Tuesday, June 27, 2017
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New Nigeria needs New Nigerians

New Nigeria needs New Nigerians
June 18
06:13 2017
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In a “side bar” article I wrote years ago, I noted that the then central bank governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, was still signing the naira as “Charles Soludo” and joked that I would not spend the Nigerian currency again until he did the needful. I got an e-mail from a young reader who said although he always enjoyed reading my articles, he just could not understand my “constant criticism” of Soludo. He accused me of being an “Igbo hater”. I chuckled. Why did he not accuse me of “hating” Soludo because he is a professor and I am not, or because he is richer than I am, or because he is more handsome? Why must my “hatred” for Soludo be based on ethnicity?

I did not bother to reply the mail. (Unknown to the reader, I enjoyed, and still enjoy, a fantastic relationship with Soludo.) But I took away one disturbing message from the mail: creating a “Nigeria first” identity is going to be the toughest task ever. The divisive mindsets we inherited from our “founding fathers” pervade not just the older generations but even the new ones. The older generations viewed Nigeria from a narrow ethno-religious prism. Over the decades, closer interaction, greater integration and much education have neither renewed nor reset our mindsets. We still continue to interact with Nigeria the way our “ancestors” did.

In my mind, I often see two Nigerias — the Old and the New. In the Old Nigeria, ethnic and religious identities take precedence over national identity. That is, you are first and foremost a Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Muslim, Christian, southerner, northerner, etc, before you are a Nigerian. Your first line of thinking is always along this myopia. For instance, if the federal government makes appointments, the first thing you do is count how many Muslims and Christians or southerners and northerners are on the list before asking whether the appointees are good enough to deliver development to Nigeria. You can’t be bothered about the competence as long as they are from your village.

In the New Nigeria, the one I would love to see, it is “Nigeria first” before your ethnic and religious leanings. You are Yoruba or Christian quite all right, but that is not what determines how you treat issues of common significance. What that means, in practice, is that if a ministerial list comes out, your first instinct is not the religion of the appointees but their CVs. It means if Yoruba and Hausa are fighting, your first instinct is not to side with the person from your part of the country but to seek to understand the contending issues before taking a position. You remain Yoruba or Hausa, of course; nothing can take that away from you. But that is not what controls your brain.

Building a New Nigeria is a tall order, let me say that. We start acquiring narrow mindsets from a tender age. We are socialised to view people from other ethnic groups, religions and cultures in a particular way, mostly unflattering. Every ethnic group harbours prejudices and biases against others. The good news, as if there is any good in the news, is that this is not a Nigerian problem. It is universal. Human beings are brought up under the influence of mindsets that eventually colour how they see their world and the world around them. This regulates how they think and how they understand and analyse issues. Their worldviews are shaped by inherited prejudices and biases.

In Nigeria, there are established terms with which we describe people from other ethnic groups and religions: illiterates, beggars, cows, cowards, drunks, traitors, fraudsters, money worshippers, cannibals, terrorists, infidels, and all that. You hear racist tags such as “yamiri”, “malo”, “ofe mmanu”, “kafir”, and all that. From infanthood, children are told stories about other ethnicities in a way to prejudice their minds, to sow seeds of hate, mistrust and discord in their souls in preparation for their future. Don’t make friends with those people — they are traitors! Fraudsters! Infidels! At age 10, a child is already using derogatory terms to describe people of other faiths and ethnicities.

As tensions begin to well up in the land again with secession threats and “quit notices” flying up and down, the biggest challenge is how to continue to preach “one Nigeria”, “Nigeria first” or “New Nigeria”. We are losing the argument by the day. The most dominant voices in the public space today belong to hate merchants. They are prisoners to the prejudices and biases with which they were nurtured. Every problem in Nigeria, for all they care, should be looked at with the tinted lenses of ethnicity, region and religion. All analyses, opinions and positions start and end with ethnicity and religion. It is the inherited Old Nigeria at work, no thanks to the “founding fathers”.

I have gone round Nigeria a bit. Everywhere I go, I see dilapidated schools, helpless children, weather-beaten hawkers, sick hospitals, potholed roads, and wailing generators. I mean every single state of the federation. I see harassed and pauperised Nigerians from every tribe and every tongue, from every religion and every persuasion. And I see stinking rich government officials in their convoys of gold-plated SUVs, waving their diamond-crusted wristwatches in the air, frolicking with their bevy of indecent beauties. Every state, every region, every religion. Yet we’ve managed to conclude that our problem is the person from other ethnic group. Who bewitched us?

