Though identity, as a category of self perception and self-determination, is considered unhelpful and mischievous because of its tendency towards entrenching xenophobia and ghetto mentality in globalised discourse, but one might be persuaded, in the light of recent ethno-religious violence in Jos, and especially the politics of responsibility that attends it, that what can be indeed helpful for Nigeria’s federated policies is a serious engagement with the identity question.
The dichotomy of indigene/settler is not exactly clearly spelt out in the constitution, as it were and despite our so-called federalist arrangement, people relate to one another in practically all aspects of life based on tribal memory and religious differencing and, of course, the consequent narratives of otherness permeate the political economy. Plateau state has been the recurrent theater in which the tensions and implosion of our tardy federalism are being violently enacted in recent memory, but we all understand that it can happen any where in the country. In a country where even the armed forces men are implicated in murderous ethno-religious conspiracy, how more can we be bound to violence?
We are in fact in more trouble than we thought. Reading Olakunle Abimbola of The Nation newspaper’s Feedback from his March 16th Republican Ripples column – ‘Jos and a Nation’s Dirty Underbelly’ published on 21st, one will be inclined to hesitate a while before calling Gadaffi a mad man. The partisan sentiments expressed by most of the reader-commentators are so astonishingly idiotic that the columnist has to write an italicized preamble before the text messages, warning readers that what they are about to read may yet ‘be more lethal than brainless marauders, sent by evil sponsors, massacring defenseless women and innocent children’. Most of the comments constitute the most base in our ethnic and religious sentimentalism.
Despite the knee-jerk reactions attending Gaddaffi’s unsolicited and shortsighted comment from the government people, one cannot deny that his summation has some sentimental value among the much victimized Nigerians. Most of the southerners that commented on Abimbola’s piece simply desire the peace that self determination which splitting the country will bring about can afford them, while the Northerners see Abimbola’s piece as partisan and anti-north. Some one wrote: ‘The Fulani Arab Jihad moves on inexorably. So stab the sky with your index finger and shout one Nigeria or Allah Akbar!’
It is still a wonder to me how much of the identity consideration of the Nigerian by another Nigerian wraps around each’s religious belief. Yes, most of the violent clashes in northern Nigeria arise from the contention for resources control and political power struggle, but yes again, religion is the platform for mobilization to violence. After all, there are a lot of peripatetic Igbo people which their mercantilist presence in Jos and its environs. Is it a miracle that there has not been any major violent clash between them and their Berom hosts? Or between the large communities of Yoruba settlers who have been in the state as far back as the Hausa-Fulani settlers. In fact there is a belief, albeit unconfirmed, that a Yoruba had once been Gwom Jos!
Is it then any wonder that those who usually mouth the ‘let’s divide Nigeria’ dictum are usually from the south divide? And this doesn’t necessarily have much to do with oil resources being in the south (although the north’s hard federalist stance might have something to do with that fact). And they are not for most part unaware of the fact that separation of a patch-work country like Nigeria along any line (religious or geographic) will surely be untidy and will definitely deepen the schisms we seek to remedy. The reasoning is that homogeneity of culture and value system tends to produce in-built mechanisms for conflict resolution: think of it, in a place like Kwara, Oyo and Kogi, where large populations of Moslems and Christians co exist, you don’t usually have mobilization for economic or political struggles riding violence on the wheels of religion. At any rate, a Yoruba Moslem is just a little better than an infidel in the core north.
It is going to be the most difficult thing in the world whatever can make Nigeria achieve the ‘trans-ethnic’ and ‘post ethnic’ identity that Professor Biodun Jeyifo talks about. And the process is not even being thought about let alone initiated. What with the people with the most inflexibly tight and un-hyphenated identity in the country, people whose cities are divided permanently to reflect physical ascription of otherness fight in, and over, another’s land on the basis of national identity!
We can intellectualize these things all we want, but there are no more startling discoveries to be made as far as the causes of violence in northern Nigeria are concerned. Olakunle Abimbola’s getting a lot of verbal bashing (sentimental fool, people like you will rot in hell, among other verbal stabbing), because he dared to damn political correctness and nail the issue home to its proven veracity. If the self-indulgent Katsina legislator that was throwing empty verbal darts at Gadaffi on TV the other day had expressed such outrage at the Jos carnage similarly on air, may be we would have been on the way to true consideration of a federalist identity. Struggles for economic and political empowerment might still be less unwieldy within the federation of this crazy quilt if we de-emphasise the factor of religion as basis for ethnic and territorial identity and for violent mobilization in the northern Nigeria.