It was my first time in Europe, London to be precise, and I had gone to check this apartment that was advertised in the Loot weekly. At that time I was still living with a relation, and I was quite happy that the advertised apartment was no more than 100m from where I was staying. So, I walked up to the indicated address, rang the doorbell and waited for a response. After a few seconds the door opened and a male Caucasian appeared. I'm never going to forget the look on his face after he discovered that an African had come to rent the room. He didn't beat about the bush in informing the room had been taken the next day I had called as agreed. Well I had expected something like this from my encounter with him the previous day.
I never quite realised I was Black until that particular evening. Being a first experience I wasn't sure whether to be angry, sad, indifferent or simply laugh it off. I could have gone ahead to brand the whole White race as racists, but then I would have to account for the countless kindness and friendship I had met in many Caucasians that I have come across. A similar incident occurred about two years ago in Germany, when I had gone to (again) look up an apartment for rent. I had this time gone with my colleague and friend, an Indian, and the German owner bluntly stated she could not rent the apartment to foreigners.
I live in Europe, and issues like these bordering on racism are not far-fetched. And expectedly, I had received calls from friends in Nigeria wanting to know how I had coped with such. And in my quiet moments of reflection I have found it outrightly dishonest to put forth life within the Nigerian boarders as devoid of similar attitudes from fellow Nigerians. That is, being Nigerian and living within Nigeria is likely to expose you to similar treatment from other human beings who generally consider you as less deserving of certain considerations for no other reason than you belong to a different tribe. Or a different religion. I considered our national politics, where the Northerners famously claimed power belonged to them. Or should one now consider the Igbos and the Yorubas who, among others, would in many cases not give out their children to marry members of the other tribes?
This might appear trivial, but then it's in context: during my undergraduate education at Ife an Igbo boy had blatantly refused to sell an extra bed space of his to a non-Igbo student. A Yoruba person close to me had also jokingly raised an objection to my having an Igbo female friend. How about cases where only individuals from particular families are allowed to monopolise certain political offices?
We find the same pattern in corporate bodies, in sport, in education, in health... in fact, in the entire social structure we've come to know as Nigeria. What right do I have then to blame a Caucasian, an Indian, or a Chinese for discriminating against me for being African? And historically speaking, what right do we have as a nation for speaking and standing against apartheid of South Africa? In my opinion I think we've spent so long discriminating against fellow Nigerians on the basis of tribe and religion that this perversion has come to be viewed as normal in the Nigerian context. The picture becomes more deplorable when we consider that this tribalistic tendencies are daily being fuelled by the parents, and other respected members of our societies. How many Nigerians can confidently say their parents and persons close to them have never made malicious comments about members of the other tribes? And when they do this, do we not join in laughing against the Hausas, Yorubas, and Igbos, as the case maybe?
Our entire culture and subcultures have been founded on this tribal divisioning, how hypocritical of us to stand against neo-apartheid in different countries around the world. Hardly would an unfortunate incident affecting most of the tribes in the country occur in some parts of the country and certain tribes not cry out that it's nothing short of a conspiratorial cleansing of their tribe. I allude to Boko Haram's murderous campaign that has seen countless Yorubas, Hausas, Igbos and other tribes and aliens slain, and yet some tribe fuelled by a tribal paranoia keep alleging it's an attempt by Nigeria to expunge them. This in their case is a peculiar manifestation of the same tribalistic outlook.
I have been to different parts of Nigeria, and also to several countries around the world, and everywhere I have noticed that human beings are essentially the same, with both kind aspects and at the same time with a predisposition to maltreating other races and tribes of men. On a lighter side now, an Italian-American had once asked me in Philadelphia if there were actual houses in Nigeria. I suppose she thought we were living on some trees or inside some caves. Such stereotypical view as this is usually not an evidence of a defect in the victim of such view, but on the other hand it is nothing short of a demonstration her shocking and shameful ignorance. And yes, that was just two years ago, not two centuries ago.