We desperately need a New Nigeria, but we cannot build a New Nigeria without New Nigerians. We need new thinking and new thinkers. Old Nigeria was built on ethno-religious chauvinism.  The evangelists of Old Nigeria made sure that they reproduced themselves, such that people who were born in 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, who are supposed to be New Nigerians, are also hostages to ethnic hate and bigotry. So their age is not the issue; it is the age of their mindsets. A New Nigeria can only be built by those who can see beyond their nose, beyond their ethnic cocoons, beyond the hate that has been sown and groomed in their minds. Old Nigerians cannot build a New Nigeria.

There are people who see themselves as custodians of sectional interests, who continue to fuel division and discord in Nigeria. They are enemies of nation-building. They cannot see what binds us together. They are too blind to see it. They cannot see the common afflictions holding back Nigerians of all faiths and all ethnic affiliations. They are too blind to see. They cannot see the diseases that kill lowly Nigerians in the north and the south. They are too blind to see. They cannot see the politicians and public servants pillaging the commonwealth. All they can see is how another part of the country is their problem. This Old Nigeria mindset is, sadly, the king in the ring.

I will give a recurring example. The beef some people had with President Goodluck Jonathan had nothing to do with his performance in office: it was all down to ethnic and religious biases. Jonathan’s performance, or lack of it, only helped their case. It is exactly the same thing going on today: some people cannot just stand the sight of President Muhammadu Buhari because of his ethnic identity and religion — and they cannot wait for him to fail. That is the Old Nigeria mentality. The New Nigeria mindset is more focused on how the president can succeed, and criticisms are directed at the issues rather than at his person. After all, if he succeeds, Nigeria succeeds.

Lest I forget, ethnic diversity is not a problem in itself. Diversity is a fact of life. Using stereotypes to describe other people may not be a problem in itself. Stereotyping is a universal phenomenon. However, the fierce competition for the political-cum-economic space, in the face of scarcity, is what usually leads to the propagation of hate and violence. Limited opportunities often get twinned with identities and ethnic entrepreneurs jump on the opportunity to magnify and manipulate prejudice. Until we build a New Nigeria that works for all, that keeps poverty on the fringes, that gives every part  a sense of belonging, the hate merchants will continue to call the tune.

For the time being, this is a clarion call to New Nigerians to rise up and drown out the voices of Old Nigerians. The country is overdue to be hijacked and controlled by those who think they are first Nigerians before they are Ijaw, Igala, Urhobo, Ika, Kuteb, Kaje, whatever. We must commit to bringing up our own children in a new way, helping them acquire broader worldviews, with emphasis on celebrating the good in others, building new mindsets on putting the overall interest of Nigeria above narrow ethno-religious narratives. Enough of the parochialism that is holding Nigeria hostage. This cycle must be broken. We cannot make real progress this way. Never.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

HATE SPEECH

There is a video going round in which an Igbo cleric utters unprintable words about Hausa people and President Muhammadu Buhari. I recently watched one in which the IPOB leader says horrible things about the Yoruba. Is this not harmful to Igbo people living in other parts of Nigeria? If other people start making hate videos against the Igbo and begin to circulate them, there can only be one outcome. Can’t people make their points decently without insulting and provoking others? I am totally against hate speech, even if it is made by my mother or my pastor. Maybe IPOB sympathisers now need to think twice about the possible consequences. Caution.

KIDNAP ASSETS

It is coming to light the key role the social media plays in turning people to valuable kidnap assets, thanks to the arrested Chukwudi Dumeme Onuamadike aka Evans, reputedly Nigeria’s most notorious kidnapper. The way people live their lives on social media these days makes no sense to me. I have this contact on my WhatsApp who is always announcing his leisure trips to Dubai, Rome and Los Angeles, sometimes with status videos. He even uploads the videos of himself and his wife at the first-class check-in counter and lounge of Emirates Airlines. Can someone please tell me what’s going on in this world? Am I just too old-fashioned to understand? Bewildering.

