Its a few minutes to Nigeria’s 55th independence anniversary as I type this, and I’ve been in a sober mood, thinking about this country of ours; its beauty, its history, its diverse people and cultures, and everything in between. Someone I know once referred to Nigeria as “an entity formed from a marriage of inconvenience”, referring to the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates by Lugard in 1914. But, I digress. In the course of its history, Nigeria has been through quite a lot of tribulations (but what nation hasn’t though?); from her struggles during the slavery era, to her time under colonial rule, to her journey toward independence, her discovery of oil
and all the trouble that came with it, the civil war and concurrent military rule, her turbulent time of coup after coup, to the current democracy. It has been quite a bumpy ride on the road to Eldorado. It isn’t uncommon to hear statements like “Nigeria na wa!”, or “Nigeria jaga jaga”, both denoting extreme disorganization and inefficiency in the running of the country. While I agree on some counts, (don’t tell me you don’t also watch Nigerian politics unravel itself anew everyday like a seasonal movie), I also have to admit that Nigeria has come a long way, especially in the light of recent events that show that the status quo won’t remain so for long.
It has been argued that the problem with Nigeria stems from its jumble of ethnicities and the babel of languages that it consists of. I believe that Nigeria’s problem is a vicious cycle of bad leadership and corruption in high places leading to bad followership and corruption in lower places, but, mbanu, I did not come on here today to give a diatribe about the shortcomings of our nation. I came to celebrate how far we’ve come and how our diversity can actually work to our advantage(without this sounding like a boring lecture, I hope).
Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups. I don’t know about you, but this preceding statement never loses its shock value for me. How possible is it for such a number of ethnic groups to be crammed into one country without constant conflict? I think I have a simple answer: by adopting the spirit of nationalism. Pere. Finish. Feel free to answer this question. When you are asked about your identity, do you think of yourself first as Nigerian before you think of yourself as Igbo/Yoruba/Hausa/Other tribe? Or is it the other way round? I have come to a simple conclusion that Nigerians lack the spirit of true nationalism. A country as diverse as ours will thrive by imbibing a culture of inclusion as opposed to that of exclusion. Which makes me still wonder why when we will forms, especially really serious forms, we are still required to fill in “state of origin”. Oga, abeg, how does my state of origin affect the price of garri in the market?
Embracing our differences and learning to work together for the common good is a great way to start. It has to go beyond mere tolerance to true acceptance. I know, I know, in the light of the ongoing violence in the north, this might seem like a really hard teaching to accept, but it really is the only way to keep ourselves sane enough for the national wheel to continue turning smoothly. Okay, so you are a northern Muslim and I am a southern Christian, but this shouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Everyone has something good they can bring to the table, so, rather than be bothered by tribal and religious differences, let us be interested in common national values and work together to achieve sustainable development. We young people in particular are so uninterested in the framework of our nation and the process of planning for its future, whereas WE are the future of Nigeria. Its pathetic really, but that’s a post for another day. We have to learn from our history, right the wrongs of the generation before us, and try not to make the same mistakes they did.
While on the bus some time ago, something amusing happened which I don’t remember, and it had all the passengers of the bus in stitches. They erupted into what I call The Nigerian Laugh: eyes tearing up, shoulders heaving, lips stretched wide, with the sound coming from deep in the belly. There’s no sound quite like it, I tell you. I took the moment to look around: at the Ibibio woman with a child nursing at her breast, the Hausa man clutching his praying beads, the Yoruba Muslim Hijabi covered from head to toe except for her face, the fat Igbo man in a too-tight shirt, and our ebullient Yoruba driver with a big gap in his teeth, all bent in laughter. Before my very eyes, our ethnic differences had melted away and we became united in the universal language of laughter. In that moment, we were nothing but brothers and sisters, sharing a good joke.
Unity in Diversity is a challenging but doable task. All it takes is a change of heart. When the laughter is on our lips, it gives no room for any other language, and so we have no cause to be divided, because we understand each other. Nigerians, this piece of God’s earth is ours to share; we might as well make it comfortable for one another. Happy Independence Anniversary.