In the last few weeks, the information space in Nigeria has been inundated with drumbeats of ethnicism from all regions of the country. Oxford Living Dictionary defines “ethnicism” as “1. An emphasis upon ethnic identity. 2. Prejudice based on ethnic origin.” In other words, ethnicism is linked with superiority complex in inter-ethnic relationships.
It is the case where each ethnic group is prejudiced about other ethnic groups and perceives them from the prism of either inferiors or superiors. Like every prejudice, it involves often a wrong judgement of an ethnic group or the individuals that make up that group. To bring it home, ethnicism is summarized by the tensions that characterize ethnic relations in Nigeria. The suspicious and tense relationship among the Igbo, the Hausa and the Yoruba tribes, for example, epitomizes the prejudice associated with ethnicism.
The embers of hatred arising from ethnic prejudice has been rekindled in no small way by the vociferous demands for Biafra by IPOB, the blatant declaration, by the Arewa Youths that Igbos should leave the North, the renewed request for Oduduwa nation and by the awaiting resurgence of militancy in the Niger-Delta as the youths demand the departure of the Northerners in South-South. The cloud of uncertainty hangs all over the country and we can hear very faint drumbeats of violence. Obviously, there is a suffusing atmosphere of hatred, prejudice, distrust, acrimony, divisiveness among all the ethnic groups of Nigeria. There is no love lost amongst them as it stands now in Nigeria.
Amid all these, one cannot but think about the place of Christianity and her principles in our current Nigeria. Are Christians to shun the eternal principles of the Golden rule, “Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you?” (Mtt. 7:12; Lk. 6:31). Our lord Jesus Christ during his period of departure from this world, demanded that the Apostles should love themselves and by that people will know that they are his followers (Jn:13:35).
Amidst the threats and foul tirades, can a Christian still listen to the Master and turn the other cheek? (Mtt. 5: 38 – 40). Can a Christian witness the hate, the discord and the rampart anger, frustration and irredentism that Nigerians are unleashing on one another including those directed to him by fellow believers and still come out unstained? This season of rancour calls for a lot of circumspection, for the sake of our souls. The word of God in Mt. 5:22-26 still holds true for all of us. As usual, I will drop a few hints that should help to redirect our focus in this tempting time.
1. Prejudice is full of malicious lies: Most prejudices we have about people and situations are not true. Avid travelers know that most of the stories we hear about other ethnic groups are not as we were told. To the chagrin of many open-minded people, they often find out that most, if not all they were told about a town, a people, a culture, etc before they embarked on their journeys are not true. The ones that are even close to truth are so embellished that they look like lies. So, would you commit sin because of lies you were told which you now believe to be true? Believing that the Hausa man irredeemably hates the Igbo man and the Igbo man hates the Yoruba etc are all lies.
In the daily experience of the citizens of these ethnic groups they live happily together. They are united in their poverty and quest for daily bread. They have no time for prejudicing. The Igbo man in the street is drinking the Kunu of the Fulani and the herbs of the Yoruba. The Hausa is enjoying Egusi soup of Mama Azuka and the Yoruba is being intoxicated by the palmy (palm wine) of the Igbo man. It goes to show we are all children of God.
Don’t forget that! If there will be trouble in your life, the possibility is that 99% of such troubles will come from your friends and relations than from strangers. You may also have to note that not all northerners are Hausa/Fulani. There are many other minor ethnic groups in the North that cannot but bear the pains of being called a Hausa or a Fulani man or woman.
2. There are also millions of Christians in the North: As you wish that fire burns all the northerners, for instance, have you considered the millions of Christians in the North? What do you make of this statement from Eph. 5:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all?” You can now evaluate how damaging to our faith and salvation ethnicism can be.
Ethnicism like all other discriminatory vices is never reasonable. It is always divisive and therefore uncharitable and unchristian. Would you willingly want to destroy your fellow believer just because he or she is not from the same ethnic group? By the way, if the Christians in the South experience the persecution our northern brethren suffer, many would have left the faith. What unites us is more than divides us.
3. You are the Salt of the Earth and Light of the World (Mtt. 5:13,14): “We are ‘caged’ by the Holy Spirit!” That is an exclamation of my friends while reacting to the Fulani herdsmen menace. He wanted blood for blood which is not permitted by Christianity. Well, we are in the world but not of the world (Jn. 17:16). My dear brother and sister, that is how it is. I am sorry you became a Christian. However, if you must remain one, you must be the edible salt that makes all the hatreds, acrimonies, divisivenesses etc of this world a bygone.
Every Christian should be the light that dispels all the forces of darkness that encourage a denigration of any human being created by God in his image, because of ethnic nationalism, race, tribalism, gender, slavery (osu and ohu) or any other source of discrimination.
Conclusion: Do not let ethnicism and hate becloud your Christian sense of judgement. Hatred for any creature which God himself said is good (See the creation account in Genesis), is an affront to God who made them. Then, consider what it entails to hate a human being created in the image of God, just because he or she does not belong to the same ethnic group with us. Our ethnic group are not actually dependent on us. We just found ourselves in that group. We never chose it and that is why we should not feel we have achieved anything. We could have belonged to the ethnic group we now hate with passion.
As Christians, our call is to live a life that supersedes the ordinary life of every other human being. Our life is to mirror the life of Christ who loves all humanity unconditionally, and gave his life as ransom for all created things. Love is all. Only love can change our situation. If we follow the rule of love laid down for us by Christ, we shall conquer all hatred and the consequences of unholy ethnicism.