By Tabia Prinewill
SOCIAL scientists determine ethnicity to be an artificial construct based on shared beliefs of identity created over time. Groups (and their leaders) create certain beliefs in order to implement political strategies and control their followers. Ethnicity is thus a construct based more on power and status than on any real, intrinsic feeling.
Indeed, it is now believed that social, cultural and behavioural differences between people are not inherited but rather created for different purposes by those with the power, resources and will to do so. Therefore, one can assume there is no basic or fundamental hatred between people that was not created to serve a particular interest.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is no longer governed by humanists, people who studied the “triple threat” as it is called in universities, “politics, philosophy and economics”. The intellectuals have left the scene for those who see politics as a business, rather than a purpose, those who would rather bring in their cronies to share their loot than ask why we do the things we do.
Had we been serious, from the point of independence, about building “nation-states” based not on nepotism, cronyism and personal interests but on service provision for the majority and representation, not of groups, but of fair and equal opportunities for all, which is our superseding national interest, Nigeria would not be in the predicament it is in today where a First Lady can speak of “those people” (referring to Northerners) with disdain and champion the rights of the “Ijaw nation” as opposed to the rights of all Nigerians. Of course, my name is from the Niger Delta. But I have chosen, like all those who see a future beyond ethnic competition (as it should be in order to ensure peace and cohesion) to think both strategically and soundly, in the interest of Nigeria.
Futhermore, 21st century thinking and education does not allow one to wallow in the shallow waters of ethnic identity. In football, perhaps the quintessential Nigerian sport, they say “play for the name on the front of the jersey and they will remember the name on the back”. I play for team Nigeria so if I am asked what I stand for, it is for my country, first and foremost, for its unity and greatness which I am ready to dedicate my life to. So, when as a citizen and as a journalist, wrong-doing is observed, honesty and critical thinking shunned, I cannot justify it in the name of so-called ethnic solidarity.
Everyone from somewhere
Nigerians are often told “everybody is from somewhere” and that to move forward one must believe in one identity and endorse a regional axis and perspective to survive. Such petty, wrong advice! In the fullness of time, we will all come to realise this and those who don’t will be left behind. What makes a country? What makes its inhabitants live together in peace?
The short answer is opportunity and social mobility but definitely not the number of states allocated to each individual ethnic group. The idea of an “oduduwa state” proposed by some Yoruba Obas in exchange for supporting Jonathan’s re-election bid is ludicrous.
The world bemoans the increasing cost of governance and its negative impact on development, Nigerians must refuse the path of heavy expenses and support streamlining our expenditure, even if it means “hand-outs” will end. Corruption is nobody’s friend in the long run, not even those currently benefiting from it. Indeed, for money to multiply, it must be invested. But what will the rich invest in if both people and infrastructure are so far gone that investing in fixing them becomes a bottomless pit, due, ironically to corruption?
Rather than address the root causes of so many of our problems as a nation, we hide behind ethnic sentiments: whose turn is it to occupy power? What zone should be rewarded? In the modern world, it is no longer about tribe or where one is from but about being the best man for the job. After all, in football, team members are not chosen based on their ethnicity but rather, based on who can guarantee a win for all. So long as one is a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen with the talent to justify one’s ambitions, the sky should be the limit.
Zoning encourages ethnic competition rather than cooperation. The concept of state of origin itself is divisive and encourages both corruption and discord. Why should one be promoted simply on account of one’s ethnic group or home state? What if there are more capable individuals around? That they are expected to simply “wait their turn” like many young people in today’s Nigeria are told, is a miscarriage of justice.
If people with ideas and solutions to offer, had been told, in Europe or America, to “wait for their turn” many of the revolutionary changes and inventions we take for granted today would not have occurred. In other climes, men and women are taught “no guts, no glory”, “dream big and win” etc.
In Nigeria, people of all ages and backgrounds are taught to be meek and to stifle their inner light so that others, who are often less qualified, can shine. Then, we wonder why our country is still so underdeveloped. Why call our next eleven, rather than our best eleven to play for team Nigeria? What is change? For me, it’s equal opportunity, promoting and retaining the talents to develop Nigeria, irrespective of where they are from. Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we will always stand.
International women’s day
TALENT must be incentivised and rewarded, not because one belongs to a particular group, not because one is of a particular sex but simply because one is deserving. Nigeria must operate a meritocracy for women to truly thrive.
Those asking for a particular number of positions to be reserved for women are missing the point: this simply promotes a culture of handouts and mediocrity, where women are figureheads rather than real players. In modern democracies the powerful are talent scouts who go around looking for “the next best thing” as retention of talent in business and politics guarantees entrepreneurial success and enables parties to win elections.
There is also a greater purpose for attracting such talents. I firmly believe God uses them to create a future greater than we can imagine: meritorious leaders create a sense of limitless possibility for people, or the idea that there is something out there for you too, if you are willing to work for it.
Public to private governance
CORRUPTION in Africa is different from corruption in the West. Rather than withdraw mind-boggling sums from the public purse and do jail time, politicians abroad are sometimes found using their position to make contacts and influence business deals for their proxies, which falls into the domain of ethics when it is proven no bribe exchanged hands.
I am fascinated by how meticulous and watchful their journalists and civil society are. Hilary Clinton is facing an inquiry due to use of her personal email during her time as secretary of state. Indeed, all correspondence by public officials in the US is housed by state owned Internet servers which watchdogs can pour through in cases of suspected wrongdoing.
By using her personal email, she might have attempted to keep some aspects of her dealings during her time in office away from potential inquiry.
In another famous example, Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister, once asked football club Manchester United for jerseys for her sons but insisted on paying for them (although she did ask for a discount) so that she would not have to declare them as gifts. Jonathan might unknowingly have been on to something when he said “some of these cases we call corruption, it’s just stealing”. These are truly the best and worst of times.