Help, I am a racist and a tribalist!!! (Part 1)

Posted by News Express | 4 October 2016 | 2,389 times

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First of all it is a difficult task trying to tag any Nigerian as a racist. Yes, Nigerians are a complex group of people. In actual fact, they might be guilty of many crimes they are being accused of. However, if you know Nigeria and Nigerians very well, you will realise that racism is not something Nigerians understand very well. It’s not just that Nigerians are not racist, in fact often they don’t even understand what racism is all about.

I know I cannot speak for a whole nation. When I speak in general terms in this article I am primarily relating to the average statistics. On average, Nigerians are not racist.  They could be anything else but not racist. I have had a lot of experiences to prove this. I have been living on this planet earth for close to 50 years, 30 of which I have spent outside the shores of Nigeria. I have seen Nigerians in different situations and circumstances. From the complex to the ridiculous, yet racism is not something that could be attached to them.

I remember when as a 19 year old lad, I in the company of about 300 other students arrived in Europe for the first time on a government scholarship. We met a very huge pool of international students in the then former Soviet Union. In my university alone, we had people from 99 countries of the world. 99 countries? I think that is a good test. It is a good enough stage to test yourself out including in the area of racism.

That was probably my first experience to see how people from other nations related to races. We Nigerians, either Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Ijaw, Ogoni, Edo, Idoma, etc, were all taken aback to see that the black students from South Africa for example were very resentful of the white population they were meeting  in Europe. Other people from French speaking countries kept complaining about why Africans were poor and blaming Europeans for it. Again Nigerians could not understand this because Nigerians were used to blaming themselves not Europeans for their plight.

We also noticed that some other smaller countries in Central Africa and the Islands, were paying too much regard and respect to white people. Again this was totally unfathomable to us. Nigerians were different. They were confident. They saw themselves as equal to people from any race and nation. Kenyans, Namibians, and Zimbabweans for example, talked about how all the investments in their nations were being taken over by Indians or white people but again Nigerians were surprised. Nigerians didn’t have this kind of sentiment. When needed Nigerians respected their white hosts and when needed they also didn’t hesitate in getting involved in some fracas or fist fights with them.

Whatever you say about Nigerians, their questions were not questions of race, but questions of honor, respect and dignity. They were giving that to other races and they expected to be treated the same. Even though Nigerians were constantly involved in some fight with their European hosts, this was not because they were racist, but because they demanded respect. If other African countries would simply let bygones be bygones, Nigerians would not allow that kind of moral and ethical demands to stop them from retaliating for any injustice done to them.

I hope this article is being read by our European brothers and sisters. I myself have been involved in bringing large groups of Europeans, Americans, Scandinavians, Russians and other nationalities to Nigeria. There have been mixed feelings every time. My experience is that whenever our European brothers have tried to engage in some act of belittling or debasement of their African hosts, there has been a sharp resistance if not a violent refutal of such acts.

I remember a situation when some of my team members were taking photographs of the Makoko slum. Some zealous Nigerians came around to stop them from taking pictures of people living in the slum and in abject poverty. My European friends were taken aback by the aggression and anger of their Nigerian hosts. After further discussion with these men, the reason became clear. These Nigerians were concerned about the superiority attitude of some of the Europeans. Pointing to the high rise building of Mary land and Victoria Island, they questioned why the Europeans didn’t take the pictures of the good looking places in Lagos. They explained that it is a common practice among some Europeans to always show the ugliest and the most horrifying images of Africa, especially in their news media.

It is this type of one sided portrayal of Africa that has led the world to think that Africa is only about poverty, hunger and famine. I personally can attest to that. A lot of people in Europe today will find it difficult to believe that there are parts of Africa that are as good as some European cities. The general picture of Africa is negative with poverty stricken images of the continent. When similar clashes occur either in the streets of Lagos or in the parks of Amsterdam, between Africans and Europeans, some Europeans tend to think that these Africans are simply racist. Not true! Their concern is about respect, honor and dignity.

They, especially Nigerians, believe that they deserve enough honor, respect and dignity as the Europeans who visit them or who they meet in Europe. Their thinking is that they too deserve at least a reciprocal attitude. To the credit of my fellow Nigerians though, I can attest to the fact that a lot of the teams that have come with me to the country, generally go back with the impression that Africans are very respectful and extremely honoring to their European visitors. So the problem of Nigerians is not necessarily a problem of race or racism, as I have said earlier, it is a problem of honor.

As you can see above, the title of this article is called HELP, I AM A RACIST AND A TRIBALIST. I have slightly touched on racism and why I or any other Nigerian cannot be regarded as a racist. It is just not in our bones! This is because most Nigerians never had close interactions with the white colonialists. Even though Nigeria was a colony of Great Britain, yet not too many Nigerians felt the presence of European oppression personally.

