The Nigerian identity is very far beyond the geography we have, it goes beyond the color green and white on our flag, our identity is who we are and what we value as a people
I was born and brought up in Nigeria, I sang the national anthem with passion on what we use to call our assembly gathering every morning at school, we were taught to respect our nation and stand still whenever the anthem is being sang – we never had a choice because no one wants to get spanked. I remember I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum during one of our excursions in primary school, I saw arts, artifacts, I saw pictures of our heroes past, I was able to even see the Jaguar of late Murtala Mohammed, I saw the bullets and the dents of the blood stains, we were told he was assassinated. These were primarily the moments I cannot forget about my nation Nigeria.
Upon getting to secondary school, I was becoming more enlightened in the structure that was set for us to follow by the society of what my identity was. We were made to fill in our states of origin on every form we filled. I remember back then in school, we all knew our states of origin, our relationships were hinged upon it. We were limited in our identity to just our states of origin alone – so people from the same states now tend to relate more with themselves and enjoy speaking in local dialects. We never saw anything wrong in it, it was the normal and we had fun with it.
Something happened to my idea about my nationality when I had to leave the South-West to the North-Central of Nigeria. I had a paradigm shift; it was a shock to discover Nigeria was bigger than me and my people. I saw people of other religion and tribe that equally have Nigeria as an identity, they were proud to call themselves Nigerian just like me, only then I knew Nigeria was bigger than what I thought. There is something travelling far and wide within the boundary of Nigeria has done to me, those moments are moments I will always cherish. I look up to travelling round the world someday – travelling is just life.
Now this is my concern: why the emphasis on state of origin? What significance does that make? Why do we need to poke it into our children their states of origin? This is my take: it only strengthens our differences and shies us away from the umbrella that has brought us together, which is our identity. What I’m trying to say here is not that we abolish the state we come from, the culture and values of the place, what I’m trying to say is that we are first Nigerian before we are Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Hausa or whichever tribe or states we hail from.
Being a Nigerian is enough Identity for us, being a Nigerian should give you the right to live anywhere and enjoy every benefit attached to living in that environment within the Niger Area. I asked myself this at a point in my life: of what use is it claiming I am from Osun state of Nigeria – that was where my dad hailed from, when I have lived virtually all my life outside Osun and I have never had the reason to live there, and I doubt I will ever do. Should I be denied the right to be an indigene of Lagos where I was born and brought up? NO! That will not be fair enough. So I do not see any need for the space “state of origin” but what I see that is useful is “state of residence”
If I see myself as a Yoruba man before being a Nigerian then there is a problem. This exactly is a big problem in Nigeria today and an attack on our identity. After 50 years of independence, we have not come to terms with the reality of our nationalism. It irritates me – I mean practically, if I meet someone and we engage ourselves and you ask me my state of origin, I just know immediately we cannot hang-out together.
When you consider developed countries like the USA; every of their citizens are Americans, Emphases are made on states just for the purpose of knowing where they reside. Many may not agree with me because America is not a diversified economy like us in terms of culture, language and so on. Okay, another example from a nation like Israel can be considered too. Every of her citizens also introduces themselves as an Israeli as an identity, and then from which ever tribe from the 12 tribes. This has been consistent for a long time; you can see the same pattern from them even in the holy-book. Being a tribe of Benjamin is insignificant, but being an Israeli is all that matters as an identity. No wonder they are a fortified nation that is united in purpose.
I was glad when I heard during the administration of the former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan proposing an amendment in the 1999 constitution, which includes an indigene clause. According to the last proposal submitted to the National Assembly; any Nigerian citizen who has lived in a location for 10 years has the right of identity to be an indigene of such location. This amendment was targeted at resolving issues in Nigeria – the obvious one was the Plateau state crises in Jos.
This proposed amendment received mixed feelings; some region of the country saw no big deal, while some saw the biggest deal. I did not hear anything again about the proposed bill, I guess the president at the time avoided pressing because he wanted the vote of the people and would not want to cause any setbacks for his campaign. This act of always retreating when the people complain is one of the reasons why I consider the GEJ administration as weak and feeble, which shouldn’t be an identity.
The Plateau state of Nigeria witnessed serious ethnic conflicts between the Hausa/Fulani and the Plateau indigenes, it was a serious battle. The cause of this conflict is just complains of marginalization from the Hausa/Fulani. Many of them claim to have been born on the Plateau, some lived 30 years of their lives yet they have not been seen as part of the land worthy of every benefit of an indigene – even politically, the question is what should be their identity?. I however understood with the plight of the Hausa/Fulani’s, what I did not support was the mode of reaction, conflicts and violence is never the best way to resolve a matter. What they did not know at the time was that they were not alone in the ordeal; every other tribe on the plateau suffered the same marginalization. This is what we get when we keep using state of origin as a means of identity.
It is time to move pass this stage as a nation, we should not teach our children anymore to judge and relate with fellow Nigerians based on tribe and ethnic sentiments, schools should raise students who will interact with humans and not the color of their skin, their culture nor the religion they practice – those things brings backwardness. We must learn to see ourselves as humans first and then Nigerians – only then are we on our way to nationalism and have a true identity.
Nigeria is not just a name but it is our IDENTITY – we must keep it.
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