Bí a bá ńjà, bí í kákú là ńwí? …Even though we are quarrelling, should we wish each other dead?

Some ten years ago I had written on a very similar topic, and repeated same seven years ago and my introduction is not exactly different, it is sad and so because it paints the picture of a nation that simply does not know where it is headed to, or does not want to face what I term, realistic, reasonable and responsible approach to its diversities.

So why have I opened this file again; the answer is simple and direct, it is in response to Mr. President’s recent speech to his countrymen and women on the indivisibility and non-negotiability of the nation.

The ethnic conundrum of our existence continues to hunt and haunt us being one of the major obstacles to the existence of the Nigerian state. Beginning with the transition from colonial to neo-colonial dependence, military and back to the PDP brand democracy and APC infested change styled governance. The conflict spiral generated by ethnicity can be seen at all the critical phases in Nigeria, its democracy, the party system, the electoral process and the sharing of the national cake via offices and resources.

If its not Southern Christian GEJ versus Northern Muslim Buhari, Southern Diezani versus Northern Dasuki…all conflicts, controversies and interests all narrow down to who is from where.

The truth is that as much as some form of true federalism or on the extreme confederacy, resource control and largely self determination is desirable, however the complexity of ethnicity in Nigeria can only be properly understood in the context of power struggle among various factions of the ruling class, especially within the context of the lower class’ ignorance through manipulation. The empirical fact being that ethnicity cannot be deconstructed because we have a faulty form of state and a morally bankrupt class in power.

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Ethnicity has been also constantly shifting because of a fluid and dynamic nature of changing interests, for example a hitherto unknown South-South or a salient North-East, then a newspaper Middle Belt, a political and religious one, and also a geographical Middle Belt remain either real or a facade. It has simple varied as demands change or as the social injustice is perceived, from the rigid North/South and Christian/Muslim divide.

To the mutual suspicion of the West/East and East/South–South down to statism in the form of the Kwara/Kogi Yoruba question, Plateau/Nassarawa issue, Bauchi/Gombe, Anambra/Enugu versus Imo/Abia. Either way each of these has continued to be useful in the politicization of ethnic identity with the changes in political struggles.

It is difficult to prefix a particular political tendency to the collectivism of an ethnic group because as the Nigerian example suggests, different political tendencies can be expressed within a particular ethnic group, like the differences between the Ohaneze ndi Igbo and MASSOB, IPO and that of the Afenifere fon awon Yoruba and the OPC.

Today there is a ‘visible disintegration’ in the interest of the North as portrayed by Arewa on one hand, and the macabre dance of Northern Political Elders Forum on another hand and the new kids on the bloc Arewa Youth

The resurgence of ethnic identity only smacks of the total disillusions, which the present ‘regime’ has brought about, the insecurity and uncertainty that pervade the air. The renewed call for restructuring, ethnic agitation surely has an implication both positively and otherwise.

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It has been recently easy for everyone to have an understanding of the term ethnicity within a narrow conceptualization. This is rather a faulty assumption. For one, there is a tendency to conflate ethnicity with other social phenomena that share similar features especially those that fall within primordial and communal identities like tribalism, favoritism, the Biafran struggle, Resource control, MEND, BOKO HARAM, IPOB, OPC et al.

There could also be the tendency to see ethnicity as the natural outcome of existence of ethnic groups, which again is wrong, the fact that like any other portmanteau word, it can serve as a euphemistic substitute for other appellations has led to abuse, precisely as it has no independent existence of its own. Class interests or the quest for power has driven it. In our Nigeria today as always it has taken greater meaning in the competitive situations where available resources are scarce in relation to the interests, which grow around them.

The major issue in the ethnic struggle is the phenomenon of politicized ethnicity. More often than not, ethnicity is invoked by interests, which are not necessarily described in ethnic terms.

As Claude Ake once put it, “conflicts arising from the construction of ethnicity to conceal exploitation by building solidarity across class lines, conflicts arise from appeals to ethnic support in the face of varnishing legitimacy, and from the manipulation of ethnicity for obvious political gains are not ethnic problems, but problems of particular dynamics which are pinned on ethnicity”. This is the Nigerian situation.

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The contradictory tendencies of ethnicity are obvious today and the need to provide important safeguard against centralization and authoritarian tendencies has once more arisen. The problem we have is that the mobilization of ethnicity as a way out has more often than not been for some few people’s material benefit and this has given rise to the questions of citizenship rights, statism, indigeneship/settler palaver. To an extent this has become a veritable tool that is internalized and used as a crisis generating mechanism and obstacle to democracy.

Deep ethnic fears generated by in-built structures that promote unequal access to power and resources is being exploited, and is part of the present government’s dilemma.

If you are in any Nigerian suburb there is this dude who screams while selling rat poison…e dey worry you (does it disturb you), if it does, you buy the rat poison to kill the rodent. However the rodent or rat called power can be better dealt with, there are reasons for the agitation, the government knows, if we refuse to deal with, it will deal with us the cruel way, the only way. The graphic pictures we see of violence every here and there should serve as a caution less we become a market for weapons and centre place for humanitarian groups. Are we willing to thread with caution or just kill the rat—Only time will tell

Prince Charles Dickson PhD