Introduction

The subject of identity and insistence on its pursuit, in racio-ethno-geographical terms, is one thing that tells more about the seemingly destructive future of Africa in particular and the modern world in general in spite of the many claims of globalisation. In what follows, I wish to understand identity as a means of evaluating, assessing and placing humankind in the context it was used before the emergence of the concept of nation-state as an ethno-racial, politico-social entity in the 18th century, and the way it is being used today after the consolidation of that conception as the most viable, if not only medium of shaping the thinking processes of all members of political communities in settling the inevitable question of who earns what in the pursuits of the benefits of human intercourse. I will try to place Nigeria in this context to see whether its survival as a multiethnic nation along with other African countries of multiple ethnic groupings is truly uncertain as predicted by many scholars on Africa. According to these scholars[1] the future of African countries is foreseen only in the light of anarchy: a chronic civil war. Or the breaking up of the present political constituents into smaller nations because of, among other things, the looming consciousness and affinity people increasingly have for ethnicity and geography as sole means of identifying who is who in the string of political equations.

The Basic Truth

Whenever I start asking questions as to who am I and where do I come from, I find my self lost in many counting processes that at the end leave me with the conviction that I come from everywhere and belonging to every race or ethnicity on this planet. I can vividly recall as told and seen in the physical features of many among the members of my extended family that our great-grandmother, dating back some 150 years, is really a full-blooded Arabian. Prior to that, I am abreast of the truth that my ancestors in the 15th, 16th 17th and 18th centuries were of Kanuri ethinicity[2]. My mother on the other hand is Fulani, and among my cousins are many whose mothers are Yoruba, Kataf, Bajju, Nupe, Arabs, Whites, etc. Not to think of so many links I do not even know. Though I am seen and labelled easily as Hausa-Fulani, but the truth of the matter is my Hausasness is something that cannot be defended, and my total identification to any of the Nigerian or African ethnic groups of today is something that can be put to maximum contestation. This is true with virtually every African, nay, all human beings. If I today should deny the Arabs anything on account of them being Arabs, what they will do is just trace back history and claim their daughter which they once gave out in marriage to my great grandfather. This is similar to the Jews who are said to be the cousins of Fulani. Geneticists have it that similarities in genetic make up of humankind are found more among the members of different races than among the members of the so-called same race[3].

This is the same with geography. I was told about how my grandparents came from Kukawa then of Saifawa dynasty and now part of Borno State, Nigeria, only to settle in Zaria now part of Kaduna State, Nigeria, where I am today regarded as the son of the soil. Many are my paternal cousins who are today indigenes of different states in northern Nigeria and other African countries, with a history deep rooted in the political and social evolution of those states. The simple question then whether we are some people who are truly Nigerians by geography is something that cannot be defended historically and scientifically, because the Saifawa, the Yoruba, the Igbo, the Hausa, all have a history that does not attach them exclusively to the geography called Nigeria today.

