Why Multi-Ethnic Nations Struggle
Language, religion, values, worldview, culture, and tradition are at the heart of a person’s identity. Creating countries out of dissimilar people would have seemed odd a long time ago. Countries were nations; heterogeneity colluded with the idea of a nation. The nineteenth century saw a shift towards that concept. The European quest for dominance started centuries before a single African state as we know it today was formed. Ethiopia may be the outlier. It was never colonised; though Italy invaded it, it managed to push over the Italians and regain control.
Europe is a continent of homogeneous states. There are a few heterogeneous states in Europe, but all except Belgium and Switzerland have an overwhelming homogeneity of sometimes 95%. Some parts of Europe tried heterogeneity, but it failed woefully. Former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the USSR all created unions of nations under which a single nationality was formed. They all collapsed, and they collapsed fantastically. Why did they collapse? What did they disintegrate into?
The USSR disintegrated into homogenous nations reflecting a common language, ethnicity, religion, values, worldview, culture, and tradition—the same criteria for codifying a person’s identity. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia also disintegrated into the same pockets of homogeneous nations. China, arguably one of the most homogeneous countries on earth, does have a noticeable amount of heterogeneity. In China, 2% could amount to a population the size of all of Scandinavia, given its gigantic population of 1.4 billion. Even though its multi-ethnic element is just under 2%, ethnic clashes have grown in those areas where the ethnic majority are not Han Chinese. The Chinese communist party has crushed dissent and imposed Han Chinese values on the minority non-Han to enforce a unified worldview.
In India, the pattern could not be any different. East Indians, Muslim Indians, and other non-Hindu Indians have clashed with the Hindu-majority country. Calls for homogeneous nations have not gone quiet despite the crackdown from the Hindu-dominated government. The stories are the same from Brazil to Cameroon, Ghana to Ethiopia, Mozambique to Angola, and Myanmar to Canada. Europe has done to Africa what no other precursor has. It disintegrated Africa into pockets of European subjects. It never thought it would one day release Africa off its leash. When the Europeans realised that it was unsustainable to Europeanise black Africans into a second-class subject in their various countries since Europe could not come to terms with granting equal rights and access to black people as Europeans, diminishing responsibility was the only other alternative.
The Scores of Incompatible, Heterogenous European-Created African Countries.
After exploiting, pillaging, and wiping off millions of black Africans over centuries, Europe had enough of Africa as colonisation soured, even in the eyes of its people. African colonies were let go in a series of propaganda dominoes of independence. Europe still had a chokehold on its European-created African puppet states, whose language, lifestyle, and system of government were in the image of Europe. Nigerians spoke English, a variant of the language. Senegal spoke French, Mozambique spoke Portuguese, and Equatorial Guinea spoke Spanish, and the story was the same throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
These countries had been territorial properties of their various European colonisers, whose interests focused on exploiting the geographical endowments and the workforce of those within that geographical area. The ethnicities, languages, values, culture, and traditions were never considered. To the Europeans, these people were inferior humans who needed to be Europeanised to a certain standard so they could serve Europeans. They would never attain equality with an ethnic European in the broader sense of the term. Colonisation dismantled homogeneous nations. Some of the dismantled nations include Bini, Fang, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, and many others. This was at the heart of the destruction of the black man’s identity. Black Africa may never recover. Pan-Africanism is the most ignorant idea borne out of ex-slaves in the Americas who had lost all connection to mother Africa. The only identity left to retain was their skin colour, from which they were oppressed. A group identity was born. Black. Never underestimate the power of hope for hopeless people. Pan-Africanism was the hope handcuffed around a hopeless dream.
The Case for Decentralisation in Nigeria to Reflect its Ethnic Reality
One country, many nations. You can fit ten Scandivia in Nigeria. An ethnic group with over forty million people and a history spanning over a millennia cannot be subdued or discontinued by simply putting together and making up good laws granting equal rights to all. Equal rights are not a requisite for identity. A proclamation of a country, even with good intentions, a carefully drafted constitution, and an abundance of wealth creation to suit the needs of those under such a political union, cannot substitute the key identifier of a person—language, religion, values, worldview, and culture and tradition.
