Growing up, I was moulded by certain prejudices. I was conditioned to view different parts of Nigeria in stereotypical ways. However, a time came in my life when I began to question these inherited sentiments. I desired a mind of my own, to judge things empirically and come to conclusions by myself. I intensified my research into the history of what we now know as Nigeria, from pre-1914 amalgamation to the present day.
I want to gladly announce today that contrary to the received wisdoms, prejudices, biases and stereotypes, Nigeria has changed significantly over the decades. This is not exactly the Nigeria of 1914 or 1960 or 1999. Of course, some things are still the same, or even worse – especially in our mindsets – but many things are changing. Unfortunately, many Nigerians are still so stuck in the past and are unable to acknowledge this fact. I will give a few examples shortly.
To start with, Southerners still look down on Northerners as “uneducated”. Maybe they had a point long ago. The colonial masters, because of the success of indirect rule, had shielded the North from conventional education under the guise of “protecting” the local culture. Hence, as at 1960, there were only a few university graduates from the North. Today, many Southerners still don’t know that the story has changed. You can’t count the number of Northern graduates! They even have their fair share of unemployed graduates! You cannot count the PhD holders, professors, medical doctors, engineers or accountants from the North. They have produced several accomplished and globally respected intellectuals. Yet, when some Southerners hear that an Ahmed has been appointed into a top position, all they can think of is “quota system” or “federal character”. They are stuck in the past.
In the meantime, many Northerners are still stuck with this “one North” fiction and the empty bragging about “we have the numbers”! Aboki, you ain’t got no numbers! Sir Ahmadu Bello might have had a fairly monolithic North under his arms at Independence, but that was then. Things have changed forever. I did warn the “Northern consensus candidate” movement in 2011 that the concept of one North was delusional.
There are now 19 states in the North with various dynamics – local rivalries, religion, strong minority solidarity and a growing political sophistication. The world has changed! And as for those Northerners who claim they are “born to rule”, it has become glaring today that they were not born to rule. It was circumstances that conspired with the situation to tilt power in favour of the North for decades. Northern monopoly of power is history.
On another note, the Yoruba still talk romantically about Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free education policy of the 1950s which no doubt stood the Yoruba in good stead in our nationhood. But they may need to know that the rest of the country did not go to sleep. Every state now has free education, with free school uniforms and free meals to boot. Most are giving bursaries and foreign scholarships. And there is yet no evidence to suggest that the quality of instruction and classroom infrastructure in Yorubaland is superior to what obtains in other parts of Nigeria. But I still meet many Yoruba nationalists who continue to glory and gloat over “our advantage in education”.
Ogbeni, the rest of Nigeria is catching up with you while you are still glamorising Awolowo’s exploits of nearly 60 years ago! You’d better wake up to the new realities. Lest I forget, my Igbo friends still talk agitatedly about the rest of Nigeria hating them. Nna, you mean 249 other ethnic groups and over 100 million Nigerians met and took a decision to hate you? Only you? Just like that? Since the civil war ended, Nigerians of all origins have been eating isi-ewu, dancing to the music of Oliver de Coque and Onyeka Onwenu, going gaga over P Square, idolising Genevieve Nnaji and Kanayo O. Kanayo, celebrating Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, marrying you and getting married by you, and still they hate you? Despite the important political positions your sons and daughters have occupied at federal level since the end of the war, the narrative remains that the rest of Nigerians hate you. I know we need a president of Igbo origin to complete the equation, and I believe it will happen someday – but, nwa nnem, it is called rivalry not hatred!
What’s more, our Niger Delta brothers are still clamouring for resource control as if we were in 1998. What Delta State alone receives in federal allocation is more than all the five South-east states put together! Since 1999, the oil-producing states have been receiving 13 per cent derivation; they have the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) which has produced many billionaires with choice property home and abroad; they have the Ministry of Niger Delta, which I honestly don’t know what it is all about; they have the Amnesty Programme, which is also producing its own club of billionaires; and now the oil-producing communities could start taking 10 per cent of the profit of oil companies operating in their areas.
To crown it all, they have produced a president in Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Bros, wetin una want again? To be sure, I say not that there are no socio-political tensions in Nigeria. The frequent riots and killings are a grim reminder of this. I deny not that there is mutual suspicion across the “tribes and tongues”, but these things are so often highlighted that you would be forced to conclude that we have not made any progress at all since 1914.
I know for sure that Nigeria is more integrated today than it was in 1914 or 1960 or even 1999. My evidence: the number of inter-cultural marriages; the number of Southerners who willingly go to live and do business up North; the number of Northerners making their living in the South; the number of Igbo eating amala and Yoruba eating suya.
Nobody can tell me these numbers were higher in 1914 or 1960 than in 2013. We are obviously integrating more and more, despite the best efforts of agents of division and hate in the land. Nigeria is changing but we know not. What we have been carrying around for decades are inherited prejudices.
We hear our parents, teachers, elders or activists say negative things about other people. We hardly question or analyse these things. We just repeat the stereotypes and they become realities in our minds. That is how negative mindsets and prejudices are passed on from generation to generation. I hereby solemnly promise that I will not pass these prejudices and biases to my own children. I want them to research, observe, analyse and judge things by themselves. So help me God.
Simon Kolawole writes for ThisDay and this article was culled from ThisDay Newspaper.