Our Unending Tribal Wars and The Power of Understanding

Our Unending Tribal Wars and The Power of Understanding
Our Unending Tribal Wars and The Power of UnderstandingMany have made money and built reputations by solving problems. Doctors cure the suffering of illness, psychiatrists help heal the troubled mind, lawyers protect names from being tarnished, consultants offer marketing advice and a dazzling array of products help to remove any inconvenience you might possibly encounter in your daily life.

Many people are solving problems. They’re all offering solutions to people who need them. Some are giving them away for free. Others are selling them for a price. When problem and solution is a perfect fit, a relationship of trust is built between two parties. If this helps me now, it might help me again. If this solves my problem, it might solve my friend’s problem too.

There’s a connection. The problem solver becomes more popular as more problems are solved for more people. Every time you solve a problem in a way that’s better than others, you add undeniable value to the person in need.

The root of the word, dialogue, comes from two Greek words, dia, which means, “through;” and logos, which is usually translated, “word.” William Isaacs, in his book, Dialogue, calls dialogue a “flow of meaning.” This flow of meaning occurs in the context of a relationship among the people gathered to talk. In ancient days, the Greeks used to gather in the polis to converse about current issues. This “talk” became the fountain from which their self-governance flowed.

Dialogue is the opposite of debate, a verbal “fight,” the goal of which is to win an argument by besting an opponent. The focus is on listening for flaws in the “opponent's” argument rather than listening to understand something new or from a different perspective. Ego is typically at the center of this win-lose conversation.

Dialogue is also different from discussion, the “breaking apart” of issues, individuals or situations to gain agreement. Discussions tend to be fast-paced, persuasive conversations in which one person tries to convince the other of a point of view or solution. Ego, control and power over others are often at the forefront of this style of talking.

The first and most difficult task of dialogue involves parking the ego and listening with an open spirit. From this receptivity can come questions which lead to understanding.

“What is it you see that I don't?”
“How do you see this differently and why?”
“Please help me understand from your perspective.”

To ask these questions requires that one no longer need to have the best or last answer. Expanding one's understanding becomes more important than being right or getting one's point across.

This then brings me to my experience with certain fora/websites on Nigerian issues (I will not mention names) where, though the ideas of the creators are to encourage lively, intellectual and problem-solving debates, or dialogues or discussions, more often than not, degenerate into unspeakable name-callings, tribalism, jingoism and hatred.

I will be particular about the blatant tribalism expressed on these sites. Let us not be deluded that each man or woman in this world does not have his or her prejudices against certain people or tribes. It is the same all over the world, but that of Nigeria, probably because I am a Nigerian and cannot claim to have studied this particular trait in all countries of the world, is very virulent, nauseating and despicable, especially considering the calibre and education of the participants.

In most cases, the problem is between the so-called major tribes of Nigeria – Hausa/Fulani, Igbos and the Yorubas. To some people, especially the Igbos, the Biafra War is still on, and until certain sections of the Nigerian society apologies for the Biafra war, that war will be everlasting. Fair enough. I am not against the Nigerian state tendering an apology to the Igbos; however, I hold it that the Nigerian state must tender several apologies to its entire people for a lot of wrongs.

As readers must have surmised from my writings, I am a believer in One Nigeria, but having said this, this is not set in stone. If on the long run, we find it very difficult to co-exist as a nation and as a people, then, by all means; everybody should go their own way, although I find this rather inconvenient and not possible in real terms. Nigeria cannot split into 250 nations. Unless we are being deliberately mischievous and impractical, we cannot even split into three nations. Mark my words.

The Europeans in the early part of the last century, initiated a vicious war between them, 1914 to 1918, and roped in every other people in the world. They called it World War One. Shortly after that, these same Europeans started another war, 1939 to 1945, roped in the rest of the world, and called it World War Two; Great Britain and its European allies, and the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand on one hand, and Germany and its allies, including Italy and Japan on the other. The USSR came in too, and the war affected all continents, including our continent, Africa, which was then under the colonial rule of the Europeans. Africans and several Asian countries were drafted into a war that we didn’t know what the hell it was about.  

After those wars, the victors helped in re-building the lands of the conquered. Today, they are the best of friends, politically, economically, socially, technologically, culturally and even environmentally. They quickly forgot their mutual hatred or rivalry between each other, moved on and cooperate as much as they can on every issues affecting their existence. Granted, they are different countries, and not a single country, like Nigeria, nevertheless, those people exhibited characteristics which made human coexistence possible. It shows that while we may not forget, we could at least forgive each other.

Perhaps a little closer to home, and more relevant, is Rwanda. After a murderous, genocidal civil war based on tribal sentiments and hatred, 14 years hence, the Hutus and the Tutsis are at peace, living together and re-building their country together. In several African countries that had little pockets of tribal troubles, they seem to have moved on to find solutions to their problems, leaving behind them all their ethnic jealousies, sentiments and rivalries. The world is a-changing. People must learn to live together in order for humanity to continue to exist.

But in my country, Nigeria, no such thing is happening. Thirsty years after our own civil war, we are still feeling the effects and for various reasons, some have not accepted that the war is over, and despite the reconciliatory moves and several turns of events, there is very much a mutual distrust of each other, sometimes leading to violence. On the face of it, we are living together in relative peace; all tribes have equal opportunities in all aspects of the general society, we are inter-marrying; Igbos own properties in Ibadan, Lagos and Abuja and Minna; Hausas own lands in Abeokuta, Port Harcourt; Yorubas own choice real estate in Jos, Benin and Bauchi. Hausas marry Igbos and Yorubas and all seem to be well. (My son, a Yoruba, is looking more likely to marry his Igbo girlfriend, and I am very happy about that and looking very much forward to having Igbo in-laws, as I am sure my future in-laws are too). I take it personally as my family’s contribution to tribal harmony and integration in my native land.

