I always reflect that the singular most significant thing my parents ever did in my life, was to send me to a diverse secondary school. Okay, I was the one who passed the exams (with flying colours of course!), but they could have chosen not to let me enjoy those laid back boarding schools days. Having said that though, my appreciation is not propelled by the amount of fun I had in secondary school, rather, it is borne in the fact that for the first time in my relatively short life, I was surrounded by members of every ethnic group Nigeia could muster.
I found myself in the laboratory of life where your conclusions are not shaped by the slightly askew uncle, brother, mother or father, but by cold, clear and clinical evidence, gathered by everyday living and rubbing shoulders with people who made up my majestic country.
As is the case all over Africa, I was brought up in a household where my elders innocently and casually made 'politically incorrect' statements about everyone who spoke a language separate from ours. The Hausas were uneducated dunces, the Igbos could not be trusted and the average Mid-westerner was steeped in an ancestry of armed robbery. We, the Yorubas, as you would expect were perfect, but suffered from being apparently held back by our parasitical tribal neighbours. Nothing was ever our fault and Nigerian history, at least through our myopic eyes showed how we never took the wrong turn....yeah...right! Anyway, back to my school.
FGCL as we fondly called it, was one hell of a melting pot. In the year of 77, we had students from every state of the country. Yes, all 19 states! I was surrounded with the likes of Emeka Chikelu, Odaro Omonuwa, John Kpanabo, Emmanuel Madaki, Winston Onoja, and so on and so forth. For the first time, I could make up my mind on what traits 'other' Nigerians had, without the unrequested colourful advice which my kinsmen were always quick to provide. It was an eye-opening experience!
The Hausas turned out to be quite clever people with a penchant for hanging together and keeping their unit very tight. The Igbos were wiser than their young ages and always did well in school, also, they never broke their word and always had your back. The folks from Bendel were honest, intelligent, dogged and extremely sociable. I was living in the real Project Nigeria and all the tribal negativity was not holding up. All I found were fellow students sharing stories of how their folks had also fed them tales of the conceited Yorubas, who were never to be trusted. It all began to sound like a broken record!
Here's the thing......there are no reasons for Nigerian ethnic groups to hate each other, nor do they have any evidence to remain disunited and at each other's necks. The British have left now and the colonial days of 'divide and rule' are long gone(see their map above). The Yorubas should not condemn the Igbos as money loving Jews who can kill their relatives for money, the Igbos should desist from that age old campaign of blaming the Yorubas for their unsuccessful bid for seccession and the Hausas should not be complaining, full stop. Without sounding like an Obama clone, we all should realise that together, rather than apart, is where our strength lies.
It is time to erase the false lines we have drawn around ourselves and begin to see the potential in working for the same thing. If an Igbo president is to emerge by 2015 (that's my prediction), then Igbos have to embrace the Yoruba and Hausas, without whom that eventuality will never see the light of day. We all have to work towards that unity, so we can have a reversal of the wonderful poem that graces the beginning of Chinua Achebe's classic;
'The falcon will hear the falconer.
Things will not fall apart, the centre will hold.
Mere Anarchy will not be loose upon the world.'
Some might call me a dreamer, but did you ever for one minute think we would one day have a black man at 1600 Pennsylvania? Well then...