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Nigeria – One nation bound in freedom
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Nigeria – One nation bound in freedom

A lady attends the Annual Lagos state carnival in Ikoyi_ Lagos_ Nigeria

As a country with hundreds of ethnic groups, is the dream of a unified Nigeria a reality or just a pipe dream 59 years after independence? As Nigeria marks its Independence Day on October 1, Musa Temidayo, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Nigeria asks what progress the country has made in achieving the unity its founding fathers envisioned.

The words of Nigeria’s national anthem speak of “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”. Every Nigerian may have at one point or the other pledged “to defend her (Nigeria’s) unity”. But how easy is it to unite over 200 ethnic groups, many with their own distinct identity?

Diversity is one of the most discussed topics at different levels of education, age groups and social spheres. Every day, in one way or the other, Nigerians are reminded about the diversity we have in this country.

When Nigeria gained her independence—though I was not born then—the clips from the celebrations gave me an insight into the great expectations that accompanied the event. Despite their ethnic differences, our founding fathers worked together to achieve that great feat.

Growing up in a medium-income community in Lagos, I used to think there was a law that mandated every ethnic group to be represented in Lagos. Through my observations and conversations with people, I came to realise that many of them were not from the ethnic groups we erroneously ascribed them to.

Our primary education misled us to believe that there are only three ethnic groups in Nigeria: Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa/Fulani. My parents told me they were both Yoruba. I only got to hear they came from a different tribe when there was a quarrel or when they claimed ownership of something positive that their tribe had accomplished.

I occasionally accompanied my mother to the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos because I love the inter-cultural flavour there. I have even been able to pick up a few trade words from other ethnic groups. It therefore broke my heart one time when I heard in the news that there had been fights between different ethnic groups. There were reports of rival ethnic groups burning down houses and looting shops. It made me wonder where the love, brotherhood and unity had vanished to.

Ethnic differences can make us elevate one group above another. During a short stay in Kano, Bauchi and Katsina, I realised that I was getting preferential treatment over those native to that area. I thought it was because of my identity card or maybe because of the people accompanying me. I was never comfortable with it and I raised it with the others in my group and at other occasions turned down this kind of treatment. The fact that I could not speak Hausa fluently as well as my looks sold the fact that I am was not from around there.

Often when I visit eateries, markets, offices and other public spaces, people always want to attend to me first while telling others to wait. At first, I enjoyed it. But later I demanded that I be treated equally—that it should be first come, first served.

We should be proud of and celebrate our ethnic differences.

Having travelled wide and far within Nigeria, it is sad to say that we do not know one another. There are still a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions. Because of this, I started a series titled “Misconceptions about the North” through which I hoped to shatter some stereotypes. Those who could not publicly comment on their own biases reached out to me personally to appreciate how the series had changed some of their misconceptions.

Throughout my experiences, I have realized that the appreciation of our diversity is woven into the future of our country, Nigeria. We need continual reorientation to see beyond our ethnic selves and embrace our diversity.

While working on an education and health project in Borno State that targets children and girls in one of the internally displaced people camps, we received very little funding. We were able to reach out to about 2,200 girls and provide educational materials and school supplies to over 600 girls. Since the teachers at the camp were not paid, my friends and I started giving the teachers a stipend every month. We did this for a year.

One day, the headteacher of the educational space called me and asked why we were doing all this for people who were not from “my tribe” and not “my people”.

In the hand of the wicked, selfish or ignorant, diversity can be a weapon to sow hatred and discord. A lot of unnecessary disagreements and senseless chaos would be averted if we loved each other first as humans before thinking about our ethnic profiles.

In Nigeria, it would also mean that development would be visible uniformly across the country instead of leaders playing the ethnic card to deliver socio-economic development only to their respective ethnic groups to the exclusion of others.

Diversity goes beyond our ethnicity, it cuts across religion, beliefs, culture, who we are and who we choose to be. We will always have stunted growth until we embrace our diversity, celebrating our differences, while uniting to work together towards “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”.

Photo credit: Sunday Alamba, The Commonwealth Asset Bank

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About me:

I have four years experience in the nonprofit sector and earned a Bachelor’s of Science in International Relations from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria. I have volunteered as a project assistant on education and menstrual health programmes for several groups, including WHO, FATE Foundation, BudgIT and Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls in Nigeria. 
I enjoy focusing on topics such as education and menstrual health and have a strong passion for youth empowerment and development.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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