Why Do We Keep Falling Into the Ethno-Religious Trap?

All around the world, perhaps for as long as human beings have lived together in organised communities, politics and policy have attempted to answer a question central to human societies: “how are we all going to live together”. This question, in Nigeria, has been answered all too fraudulently, with selfish propositions that benefit only a few.

Our living together in a multicultural, multilingual society, could have been an example to show the world that a plurality of habits and beliefs is a strength rather than a weakness.

Instead, our country is a case study of what not to do if one seeks the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, ethnicities and creeds. In our country, it profits a few for the many to suffer, so, time and time again there have been calls, practically from the moment we became a nation, for us to separate and not many of us have stopped to question exactly whom the disintegration of our country benefits.

Certainly, not the average man, whom in the changing reality of global politics would have much to lose if Nigeria were to dissolve into countries the size of its geopolitical zones. If that happened, only politicians supported by international business conglomerates, free to partner and extract our resources without accountability to a small, powerless, malleable population, would benefit.

Potentially unstoppable despots

These potentially unstoppable despots, running amok in tiny countries whose citizens the world would have no real interest in defending from total oppression, are the sponsors of the popular “let Nigeria breakup” refrain which is dangerously recurrent in the media.

Nigeria has not been poorly managed because it has too many ethnic groups. Our country is failing today simply because we have mostly been led by talentless individuals who owe their leadership to guns and bluster rather than ideas.

Those who inherited the country from the military have scarcely done any better as many are simply the proxies of the adventurers who upturned our collective destiny.

There are not too many ethnic groups in Nigeria for us to function as one. It is a childish, simplistic thought, one which wouldn’t even hold water were it not for the disingenuous nature of our politics and our politicians’ desire to deceive and manipulate popular thinking, all for their own personal gain.

We need to begin to see issues within a global context and rid ourselves of the miniaturization the political class has effected over decades, convincing us, not only that we are all too little and ineffective to challenge the oppressive system at play but also that our issues exist separately from those who create them.

The ethno-religious divide in Nigeria is the consequence of “othering”, a social psychology theory which states that groups bond by differentiating themselves from “others” perceived as different.

This difference can be real (skin colour) or a social construct imagined to suit certain interests or political calculations. Politicians in Africa (plus America’s latest occupant in the White House) often structure the coalitions they need to attain power based on “othering” and pitting groups against each other.

Rather than blaming or pointing fingers at equally troubled, poor or disenfranchised communities based on their different ethnicity or religion and fighting them, jostling for crumbs distributed by the political class, Nigerians must come to realise that the majority of us share an identity, that of the oppressed and the dominated. In fact, we must act upon this truth.

We have allowed ourselves to be conquered by hate and suspicion all so people who do not care about our wellbeing can profit. Why haven’t we united around the causes that matter to us?

We have blamed other groups, other people for would be “marginalisation”, every ethnic group in Nigeria tells itself a fairy-tale about how it is “kept down” by others rather than asking what its representatives did with the power and funds at their disposal when they had the chance, when they could have changed the lives of their kinsmen and of Nigerians as a whole, had they been sincere about their objectives.

There hasn’t really been a struggle to promote development and social justice in Nigeria. What we have seen has been political struggles to empower sectional interests by manipulating, using and dumping the people of various ethnic groups through trickery and false ideologies.

Dangerous fallacy

How do we confront the people who have broken our society and our country? We start by confronting the very ideas they spread, starting with the dangerous fallacy that a united Nigeria is impossible or that leaders have been unable to act in the interest of their people because Nigeria isn’t a true Federation.

There is very little that stops all other states in this country from becoming as developed as Lagos if not for a paucity of both will and ideas. States hide behind the paucity of funds to cover the fact that what money is available is spent on frivolities. Corruption remains the number one promoter of ethno-religious discord and underdevelopment in this country.

We need to retrain the Nigerian mind-set to regain the emotional and intellectual maturity required to discuss issues with neutrality, without defending wrong doing based on shared ethnicity or religion.

Emir of Kano

MORE traditional rulers all around Nigeria should publicly declare their support for the education of the girl-child. The quality of life in a society, its level of development, is judged by how it treats its weakest members, children in particular. For our society to adequately function, for our economies to grow by tapping into all our people’s talents, women cannot remain to be seen as second class or as unworthy of any sort of investment. The symbolism of Boko haram kidnapping over 200 girls (and not boys) must continue to weigh on our minds. Hillary Clinton once said “human rights are women’s rights”.

We cannot pretend to fix inequality or to end the domination or oppression of any people without considering perhaps the most universal, hidden-in-plain-sight injustice of all. Sanusi was recently quoted as saying: “I’m just tired of people coming to me to say I want to build a new mosque.

We keep building mosques and our daughters are illiterates”. Is the Emir ready to lead the charge? Nigeria needs more than soundbites.


THE Christian Association of Nigeria criticised Wole Soyinka, who is of the opinion, like I am, that Nigeria’s intolerant practice of religion, which confuses bigotry and divisiveness with holiness, is destructive and a large part of our society’s problem.

One statement stands out in its offensiveness in a country of plural identities like Nigeria: “Let him show any terrorist group by whatever name that shouts the name of Jesus before attacks or claim they are fighting for Jesus”.

Terrorism is rooted in geopolitics, poverty and “othering” (i.e. blaming “others”, groups, ideas etc. for a perceived state of affairs) rather than religion.

Also, historically, Christians have been associated with religious persecution, ethnic cleansing just as much as any other religion (the Ku Klux Klan, the deadly “Lord’s Liberation Army” in Uganda, the Christian militias in Lebanon during their civil war, to name a few, have perpetuated vile acts in the name of “God”).

Religion is practised by men and women with agendas but faith is another thing entirely. Nigerians must also be careful of the call for “state creation” to solve the southern Kaduna crisis. Creating more states is simply a ruse to employ more politicians to govern said states. If we developed this country and had real, fair opportunities for socio-economic progress, irrespective of ethnicity or religion, groups would not so easily go to war against each other.

What is CAN’s agenda? What ever happened to the money and arms reportedly recovered by South Africa aboard a pastor’s plane? God never said anything, in any holy book, about pastors helping governments to procure arms or killing the innocent in cold blood.

Let’s stop the hypocrisy and recognise instead when religion is being manipulated for private gain.

By Tabia Princewill

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Source: Vanguard

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