Social Conflict, Cultural Mistrust and Ethnic Nationality Question in Nigeria.
The story of Nigeria From the last century till date is the story of conflict. From the ravages of civil war to the rivalries of greedy, selfish military dictators and now religo-ethnic conflicts. Nigeria has always evolved and is still evolving in opposition to something. While scholars and pundits focus on the challenges presented by the 2007 elections, integration in Africa and West Africa, the more familiar face, of concerns in the country like the economic reform, corruption and the price of petroleum products. Majority of the “other Nigerians” and their communities have remained too often out of mind because, they are so far out of sight. But despite having lived in the geographical, political and social fringes of Nigeria for so long, these communities are now coming into their own through one form of agitation or the other. In the process, they are revealing Nigeria as a rich mosaic of languages, cultures, religions and identities that it is – and always has been.
Cultural identity is not merely a simple matter of nationality, nor even of language, background, class, religion or education. It comes into being when these external markers are combined with a powerful dose of mythology: the half-felt, half-remembered stories which bear little relationship to historical fact or chronology. The mythology is a matter of selection from the past and an individual (sometime, a communal) decision about where to place the emphasis. In almost every expression of cultural identity in Nigeria, real patterns of origin are too complex to trace accurately. There is nobody in Nigeria who is not an immigrant, no community boarder that is more than 200 years old, no people that has not behaved appallingly badly to its neighbour in the past. Is culture a source of closer unity or further division among Nigerian?
The tribal histories of Nigeria are fluid, intricate and largely unresearched. It is in them, though, that the mutual assumption which determine political attitudes have their basis. Perhaps it is because cultural identity has to be invented from incoherent and contradictory ingredients – twisted, cleansed, polished and presented to depressed, lonely and unemployed inhabitants – that it is so powerful and unpredictable.
Cultural diversity gives Nigeria energy and dynamism. But in my mind, it is also the greatest remaining obstacle to Nigerian more than corruption. The Niger area may join Nigeria, but it is fractured by culture and distrust and disrespect. This is as complex since the ethnic and religious entanglements and divisions are within communities, local governments as much as they are between ethnic nationalities. A subdivision of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria will be very interesting. An Igbo Nation that can be regarded, as an ethnic Nationality is so fractured that a man from Aghamelum Local Government is not at ease with a man from Idemili within the same state. You need to have an engagement with an Igbo man from Imo state in his backyard to understand how deep the distrust and misconception in these two Igbo Nation is.
In Nigeria people define themselves most times by what they are not. An Igbo is someone who is not an Hausa or a Muslim. The fundamental fears that emerge in the extreme in the North during religo ethnic disturbances are also present in the South East and South West as well as South- South. Sometimes they become the stuff of organized politics and the opposing culture become the most potent target in any dispute and conflict.
It is incongruous to talk of poor people in a country that is the 6th largest producer of crude oil and the 3rd largest producer of natural gas in the world. A country with over one million property millionaires, mainly politicians or political appointees and their cohorts. In such climate, drug abuse and delinquency flourish, as do teenage pregnancies and prostitution. In our country where social exclusion is the norm, a whole family and grand parents live together in one room.
A typical Hollywood film, like an American culture itself, is non-ideological and apolitical. They deal with universal themes: love, success, failure, moral conflict and survival. Nigerians should not just be spell bound by the images transmitted by the American media. I think, however, that, the idiosyncratic charms of our local cultures should be harmonized, integrated and made to reflect love for one another as well as success in the struggle for nation building.
Culture will be Nigeria’s greatest challenge in the years to come. The impact is greater when social exclusion descends on a once well-off country like Nigeria. Strengthening cultural securities means more than hosting ceremonies and waving flags in state capitals and handing out few cheques to state governments. It requires an audit of the impact the present structural arrangement in Nigeria is having on cultural and ethnic sentiments. If the result is suspicion and resentment as it is at present, the leaders should think again. On the other hand, if peoples belief in themselves and the value of their way of life will be enhanced by restructuring and decentralization agreed under a Sovereign National Conference as is being currently demanded, then the calls should be launched with fair and a bit of hype.
Yet at the same time as doing this thing which has never been done before, the Nigerian government as a matter of urgency must improve on the general welfare of the populace by ensuring the provision of basic social amenities like good pipe-borne water, electricity, basic health care, good roads while tackling the growing sense of social exclusion. Only thus I believe, might the hopes and fears of the restive ethnic nationalities and sub-nationalities be reconciled, in a way that they never have been since the day of the coming of the Europeans.
In the future, inter-relationship and integration will depend as much on mutual respect of ethnic nationalities differences as it will on the recognition of common interest. Propaganda rather than activity close enough to the grassroots to win people over will not see Nigeria at peace with itself and will not set the citizen’s heart alight.