Prior to Eighteenth Century

It suffices here to say prior to 18th century and before the emergence of the concept of nation-states, humankind are identified by the kind of values they represent wherever they go, not their race, colour or any kind of geographic attachment. Among other races or political organizations, what determines what individuals get is the type of values they represent. If they are good according to the standard of any political and social setting, they will find no impediments in issues relating to marriage, leadership and any other right the “indigenous” population may enjoy. The account of Pharoah and Moses of the ancient Egypt as related in the Qur’an described the features of Pharoah’s first lieutenant, Haman, to be that of a black man[4]. Though Qur’an did not go into detail in its narration of history along the indices of colour and race, for had it, we might perhaps have discovered that the Pharaoh himself and some other Prophets of the Middle East who played pivotal roles in the formation of political communities there, were full blooded Negroes. Even then, many Qur’anic exegetes have described Lukman Al-hikmata (Lukman the wise), the supreme judge of king’s Solomon’s empire to be a Negro. The examples are uncountable, even from the point of view of empirical studies of history. Abubakr Jabir Jazair[5] in his account of Arabia of the 6th century has it that the people who ruled Yemen of then where a mixture of Negroes and others of lighter complexion. King Abraha who matched through the city of Mecca from Yemen with the ambition of crumbling the Holy House of God: Ka’ba, in some account, is said to be an African. Some scholars such as Al-Jahiz[6] have it with strong postulations that the Prophet of Islam himself was of African decent. In another account, the prophet is reported to have reduced Arab identity to being able to understand and communicate in the Arabic language only[7]. Though the authenticity of this account is doubted but the rationality in its claim is something that can find base in the scientific study of human history and anthropology. Along other lines we can also argue that the composition of the people that formed and led the Greek, Persian, Roman, and much later, Islamic and Euro-Christian empires, was as diverse as human race is. In Africa here, the 19th century Jihad of the Shehu Usman Danfodio led to the formation of political communities that placed no value whatsoever on race, tribe or geography. That was why my family, though being part of the Saifawa dynasty whose offspring opposed the Jihaad, found acceptability in Zaria and other parts of the conquered territories in the major offices as judges[8] and the family base in Zaria as one of the most vibrant intellectual engine rooms of the Caliphate, all for the simple reason that their values were congruent with the values of the Fulani who led the Jihaad.

It Was From Europe

The revolutions that happened in Europe and America from the late 18th century to early 19th century could be said to be the most prominent that occupied itself with the issue of right of man and the right of nations to self determination, and decent and race as the major factors in determining who belonged to them and who did not. In America, black people, even though free could not enjoy full citizenship whereas recent immigrants from Europe were conferred with full citizenship. Later this kind of position was accorded legitimacy and scientific respectability with the scientific breakthroughs, or rather intellectual treason, recorded by Charles Darwin with his theory of evolution and formula of master race[9]. A one to one relationship between humankind and where they live was strongly emphasised more than ever in history. The breaking up of multi ethnic political units such as the Tsarist, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Empire followed the First World War. Hence all modern states of Europe came to be built on the foundations of nationalism, which appeals to the loyalty of subjects on the sentiments of racio-ethno-geographical solidarity only. The theory of ethnic nationalism was catalysed further by the claim of Adolph Hitler that led to the Second World War even though much earlier in 1912 British government was involved in forgery; Pilt Down Man Forgery[10], just to assert the superiority of their race over all humankind. It is also with this new phenomenal perception of the formation of political communities, nations of Europe, after attaining technological superiority over other nations, went ahead to colonise the rest of the world imposing on it a paradigm shift that does not recognise ordained laws on formation of political communities. This paradigm is what was left with us even after Africa has achieved its so-called political independence from Europe.

Nigeria and Other African Nations

At independence the African continent was cut and amalgamated into different nation states according to the convenience of their European colonisers with the belief, as it seems, that the new nation-states could thrive since the composition of the subjects therein is of the same race regardless of the fact that they may differ in ethnicity, culture and worldview. This could not have been a problem whatsoever had the concept of identity as employed prior to 18th century continued to hold. But instead a new political and administrative setting that attached more value to decent, geography and ethnic affiliation at the expense of sound universal moral value system was employed as it is with Europe. A system of localising political and administrative offices to only people of some certain geography or ethnic affiliation was enforced under the tag of indigenisation.

In the case of Nigeria, regions were created and people came to be identified as those from south-western region, south-eastern region and northern region. After the civil war 0f 1967-70, which was flamed by the fuel of the new conception of identity, the country was divided into smaller units called states, further localising the populace to their geography and accentuating their differences by providing more reasons why political solidarity must continue to be ethnic and geography based. This is the reason why today’s Africa, not only Nigeria of our example, is constantly bedevilled by ethnic and tribal wars that find no measure in the history of the world and it is the reason why some scholars see future in the light of fragmentation of different African nations or if we choose not to go for that option find ourselves embedded in chronic civil wars.

