The ethnic crisis that erupted in Ile-Ife, Osun State recently between the indigenes and the Hausa-Fulani community showed that there is a recurring problem that needs to be solved in Nigeria.
Many reports had it that the crisis started following a problem between a Hausa man and an Ife woman. The man was said to have molested the woman, leading to the intervention of her husband. From there, an ethnic crisis erupted with houses burnt and people killed.
Based on precedents, if the matter that caused the Ile-Ife crisis had occurred between a Yoruba man and a Yoruba woman, it would not have caused a crisis. If it had also occurred between a Hausa man and a Hausa woman, it would have ended in words and no loss of life. It would have been the same result if it was between two Efik people or Tiv people.
We can even stretch it a little and still get no crisis. If the misunderstanding had occurred between an Igbo man and a Yoruba woman, it would not have degenerated into bloodshed and vandalism. If it had happened between an Urhobo man and a Yoruba man, it would still have not resulted in deaths and destruction.
For decades Nigeria has believed that the best way to stop ethnic clashes is to sweep them under the carpet. The nation believes that citizens should not even discuss such matters. The nation believes that not talking about it will make it disappear and everything will be beautiful. But it continues to occur and claim lives, which the nation seems not to value.
After 103 years of amalgamation and 56 years of independence, one would have expected that Nigerians would have become well-integrated and interwoven as one people that tolerate and respect one another, but the reverse is the case. Things that would not have caused a problem between two ethnic groups 50 years ago cause mayhem today. Every ethnic group believes that the other wants to dominate it, and there is always this attitude of: “You can do that nonsense on your land but you can’t try it here on our land!”
Expectedly, the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, acted like the ostrich by dismissing the ethnic dimension to the crisis and blaming it on miscreants and those who constitute themselves into a nuisance. He said: “It is very clear that this issue is not about crisis between the Hausa community and Yoruba community in Ile-Ife. The Hausa community has been living in Ile-Ife for close to 200 years. I understand the first settlers arrived there in 1820. This is about the fourth or fifth generation of the community and they have never experienced this kind of thing until now.
“So, it is not about ethnic issue. It is about a couple or bunch of people who constitute themselves to a nuisance to carry out this dastardly act and quite a number of them escaped from the community.”
There is a large community of non-Nigerians in different parts of Nigeria: Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Pakistanis, South Africans, Lebanese, Ghanaians, Liberians, Americans, Britons, etc. Some of these foreign nationals treat Nigerians that work for them in a despicable manner, with many Nigerians losing their lives through them. Has someone bothered to ask why these so-called miscreants never attack the foreigners, no matter the provocation?
The answer is simple. The first is that Nigerians respect and protect the foreigners in their midst. The second reason is that these foreigners are not seen as direct rivals in terms of political power, ethnic power and religious power. The third reason is that Nigerians know that if foreigners are attacked, their nations will not fold their arms over such an issue. But when the attack is between two Nigerian ethnic groups, nothing concrete will come out of it. Even the government will be the first to sweep it under the carpet, believing that it is dousing tension.
The Nigerian state has simply refused to have a clear-cut policy on ethnicity issues. When it suits those in power, ethnicity matters, but when it does not suit them, ethnicity does not matter. No sincere steps have been taken to turn our ethnic diversity into an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Over the years, the Nigerian state has systematically accentuated the ethnic divide by its policies of divide and rule. It has treated equals unequally and unequals equally, thereby perpetrating injustice, creating dissatisfaction and promoting anger among the ethnic groups.
Thirdly, the Nigerian state has allowed her citizens killed for many decades by their fellow citizens without taking any concrete action to punish offenders and make it clear that such will not be condoned. So, whenever the least misunderstanding arises between the ethnic groups, especially between the north and the south, each side is eager to unleash bottled-up emotions on the other.
How has Rwanda tried to heal the wounds of the 1994 genocide and ensure there is no recurrence? The number one thing Rwanda did was to ensure that justice was served and that there was reconciliation. Top people who incited the Hutus against the Tutsis were tried and sentenced. For the common folks who carried out the acts, the British Guardian report of April 3, 2014 (to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide) said: “The majority (who were mostly living in rural areas, among those they killed) confessed and pleaded their case at special village courts called gacacas. With strong encouragement from the government, survivors across the country then accepted the perpetrators back into their communities.”
Rwanda also consciously embarked on national integration and orientation. The Guardian put it this way: “Born in the years since the genocide, children are educated in schools that are strongly encouraged to desist from using potentially divisive labels. Pupils are discouraged from identifying themselves as Hutu or Tutsi and are instead asked to focus on building the future of a common Rwanda. To this end, in 2001, the government unveiled a new flag and national anthem.”
Describing how Rwanda fostered a sense of shared identity, Deustche Welle of April 4, 2015, published to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the genocide, wrote: “In the last decades, Rwandans have come a long way on the arduous road to reconciliation. One of the first things the new government did was to eliminate the reference to ethnicity in identification documents. From then on, the country’s inhabitants were all ‘Rwandans.’
“The practice of doing regular community work, which was grounded in the Rwandan tradition of ‘umuganda,’ was reintroduced not only as part of the effort to rebuild the country but as a way to foster a community spirit. Once a month, Rwandans are called upon to perform communal tasks such as building a house for the needy, laying a road or sweeping a square.”
In spite of its landlocked status and the terrible dent the genocide made on the nation, Rwanda has left its past behind and has become an exemplary African nation in the areas of peace, stability, literacy rate, women’s rights, good economy, etc.
Compare this to what obtains in Nigeria. Every form filled in Nigeria has spaces for “state of origin” and “religion”. If Nigeria were a nation that places any importance on data collection, one would conclude that these pieces of information are needed for the sake of creating accurate data base for national planning. But they are needed simply for the sake of labelling individuals in order to determine who should be given a job or a service.
Nations consciously create policies that promote national cohesion, peace and stability. The Nigerian state divides its citizens, discriminates against them and watches them repeatedly killed over frivolities without bringing perpetrators to justice. The result is the repeated crises we keep on having.
— Twitter @BranAzuka