October 28, 2013

Stella Oduah: Tribalism , ethnicity, bane of Nigeria’s development

Stella Oduah: Tribalism , ethnicity, bane of Nigeria’s development

By Taiwo Bello

For the past weeks since the incumbent Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah, was reported to have purchased, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), her two latest and most expensive bullet proof vehicles- BMW 760 Li HSS- at the abnormal price of N255m ($ 1.6m), Nigerians, both at home and abroad have been displeased by this act of flamboyancy and many- the living, dead, deaf, blind, lame and disable and the poor- have reacted on different platforms.

However, despite the fact that this act of mismanagement as many have described it has generated a lot of debates among ‘patriotic’ Nigerians, the focus of this write-up is not to expose Nigeria’s shame before the world, but to state in clear terms, why Nigeria has failed to develop despite the plethora of resources it possessed- if we like we say ‘oil’ amongst others. The only answer one can give is the existence of tribalism and ethnicity among leaders and followers in the country.

This has robbed Nigerians of the spirits of nationalism of the late 1950s to early 1960s in exchange for parochialism and selfism that have pervaded our political, economic and social climates since the mid-1960s.

Tribalism and ethnicity have penetrated deeply into the fabrics of the Nigerian nation and have distracted many, especially the youth who claim to be leaders of tomorrow, from pondering development as well as gathering the tools to instigate one: that is if they have access to the needed tools. These two are enemies of the Nigerian state and have deprived Nigeria its rightful positions in the world’s stage. Nigeria might be considered as a developing country by the international community, but the Nigerians themselves know that the country is far from that. In short, if there is any qualification below underdeveloped, Nigeria will be glad to embrace this status.

Nigeria emerged after independence in the 1960s as one of the major powers on the African continent and even dominated the political, economic and social arenas in Africa especially with its roles in the founding of the Organization of African Unity (now AU) in 1963 and subsequently, its relentless fight against white rule in Africa. Further, in 1975, Nigeria also played a very important role in ensuring that an economic body called the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was founded in order to foster trade relations and cooperation amongst the countries found on the Western part of Africa.

Nigeria was Africa’s voice on the international scene. Nigeria possessed both human and material resources that other African countries lacked and this was why some smaller countries such as Gabon and Ivory Coast decided to work towards its bifurcation by pitching their tents along with the French in support of the Biafrans against her during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970; a war that had its root in Tribalism and Ethnicity! Nigeria was the dream of many foreigners and tourists destination because of its beautiful climate and resources. At this period, many Nigerians were proud of their roots and the Nigerian passport was cherished like gold, silver and diamond. Nigerians stayed in their country, went about their businesses, had access to the best of academic materials and qualified teachers and professors that were competing on the international arena then, and many Nigerians would dare to say ‘to hell with foreign countries and their passports’ because Nigeria was even a model to some so-called developed countries today!

But where are all these values, pride and comfort today? The answer is that they have been buried in the womb of tribalism and ethnicity. Or better still, consumed by these long-standing enemies of the Nigerian state. What then is Tribalism and Ethnicity? These two enemies are different but share very close domain. According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 7th edition, Tribalism is defined as ‘behaviour, attitudes, etc. that are based on being loyal to a tribe or other social group’, while Ethnicity is defined as ‘belonging to a particular race’. These two have long been harmonized to determine the course of events in the political, economic and social relations amongst Nigerians.

Though these enemies called tribalism and ethnicity had been wining and dining with Nigeria long before the Nigerian Civil War, their modern images and dynamism as we experience on broad scales emerged as a consequence of the Nigerian Civil War and the subsequent perceived ‘marginalization’ among the Igbos by the other tribes.

Marginalization could be in both economic and political senses. Hence, even in Nigeria and overseas, whenever Nigerians are asked of their country, they give the opposite: they mention first their tribal or ethnic affiliation instead of their country, Nigeria. An Igbo person would say he is Igbo, therefore, he is different from a Yoruba or Hausa man. An Igbo man wants to form his association only with other Igbos, and the other tribes want to do the same, instead of having a larger group comprising of Nigerians. An Igbo man sees no reason why he should not defend and support his clansmen and women in power even if such person’s action is detrimental to the growth and development of the country: Nigeria. The same applies to the Yoruba and Hausa in the country.

