The Oxford Dictionary defines a tribe as a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and language, and usually having a recognized leader. Tribalism, as defined by the same source, is the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group. It is through our tribes that a Nation is formed and then a State can be formed. At least, in my home country Nigeria, we have well over 250 tribes and we are one country as a result of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates that was masterminded by Sir Frederick Lord Luggard in 1914. A few years after that, because the river Niger passes through some parts of the territory or colony, Flora Shaw, Luggard’s wife gave us the name, Nigeria. Hence, the beginning of our democratic existence.
After gaining independence in 1960, it has been a long, difficult and extremely coarse journey for the Nation that is revered to be the giant of Africa. With over seven presidents and eight heads of states, multiple bloody and bloodless coups, a civil war in the late 1960s and thousands of lives lost, the country has suffered and went through thick and thin just to uphold the name and identity we have been forced to embrace right from colonialism. Nigeria was never one State until colonialism, hence, it is safe to say Nigeria was birthed from colonialism; the perfect replica of a colonial federation. Therefore, if you’re looking for a country that never existed before colonialism, a country with no prior history until 1914 despite the fact that there were people who lived there at that time, then Nigeria is that country. But the reason why am writing this piece is not to explain the mysteries of pre-colonial Nigeria but rather, to make us aware and cognizant of the dangers of exalting our tribes over the identity that we all to strive to protect on a daily basis.
Tribalism is the beginning of our downfall; the beginning of our hatred for one another. Indeed, it is the genesis of all sorts of corruption you can imagine. Nepotism, tribalism, favouritism, discrimination, and all other kinds of corrupt, discriminatory and unjustifiable practices can all be birthed once we cherish our tribes over our State. Certainly, tribalism is the mechanism with which our so-called brothers and sisters try to use to expose and exploit our vulnerabilities. Tribalism is the beginning of seeing others as less valuable than oneself. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 could have been avoided if, just if the Nation had thought of themselves as one and not exalted one tribe above the other. The tribes we hold on dear to ourselves like the nexus of our heartbeat or the core of our existence will be the beginning of our doom. That’s when you’ll see your so-called brothers and sisters claiming to have an entitlement to your success and to your wealth even while you’re yet alive! You know why? Because they are a part of your tribe. Tribalism exploits the unprotected and discriminates against other people. When we see tribes as being more important than the state, then we start feeling like we can be better off without the state (which of course might be true) and slowly, we’ll secede from the identity we all once strive to protect and fight for as we did during our independence from the hands of colonial masters.
However, one thing is sure — that tribes form an essential part of our lives and existence here on earth. Our tribes inform our language, our heritage and indeed, our diverse histories. Yet, once we have pledged allegiance to the state to which we belong, let us look beyond these tribes and come together as one to move the Nation forward. Until we see all tribes with equal values as ours, until then can we strive for prosperity. Remember that today, one of the issues we currently have as Nigerians (maybe other African countries share this) is the hurt that tribalism has done to us and as a result of this, many people beginning from politicians have decided to use tribalism to orchestrate and organize their cabinets. Yet, we complain of having corrupt leaders. If we do not see ourselves as ONE country or State, we would probably end up like the generations before us because all we are thinking about before making vital decisions, before appointing people into strategic and crucial departments and sectors, before distributing resources equally, tribalism will taint our decisions and what a pity that would be because it would forever go down in the books of history that we had the chance to rewrite history and change the country for the better, but tribalism didn’t allow us.
Let us look beyond our tribes and ethically and justly dispense positive decisions for the betterment of the masses without discriminating against one tribe or the other. Tribalism is indeed an accelerant that can fuel the fire of envy, strife and jealousy amongst us and until we look over these tribes blindfolding us from seeing the clearer and bigger picture of a successful and united sovereign country, we’ll never conquer the challenges we currently go through and the struggles that make us lament.