Sunday, January 15, 2023


During my recent visit to the East I had encounters that kept me wondering how far we have fared as a 'united' country and a people bound together in freedom, peace and unity. Encounters that kept me questioning whether indeed we as a people have done well to live together as one.

A lot of these events (the recent and previous ones that I have had) further accentuated the conundrum or dilemma of whether Nigeria is a country or a nation. (In all fairness, that's an argument I have safely left in the hands of anthropologists and social experts to decipher). 

When I read the brilliant and prolific Chinua Achebe's last book, THERE WAS A COUNTRY, I knew those in my generation missed a very critical part of our country's history. I knew there is so much to relish and relive in the Nigeria of the pre-independence era. I knew that inspite of the checkered past, what we have is worth salvaging if we truly believe in this country.

After what was described as the 'needless coup' of January 15, 1966, a very bad and sinister seed of division was sown and it has grown to become a big tree, covering the entire mass of the Nigerian geographic and mental space. We all live with a devious, unverified and unsavoury misconception of one another. A lot of the assumptions we make of ourselves are at best a figment of our wildest imagination. We live with a lie that is hindering the peace and well-being of our great country. We live with a false assumption and conjecture of prevarication about one another.

My position, which is very interesting and yet a bit unassuming derives from the fact that I am kind of 'neutral' in all of this (maybe not entirely neutral). This is so because of where I stand in all of these mistrust I see and I hear being peddled by low minds to push us further down the drain of disunity. 

As a matter of fact, my children have both Igbo and Yoruba names.

I am from the Igbo-speaking part of Delta (I'm Ika by birth to be precise) and I have lived all my life with the Yorubas in the Southwest. Interestingly, the Igbos don't see me (or my people) as one of them - they see me (or us) as a hybrid of some sort - except when it pays them, economically or politically, to do so. 

The Yorubas on the other hand don't accept any argument about being of the Idunoba's extraction that I put forward. They are very quick and swift to unequivocally describe me as 'omo aganabo' (whatever that means), in order to dismiss me or my people to a state of vacuum spatium.

It is worrisome because even though I have a sense of my identity as an Ika man, my idea of brotherhood is destroyed without any form of decency and justification. This is why I described my state earlier as a conundrum of some sort.

That is not even the reason for this musing. Let's get back to the issue of national unity which is my key interest for putting pen to paper.

I have watched sadly from my 'neutral position' how divided we have become just based on unfounded lies and uneducated rhethorics that many uninformed minds have passed down the generations like an oral tradition. We have succeeded in building bulwarks of mistrust and negative perception between the ethnicity across this nation. I sincerely wonder how we are going to survive this, really.

Like it will happen in Bodija in Ibadan (and I have personally seen this happen a lot of times also in the West), the driver of the vehicle I boarded spoke to me in Igbo as we were on our way to Nnewi and I responded to him in English. You should have seen how this man flared up! He accused me, that as an Igbo man, I should not have responded to him in English when he spoke Igbo to me. 

'A na su igbo, รณ na su oyibo' he said entering into a tirade of insults and abuses. 

He continued to bicker for over 45 minutes while driving. I stayed calm and was amused at his level of ignorance. The thoughts that kept running through my mind was how arrogant and how presumptuous? This man was stupidly both. 

You can't just assume that everyone you see in Onitsha is Ibo or can speak the language. In the first place, I reserve the right to communicate in whatever language I deemed fit provided we both can understand each other. Secondly, I speak an 'hybrid' Igbo, which might even hamper our communication. (I had done this in the past speaking in my own dialect to an Ibo man and he ended up making mockery of me. So, I made it a matter of choice to always communicate in English forthwith).

That event passed and I had the privilege of sitting with some strangers who interestingly were talking about the Yorubas. I was visibly miffed at the uninformed conclusions these people (both young and old alike) reached about a people they had so-called co-existed with for decades and generations. The conclusions and assumptions they drew were just outrightly annoyingly false.

Before you begin to cast an aspersion, it isn't different from the experience I have had in the West as well; where the Yorubas have funny and undignifying appellation for my Igbo folks. They deride the Igbos as people that are uncultured and lack respect. No statement can be farther from the truth.

In Nnewi, I saw a beautiful culture that is robust and steeped in mutual honour and respect. The culture was about conviviality and mutual inclusiveness.

The experience of the past few days have shown me not to draw conclusion on matters that I do not have grounded knowledge about. I have been taught that respect for others will birth a response of respect in my direction too. I have learnt that we all have the responsibility of changing the narratives by being good to our neighbours, not minding where they come from. I have learnt that the question of national unity is a responsibility for all of us.

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