Even with economic success and infrastructural development reaching every inch of Nigeria’s land, ethnocentrism will not dissipate. Their actions will only change course once the people’s hearts are won. The power of identity trumps every other aspect of a person’s life. Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo will never be able to coexist as a nation, but they could coexist as nations within a country. The latter is already a reality in Nigeria. When an ethnic group has grown to five million, it has reached the threshold at which nationhood is likely the best outcome. The threesome of Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo heavyweights, whose lack of nationhood has left them wandering in a swirl of no purpose or direction.
The Hausa-Fulani Marriage
Remember the identifier? Language, religion, values, worldview, and culture and tradition. Hausa and Fulani tick almost all of the boxes, thus making cohabitation possible and achievable. The ethnic similarity of people within proximity makes cohabitation possible. The three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria share none of the key identifiers. The Igbo and smaller ethnic groups in other parts of northern Igboland, certain areas of Cross River, and Rivers State have some of these commonalities. The same applies to the Hausa and several smaller ethnic groups in the north; the Yorubas are not left out. They share strong similarities with the Itsekiri and other smaller ethnic groups near Yorubaland.
The Solution and Best Scenario
A Nigeria where autonomous regional governments are carved out of homogeneous or ethnically compatible groups to reflect the various identities would strengthen the viability of such regions. It will grant them the power to manage their affairs in alignment with their values and worldview. It would also give them a sense of pride, belonging, and the identity they were deprived of through colonisation. It would fundamentally rebirth nations—something missing in Nigeria. All these can be done without balkanising Nigeria. There is no need to uphold a country whose interests are not unanimous. Nigeria lacks merit. It has scores of identities. It has never functioned as a country. Its foundation was laid for multi-rule in a multi-ethnic representation style because even those who created this geographical expression understood it was not viable.
However, the best scenario is total disintegration. The creation of multiple countries working as unfettered brotherly neighbours. Nigeria in 2200 will still have ethnic clashes. Time does not heal ethnic incompatibilities. Nothing can change a person’s identity. Our ethnicities are locked into our identities. The pretentiousness of simply passing good laws and having a leadership that works for the betterment of the greater Nigeria is so myopic that should the ethnic reality of Nigeria not be contended with, posterity will continue to live in this façade of one Nigeria. There is nothing wrong with being different. In difference, beauty is found. In discrimination and ethnocentrism, a disunited or dysfunctional relationship is developed. Teaching people to understand and respect diversity is the proper pathway to a prosperous multi-ethnic country or region.
We must conclude that saying one Nigeria is not beneficial to Nigeria is not hate speech. It is not a call to violence. It is not hatred for Nigeria, and it sure is not support for Biafra, the Oduduwa Republic, or an Arewa nation. A divided Nigeria is not a proclamation of ethnic superiority. It might be based on pieces of evidence that seem to have impossible blocks due to ethnocentrism (tribalism). It can be well intended. Nigeria has failed; if sixty-three years of continuous failure do not ring the alarm bells for you, nothing will. Such failure touches on ethnic incompatibility. In fact, I argue that ethnic incompatibilities are at the foundation of Nigeria’s troubles.
It is time we talked about the topics we have encircled in the political correctness and taboo cluster. Yes, I am an Igbo; my identity is embedded in the Igbo ethno-historical reality. It cannot be changed by policing my word choice or language. Moreover, yes, you, too, are tied to your ethno-historical reality. Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with identifying by your ethnicity. I am proud of your ethnicity, and I love that you are different, for I have so much to learn from the millennia of history that formed your ethnic identity. It all becomes worrisome, troublesome, or even unacceptable when such ethnic allegiances devolve into ethnocentrism and are paraded in a xenophobic manner.
I want Nigeria to work; I support our leadership, albeit inept; but I still stand by their command in the faintest hankering that they succeed.
By Ikechukwu ORJI