Certainly, in Nigeria of today, the insightful eyes can easily see the inevitability of this prediction coming to pass. The quadruple marriage of Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and the rest of other ethnic minorities don’t seem to continue to be an embodiment of tolerance anymore. When the hope is our diversity should be a source of strength; the reality is, in this new mould of identity springing from the late 18th century, where ever you see a meaningful progress and good and happy products, as in different ethnic groups living together peacefully, they enjoy a good understanding, share same worldview as in the case of the Muslins in Northern Nigeria, or else, as in the case of America, power is concentrated in the hands of a few racial minority, the Western Protestant Anglo-Saxons(WASP) who have a programme not only for America but for the entire world. Their powers transcend every boundary or barrier that they are able to settle down in its corridors where they make others succumb to their wishes at will or at gunpoint. In Malaysia, progress is achieved in spite of their diversity because power and all its trappings rests with only one ethnic group, that is the Malay, and above all in the hand of a strong personality who ruled the country for over 20yrs. He had settled over the period, quenched oppositions or made it impossible to happen because all the power brokers in the country share the same worldview.

For Nigeria and other African countries of its like, it has not been the same, the power blocks are many and of different tribes, orientation, worldview and above all, of relatively the same strength. When a particular section, ethnic group, or worldview in the case of Northerners, is ruling, it has to spend more than half of its days planning on how to safeguard the throne, maintain control and quench oppositions than it spends designing or implementing its work plan for the betterment of the people. And this is done at the expense of the people. I can remember one opposition leader, when the Northern Muslims were ruling, from among the Yoruba “Nation” who found reason to prescribe that it was only when Nigeria got rid of the Fulani, in the manner the Hutu did to the Tutsis of Rwanda, the country will never ever know anything peace. And this group, nation or race, as it calls itself, constitutes a good percentage of Nigerian population, and also forming more than 50% of the country’s federal government work force. One would find reason to ask then, how can this ethnic group with such a leadership allow a Nigerian leader it opposes to achieve anything of meaningful affiliation? One never fails to remember the stance of many like Anthony Enahoro, Awolowo and Wole Soyinka on the opposition, in the issue of National official language when it was adjudged, in the parliament, in 1963, that Hausa, being the most widely spoken language in Nigeria, should be picked as the Nigeria’s national language. Needless to say that, had this been achieved, the majority of Nigerians who are left behind on the present world stage of economy, politics, technology and education would have long ago caught up, and the nation’s standing in international economy, politics and diplomacy would have been greatly improved, since it is an accepted truism in social theories that no nation ever developed without using its indigenous language as its national language. This kind of aversion on issues or policies that seem to carry good tidings for the general good of Nigerian people when they seem to favour mostly a particular region on their immediacy, is not exclusive to the Yoruba people or Igbos but also Northerners or the Hausa Fulani. Now that Obasanjo, a Yoruba “nationalist” is ruling, what is heard from other units and major ethnic groups is what one cannot afford to repeat. This is what the “new” quest of identity in geography and ethnic affiliation has caused for Nigeria, among other examples that space will not allow us to dwell on. The region now is threatened by disaster if it is not saved by the wisdom of those among us desirous of a just and comprehensive progress.

The Way Out

In the humble opinion of this writer, to avoid the impending catastrophe visiting this region, a New Nigeria that will address some of the basic problems of identity or at least contain its venom, is desired. This is the issue that will make the convocation of Sovereign National Conference necessary. It is obvious that the amalgamation cannot continue to thrive save at the expense of our misery. At the conference, the possibility of down sizing the polity, that will bring together a sizeable number of populations into a cocoon of similar worldview, thereby reducing much opposition and power tussle that is always fought between power elites at the expense of the younger generations should be considered. This argument does not promote hatred but causes us to rhyme with the laws and provisions of the centuries-aged catalysed trend. For when a marriage is not producing the right and healthy fruits or survives at the expense of its issues' misery, divorce remains the only alternative.

