Stereotyping when done in words and not in deed, doesn’t bug me; bear with me, I have my reasons. One of which is: I believe stereotyping raises a lot of very important questions and if we still have questions, then we do not have the answer yet. And we must learn to explore our questions instead of get emotional and irrational about them.
Have you ever heard the phrase or statement, ‘Nigerians love to answer a question with another question’ ? if you haven’t, let me give a rundown of what a conversation can look like.
Person A: Can I come to your house tomorrow?
Person B: What time do you want to come?
Person A: Is 3pm fine with you?
Person B: 3pm in the afternoon?
Person A: Isn’t 3pm in the afternoon?
Seriously, the questions can go on forever before an answer emerges and I am not exaggerating. We, Nigerians, have mastered the art of the question. I used to wonder why we did that. I always thought it was for clarity sake or to be on the same page or something but after our recent elections, I have come to the conclusion that it is because we are too emotional to deal with honest answers. Especially, if the answers are direct, brutal and instant. Somehow and somewhere along the line during our development as a people, we pushed reason to the side and let emotions be the driver of our lives.
Could it be because of modernization? I would like to believe we reasoned more back in the time of the kingdoms and when tradition ruled the land. This is because all the local stories and folktales I have heard celebrated being wise and intelligent. Most of these stories seem to indicate that being wise was a precursor to great decisions and fair judgement. But we have totally lost this; the ability to logically reason things out before our emotions get in the way.
Can we say it is because of religion? Jesus Christ my personal person as we say in Nigeria and my hero, even though a lot of the time didn’t really give straight out answers; he presented things in a way that encouraged us to ask, seek and knock. He was quite brutally honest and candid though when it came to his answers. This is me speaking on the Christian side of things.
As a country, we are so segmented, segregated and sectional (proud of my ‘S’ usage son!) but we refuse to accept this fact. The recent elections just showed our tribalism and how normalized our stereotypes are to the point that they were used in arguments as proof.
However, we do like to claim to be proudly Nigerian, but what does that even mean? I do not know anybody that dresses Nigerian, I do not even know what it means to dress Nigerian. Some may say when we wear Ankara or printed fabrics , we dress Nigerian. Really? Aren’t those fabrics from Denmark or Holland or Somewhere far off? Isn’t our textile industry broken down and virtually non-existent? What really makes us proudly Nigerian? Is it when Chiwetel Ejifor is nominated for an Oscar and we claim him and share in his glory? Because I know we are very vocal and quick to distance ourselves from the international criminals and terrorists that emerge from within. So what is ‘Proudly Nigerian’ really?
When I was going to do my one year youth service, I asked around about what to expect especially during the three week orientation camp. The most reoccurring advice I got was, “Beware of the Igbo girls on camp.” It got really scary when an Igbo girl who grew up in Jos told me the same thing. I wondered why everyone was particular about Igbo girls and I asked “Why not Yoruba girls?”. The only answer i got was you will find out when you get to camp and boy did i ever.
My bunk mate was nastiness wrapped in human form. I can’t even go into the details of how low she stooped to make my life miserable. The worst thing she did was wake up in the dead of the night to pee in my bucket of bathing water. Did I tell you she was Igbo?
I would like to say my experience was enough proof of this Igbo stereotype but on the bunk next to me was another Igbo girl; one of the sweetest people I met on camp. She observed the drama going on between me and my bunk mate and took it upon herself to protect and look out for me. My nickname in our apartment ‘Yankee Bunkee’ came from her and I loved chatting with her. She gave me some perspective as to the general reason for the nastiness but now that I have explored further, I have my own theories which I would share another time.
The stereotype for my people, Plateau people is that we are very lazy and stupid. This stereotype is based on the fact that we are not hustlers and every other tribe comes to our state to enrich themselves with our resources while we watch. Is this true? I do not agree it to be entirely true and this is how I try to educate people who say this.
Most Plateau Indigenes are land owners. I can boldly say at least 90% of the population owns land where ever they come from or have access to it. A typical Plateau person can go to their village and have a piece of land that they can claim as theirs or that belongs to their family (immediate and extended). This means they can farm on it and earn money or explore it in some way so the need to migrate to another state and ‘suffer’ yourself as we see it, isn’t really there.
Plateau parents mostly cuddle and smother their kids, this should be a good thing but notice i said kids. A typical Plateau parent for some reason doesn’t encourage their children to grow up. I don’t know the reason for this and i am still looking into it. Somewhere in our history, something must have happened but I don’t know what yet. Now this means that the things it takes to be a proper grown up has eluded a lot of us. Hopefully as we accept this truth, the next generation will be spared but I am afraid it may not be the case.Because really, have we accepted this truth?
Contentment was also slammed into us from day one. If you have in excess, living/appearing humble is the way to go. It is so easy for us to sniff out and judge the materialistic and vulgar amongst us. And with the hard and heavy ‘righteous’ judgement ready and easy to be dispersed; a lot of people do not want to deal with it.
So we don’t aspire to much because we have enough and that is good…er…enough. This should be a good thing to be content but it is not an excuse to not be productive. It is also not a reason to let our gifts, talents and resources to be depleted and go to waste; to whom much is given, so much more is expected. We are up to the task but squandering our blessings and this is truly worse than actually being lazy and stupid.
I bet my bunk mate in camp heard I was Plateau and naturally assumed based on a stereotype she could oppress me. On the very last day of camp due to my highly elevated ways of putting her in check, she met me and instead of apologizing for her mean ways, she said “I can’t believe you thought it was right to let us go three weeks sharing a bunk without knowing each others names.” I just shook my head and walked away and to this day I do not know her name. I only refer to her as ‘The mean Igbo girl that was my bunk mate in camp,” and I am right in doing this. But would I be right in telling everyone going to camp to beware of the Igbo girls? I don’t think so.
We have 371 tribes in Nigeria, do we even want to assume the number of stereotypes floating around? Even with 3 major tribes and religions, we still haven’t solidified ourselves enough to find a common ground. Is it a wonder we almost killed ourselves online over our choices during the elections? Or am I the only that doesn’t really know what it means to be truly Nigerian?
So many questions yet to be answered…