NIGERIA: CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES AS BASES FOR DIVISION
Nigeria is made up of 250 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups of peoples with a population of between 150 and 170 million. Of the 250 different peoples there are three major ones; Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. Each of the three big ones has a population of more than 30 million. Distinct cultural, religious and linguistic differences clearly separate these ethnic nationalities from one another. The differences are so pronounced and practically irreconcilable in many ways such that there are no bases on which these peoples can possibly stay together and build a unified and functional society or country.
Yet, in spite of the clear and unbridgeable mortal differences, through the accident of colonialism, these very divergent peoples were forced into what is today known as one Nigeria. One hundred years ago Britain which was the colonial power that conquered and administered the area we call Nigeria today, for its administrative convenience and economic profit amalgamated these mutually antagonistic peoples into a union state. Starting from the later part of the 19th century up till January of 1914 the British had ruled separately the different sections of what is today known as Nigeria. There were Southern and Northern British Protectorates which had separate colonial administrative governors. However by the beginning of 1914 the colonial Governor Frederick Lugard had finalized the arrangement to merge the two very politically, religiously and culturally different peoples into one central administration without taking into cognizance the incongruousness and dissimilarities of the peoples.
Of course, for a temporary, colonial expediency and for the maximizing of profitable returns on investment to the colonial treasury, that arrangement worked well and was reasonable. But by October 1, 1960 Britain granted political and administrative independence to the area and mistakenly left intact the first arrangement where these irreconcilable peoples are expected to continue to be administered indigenously as a single entity. The terribleness of this mistake would not take long to be proved. In less than six short years after the departure of the British the atrocities of ethnic/religious cleansing, pogroms and genocides started taking place, and have continued till date, against a section of the country – the Igbo people and their fellow Southeasterners. The killings of Igbo people and other Southeasterners in the mid-1960s were so severe (over 100,000 children, women and men were killed) and continued unabated for a period of one year in 1966/67. This prompted the Southeasterners to declare the independence of their section from the Nigerian union the following year, on May 30, 1967. They named their new country Republic of Biafra.
Biafra was defeated by Nigeria in 1970 and forced back to remain part of the union. However, ever since, most of the indigenous people of Biafra who survived what later became known as Biafra genocide have continued to agitate for what they consider the inalienable right of their people to self-determination, freedom and independence. Yet there are a few people who feel that their personal temporal comfort and greed are guaranteed under the existing Nigerian arrangement. These individuals hide behind the smokescreen of a dishonest “unity” slogan. Thus intoxicated by greed and anticipated personal gain at the expense of those of the collective use the “unity” mantra to mortgage and squander the future and wellbeing of their children in a one Nigeria that is both hopeless and unnecessary.
At this point we need to remind readers that genuine positive unity and brotherhood of all human beings should not be confused with this impossible and deceitful kind of “unity” that has been used to keep the entire peoples in Nigeria and other parts of the African continent under-developed. As creative human beings no one needs to be forced into any singular political Hobbesian jungle in order to achieve real unity and mutually beneficial cooperative engagements with their regional neighbors.
We will try to further clarify this point by using a familiar example. Over the years the discovery of the DNA structure has further helped humanity to substantiate the truth of the oneness of all human beings and why we should accept each other as equal members of the human race with a common ancestry. The nature and structure of DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid) as the building blocks or primary blueprint from which all lives take their different shapes and exhibit their unique, peculiar and diverse characteristics was discovered through the works of Francis Crick and James Watson in 1953. Since then, as a result of the discovery, many new vistas of knowledge that would have been unthought-of have opened up to life and social scientists. These exciting new frontiers, as well as shedding lights on some areas of our understanding of the meanings of life, have also elicited a lot of speculations and debates which have raged and reverberated across the world. Perhaps the most contentious one in the recent time is in the area of behavioral science. What drew most people into the debate is no doubt the fact that it was Watson one of the discoverers of DNA that started the argument in the first place.
