Nigeria’s minorities: Pawn on the political chessboard
In Nigeria, the word “ marginalisation’’ is on the lips of everyone who could utter it, most of who place little emphasis on the context of its usage and the meaning. Although, a social word, it has found profound use in the lexicon of politicians to the extent of its being a major veil for covering political mischief, agitation and sometimes violence. What is marginalisation? What does it mean for a group or an individual to be marginalised?
The Oxford dictionaries define marginalisation as the treatment of a person, group, or concept as insignificant or peripheral. The Business Dictionary.com explained it as the process whereby something or someone is pushed to the edge of a group and accorded lesser importance while the Psychology Dictionary sees it as the process through which the marginal groups and their members are identified as not being apart of the main group.
By the foregoing definitions, can we honestly with our hands raised to high heavens swear that any of the three major groups, namely, the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo ethnic groups have been marginalized in Nigeria?. While it is a fact that the economic powerhouse of the nation resides largely in the Igbo nation, the political establishment is mostly directed by the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba nation has a sizable blend of the two. So, wither the Marginalization?
Our perception about Marginalization stems from the way we see the plurality of our nation. For example, to the Yoruba, as long as you are not Hausa, you are Igbo. To the Hausa, once you are not Igbo, you are Yoruba and to the Igbo, if you are not Yoruba, you are Hausa. These three groups have so marginalised the other 247 ethnic groups that their non existence is taking for granted. For example, how many Igbo, except those who have direct contact with them know that there is the Ogu (Egun) ethnic group in Lagos State? How many Nigerians are aware of the existence of the Ebira, an ethnic group spreading across Edo, Kogi and Ondo States? Are we all in the know about the existence of the Igala community in Kogi, Anambra, Cross Rivers, Benue and Taraba states? If not for the accidental elevation of General Yakaubu Gowon to the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, how many of us are aware of the existence of the TIV? What about the, Egbema, Egede, the Baya, Chibok, Dakarkari and many such ethnic groups? How many ministers, federal permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals are appointed from these groups?. How many of them become commissioners in their states?
A professor in his late 60s who is also a community leader in Anambra State had argued that there is no other ethnic group in the state except Igbo, until his attention was called to the existence of the Igala people. Every effort to convince him that the Nzam people in the Anambra West Local Government Area, who inhabit Etakolo, Orono, Enekpa, Echa, Opkoliba, Urubi, Igeja and Uda and others in Igbedor, Inoma, Odekpe, Owelle, Onugwa, Ode, Ala and Igbokeyi are Igala met with indignation.
Like the Igala in Anambra who speak Igbo and Igala, the Egun in Lagos State also speak dual language of Yoruba and Ogu despite the clarity of their ancestral roots.These are just two examples of several minority tribes who are forgotten in many isolated corners of Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is their situation that truly conforms to the definition of marginalisation as espoused by the aforementioned definitions.
These other ethnic nationalities constitute about 42 per cent of the Nigerian population and therefore, they are collectively more in size than any of the so called major tribes and yet we carry on the business of the country as if they do not exist. If they come together as a block, they would form the majority that would upset the senseless rivalry of the three arrogant and selfish groups. After all, the Hausa and Fulani are just 29 per cent, Yoruba 21per cent and the Igbo 18 per cent of the Nigerian population.
The truth is that the three competing major tribes have through loud political campaigns drowned the voices of these other Nigerians. This point is emphasized here to show that none of Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani groups is marginalised.
There is hardly any doubt in the minds of all Nigerians that the campaign for dismemberment of Nigeria into separate ethnic grouping is fast gaining grounds but that would be misdirected because with the divisions into strata would emerge a new intra group contest and rivalry because some of the smaller groups would assume relative importance in the new dispensation thereby threatening the new found independence.This is expected in a country where the union is bedeviled by lack of national goals and ideology and where injustices and unfairness reign supreme. Unfortunately, the masses of the people that are at the receiving end seems to have relinquished their power to those who must continue to provide the instruments of discordance amongst the people lest they will lose their grip on the economy and all instrumentality of oppression. Hence, the political class has deliberately institutionalise ignorance, poverty, and illiteracy consequent upon which the governed lack the focus to strike their common enemy.
Evidences abound in every ethnic group in Nigeria to suggest that the aforementioned position is not only valid but a stark reality. As an example, the Northern part of Nigeria has held power for several of the few years that Nigeria has gained independence, yet, that section of the country consists of one of the most pauperised, most morbid and grossly ignorant and illiterate in the universe. In every part of Nigeria today, the people of the North are the most homeless and dislocated people. Young able bodied Northern Youths are engaged in menial labour all over the country as beggars, site labourers, Mai-guard, scavengers, truck pushers and lately Okada riders. They’re usually sleeping in groups either in the front gate of every house, every street, uncompleted buildings and every other space available. It is very hard to find a person of the Northern Nigerian extraction being landlord outside his native place. This is despite the fact that their region has run the engine of governance in the country for more than seventy five percent of the time. Yet, this subjugated people continuously fight to have one of their own in power. The question is: for what? Is it to continue to make them exist without living?
The Niger-Delta struggle despite its legitimacy has produced legions of emergency billionaires while the region and its people are almost perpetually pauperised with the environment that was used to negotiate remaining degraded and devastated. This is the story in all zones and regions. The common man needs to repackage himself and the rich should quickly realise that one day the common man may not have anything to eat but the rich.
Prof. Ojikutu teaches at the Faculty of Business Administration, University of Lagos.
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