Nothing in our history captures our woes much better than this simple but yet destructive word “tribalism.” Each Nigerian must have experienced tribalism at a point. People either accept it as a friend, reject or smuggle it through the back door.
Tribe describes an extended kin group or clan with a common ancestor or a group with shared interests, lifestyles, and habits.
Chinua Achebe in his view describes tribalism “as discrimination against a citizen because of his or her place of birth” (Achebe; 1997).
Since the creation of the supposed “mere geographical expression” called Nigeria, we have always experienced the manifestations of tribalism. Starting from the British, who long sought to keep it that way, to our nationalists and now, our elite, who take cover under tribes when it suits them, we are consumed each day with damning consequences that last decades and eat into the fabric of the unity we earnestly yearn for.
From the 1966 counter-coup, the 1953 Kano riots, the election riots of 1964, the 1967 civil war, the 2000 sharia war, the Jos killings among many others, virtually every Nigerian conflict has some ethnic-regional dimension to it. Even those conflicts that may appear to be free of ethnic concerns involve factions and alliances built around ethnic loyalties.
Some see ethnicity as a source of conflict; others see it as a tool used by political entrepreneurs to promote their ambitions. In reality, it is both.
Worse still is that this distorted self-perception, heightened by the agendas of political elites, is projected as the framework for unifying and integrating the country, generating a devastating zero-sum conflict for the gullible masses.
Today, the phenomenon is on the same pedestal as corruption, a popular cliché used to describe various forms of anomalies in Nigeria.
Despite enduring the suspicion, grief, violence, disdain, and competition that erupt from tribalism, it seems Nigerians are yet to learn their lessons.
However, it is undeniable that tribal affiliation may not always be harmful. In fact, it is one of the most powerful forces in the world. Nevertheless, we must also understand that powerful tools placed in the wrong hands or used the wrong way could spell doom.
Everyone agrees that there are some useful aspects associated with one’s tribe. These relevant aspects include peculiar habits of dress, food, language, music. In short, most are positive and desirable.
However, where the problem lies, is the attempt to pick, at will, when, where, and how to use this force to the attainment of selfish interest over national unity.
Hardly can you get anything done in the Nigerian system without that conscious reminder of how different you just might be from every other person in the same territorial location?
From gaining admission in school to the issue of marriage, employment, political structure, federal character, and even to securing a good accommodation, Nigerians would often consider your tribal alliance before giving you opportunities.
Tribalism is a reality and national unity can be a reality too. Rather than choose one, we dabble around, trying to merge both divergent issues, which are never supposed to exist side by side.
Judging by the number of years that Nigeria has gained independence, we are old enough as a nation to rise above these tribal underlings and lean towards that one big pan-Nigerian vision we once professed when we became free of colonial rule.
However, this entire self-conscious wish to banish tribalism has proved futile as we still realize the prognosis in all corners of society.
Tribalism and Accommodation in Nigeria
Food, clothing, and shelter are the major determinants of the survival of humanity. Now, what happens when the hope of one’s shelter lies in the hands of another tribe?
Over the years, tribalism has indeed found its way into our day-to-day lives, to the extent that it affects almost every aspect of our lives and accommodation is just one of many.
Being loyal to one’s tribe or social group is not a crime. But where it becomes dangerous is when it affects other people’s wellbeing.
As a Nigerian, at some point in your life, you would have to seek accommodation in your environment, whether as a bachelor or unmarried woman or as one looking to start a family.
Imagine that after searching for a long time, you now finally find a space that suits your needs. However, your potential landlord asks to meet with his intending tenant.
He then discovers that you are not from his tribe and for this reason, he refuses to offer you a space in his house, all because of issues his ancestors once had with your tribe. The question is, how does your tribe affect the rent you intend to pay or how you would maintain the house?
Recently, there was a similar case on social media where a property owner returned the tenant’s rent because of his state of origin. The message from the agent reads, “Please sir send your account number to me for me to return your house rent back.
The proprietor said no to the Kogi tribe for her house. Note, try sir to bring my receipt for me, thanks. FEMSEG Agent”
So what if they do not belong to your tribe, does that make them less of who they are? Certainly not. The fact that one does not share the same ethnic values as you shouldn’t paint them in a bad light. It only means that they were raised in a slightly different way and there is nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes, the people who practice tribalism cannot be blamed, as it all stems from their orientation and upbringing. Our parents had planted seeds of division through tribalism.
It is essential to preach unity, just as important as good morals and education. Society needs to recognize that peaceful co-existence between people of different tribes is one of the most effective methods in moving the nation forward, and promoting our rich heritage.
In order to create a balance, people from different tribes and social groups must co-operate to ensure that they draw strength from their diversity. No man is an island; we all need each other to survive.
How Tribalism Affects Marriage In Nigeria
The choice of who to marry should not depend on tribe, but on mutual love, trust, respect, and understanding. Worthy of note is the fact that tribalism does not only affect women. Most men also experience this discrimination. Marriage is a social arrangement, which gives consenting adults a legitimate position in society. In Nigeria, marriage is a fundamental ritual in different cultures.
It is even appalling that some parents would not permit their children to marry someone from another village within their state or a potential suitor from another state.
For example, despite being from the same Yoruba race, some Ijebu people would not allow their children to marry another person from Ibadan.
Parents’ concerns seem valid ranging from language limitations to ancestral history or family patterns.