In the heat of the debate Watson came under a barrage of criticism across many spectrums and in most part by anti-discrimination activists. From the level of emotions generated by the debate it is easy to see how sensitive the world has become about the issue of racial classification, generalization and stereotyping. From available evidences it shows that much part of the world would rather encourage the emphasis of those things that unite humanity over those that divide us. Watson had expressed in public what some people thought should be a private, personal opinion. In an interview when he was asked to comment on whether there are fundamental structural differences in the composition of the DNA of the different branches of human race and if such contribute to the perceived differences in their patterns of behavior, Watson based his point on the behavioral pattern of Black people at workplace on what he said their employers say. From this narrow perspective he, atypically of the scientist, speculated that perhaps Black people may have less ability than others in dealing with their environment and social issues. In an effort to anchor his argument on some sort of pseudoscientific premise he claimed that the assumed basic attitudinal differences of the different races in reacting to environmental stimuli and dealing with social interactions may be attributed to what he believes to be some slight differences in the general DNA structures of the different races.
Some science historians have compared the radical insights gained by humans in understanding the nature of life through the DNA work of Watson and Crick with the equally revolutionary work of Charles Darwin’s theories in biological evolution. And just for that reason alone people are bound to take what Watson says seriously, especially in the area of human nature and what he thinks typically informs people’s behavior in given environments and social settings. In the interview, Watson may have been in haste or that he spoke from the position of personal opinion rather than of the science expert but many of Watson’s critics have descended heavily on him. The controversy his statement stirred has also caused him personally and he has suffered some sanctions as a result.
A lot of interesting works by DNA experts are in progress in various laboratories around the world. The results of some of these experiments are expected to eventually answer many questions human beings have always asked about themselves. One example is the race to map out the entire human genome and help humans to better understand several reasons of how and why we live and act the way we do. But given the much that is already known it can safely be said that humanity of all races are basically the same and are basically structured alike. All perceived differences are only skin deep and, in the opinion of most reputable thinkers, do not get past the superficial cosmetic pigmentation.
Some readers may be saying by now; if all humanity is created alike and equal as supported by the DNA story, then why can’t all the peoples in Nigeria simply continue to live together in one country. This probably would have been the logical thing to do if we lived in an unsophisticated one dimensional world where two and two always add up to four. But we inhabit a world that is dynamic and we are part of an evolutionary path that is capable of deviations from predictable logical results. As a result, some simple beginnings do turn out to become complex and diverse down the road. It is so majorly due to the fact that human beings are rational beings who are capable of contemplating about themselves and their environment. For this reason they are capable of deliberately affecting and controlling themselves and their world in the direction that their evolution would take. Human beings achieve this conscious, deliberate control through the agents of culture, religion, learning, environment and time. Most of our human social behaviors are the combined products of these elements which is why they vary from place to place. It is in human nature therefore, for peoples to maintain separate and unique cultures and religions even if they are sometimes in direct conflict with those of peoples in other places. But any group of people with friction-prone cultures, as they come in contact with others should find ways to relate with them with very minimal conflicts while adopting civilized methods in resolving resulting conflicts.
From the preceding point it should not be difficult to see why it is natural and right for the peoples within the Nigerian enclave and elsewhere, whose ways cannot function in harmony with each other to live separately. So, insisting on a united Nigeria is in direct opposition to the natural order of things. Igbo people’s, Yoruba people’s and Hausa/Fulani people’s natural social evolution has for several centuries developed separately and it is by maintaining these existing natural demarcations will the various peoples experience any real leadership, sense of direction, progress and prosperity. Let’s separate the various peoples in Nigeria into smaller progressive independent and sovereign nation states and the new countries will start working harmoniously within themselves.
One major reason why a society functions in harmony is because the majority of the people in it see eye to eye on major issues that affect them collectively. The people attain that level of teamwork operation because they have a unified way of life and a common worldview. And every sincere, objective and honest observer knows that as a result of the prevalent natural cultural differences amongst the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani in Nigeria, the country will never attain that level of harmony in a thousand years. To achieve a successful society or country, the most effective deciding factors for creating boundary lines are social geographical rather than physical geographical lines.
