A man/woman does not qualify for a position and there are better qualified candidates, you promote him above his seniors anyway and damn the consequences because he or she lives opposite your father’s house or is a girlfriend to your brother’s mate. And yet we pretend we don’t know how we got here?
The other day, I wanted to feel the pulse of my people so I went to town veiled up and in a Kaftan. I was re-educated; we judge people based on their clothes, even if we have not heard from their brains. It serves us well for our relations to have preconceived notions about other ethnic nationalities. This is to promote “otherness” so your people do not see others as their brothers. The day you turn up and tell them he is their enemy, they are sufficiently misdirected by you to take up arms. We use it also for political gain. It is quite like knowingly lying against someone at a boardroom meeting to serve a certain interest.
Back to my veiled afternoon; I was called Hajiya everywhere I went and treated differently in traffic. In fact, one lady shouted across a lane, “go and drop your father’s car, silly girl.” It was a defining moment. We still respect frauds in Agbada and disregard a man wearing a simple jumper who is an honest man. In Nigeria, we always judge the book by the cover.
I studied social studies and Nigeria’s history so well that I know a lot about different places in the country. I am also very well-travelled within Nigeria; functions of a family tradition and the schools I attended. I was therefore surprised when a colleague could not tell the difference between the Benue State capital, Makurdi and the Borno State capital, Maiduguri. And you did not guess, this colleague has a degree and is very cosmopolitan.
At first, I thought he was joking, but he was not. He simply did not know, and would make silly comments like “that your state capital, Maiduguri” over and over again when he meant Makurdi. Completely clueless and totally illiterate, no matter that he was so “educated.” And therein lays the problem. What, I wonder will he tell his children, if he subjects a whole people to false identity. But I knew his locality right up to the hamlet in his local government area.
We just don’t care, do we, to even learn about each other. We carry preconceived notions about each other and perpetuate falsehoods and the dominant ideology. We indoctrinate our children and promote hatred in order to further our agenda. We re-write history and make ourselves look good in the eyes of our friends and other nations. The elite are our biggest problem. Here is a man who knows everything and every country in the world but nothing about his own people.
For many years, I tried to explain to another elite friend that people above the Niger are not homogenous. It was a shock to him that I had my own language other than Hausa. I got him all worked up when I clustered him with a larger tribe in his area, but he had profiled me for many years and was totally uneducated about me.
I told him the proud Igala race was the ninth largest tribe in Nigeria and I belong there, even though Nigeria is my oyster and I am a citizen of the world. I told him I spoke seven languages, five of which were Nigerian and I am a proud citizen not boxed by ethnicity, religion or race. I told him I was not a saint and had my fair share of foibles and all I demanded was to be treated with a modicum of respect and be assessed by my skills and competencies, and not by my clothes, my looks, my height, my gender or complexion.
I told him I had had enough of his foolishness, his self-centredness and his inability to learn about other people and was therefore moving on without his friendship because brilliant as he was, he was enslaved by his ethnicity and limited by it. It was his turn to be educated. I told him that sweeping statements by anyone based on sentiments, hear-say and misconceptions is a sign of illiteracy and left him that afternoon with his jaw dropping and my integrity intact.
In a lot of places in Nigeria today, including the polity, we lack the moral courage to speak up and be counted. We are so afraid of our own shadow, we misunderstand and misinterpret and declare neighbours our enemies. We fight based on suspicion. We guess what our compatriots are going to say even before they say it, and then we act on perceived intentions. We cook the books and promote mediocrity. We instil fear and make threats and scare our children. We fail to tell each other the truth and don’t do our work well. And it puzzles me that we wonder how we got here.