The incident about Oluwole Rotimi is not unique. It is rampant in government. During Babangida's regime, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe was the second in command for a period of time. Suddenly, he was dismissed by Babangida without telling the nation why. That dismissal was instructive. Babangida, just like some others, saw his appointment as a favor that could easily be taken away from the "unworthy" south easterner. How about the current second in command in Nigeria, Dr Jonathan Goodluck? Here is how his current situation was described in a recent newspaper article: "According to investigations, the situation is so bad in the Villa that the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has been schemed out of the main events in the government and his responsibilities virtually entrusted to some of his sub-ordinates. The Vice President whom investigations revealed had by his role been having only a little direct personal contact with his boss is now completely alienated and his aides often have to scamper for every fresh memo from the office of the President just to see if there is anything for their boss" [Online Tribune, Feb 7, 2009] It is the opinion of some that the northern king makers do not want him to develop any ambitions so that after Yaradua, the presidency will remain in the north.
Continued from Part 1
Part 1 of this commentary dwelt on the issue of political glass ceiling for a cross section of Nigerians and fingered tribal preference as the culprit. Part 2 will explore where Nigerians, living in western countries, stand on the issue.
When we talk about tribalism, the tendency is for one to think that it is a scourge endemic only amongst Nigerians living in Nigeria. This is far from the truth. In my two decades of sojourn, outside the country, I have had the opportunity of meeting and associating with a cross section of Nigerians from all walks of life. My observation is that inspite of the many years some have spent outside the country, they have not shed the tribal cloak they left the country with. They still support, at least tacitly, political glass ceiling for Nigerians from certain tribes. Some still see it as a pay back for the
Biafrawar. If you ever confront them on the issue and remind them that it is destroying Nigeria's chances at a more perfect amalgam, they tell you to "get over it".
I used to believe that for
Nigeriato develop to her fullest potential, her citizens living in western nations would play lead roles. This is because they live and work in successful multi-racial societies and must have realized that diversity carries with it a lot of advantages including the ubiquitous presence of diverse talents that spur national development. I had hoped that they would use their experience to help alter the attitude of Nigerians who still exploit tribal differences to dominate and subjugate. It has dawned on me, though, that some will never change. In the western countries where they live, they still preach tribalism for
Nigeria, ever so tacitly, and actualize it by only associating in cliques organized along tribal lines. They find it hard to function in organizations established for all Nigerians but would rather retreat into their own small tribal cliques where narrow-mindedness runs amok. Here in the
United States, organizations that have dared to open up big tents for all Nigerians to belong to, start well at first but then tribal narcissism and subtle inter-ethnic rivalry set in leading to their eventual demise.
The irony is that Diaspora Nigerians that tend to favor ethnocentricity and political glass ceiling in
Nigeria, seem to be the first to shout discrimination when things go sour for them where they live. They passionately hate to have a taste of their own bitter medicines. They always complain about discrimination in the work place, in school, in their professional practice and on and on. Not long ago, I shook my head in disbelief when a Nigerian, living here in the
United States, who once professed her belief in tribal separation and perpetual subjugation for those who fought the Biafran war, attributed a problem she had here to discrimination. It was ludicrous and in my mind, I screamed Hypocrisy with capital letters! For how could someone who sees nothing wrong with discrimination in her country of birth accuse others of discriminating against her? Her hypocrisy is so palpable that I am almost certain that on January 20th, she must have been glued to her TV, cheering wildly about Obama's victory and mouthing off about how it "has broken racial barriers in the world". My question for her is: what about the barriers people like her have erected in her country of birth because of petty tribal sentiments? I am sure she is a Christian so it boggles the mind that we profess to be God's children and hope for equal treatment from God and yet work hard to block the paths of fellow humans. Oftentimes, people like this would be the first to quote copiously from the bible and talk about salvation without reference to the biblical admonition love thy neighbor as thyself. One advice I have for people of this nature is that before they can accuse others of racism or talk about the breaking of racial barriers elsewhere, they need to remove the log in their eyes so they can see clearly to point at the perceived speck in the eye of another. If
Nigeriaand Nigerians must have a superior moral pedestal to talk about the so-called glass ceiling that has been broken elsewhere, we better break down the bigger barriers we have erected in
Ideally, a gathering of Nigerians should be a very fertile ground for the exchange of ideas on how to develop the nation. Why not? After all, the country boasts of some of the best minds on the face of the earth. It was with great optimism that the advent of internet chat rooms was received in Nigerian circles. The thinking was that it was an added opportunity for her intellects to meet virtually and kick around ideas from the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, they have failed to make good use of that opportunity because our so-called best minds, especially those in the Diaspora, still refused to shed tribal sentiments and pull their God-given talents together. The chat rooms have therefore become avenues for the bellicose exchange of hate. Organized in cliques along tribal lines, participants spew venom on and amongst themselves, using every opportunity to display their tribal leanings by defending or demonizing corrupt politicians depending on their tribe of origin.
When the memo written by Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi to Ojo Maduekwe, boasting about his defeat of the "Biafran rag tag army", became public, one would have expected universal condemnation of the man's insensitivity in the various Nigerian chat rooms. That was not to be. Except in very few cases, it was mostly Yoruba for Rotimi and Igbo against him while the Hausas stoked the fire of the lunacy in gleeful exuberance. The idea that everything in
Nigeriahas to be looked at through a tribal lens, even by Nigerians in western countries who should know better, is most unfortunate. A reader of my commentaries wrote to me to say that I should not have condemned Rotimi because I did not know what transpired between him and Maduekwe. He was invariably saying that under certain circumstances, Oluwole's insensitivity was acceptable. That type of shallow-mindedness all in an attempt to defend a fellow south westerner baffled me. I tried to explain that the outrage against Rotimi was not about the feud between him and Maduekwe but about Rotimi's attempt to rub salt into an open wound that a whole tribe still bears. For the record and for someone who lost loved ones during that war, if Rotimi's memo did not mention
Biafrathe way it did, I would have cared less about that feud.
Going back to the reaction of Nigerians in the chat rooms, I was disappointed that the level and type of criticism that Nigerians level against elected officials depend on where they come from. It boils down to the fact that there is no consistency in the way we judge elected officials. What we see as bad today could be adjudged as good tomorrow when the hat is on another head. No wonder why we cannot rid the nation of corruption and corrupt officials. We have different barometers for measuring it's destructive effects on nation depending on where the perpetrators hail from. With this type of biased national outlook, I am sad to observe that
Nigeriais going nowhere fast as far as development is concerned.
The Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, has just embarked on what she calls re-branding of
Nigeria. That is all well and good but the term re-branding makes me uncomfortable because it sounds like putting a new cover on an old product. In the midst of his murderous escapades in the 90s, Abacha sent out emissaries to spread propaganda and try to portray
Nigeriain good light. He failed woefully. For a lasting change,
Nigeriamust first embark on an introspective journey, culminating in general attitude adjustment. If we do not do away with tribalism and ethnocentricity,
Nigeriawill be difficult to re-brand because a lot of her problems revolve around that vice.