And with these tribal and ethnic mindsets, Nigeria has been relegated to the position of ‘no-growth and no-development’. In saner climes and other countries around the world, people hardly identify themselves by their tribes or ethnicity, but their countries. For instance, an American when asked of his country, will not give such as wrong answer as ‘I am from Ohio or Philadelphia’, but the answer will be that ‘I am an American’. The same with the British, Romanians, French, Greeks, and many more and these are signals that the leaders, even if they are conscious of their ethnic or tribal affiliations, embrace first the national values and inculcate that in their citizens including the unborn.

Unfortunately, the opposite is the case in Nigeria and amongst Nigerians: we have put ethnicity and tribalism at the core of our relations.

In a country where the youth unemployment rate is alarming, citizens are suffering, there are many beggars, lack of heath care facilities and poverty has become a ‘tradition’, there is high crime rates and burglars, there are deadly insurgents emerging from the blues, there is wide gender gap and immensurable injustices, a country whose citizens are fleeing through the seas and oceans in search for greeneries in foreign lands and many are currently locked up in jail for actions enforced on them by the hardships in their own lands, and …whose average citizens… an appalling situation triggered by lack of learning infrastructure and non-payment of emoluments to universities professors by successive governments and for which teachers go on strike for at least twice in a year, yet, a so-called Minister of Aviation, who must have sworn to help contribute to the country’s development, could still have the guts to acquire expensive BMW cars for the sake of personal protection.

The reactions following the armoured cars have been uneven mainly because of the culprit’s tribal and ethnic affiliation: an idea that negates the ethics of development or patriotism.

Ms. Stella Oduah is from Ogbaru, Anambra State; one of the major Igbo dominated states in Nigeria. On Saturday, October 26, 2013, Ms. Stella Oduah, through the dint of her being from the Igbo nation, enjoyed the support of her people who protested against the ‘will’ of several Nigerians advocating for her removal or expulsion from the seat as the country’s Aviation Minister because of her alleged profligacy.

The protesting group, called the ‘Igbo Progressive Union (IPU), according to the Punch newspaper published on October 27, 2013, speaking in defense of the Minister at the Akanu-Abiam International Airport in Enugu, through its leader Emeka Agbo, said, ‘this is a woman that has given the aviation sector a new face since she came into office. Today, our airports can compete with airports in foreign countries. Before she came to office, we were hearing about international airports but today, it has become a reality in igboland. We are ready to swim and sink with her’.

This statement is far from the truth. Nigeria had had airports several years even before independence and Nnamdi Azikiwe airports situated in the East, the Igbo domain, had been in existence prior to Oduah’s assumption of office in 2011: so which airport did she enlarge or construct in the East? More so, it will be hyperbolic to state that Nigerian airports can now compete with airports in foreign countries: which indicators did Mr. Emeka apply before coming up with this unconvincing conclusion?

This argument had been sparked by nothing other than tribalism and ethnicity. Mr. Emeka Agbo did not even hide the fact that the future and development of the country is secondary to him as one can see when he stated that ‘we are ready to swim and sink with her’. It is only in Nigeria that this can happen! The youths who are supposed to be at the fore front of change and development campaign, are now, for the sake of ethnic and tribal associations. This shows the level to which the Nigerian youths have been brainwashed on tribal and ethnic lines to the detriment of the country. They will say ‘your people first, before Nigerians’. What a pity indeed!

These enemies called tribalism and ethnicity have also deprived Nigeria, on several occasions, of its political and economic positions at the international scene and must be discouraged, if not, the country will continue to sink, while smaller countries in Asia, Latin America and Europe will appear consistently on the flags of sustainable development.
Taiwo Bello wrote from Switzerland; can be reached on

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