There is much confusion and lack of leadership today in Nigeria and the rest of the African continent because of the cultural mismatch of the peoples in the different societies or countries. Instead of feeling awkward about these differences we should rather accept the fact that they are the things that make us human. They help us to live in harmony with ourselves and identify with our individual uniqueness as a people. These fundamental sociocultural differences help us to know that we cannot treat all as a lump and faceless mass or pretend that there is an imaginary state of seamless and meaningless oneness amongst the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani. When we appreciate this fact then we can easily live with this unassailable truth which is that the imagined sameness of all the tribes is not there in Nigeria. Then honestly we can embrace without feeling embarrassed that the ethnic peoples in Nigeria, over a period of several millennia, had followed different paths of social, cultural, political and religious evolution to become the different peoples that they are. The peoples in the present Nigeria do not need to exist together as citizens of the same country in a meaningless and permanently dysfunctional one Nigeria in order to relate well with their neighbors in business or other matters of mutual interests.
For the benefit of our European and other non-African readers, it may be necessary to explain further that the differences we are talking about here are those same things that define and differentiate the Igbo person from the English person. They also define and differentiate the Igbo from the Yoruba or Hausa/Fulani and so on. When the reader contemplates how absurd and chaotic it will be to lump Igbo people in the same country with English people and insensitively ask them to learn to exist together as one while each group is encouraged to jealously preserve their unique sociocultural identities then the point we are stressing here will be better appreciated. Yes, it is exactly such absurdity that took place when Igbo and Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani were put together, without any referendum, in one country and today they are being to learn to be one. As anyone can imagine, the price for such absurdity and chaos is one Nigeria’s permanent state of hopelessness, poverty, bad governance, hatred, intolerance, death, destruction, mind boggling political corruption and overall retrogression of all the peoples so subjected to a meaningless forced unity.
The differences that exist amongst these ethnic peoples must be acknowledged by all well-meaning individuals and organizations, no matter how much preaching we hear from some mischievous individuals or politicians about the oneness of a Nigeria which for genuine reasons will remain in a perpetual state of confusion and forever divided.
In the foreseeable future, a day will not come when these existing differences will suddenly disappear from amongst the peoples of the world. Of course that is, or it should be, the ultimate goal of the human society; the obliteration of all negative traces of discriminations that are based on looks or race. The major reason for these obvious and fundamental differences that exist between the Igbo and the English, the Igbo and the Yoruba and the Igbo and the Hausa/Fulani are the differences in culture, religion and environment and these are basically the things that define a people. They determine how any group of people perceives the world and reacts to it.
It is the English culture, religion and environment that define a person as an English person. In the same way it is the Igbo culture, religion and environment that define a person as an Igbo person. Take any of these peoples and put them elsewhere and expose them to a different set of culture, religion and environment over a prolonged period of time they will become whatever the others that had been so previously exposed are.
Therefore it becomes quite unrealistic and dishonest for anyone to think that cultural, religious and environmental differences do not matter in designing societies or countries. It is this deliberate and insensitive pretense by some who continue to insist that these differences do not matter that has kept Nigeria and the other parts of the African continent from experiencing peace, political stability and sane leadership, social order, prosperity and development. Colonial rulers had, without necessarily meaning any harm, but purely for the maximization of their economic benefits and administrative convenience while it lasted, erroneously lumped the different peoples in Nigeria and other parts of Africa into unitary countries. At the termination of the colonial era, which in the case of Nigeria happened in 1960, the indigenous peoples should have reverted, in their own interest, to the pre-colonial national boundaries.
After fifty years of wasted generations of the peoples in Nigeria, it should be enough time to show, especially with the huge price of so much pain and the genocidal murder of 3.1 million of Igbo people and other Southeasterners collectively known as Biafrans, that there are indeed irreconcilable and mortal differences that exist amongst the peoples. The different peoples in Nigeria in particular and in Africa in general are fundamentally different from one another and these differences must be duly recognized for any meaningful development and progress to begin to take place in the Nigerian enclave and elsewhere on the Continent.