OR

Government should as a matter of urgency quickly enact new laws and policies that will seriously affect the way we perceive one another as political and social subjects of one state. That is to say, a new standard that will neglect geography and ethnic affiliation whenever it comes to deciding who earns what in the political equation must be borne to reign. Let it be that it is only one set of values that determine what one gets as it is obtained prior to the 18th century. But yet at this moment of high tribal and geographical consciousness this policy may prove disastrous for it may be viewed by other ethnic groups to be a design of continuous marginalisation; it carries the tendency to accelerate further our process of degenerating into anarchy.

Conclusion

If we look carefully we will see that the tendencies as observed in this trend and elucidated above are not only exclusive to African continent but also the world at large. The claims of globalisation at integrating humankind to every keen observer since its beginning in the first decades of the preceding century, only finds meaning at the level of economy and technology but at the level of social and political, comes more with fragmentation. In 1945 we had only 50 countries registered with United Nations Organisation only for the number to increase to more than 200 in the first years of the 21st century. Though this maybe said to be a product of largely, decolonisation, but then, the cases of fragmented polities in the face of globalisation, like the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Check and Slovakia, Ethiopia and its sub in Eritrea, Tanzania and Zanzibar are clear cut examples. Also up till now in spite of European Union’s claims at unifying and integrating European nations into one political and social front, it is never heard of thinking of adopting single language for the continent. The peculiarities of the Germans, French, English, etc, in other spheres of life, reign more than ever in the history of the region. The stories daily are of how the Scots and the people of Northern Ireland are fighting, even if not violently, for their independence from the present UK, plus the Basque constant rebellion in Spain. In the Middle East the State of Israel is constantly refusing to recognize Arabs as part of it by further erecting walls to assert its distinct identity.

Therefore, Nigerians must understand the truth that the history of their country must be seen and analysed in the light of the history of the world, for it is what happens to the others of the world that will eventually happen to Nigeria and Nigerians. We then all have to learn to appreciate that the beauty of life lies in problem solving. And this activity does not require only knowledge or sticking to the guns of idealism or commitment to pursuing goals we believe to be higher regardless of the conditions we find ourselves in. But solving problems require the sagacity of accommodating goals to condition, subordinating ideals to reality and above all, the rightful application of knowledge pragmatically to avoid the worst. It is when we consider and internalise this truth, that statesmen, policy makers and all stakeholders in the future of Africa, can prove to the world their ability to take their destiny into their hands and rekindle the precious candle igniting the long awaited process for the illumination of the entire world.

References


[1] Maier, Karl, 2000: This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria. ((DC) Public Affairs Press.)

[2] Dalhat, Dogara Bashir, 2001: Zuriyar Mal. Ibrahim Tsoho Dake Birnin Zaria (Kaduna, Nigeria, Megacraft)

[3] Article by Jide Adefope in The Journal, African Renaissance, London, Vol. 1. No 1, June/July 2004

[4] Holy Qur’an

[5] Jazair, Abubakar Jabir, 2000: Hazal Habib (Medina, Saudi Arabia, Maktabatul Uluumi Wal Ahkam)

[6] Rashad, Adib, 1995: Islam, Black Nationalism and Slavery: A Detailed History (Beltsville, Maryland: Writers Inc.)

[7] Sayyid Ahmad Al-Hashimiy : Mukhtarul Ahadithul Nabawiyyah wal hikmal Muhammadiyya

[8] Smith, M.G., 1960: Government in Zazzau (Great Britain, International African Institute)

[9] Darwin Charles, 1874: The Descent Of Man (New York, A. L. Burt Co.)

[10] Yahya Harun, Translation by Rossini, Carl, 2001: The Disasters Darwinism Brought To Humanity (Canada, Al-Attique Publishers Inc.)