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Where are the Nigerians? 

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[FILES] A woman wearing the face mask. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

When the Chibok and Dapchi girls were abducted, what did you feel? Did you feel that these crazy Islamites had struck again? Or that this was a Northern problem- which self- respecting person would allow his daughter to go to school in Dapchi and Chibok?

Did you imagine how you would feel if one of those girls was your daughter? When you heard that they had been married off to Boko Haram insurgents, did you feel that they were fulfilling the will of Allah? Did you feel that those crazy northerners, who do not understand that only by education can we all progress, have again dropped the bucket?

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Do you really believe that Boko Haram and ISIS exist in Nigeria? Or that this is just a conspiracy dreamed up by the North to wrestle power away from the South-South President Jonathan? Even if Boko Haram was not justified, did you feel that since it was the turn of the North to produce a President, this aim should be achieved by all means necessary? If you believe that the North has a legitimate turn to produce a president, that the South also has a legitimate turn? Or do you believe that Nigeria should be ruled by the most competent person, regardless of where he comes from? Are you prepared to accept the consequences of geographical rotation among the six political zones, or no arrangement whatsoever – let the best man win?

Let’s step back again. When you see an appointment of some government position, do you immediately believe that one sector to which you do not belong, is once again monopolizing political appointments, etc?

The civil war

In 1966, a group of military officers, mostly Ibo, dissatisfied by how the country was run, took the terrible step of killing the top civilian leaders and military officers from every region in Nigeria. No Ibo politician or leader was killed. No Ibo officer was killed. This action launched Nigeria into uncharted waters. Seven months later, military elements, mostly from Northern Nigeria, struck again in a revenge coup. A terrible massacre occurred in the North and elsewhere, followed by great instability and a civil war, which ended in 1970. Up till today, we are still suffering from the trauma of these events. We have tried in umpteen ways to lacerate this cancer of tribalism; sometimes we succeed, at other times we fail. Of late the cancer has re-metamorphosed. We must all believe that this is an evil that cannot be tolerated. Our excesses must be curbed. We cannot continue to gaslight this monster or pretend that it is not what it is. The first step towards cure is to acknowledge the sickness. We are stronger together as Nigerians than belonging and behaving as separate ethnic and geographical entities.

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The #BlackLivesMatter is confronting systemic racism. The response is first to accept its existence and then to provide programmes to deal with it. We do not see white people doubling down to claim that racism does not exist. Blacks do not want to work, they are more interested in crime, domestic violence, strutting their stuff, narcotics, that only black women want to work, etc, that the top jobs in Goldman Sacks, Apple, Amazon cannot be filled by blacks, who cannot and will not invest, implying that blacks have some congenital impairment.

But they did not. Instead they are trying to deal with the situation. Scholarships to disadvantaged people, social housing, removal of offending films, advertisements, creating 30% more opportunities for minorities, etc.

Even if we face systemic racism, or in the case of Nigeria, systemic tribalism, or northernization, westernization, Iboism in all government activities, the right to call out this issue must not be denied. Every Nigerian must learn how to hear uncomfortable truths without resulting to violence. Is the opinion expressed true, has it some merit? If so, the proper response is not to claim that others have done it. The answer is to change because not doing so will bring everybody back to ruin. We all respond with sensibilities. White people round the world could have responded that black people do not want to work. Instead the young people of every colour are demanding change.

The corporations and institutions are responding. Pepsi Cola is setting goals to employ more people discriminated against in their corporations – in senior management and at the board level; Microsoft, Adidas, Nike, Bank of America, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Netflix, City Bank, Goldman Sachs and thousand computer companies and others are doing the same because the status quo is untenable. We in Nigeria should do the same.

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When you see the growing desertification of the North, what do you feel, that this is a Nigerian problem or a Northern problem? Where is your passion for Nigeria – dryness of territory, insecurity in our schools? Thousands of school age boys not going to school? The Ibo apprenticeship scheme in various trades – mechanics, textile, pharmaceuticals, etc is in many respects similar to the Almajiri system, but short of its religious painting.

When you hear and see monstrous oil pollution in the South-South, such that the people there cannot fish or farm, what is your attitude? Is it those lazy people who want to wear long night gowns with golden studs and walking sticks – how can they fish or farm? They earn all this money and there is nothing to show for it, except the young fine women from there who ceaselessly and seductively pursue rich men for their money. Has it ever occurred to you that willy-nilly the ravages of oil pollution will have to be corrected at great cost and that the problem is as much a Nigerian problem as desertification? Why does the rest of Nigeria not call the South-South to order because eventually political instability would reign throughout the nation?

