Michael Jackson, the American talented pop superstar, who enraptured the world with his electric dance steps and sonorous voice, needs no introduction. In his celebrated song, Black or White, through a blend of indulgent amusement and excessive theatricality, he collapses the boundaries of choice between Black and White, insisting that he wouldn’t care about the racial origin of someone close to his heart. It is a huge ideological racial/ethnic statement by the late superstar for those who make choices based on race, ethnicity, or other mundane considerations that keep humanity apart. In the final seconds of the musical video, the magical transmutation of persons into different races and ethnicity tells the entire story.
By introducing Jackson and his racial/ethnic sermons this week, I want us to take a break from all the depressing and utterly creeping narratives of COVID-19 plaguing humanity. The virus has generated more conspiracy theories than any phenomenon known to mankind. They all exhaust the intellect and afflict the sensibilities. Yet, scholars and researchers are busy, committed to find a solution that will lift the gloom and doom of the present time. Madagascar, that small East African country, has taken a bold step to find a cure for COVID-19. Yet they lay no claim to being the giant of Africa. Do not be deceived, size means nothing.
In Nigeria, the story of COVID-19 can fill a whole library. While it has exposed our country’s weak health system, it has inexplicably become a cash-cow for many people who only thrive amid tragedy. For these people, once tragedy is removed from our national menu, they suffer a dearth in business, lurching in their materialistic debasement. For these fellow countrymen, any kind of national tragedy lubricates the wheel of their misbegotten fortune. So while COVID-19 lasts, these people thrive. They will expend their last energy to ensure that the virus remains here for a long time. But there is God.
Let us return to Michael Jackson and his submissions on the immateriality of race and ethnicity. There is nothing that separates or distracts people more than ethnicity. In Nigeria, ethnicity partly led to the fall of the first republic. Ethnicity is evil. It breeds insecurity and hate. Recently, I have been appalled by a current trend in social media where people we consider educated and enlightened consistently stoke the embers of ethnicity. These people show a certain level of benumbing commitment in sowing divisive seeds of ethnicity among people. The Hausa/Fulani is this, the Igbo is that, the Yoruba is this, the Urhobo is that, the Efik is this and so forth. It is disappointing that at a time when the army of youths in Nigerian should come together and form a third force to wrest power from PDP and APC, parties that revel in outdated, retrogressive ideas, our youths are busy flying the ethnic kite and I ask, to what purpose? Nigerians must not be deceived by the unfortunate incident of COVID-19. While I admit that the virus is deadly and should be approached with every sense of hygienic responsibility, we must all look forward, towards 2023.
Interestingly, Nigerians only become aware of ethnicity when politics is the topic. In our personal lives, we commingle easily. The Hausa/Fulani man has no problem with the Igbo man, they are business partners. The Yoruba man has no problem with the Hausa/Fulani man, they are good friends. The Igbo man likes the Yoruba man on a personal level, they are very good friends. On a personal level, we have friends across different ethnicities. Interestingly, Nigerians do not make distinctions about ethnicity in spiritual matters. We attend churches where we hope to receive miracles irrespective of the ethnic origin of the pastor. But we care so much about the ethnic origin of a president even if such a personality will enunciate policies that will lead to political and economic freedom.
If Nigerians can unite at different levels and find success, why can’t they be united also in politics at the national level? I am Igbo, am I going to support an Igbo thief, a proven criminal to become the president of Nigeria simply because he is Igbo? I know of an Igbo governor who, out of sheer wickedness and greed, has not paid salaries since January 2019. Should I support him if he aspires to become Nigeria’s president?
Will it be proper for a Yoruba man to support a fellow Yoruba man who is a thief, a renegade simply because he is a Yoruba man? Will it be justified for a Hausa/Fulani man to support an incompetent, illiterate Hausa/Fulani man because they are from the same ethnic group? There are criminals and incompetent people in every ethnicity, there are also competent, capable people in every ethnicity. If we play the ethnic card and enthrone criminality and incompetence in governance, we will all suffer the same fate. We go to the same market and the prices of commodities do not respect ethnicity. Therefore, it is simply benighted for the youths of this country to continue to fly the ethnic kite at this time.
I know that the argument for ethnic politics will be fuelled by the kind of crass nepotism we are witnessing at the helm of national politics. But it is because, the youths in Nigeria, the educated ones, only participate in politics on social media while they pursue the vanishing illusions of success, career, and sundry frippery. If all the youths/graduates in Nigeria, which number about 60 million, step out to vote and insist on the right thing, incompetent people will not have access to power, to superintend over our collective destiny. There are informed, and detribalised Hausa/Fulani Nigerians. There are Yoruba people who are enlightened in their ideology and worldview. There are many distinguished Igbo people who have a totally pragmatic opinion about Nigeria. I have friends and colleagues in all the ethnic groups in Nigeria who have the same progressive mindset. But the challenge is that these people do not want to contaminate themselves with politics. They are only political champions, theorists, and analysts on social media, radio, TV, and newspapers. It is a big shame.
2023 is here with us. A third force made up of youths, those between 18-60 years, must emerge in this country. We must uproot all the divisive structures of ethnicity in politics, come together, unite and wrestle power from these demagogues and self-styled potentates. An outdated mind cannot lead a progressive modern mind. No country makes progress in that way. Our elders have completely failed us in Nigeria, those who have been part of governance since independence. These people have nothing to offer and must not be allowed to take the centre stage in 2023. The discerning mind is not unmindful of the kind of treachery these political superstructures will apply in dividing the youths of Nigeria, namely ethnicity. Therefore, let us pay no heed to all the ethnic narratives flying around. I am a progressive, I want to identify with fellow progressives irrespective of their ethnic groups. Nigeria’s Third Force arise.
Dr. Adiele teaches in the Department of English, Mountain Top University via [email protected]