As long as policy makers, politicians and others continue to stress the policy of the impossible “unity” of mutually antagonistic peoples and tell them to learn to live together as one, there will never be any peace, development, prosperity and progress in what we know today as Nigeria. This assertion is supported by the fact that as long as the human society will continue to exist and exhibit any form of order and progress; honesty and sincerity will still be recognized as, no matter how imperfect, the best policy when interacting with one another. Unfortunately, there is complete absence of these essential social elements in Nigeria as it is presently constituted hence it is incapable of working.
The honest truth is that Igbo people are different from Yoruba people just as these two are also different from the Hausa/Fulani people. For peace and progress to take place in the place these different nations and peoples must be separated into different independent and sovereign countries. They can live as good neighbors with clearly defined national, independent sovereign boundaries. It remains pointless if for any reason whatsoever, we continue to try to force the peoples to transform into good citizens of the same country. Such transformation is impossible. These differences are just as fundamental as those that exist between the French and the English peoples. Whatever it is that made these two peoples of Europe to maintain and exist in two separate countries is also what should make the Igbo to exist separately in a different country from the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani.
If such divisions did not demean or define the two European countries as primitive or stopped them from running large and prosperous economies and engage in trade with each other as neighboring countries, the same will not stop the Igbo from relating amicably with their Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani neighbors after they are divided. No one needs a big for nothing size or a population of hopeless peoples such as in Nigeria to run successful and prosperous economies or businesses. What the different peoples need is creativity and enabling leadership; two impossible elements that will never happen in Nigeria so long as it remains one country.
In every human interaction there will always be frictions and disagreements but a functional society or union is that which has found a way to maintain a tolerable level of differences without breaking down completely under the strain of conflicting interests and dislikes of one another. But readers who are familiar with the Nigerian situation know that that desirable tolerable level of social friction has forever eluded the Nigerian union.
So much time and energy is spent in chasing after an elusive unity and no time is left in working on creative and progressive projects. Such unnecessary waste of energy can be illustrated with the on-going yearlong celebration by the government of the centenary anniversary of Nigeria’s unfortunate colonial amalgamation of the various irreconcilable peoples. For a sincere and honest society it is easy to see that what an amalgamated Nigeria calls for is separation instead of celebration. It is only dishonest and insincere people that celebrate failure and a perpetual state of hopelessness which is what it is when anyone is celebrating any aspect of Nigeria’s existence.
In trying to make sense of what have always taken place in Nigeria, especially the current Islamic terrorism against non-believers in Islam, it will be necessary to state that the Nigerian situation cannot be fixed by continuing to force a unity which cannot happen. A people’s culture is who and what they are. In other words no one can disassociate themselves from their religion or culture. A people’s culture or religion is all they have learned as a group from cradle to grave. The people’s education or learning establishes how they do things, why they do things, etc. Wrong or right indoctrination is prevalent in one religion or culture based on how the culture or religion has been taught over an extended period of time. The people imbibe the religion or culture the way it has been passed on to them and the people ultimately become that culture or religion.
In other words, a genuine critic does not condemn or eulogize any generation of a people for being the way they are since they had been conditioned over time to be that way. They are who they are because of their education, environment, culture, religion and time. If a person or people are doing the wrong thing as in the case of Northern Muslims: killing the rest of Nigerians of other faiths, it is because of who they are or the way they are. Their religion or culture has conditioned them to be that way and there is only one reasonable way to solve the problem. The most appropriate and sensible way to solve the problem for Igbo people, for instance, is to remove themselves from the Nigerian union. From a safe distance they can try to work out means, mostly through dialog in letting the Northern Muslims see how wrong they are. Igbo people should not stay too close to their source of harm by remaining as members of the same union and risk being killed without any chance of helping their neighbors to reform.
It is quite naive and self-delusional for anyone to pretend that Northern Nigeria Muslims will act differently and be able to practice their religion outside of themselves in any foreseeable future. The truth about all cultures and religions is that anyone who practices their culture or religion different from the general norm is always considered a deviant or an apostate by the mainstream. This is why it is often said that in a lawless society it is illegal to be law abiding. Let Nigeria be divided along the peoples’ religious and cultural differences. Cultural/religious intolerance is the problem and not poor political leadership. And the disintegration of Nigeria is how to solve Nigeria permanently.
Written By Osita Ebiem