When a young girl of 12,13,14 is forcibly married to an older man, are you scandalized or quiescent? Has that child not got a life to live apart from being burdened at a tender age to carry responsibilities beyond her years? Where is your spirit, your anger, indeed your humanity? Leo Da Vinci called simplicity the highest form of sophistication.

Can it be true that Nigerians do not like themselves? In all the political zones, there is a blazing hatred of different sections to different sections.

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Why do Nigerians think they are unique? Even if they are, should it be unique in failure? Why can we not be unique in successes? Jamaicans, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Somalians, Indians, Pakistanis, Japanese, Chinese, are all unique in many things, but I want to highlight sports. Nigeria today has people in nearly all the major sports and entertainment industry, they are in medicine, journalism, acting, directing, etc, but even here – there is no cohesion, no traction. They send billions back to Nigeria. A former Minister of Finance alerted us to the game banks, foreign exchange institutions, the CBN play with the substantial amount of money sent back by Nigerians in diaspora. The money is substantial. Now any amount our envoys in diaspora send back to relatives is given to the recipients in Naira. My son sends me US$1,000, and I receive #340,000 or less. In remitting the money, he has paid all the visible expenses. I get jammed by the system that deprives me of as much as #70,000, being the difference I could have received if the money was given to me in the currency at which it was sent.

I know that there are problems in this simplification, but the problems are less than fair in any other outcome to the sender and receiver.

When you see Almajiri young boys being abused and tested for coronavirus – what goes through your mind? What do you see?

Oh those northerners are not sending their children to school? They won’t go to school because they have power and don’t need qualifications to progress?

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Do you see a lost opportunity for Nigerians – that one of those children may have become an Einstein? Even if not an Einstein, are you not worried that they would never have the opportunity to have tried?

You spend #500,000 per month to send your child to a private school, you have a nanny to help you at home, you prepare your children to the best of their ability – even if that is to find their way, with your help to so-called green pastures in Europe and USA.

If Nigerians were to feel what Indonesians and Ethiopians feel about desertification and replenishing the forests – we would do what they do – these are the two greatest tree planting nations in the world. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, an adopted child, led his nation in planting 350 million trees in 12 hours! He could not have done that if he did not have a large number of Ethiopians on his side to support him. In Indonesia, the tree planting exercise was launched and headed by the president, and all the governors of Indonesia have now continued for over 20 years. They have palm trees, avocado trees, trees for pulp in the paper industry, etc.

Can anyone imagine the President, the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emirs of Kano, Katsina, Adamawa, Bauchi, the Shehu of Borno, etc, girding up their loins to lead in tree planting?

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We do have laws and customs. We should simplify and obey them. All nations have them, all do the same examinations since they have learnt from the same syllabus. At 17/18, they do the next examination, which prepares them for further education and training. I think we should accept the reality of the failure of the system, of attempting to stream from JSS3. It has not worked, cannot work if the technical schools are not there in the infrastructure (including teaching the teachers). People get educated for a purpose, nations need an educated population. It is much easier than this educational system with no road map that we call Nigeria.

Muslims and Christians should attend schools which teach the basic Maths, English, Science, etc 2+2=4 in any language, religion or native doctor’s clinic. We all learn the ingredients of Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Internet, etc, these are the tools of progress to-day and the foreseeable future. If you want to be a Catholic father, an Anglican priest, an evangelical hot brand or a Muslim cleric – these are all attainable, but not at the expense of the tools of the 20th century. The syllabus should be able to teach all religions and all the pupils can be tested on all subjects. Having a school where only Latin is taught and is as unproductive as having one in which only Arabic is taught. That education has a large debt to Arabic knowledge is accepted and celebrated and should be taught.

When I say children – I mean both sexes – our elders have to wean themselves from the terrible idea that girls cannot or should not be educated to the extent of their potential. Whatever is pushing any man to want to marry a 13-year- old girl must be evil and condemned. It may have been alright to do so several centuries ago – it is now despicable and men should be ashamed of themselves no matter the temptation or presumed justifications. Denying young women the educational opportunities may well be denying a world genius of the likes of Marie Curie.

