I grew up as an army brat and that experience from the mid 70s took me from the Lagos south to the Kaduna North several times till the early 2000.
I am from a mixed parentage, my Dad is Yoruba, Kabba precisely, in the so called North Central, while my Mom is from the East, from Nkanu in Enugu State.
My childhood had a mix of Lagos life in Yaba and Kaduna experience in Badiko, 44, Barracks. Throughout this growing up period I was opportune to mix with people from different parts of the country.
Barracks life is a combination of all tribes with no difference as to your origin. I grew up not taking any significant interest in the tribe or religion of anyone. I had friends from the North who were Muslims and from the North too who were Christians.
We all celebrated all the religious festivals together without any bias or hatred. Life in the barracks was sweet and interesting.
In Kaduna, it was adventure in various mango fields, farmlands (Gona) and scavenging in the Governor’s House for peacock eggs, boy those eggs were sweet and filling.
In Lagos, it was hunting for birds, plucking fruits inside the military hospital without being caught and plain thuggery. This was during the era of ‘Alagbaras’ (Turf thugs like Adamson, Bobiro, etc). I later attended Igbogbi College where there was a mix of learning and thuggery but no tribalism.
My first experience with ethnic racism was after my dad had retired from the military and I had gone to see a still serving Brigadier General who was from Anambra and was the Commandant of the Yaba Hospital. During our discussion he tried recalling where my Mom was from and I assisted with the answer.
He then told me that my mom’s people are Wawa (whatever that means), that they are not real Igbos. Here I was thinking that Anambra State was not different from Enugu State as both where one state before. This experience stayed with me for long.
My experience in the West was while studying Dramatic Arts in Ife, amongst some of my lecturers, I realised that because of where my people are located in the North, we are often seen as inferior Yorubas, the Western Yoruba often regard Okun people from the North as less Yoruba compared to them. Anyone conversant with Yoruba History and wars knows of the ageless conflict amongst Yoruba people.
The Ife/Modakeke conflict is one. Even in Ogun State, the Egbas and Ijebus are never in agreement, same with those of Oyo and Ibadan. There’s even conflict as to the hierarchy of traditional rulers. In Lagos, those from Isale Eko often assume superiority over others from Ikorodu, Epe and Badagry, the position of the Oba of Lagos as number one over other first class traditional rulers has not helped matters. The Yorubas of Oyo still see those in Ilorin as traitors of their race.
I wouldn’t even want to go into the differences of religion in the West. So far on the surface it appears there is tolerance, but a good number of us know that it is not true.
In OAU Ife, while studying law, this same, you often have this feeling of your surname giving you out, the surname is Yoruba quite alright (Olorunshaiye), but it definitely tells the kind of Yoruba you are.
Under an Oduduwa State or Yoruba Nation, what guarantees are there that most of this conflicts of superiority, dominance and religious differences will not escalate to the fore?
Later in life, starting my own family and having lots of friends, a good number from the East, I started getting different or divergent opinions as to the composition of the East, I got to know that there is hierarchy of Igboness (Whateverthatmeans), I got to know that the people of Ebonyi State are regarded as the least on that table, other Igbos do not have regard for them. I got to know too that even within Enugu State, people who come from Nsukka and other areas to the North of the state are regarded as people who have heritage traceable to Northern Nigeria, they are regarded as non Igbos and are believed to have betrayed the Biafran course during the civil war, simply because Nsukka was the first major town the Nigerian Army captured.
Going further in, I realised that most Igbos are scared of interacting with people from Mbaise, they are regarded as treacherous, preferably to be killed before killing a snake. Most Imo indigenes only regard people from Anambra as superior to them in Igboness, precisely people from Ani and Nnewi, all other Igbo tribes are inferior to them. Even in Imo, those with roots to Owerri see other ethnic groups closer to the boundary with Anambra and other states as lower to them in class. I have seen this disdain for each other amongst this same people.
The multi billion Naira question is: with this hate among the same people, how would a Biafra and Yoruba Nation be different and better than the experience witnessed in Nigeria?
For me, I strongly believe in One Nigeria, where everyone has equal opportunity to excel and achieve their dreams, a level playing field for all peoples of Nigeria, where tribe and tongue may differ, but does not matter, a Nigeria where State of origin will be abolished, rather state of residence should be prioritised.
A Nigeria where regional and state autonomy will be the norm. A Nigeria where our diversity will be our strength. A Nigeria where Nigerians would love each other and the country. A Nigeria that will be respected worldwide for her achievements.
God bless Nigeria and may Nigeria succeed.
By Shaiye Gbenga Esq.