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We Are All Guilty of Tribalism – By Tochukwu Ezukanma

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By Tochukwu Ezukanma | Lagos, Nigeria | March 12, 2022 – The ban on Igbo songs by a Catholic priest, James Anelu, at his parish church in Ikorodu, Lagos State, irked the sensibilities of the Igbo; and stoked the endless debate about ethnic relations in Nigeria, the place of the Igbo in Nigeria, and the necessity (or lack of it) for Igbo secession from Nigeria. The Igbo are yet to find psychological closure to the civil war because we refuse to heal from the psychological wounds of the war. Consequently, such acts of tribalism that will normally, occasionally come to the fore in any heterogeneous society, like ours, severely bashes our still festering psychological wounds, and provides invaluable resources for neo-Biafran propagandists.

The write up listing the fears of other Nigerians about the Igbo: afraid of Igbo songs, afraid of Igbo attire, afraid of Igbo president, afraid of Igbo breakaway, etc that has been circulating in the social media is cheap, tasteful propaganda. By my definition, propaganda is tendentious manipulation of information. That write-up is tendentious; its purpose is to inflame neo-Biafran passion among impressionable and undiscerning Igbo. This article is limited to only one of the fears listed in that gaudy propaganda piece: the fear of Igbo songs.  

Tribalism, racism, sectionalism and other forms of discrimination are inescapable blemishes on life. Human beings are inherently discriminatory; discriminating along tribal (and sub-tribal), religious and socio-economic lines. For reasons psychologists and other experts of human behavior are yet to fully understand, we, naturally, gravitate towards people of our own kind and, more readily, affiliate and bond with them, sometimes, at the exclusion of others.

Long ago, as I walked through Tafawa Belewa Square in Lagos, beggars, on both sides of the walkway, besieged me for money; begging mostly in Yoruba and Pidgin English. I had already resolved not to give any of them any money. However, as I passed by this particular beggar, he stated in Igbo: nna, biko nye nu m ego (Mr., please give me money). His statement touched my heart; it stirred my compassion. I just could not resist that particular appeal for money. Although, I had already passed him, I turned around, went back a few steps to give him some money.

What was that? It was an act of tribalism. Why was I indifferent to every plea for money but heeded to the only one uttered in my language? Why did I gave someone preferential treatment because he spoke my language? .It is because, more than any other language in the world, the Igbo language strikes a passionate and responsive chord in me. I am guilty of tribalism. To varying degrees, all Nigerians are guilty of tribalism. Detribalization and objectivity ameliorate tribalism but do not total eliminate it. Culturally insular ethnic groups are more predisposed to egregious acts of tribalism. But then, culturally open-minded and adaptive ethnic groups are not totally innocent of tribalism.

Just, as there is Igbo-phobia among the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani, there is Yoruba-phobia and Hausa-phobia among the Igbo. In addition, there are intra-tribal phobias within each of the major ethnic groups of Nigeria. There are phobias and rivalries between the different Igbo sub- groups. In 2012, the Pope appointed a priest from Anambra State, Monsignor Peter Okpaleke, as the new Bishop of the Catholic Dioceses of Ahiara, Mbaise in Imo State. The people of Ahiara were vehemently opposed to it; Ahiara Catholics, non-Catholics and votaries of traditional religions led by more than 400 Catholic priests staged protests against the newly appointed bishop.  

With placards reading, “We want an Mbaise son as Mbaise bishop”. “Mbaise rejects Okpalaeke now and forever, Amen”; they stated in unmistaken terms that they preferred the closure of all Catholic churches in the diocese to Bishop Okpaleke presiding over the diocese. Instructively, they neither questioned his competence, personal honor or qualification, nor impugned his integrity or credibility. He is qualified to be a bishop, possibly, an outstanding bishop. He was rejected simply because he is from another sub-Igbo group.  

Like the people of Ahiara clearly demonstrated, people do not like outsiders lording over them. We resent domination by outsiders. The dislike, and, even, hatred for dominant foreigners is a universal phenomenon; a natural human tendency. More than any other group of Nigerians, the Igbo leave their home areas to live and work in other parts of Nigerian. And in these places of our sojourn, we succeed and acquire positions of influence and dominance. And, as people generally abhor control by outsiders, the Igbo, more than any other ethnic group of Nigerians, bear the greatest brunt of the resentment, and sometimes, hatred of successful, influential, and thus, “domineering” foreigners by the indigenous people in Nigeria. 

Just, as the Yoruba in Lagos, sometimes, demonstrate by words and actions obvious uneasiness about preponderant Igbo presence and influence in Lagos and the Hausa do similar things in the North, the Igbo also have shown noticeable weariness about overbearing influence of none Igbo in Igbo land. So, the discrimination against the Igbo or the fear of our domination by the native peoples in other parts of Nigeria is not tantamount to a universal hatred for the Igbo or a resolve at our extermination. It is an exhibition of human traits and frailties that the Igbo are also guilty of.

What incensed the priest and elicited his ban on Igbo songs in his parish was the domination of the Igbo (with their songs) of the church praise and worship in Yoruba land. It is unlikely that parishioners in Onitsha or Aba will not take offense at the preponderance of Hausa/Fulani or Yoruba songs in praise and worship in their parishes. How they react to it – that is, express their disapproval – will be a question of details. Although Lagos is much more cosmopolitan than these provincial outposts, ethnic sentiments within this sophisticated and broad-minded state can still periodically run high.

The priest erred, not because he is Igbo-phobia and dreads Igbo domination for we all have one phobia or another, and dread one form of domination or another, but because he dramatized a lacked of discretion and prudence that his office demanded.

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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Posted by on Mar 12 2022. Filed under Articles, Columnists, NNP Columnists, Tochukwu Ezukanma. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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