I have heard Yorubas who have never been to Northern Nigeria tell me things about the Hausas. The Igbos does the same, the same thing the Hausas. The sad thing is that such stereotypical and entirely ignorant branding of other tribes is not always caused by illiteracy. When I was a kid I had been made to believe that education should liberate a people, in our case it seems to drive us further down the path of bondage.
Let's for a minute consider how it has affected every splinter of our national experience. Do you need me to write about the politics of blood and greed, where each tribe sees the privilege to serve the nation as no more than a golden opportunity to divert the nation's bleeding wealth to his own part of the country? And as a result of the competitive scramble for loot, no one cares that the nation remains stagnant, once the misguided politician is from your tribe. How many politicians do we have that can claim exemption to this? It has become status behaviour for them to establish a university, a hospital, or any other such structures in their own states and villages once elected. And we all look away from the fact that such institutions could have better served Nigerians in some other parts of the country.
What of sport? Some weeks ago the whole world gathered in London to watch the open shame of Nigeria, the self-acclaimed giant of African (too sad being merely numerous isn't enough to merit such description). I am sure not many Nigerians were disappointed or shocked by the outcome, that we didn't leave London with a tiny medal. Had they included copper, or wood in the awarded medals I am not so sure we would have come home with enough wood to light our frozen national heart. One would then ask how come such a country with so many people could not lift a single medal? Well, we are from a country where the last time we heard of merit spoken of was in the fairy tales told by our parents, in turn told them by their own parents. Instead, in the name of being faithful to some spurious Federal character, we ended up enlisting athletes who were below average. Should it really matter which tribe the athletes come from as long as they are the best the country could find? If for instance we have 15 slots to fill on a football team, and out of all the interviewed candidates 12 Igbos (or Hausas or Yorubas) possess performance superior to every other person, one should think it makes more sense to choose those ones rather than to push in members of the other tribes who have no competing chance, not even within our own country.
The educational sector and the principle, for instance, of catchment area scores. I wish I could laugh at this policy's silliness, but that it's a very sad phenomenon. Those smarter candidates are turned away from an institution just because they are from different states: Then we go ahead and lower the pass mark for the indigenes of our own states. The sad thing is, that poor boy from another state who probably gave his best to writing the exam, is turned away empty-handed. And if such individual has no such institution in his own state, he though being a Nigerian becomes an education-destitute in his own country. But then you'd ask, shouldn't the state be able to actively enhance the education of its indigenes? By all means, it must. But then should it be by lowering the standard and thus prematurely aborting the surviving notion of merit? Certainly not. Lowering the pass mark (catchment score it is called) for the state is analogous to Britain deciding its own sprinters would only need to run half track to qualify for a medal. But instead of adopting the Nigerian model, it spent billions of pounds in training its citizens so they had more chance of qualifying without having to selectively beat down the pass mark for the Britons. Any serious state interested in enhancing its indigenes education should be read invest in infrastructure acquisition and students' training especially at the primary and secondary school levels. If a state invests in hiring exceptional teachers and in equipping the education at these indicated levels, it can then be expected that its indigenes will have no problem meeting a unified entry qualification into the higher institutions. In addition, the state can also (and should) give worthy scholarships to exceptional and hardworking indigenous students, which should directly stimulate and motivate their interest in knowledge education. To round this paragraph off, I must say University of llorin is about the worst in terms of ambushing university education (a Federal university at that) for its own indigenes. Perhaps there are other universities like this within the country, and one only needs to interview more students to find this out.
Racism, tribalism, nepotism and all the other forms of negative human relational isms are a disease inhabiting the dirty crevices of the human soul. They are often symptomised by absurd stereotypes, fuelled by ignorance and thriving in the mind of the mentally, morally and spiritually stunted regardless of whether such predisposition is found in an illiterate person or an Emeritus professor. As Nigerians we need not look too far afield for a demonstration of its unfortunate effects, its right here in our homes, in religious and educational institutions, and in governance. And until we shed this contemptible cloak of immaturity, we are going nowhere as a country.
Written by Jide Olubiyi, Doctoral student- Computer Simulation of Alzheimer's Abeta Peptide Disassembly at Forschungszentrum Jülich.