Tribe Before Country?

Tribe Before Country?

In 1914, the country, Nigeria was formed. Many have stressed that the amalgamation of Nigeria was unnatural and that if left to our own devices perhaps ‘Nigeria’ as we know it today would never have come into being.

Whatever may be the case, we have been a country for nigh on 100 years now. We are subject to the same federal rules and share a president. And yet, many of us still hold on to our tribal roots as though we expect Nigeria to return to its past assortment of villages, cultures and peoples.

This is not to say that there is no value in one’s tribe and in one’s language. It is beautiful that we have our different beliefs, our different cultural practices, our different backgrounds and can still come together for one cause, for one nation. On a side note, don’t you hate it when foreigners ask if you speak Nigerian?

However, I find that many Nigerians consider themselves first as Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa; in other words, their loyalty is first to their ethnic group. Some go as far as identifying strongly with their tribal state i.e. Osun, Ogun, Anambra or Calabar. And others are true to their tribe and village, going as far as seeking marriage only with people from the same region. Because we are already carrying so many identities on our heads, we forget we are Nigerian and find it nigh impossible to come together as one.

Even when selecting our leaders, we are mindful of the ethnic group they hail from. Too many terms with a leader from ethnic group A and ethnic group B through Z feel slighted. And we have come to believe that this is normal. So governments tread lightly.

I would like to use America as an example. America, like Nigeria, is a country made up of states. Each state has its own way of life, its own laws and its own culture. However, when a president is elected, there is no song and dance about him being from Florida rather than New York; or from California rather than Boston. This is because the concept of America is strong enough that it dwarfs the individual’s identification with his or her state. But perhaps, English is a unifying force. Those who don’t speak English tend to be Spanish speakers. And that’s just two languages. But in Nigeria, one has to battle with hundreds.

When Buhari ran for president, his campaign team had him dress up in the native clothing of the three popular ethnic groups. But are photographs enough to convince a diverse nation of people that gifts and positions won’t favor those who belong to the Buhari’s ethnic group? As Buhari now selects the names for the various ministerial positions, the tribal backgrounds of those individuals are being examined with a magnifying glass to determine if any indulgence or disregard has been shown to a particular ethnic group.

It is no wonder that words like ‘unity’ and ‘patriotism’ are strange to the average Nigerian. Dying for Nigeria is so far from anyone’s mind and is met with derision when brought up. “What has Nigeria done for me?” – A question which highlights the fact that we are yet to fully appreciate that it is the people who make the country and not the other way round.


Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self published work. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

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