uttered consciously or unconsciously, perpetuates division, amplifying historical oppressions and deepening the chasm between communities.
By becoming more conscious of our language and the words we choose to wield, we can initiate the healing process, gradually bridging the gaps that have long separated communities. We must collectively rise above the confines of tribal tags, embracing instead the shared humanity that binds us in a common destiny.
In today’s interconnected global village, our tribal instincts, once a necessary protective mechanism, often metamorphose into a source of division. Celebrating our cultural and ethnic backgrounds is undoubtedly a beautiful and enriching experience, but it should never come at the expense of recognising and embracing our collective humanity.
We must strive to see beyond the boundaries imposed by ethnicity, focusing instead on the threads of commonality that bind all of humankind together. Our identity as human beings should always take precedence over any tribal allegiance, a perspective that has the potential to herald a new era of tolerance, understanding, and unity.
Confronting and addressing ethnic bias is both a personal and societal challenge, but it is a challenge that is undoubtedly worth undertaking. For in the heart of this struggle lies the promise of a world that celebrates every individual, not for the colour of their skin, the language they speak, or the gods they worship, but for their intrinsic worth.