The tactics of rulership that was adopted in Nigeria was called Divide and Rule. This method of domination is when the Europeans won the trust of the ruling class of Africans especially the royal houses who in turn represented the interest of the Europeans. They had more direct interactions with the local population carrying out the will and commands of their European masters.

West Africa was more fortunate than their eastern and southern counterparts. The Europeans could not survive long in our part of the world, thanks to our deadly mosquitoes that infected them with malaria and other diseases. The red hot sun of West Africa did not help matters either. It was not just hot; it was deadly for the Europeans especially in a century that was before air conditioners and electronic ventilators.

Unlike in eastern and southern parts of Africa where the weather was more conducive to the Europeans, not too many of the European colonial masters moved to the western part of the continent. In South Africa and East Africa, the weather seemed to be like a paradise to many European sojourners. Some of them settled down in those countries owning properties and becoming part of the population. The rate of settlement of Europeans in Eastern and Southern Africa meant that the African population witnessed firsthand the injustice of colonialism.

Apartheid is the case at hand. This kind of system of oppression cannot but call for a form of reaction. Even strong reactions like hatred, anger, and abhorrence. This probably explains why some Africans have either anger or fear towards Europeans. But to a large extent, it is Africans that are generally being discriminated against, rather than Africans discriminating against other races. More Africans have been on the receiving end of racism than on the giving end.


In the title of this article, there are two words that should catch your eyes, one is the word RACISM which I have already addressed above while the other word is TRIBALISM. To my European audience, that word might not be too familiar.

Tribalism is a term that is more locally used in Africa when describing the unequal relational interactions between the various neighboring tribes. Tribalism is defined as loyalty to a tribe or other social group, especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.

Now what prompted me to address this topic, especially of tribalism, to my dear African audience and anybody reading this article especially Nigerians, is because of the manipulation in the use of the word which has become prevalent recently. As I keep on writing my articles on different issues connected to social and economic political questions, I sometimes have to touch on issues concerning my native land Nigeria.

I have noticed a tendency from the comments that come each time that I touch on some sensitive national issues.  This sentiment is largely coming from a segment of our society accusing me of being a tribalist. At first glance, you could think there may be some accuracy in this accusation especially bearing in mind that Nigeria is a country with over 516 tribes and 521 languages. It becomes more troubling however when it is only one of the 516 tribes and 521 languages that keep on complaining about the same thing. That is a little bit suspicious, leading me personally to think that this is the work of stereotypes, brain washing and indelible memories.

In the beginning of this article, I spoke about the fact that Nigerians don’t understand racism. More so, they tend to look down on people who use race as an excuse or reason for their failures. If you have related with Nigerians you will find that they don’t believe they are worse than anybody else. They also don't blame racism or other historical facts for their failures. For example, when Nigerians see the black population of America putting the blame for their lack of success on slavery or racism, the average Nigerian will normally abhor that argument.

The typical Nigerian attitude is that even if you are brought as a slave to another country, you should be so good, and do so well, so that you outperform the very citizens of the land. That is the attitude of Nigerians. Most Nigerians don’t care how you bring them to America, or Europe, with or without documents. They will prove to you at the end of the day that nobody is better than they are, even the citizens of the land. To now begin to blame historical events that occurred a hundred or two hundred years back is not the habit of Nigerians. This is one aspect of racism that Nigerians will never understand.

This attitude of Nigerians to the question of racism changes sharply however when it comes to the domestic questions about tribalism. In my opinion, Nigerians have also fallen victim to what they accuse other people of in regards to racism, especially outside the country. Within Nigeria, it is like we have been bewitched into blaming almost everything that is wrong in our society on tribalism. 

Even as I write this now, some people are ready to quit reading this article. Others are raining curses on me already believing that I am ignorant. Some will think my position is dictated by the fact that I come from one of the major and most privileged tribes in Nigeria. As I have said above, Nigeria is blessed with 516 tribes of which 3 are the dominant ones: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo.

Bearing in mind the above reality of things in Nigeria, it seems obvious that there would be complaints of tribalism from the minority groups especially those that are not in the top three. Yet the funny thing is that usually it is the three main privileged tribes that keep on accusing each other of tribalism and discrimination.

Before I continue my deliberation on this topic, let me take you dear readers back to an experience that opened my eyes to see how blessed Nigeria is as a nation thanks to the large number of nationalities and tribes we have in our country.

•Sunday Adelaja is a Nigerian born leader, Transformation Strategist, Pastor and innovator who lives in Kieve Ukraine. He can be contacted at

Source: News Express

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