Sometime in February, my colleagues and I were en route an event and as often happens on a bus, several conversations were ongoing. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to the one happening closest to me but eventually, bits and pieces made their way into my consciousness. Somehow, an argument of sorts had broken out over ethnicity in Nigeria.
For those who may be unaware, Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with more than 200 ethnicities and over 300 tribes. Of all these, there are three (3) major ethnic groups – the Hausas, Igbos and Yorubas. Without question, we are amazingly diverse culturally and that should be and often is celebrated. Sadly, we are not all receptive to our kin who are not of the same ethnicity as us and this plays out in several ways, in the stereotypes attached to specific groups of people.
Back to the argument on the bus. It stemmed from a conversation about the onslaught of Fulani herdsmen’ activities across the country; several killings and trespassing on property. There was much venting against the federal government’s ‘actions’ or lack thereof in resolving the situation and ensuring the safety of lives and property of Nigerians. There was an argument that the government’s inaction is due to the ethnicity of the president, a Fulani man. That’s not new, there are various discussions that have implied this. What was irksome to me was the way the conversation then drifted to minority tribes in the country after someone implied that the president is in fact a Hausa man. Er…
For a while I was able to ignore the conversation. That changed when a senior colleague said there is no difference between Igbos and Edos. Ah ahn! That one got me. So I interjected and the convo went something like this;
Me: ' Ma'am, they are completely different people. The Edo people are a minority but they shouldn't be mistaken for Igbos because they are not.' Senior Colleague: ' Then they should choose a major tribe to belong to.' Me: ' I don't understand ..' Senior Colleague: 'They can't be on their own. They must fall under one of the three major tribes. Igbo seems the most appropriate.'
Eh?😒 I was upset at this point but treading cautiously, I hoped.
Me: 'You can't just decide minority ethnic groups don't exist outside of the three major tribes! They do and it's quite offensive to say they don't. There are even various tribes within ethnicities and each one is unique in itself, not to be mistaken for another. Would you like it if you were told that you can't be Yoruba when you so clearly are?'
I don’t think I convinced her but the truth is I didn’t need to. What right do we have to decide other ethnicities are not good enough as they are? I’d never heard someone say, and so casually too, that Nigerian people of a minority ethnicity need to be under the umbrella of a larger ethnic group to be recognised. Frankly, it’s preposterous and insulting! Seriously, what is wrong with being Ishan, Efik, Ijaw, Igbirra, Tiv, Ibibio, Urhobo, Ukelle, Idoma or Kanuri? Not everyone from Delta is Igbo, not every northerner is Hausa and the Edos are not Yoruba even if there is shared history between them.
We need to stop putting other people down because their tribes aren’t ‘big, popular or familiar’. They aren’t less human. The implication that an ethnic minority is not enough in itself was so offensive to me that it made me wonder just how backwards we may still be as a nation if it can so casually be implied that a group of people should not be recognised under their own umbrella because of their number, amongst other things.