How can you sit in a room with someone whose co-religionists claim that western education is haram, i.e an anathema and practitioners of that education should be killed? You must hold such friends or colleagues to account in much the same way as tolerating hate bating Christians who think that Muslims are the devil incarnates and should all be burnt at the stake? There should be no room for that kind of thinking by Nigerians. It is not enough to say you oppose extremism; you must do something to stop it!

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Mr. Lamikanran was trying to explain tribalism to me. He said that the ten topmost jobs in a company were all occupied by people of one tribe. One of them retired. The board tried to appoint a person from a different tribe. The remaining 9 officers met to complain about tribalism!

It is impossible to contain such restless talent: so the Ibo have broken into oil, banking, insurance, aviation.

Why does the Ibo man not do these things at home in their villages? Afraid of being poisoned.

The Ibo man would learn your language with no respect for enunciation, grammar, but will speak your language Esperanto style. No other ethnic group studies and speaks Ibo the way the Ibo man learns other languages.

There is discrimination among the Ibo. The Onitsha Ibo looks down on other Ibos. “Sa nwa onye Igbo pua eba”.

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Yet the Ibo as a group think more than others, i.e. they think of progress for the group.

It is easy to take any one of the above and demonize it. But it would be a shame not to attempt to learn from them. Can some light be thrown on the Hausa, Fulani, Igbirra, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Tiv, Idoma, Kanuri, Ibibio?

Thereafter a compendium can be brought to find the composite Nigerian.

All governments should stop all aids for pilgrimages – Christian, Muslim and any other. I do not intend to go through the doctrinal basis, but I believe that performing pilgrimage was based on one’s financial ability to do so. Among the Arab, before the Holy Prophet, many deities received pilgrimages. It is the genius of the Prophet and his successors that definite sites were developed for pilgrimage if you can afford it. As for Christians going on pilgrimage, this was a survival of the military expedition to reconquer Jerusalem from the Moslems. Anyone who can afford to go should go, but the government should have no part in it – such as preferential foreign exchange regime, chartering of aircraft for pilgrimage, special offices for pilgrimages, and so on. The government could encourage private foundations to do this and get out of the morass of people turning something holy into an exploitation Marras.

I am trying to build a composite Nigeria by taking all that is good and even questionable in as many ethnic groups as possible.

Ibo/Igbo – like Germans who lost the war yet have the strongest economy.

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They spread like Germans who occupied Austria, Switzerland, Sudetenland, former East Germany. Ibo-South East, Delta, Rivers.

The German mentality did not endear them to their neighbours. Neither did the Ibo mentality endear them to their neighbours.

Ibo language spread beyond their territory into Bonny, Opobo, Buguma, Abonnema, Ikwerre.

The Ibo have a unique training ability and scheme and compensation. (Now Bemleke give their children for training in apprenticeship for various businesses.

Ibo dominates in certain trades – spare parts, Nollywood, music – a compendium of several streams of expertise and experience.

Even criminality, 419 scam requires thinking fast on your feet.

Other ethnic groups have displayed business acumen- the Hausa and forex market. Yoruba and cloth design – adire, aso oke, gold, craftsmanship, etc.

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Ibo dominates in long distance haulage and commercial bus travel opening the opportunities for Brazilian businesses in Nigeria.

Okada – arguably the most convenient way to travel in congested traffic or between villages without good or proper roads. The people of Akwa Ibom excelled in this before the Hausas took over. The Ibo were the patch, patch tailors before being ousted by the Hausa who dominate the meat industry as well as personal security, leather crafts and repairs, barbing and shaving.

Buildings, again dominated by Ibo, who own most buildings in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. – ironically the Ibo need stability to thrive. They don’t do so well in unstable areas where the Ijaw thrive and grow. They are loud and boisterous, shouting 090 from the rear of a phone to a fellow Ibo in front. They have carried Nigeria’s food expertise and culinary to the remotest part of the world. If you went to Siberia, north of Canada, Vietnam, Poyang, Reykjavik you would find an Ibo man.

My wife’s bag was stolen a day after she arrived in China at a shop. Nothing can be more frightening than to have no money, no identity amongst a people whose language you cannot speak. When she called, we were both hysterical and bereft of all rationality. I tried to call the Nigerian ambassador, but where would I say she was? While bemoaning my plight, one Ibo man calmed me down. He knew the flight she would have come on and possibly the hotel. He had a block of offices in the town. He told his people to look after madam, gave her all the money she needed. I paid him. How terrific. Ibo eclecticism, often culturally denigrated, is an important talent to swim in different ways and waters.

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