For instance, a man from a Yoruba family would be instructed not to marry a woman from the Igbo tribe, while a Hausa woman cannot also marry from another tribe. It is safe to say these factors also contribute to early divorce in marriage and domestic violence in so many homes today.
Most parents even go as far as introducing an arranged marriage to their children in order to save them from crossing to another tribe to find their soulmate. Discrimination no matter the basis is never a good thing; it is wrong and not progressive because it encourages divisiveness and disunity.
No wonder the news is filled with stories of hostile family members when the marriage decision did not go down well with them initially.
Some people are constantly judged just because of their traditions. For instance, when people hear that you are marrying an Igbo woman, the first thing that goes through their head is the bride price and how you pay heavily and buy expensive items on the bride list.
It also becomes a problem when married couples from a different tribe find it difficult to come up with the decision of whose language their children should learn and this seems like a big deal in most households.
This is why it is very important for everyone to understand that every human being deserves to be happy, fulfilled, and treated with respect.
Parents being key influencers, have a role to play in information and changing the mindset of children. In most homes today in Nigeria, parents dictate whom their children should bring home even before the thought of marriage crosses their minds.
Most times, these parents fail to consider the integral traits needed in a potential partner, prompting them to mislead their children. There is no guarantee of peace in a marriage even if both partners are from the same village or tribe.
Parents should understand that traits are a function of individual personalities and not their village, state or tribe.
Tribalism In Work Environment/Job Opportunities
However, Having a few tribes working for you can have negative effects not only for the company but also the job market in general.It is very important to note that hiring one or a few tribes in an organization can lead to the killing of variety in the workspace, that is, when you have employees from different tribes, you’ll be sure of different approaches and viewpoints. Since different cultures have different lifestyles, the employees will have varying ideas on how to execute a task.
Also, tribalism in the workspace can also bring about a negative working environment, as having employees from different tribes usually create a conducive working environment for everyone.
Tribalism could possibly bring about separation and Isolation in the workspace, as in, when most of your employees come from certain tribes, everyone else will feel as though they do not fit in.
Overtime, Tribalism has been seen to be one of the menaces in the workspace, and to curb such an act, some steps to resist Tribalism in business are to
Call tribalism by name: Recognize that blaming problems on group identity can miss the point. It gives the illusion of being in control of matters by labeling rather than addressing the problem. Direct your energy toward surfacing core causes, however difficult to face.
Enter the discomfort zone: Find the courage to learn about others without prejudgment or bias. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of hearing what you want to hear, hear what is actually being said. A male colleague receiving credit for winning a client may not mean the firm favors men over women, but, rather, recognition for the groundwork he laid prior to the meeting.
Confront conflict avoidance: People commonly pretend they have things “handled,” when in fact they want to avoid the discomfort of not knowing how the other party will react. Telling a colleague that you excluded him from a pitch due to his overbearing communication style might cause hurt feelings, but it opens the door to help him improve.
Build a code of conduct: Agree on your organization’s rules for communication, inclusion, and leveraging of its talent based on common goals that advance the business, not the tribe. Shift your focus from who gets credit to how you can work together to win over the client.
Tribalism And Politics
Tribalism in Nigerian politics is probably one of the most discussed political issues in the country, but there is still no end in sight.
One of the major contributors to this is the fact that Nigerians at all levels play zonal politics, at the detriment of electing or appointing people based on their mettle.
While it is acceptable that all humans are self-interested, politicians need to stop subjecting the nation’s unity to personal beliefs or vices such as tribal differences.
From General Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Yar’adua, Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, we can draw from their elections as presidents that they all played the tribal card.
While this has helped their ambition and propelled them to sit in the highest office of the land, it’s not uncommon to see the ripple effect on the political atmosphere which has contributed to the unrest going on in the country.
How do we expect presidents who were elected by encouraging ethnic bigotry to stop the rest of the populace from being ethnic bigots themselves? It’s a no-brainer.
A typical example is an election that ushered in President Muhammadu Buhari. Given his popularity in the north, he was able to unseat an incumbent, something that hadn’t happened before.
Since he became president, he’s been forced to be very partial in appointments and major political decisions. In his first tenure, 6 out of 10 appointments into cabinets and parastatals favored both the Northern oligarchs and the northern geo-political zone in general until many Nigerians raised the alarm situation, prompting the presidency to spread other appointments to other regions.
Tribalism has eaten deep into the Nigerian political system, and if left unchecked; then a second civil war might not be farfetched considering that in a country of over 200 million citizens and over 250 ethnic tribes, it is very dangerous for a particular tribe or group of tribes to continue to feel marginalized.
Since the beginning of Nigerian democracy, some tribes seem to wield massive political influence based on their huge population and political structure. This accounts for the constant zoning of presidential tickets to the north by almost all parties in every election.
Imagine being a politician with enough mettle to lead Nigeria to the next stage of development but you’ll never be in the conversation at all simply because you’re from the South or East and the seat is getting zoned to the North.
Without a persistent effort to change the narrative, Nigeria would get to a stage where one’s tribe would determine access to university admission, employment, marriage, and other opportunities.
However, the younger generation seems to be more enlightened that they should not judge anyone by his tribe, village, or state affiliation.
Regardless, when they need to make vital decisions, like a choice of partner to marry, would they be bold and confident enough to stand against discrimination? Would they rather sacrifice their happiness for their discriminatory parents? Would state governments be willing to employ someone that is not an indigene of the state?
From the family to community leaders and top government officials, all stakeholders need to stop judging people from the lens of their tribes. Instead, people should be selected for positions based on merit.