However, underneath is the hatred between the peoples of Nigeria, which we do not seem capable of overcoming, or at least put aside. On the internet for a I mentioned, when issues of great importance is being discussed, some idiotic tribal demagogue  comes up and introduce tribal sentiments, and thus negate the importance of the issues being discussed and derail the rest of the discussants; everything discussion then degenerates into tribal name-calling and vituperations.

While in search of knowledge, experience, wisdom and news, I tend to visit these sites with a lot of trepidation, fearing abuse and vituperations. The hatred expressed and exhibited on these fora and websites hit you like a big stone; it depresses you and makes you frustrated; it saddens and discourages you; sometimes I have tears welling up in my eyes, and they damage my soul for three main reasons:

1.    I cannot stand tribalism amongst Nigerians, no matter what had happened between us, and
2.    If this continues, and people do not realise the legacy they are leaving for future Nigerians, we are doomed as a people never to progress
3.    And most importantly, we are not directing and focusing our energies, potentials, etc on the real problems that is not making us develop and progress as a people; we are not fighting the real enemy – the corrupt and manipulative politicians, using religion and tribalism to oppress us for their own selfish agendas.

What, for example, has late Chief Obafemi Awolowo got to do with the issue of Ojo Maduekwe and Oluwole Rotimi, or Reuben Abati being given land in Abuja by a Hausa? Why drag Chief Awolowo’s name into this issue? During his lifetime, Awolowo was himself unfairly as a tribal leader, yet the ex-Biafran leader, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, hailed him after his death, as the “Best President Nigeria never had”. I can only give these examples because these tribal sentiments are, more often than not, unfortunately almost always expressed by my Igbo compatriots. Awolowo and others of his times, the Greak Zik, Sardaunna of Sokoto, Aminu Kano, etc are dead now, and those of us still alive are still borrowing from their wisdom and venerating them. At the same time, we are not moving forward, preferring to hash up old hatreds at every opportunity. So much for the future; so much for progress; so much for enlightened and educated Nigerians. We are still in the darkness of odium despite all our professed education, sophistication, world-wide travel, knowledge, wealth and intellectualism.

In an earlier article, I expressed that somebody who is very quick to accuse another person of being a tribal bigot is himself the worst tribal bigot. It stands to reason. One of the reasons why we are not moving forward as a country is the bane of tribalism. Aside from corruption, this is another problem we have in Nigeria since independence. It is detrimental to our development, as with corruption. Everybody is using this charge against the other and hiding under its cloak in everything we do. The military used it very well, and the civilian politicians are experts and adept at using and playing the tribal card to suit their nefarious agenda. It was this label that led to a civil war in which millions of Nigerians, mostly Igbo, died and suffered. The scars are still there today. Some people are even still fighting the war in various ways.

Yes, we all have our various agenda and prejudices based on religious, tribal, political, educational, and individual tendencies for survival.  But there are sincere and truly patriotic Nigerians working very hard towards getting rid of these various agenda, but the forces of retrogression and selfishness are bent on preserving this evil status quo. It does not augur well for the country.

My position here is that those who label one Nigerian or the other as being “tribalistic” are themselves prejudiced and tribal. If someone accuses another, for example, of supporting Obasanjo because Obasanjo is a Yoruba man like the person being accused, then it makes sense to use the same argument against the accuser; that the reason why he does not support Obasanjo is because Obasanjo is not from his tribe. It works both ways. So what happens to an Igbo or Hausa man who supports Obasanjo, a Yoruba man? We find another dangerous label – suddenly a supporter of another tribe becomes known as a traitor.

Nigerians with tribal or religious tendencies and agendas never see the bigger picture. They are quite incapable of seeing it. They circle round the issues, either deliberately or because their vision is clouded permanently with biases and prejudices. In fact, in most cases, the same “tribalists” and religious zealots are the corrupt Nigerians – they will always put their tribal or family affiliations first before national interests. These make such people inevitably evil and corrupt.  

Coming to think about it, the word “tribalist” does not exist in the English Dictionaries or language. It is a fabrication that is unique to Nigerians.  It was invented by selfish and divisive Nigerian politicians a long time ago, and forced down our throats and used to perpetually keep us apart and feuding eternally. Tribalism is now so much part of us, that in conjunction with corruption, it is another vice keeping us down in that country

Corrupt and inept people, instead of putting all efforts into developing their own immediate community, are always looking for excuses and blaming their shortcomings on tribalism. Tell us, why should an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State be blaming a Yoruba man or Hausa man for their plight, when an Ijaw man entrusted with, and given vast resources to serve his people and alleviate their problems, is instead deliberately looting his state’s treasury and lining his pockets with his state’s monthly allocation? Our brothers and sisters, let us call a spade a spade and do not let us shy away from the truth. Take away the tribalism charge, and everything else will fall into place, or at least, we can address them logically, to arrive at the proper solution.

It is worth repeating here that a runner who is simultaneously looking backwards will only create a drag on his own speed. That is exactly what people who play the tribal card are doing, not only to themselves, but to the rest of us.

We must keep moving forward.  We must not let the differences in our cultures, languages, traditions and religions or any other diversity hold us back. Great leaders and great achievers do not look back. And remember, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Therefore, let us not resort to lazy workmen that quarrel with their tools. We must utilize our diversified talents, experiences and resources for the common good of improving Nigeria! Our former National Anthem surmises it well “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”

I am still standing.


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Akintokunbo A Adejumo

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