TOWER FIRE

The midnight fire tragedy that engulfed Grenfell Tower, London, killing yet unspecified number of residents, is one too many. I hate to imagine the agonising  cries of people, young and old, woken up from their deep sleep by the inferno that cremated them alive. While investigation begins, it has been established that the flammable cladding on the outside was responsible for the rapid spread of the fatal fire from the fourth floor to the top of the 24-story building. Flammable cladding is commonly used on office buildings in Nigeria because of its beautifying effect. The Nigerian fire services may want to take a look at its health and safety implications. Proactive.

BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Our own Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor was the cynosure of all eyes at the Diamond League event in Oslo, Norway, on Thursday. No, she did not win her long jump event. She actually placed seventh. She had a bad hair day: her wig jumped out of her head, turning her into an instant internet sensation. Even the global mainstream media could not resist the fun of the wardrobe malfunction. But don’t I just love her? There was no trace of embarrassment on her face. She dusted herself up, picked the wayward wig and restored the disguise to her head. Pictures of the incident are surely going to endure and become iconic, long after she’s left the stage. Drama.

Follow us on twitter @thecableng

Copyright 2017 TheCable. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.thecable.ng as the source.
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3 Comments

  1. Ade
    Ade June 18, 09:05

    Brilliant piece. The only way Nigeria can be truly great is when justice justapoxes all developmental efforts. Nigerians these behave is if Nigeria is just a jungle where anything goes. To have a truly virile nation, the wrongs must be truly punished and the right commensurability rewarded. Take for instance, those police guys that arrested Evans the Kidnapper, would only end up with presidential handshake and the least of the National honours if Government decided to go extra mile; but the politicians with stinking career profile is adorned with CFR,OFR,OON, which always end in Kuje prison after their tenure. What l am saying practically is that this country will only become a truly new nation when government and those in it truly proven ‘their be in charge’ and punish where necessary and reward the heroic. For your information, sentiments are already steaming about the notorious kidnapper that government should temper justice with mercy after all he did not kill any of his ransomed victims. This is the first stage, the next stage might be Evans is an Igbo man that is why so much orchestration about his ordeal. That is our country!

    Also, before you preach inter tribal cohesion, every Nigerian must be made to see Nigeria as a football pitch where there is no tribe and religion when the home side is losing. An experience l had some years ago when senior lslamic Cleric was chanting “only Jesus can save” when the home team was awarded a penalty. When the goalkeeper saved the shot, the whole stadium began the chant “Mugode Allah-mugode Allah, Allah Sarki” irrespective of tribe, religion or personality. With that matured mindset, the way Americans see America, same way Nigerians will see Nigeria, where there is no border of ethnicity,religiosity or status bar. Words.

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  2. Baron
    Baron June 18, 19:12

    It is not difficult to cultivate a national mindset as you might believe. You mentioned parenting which is a big one. But let me say I can’t recall receiving instruction from my parents on how to appreciate and respect people of other ethnic groups. There are two things that did it for me though. The first is, my father hated pettiness with a passion. He hated laziness, idleness and cutting corners under any guise. He admired hardwork, industry, integrity and good neighbourliness. Growing up we never saw tribe or religion in people. We saw poverty, riches, literacy or lack of it, and anything that made them happen. That was what I took with me from the southern part of Nigeria to the North ( Zaria) at the age of 12. My time there was short-lived (2 years) before the Metasine Riot (hope I got the name right) made my family flee back to the south. But those 2 years were enough for me to embrace any Fulani or Hausa man I meet any day. I love the language and everything. My NYSC was in Rivers state where I saw massive body of water and creeks I never imagine exist on such scale, and it’s beautiful people. There are bad people everywhere. No tribe or religion is immune from evil. Those who sow hatred and bitterness among brothers do so out of ignorance, greed and wickedness. There is no way I will prefer a different Nigeria. The beauty of my world is spiced by One Nigeria, not a part of it. Thank you for the article!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Svnday
    Svnday June 19, 05:58

    Simon, this piece could not have come at a better. With the all agitations that is going in Nigeria at the moment. I say this because thinking anew requires changing of the mind excuse my beliefs but what really need is transformation by the renewal of the mind. Do we need psychologists to carry out a massive project in Nigeria for this to happen? No we have to utilize common and available tools to attain this objective. In this regard therefore, together with a few young men, we have started a movement call “The Nigerian Hope” you may follow us here facebook.com/thenigerianhope We believe that the hope for a new Nigeria begins within. Lets birth a new Nigeria – deliberately.

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