MY PROBLEM WITH NIGERIA
I see myself first as a Nigerian. Well, to be honest, I see myself first as a human being. Well, to be perfectly honest, I see myself first as a human spirit living in a body, with a soul and a heart, and an ability to draw down from higher realms. This is true. But let us not argue spirituality today. I say this because this is the foundation for my world view. That ethnicity is not intrinsic. Always, it is acquired.
This means, too, it can be discarded. Or modified. It can grow and evolve, or shrink and become extinct. It is not for me to stunt my development as a human spirit so I can fit within the confines of my culture. It is for me to stretch the fabric of my culture, at all times, so it keeps in step with my core humanity. This is how I see the world. So, I face my neighbour always with a willingness to learn. Because the world belongs to us all. And I am willing to share this space. Well, except with those who are not.
You understand? So, yes, in that sense, I am intolerant. Intolerant of intolerance. Of those who are themselves products of mingling and evolution who now want to oppose the forces that shaped them. For they all myths, you see, these stories we tell ourselves at night, of how we are descended – each in his small group – from one heroic ancestor, with pure bloodlines stretching unbroken into pre-Time. The truth is less glorious. I tell you, your history is recorded, not in the stars you like to look at, but in the dust beneath your feet. Yes. We are all mongrels.
So, defend your borders if you want to, but know this that it is not the information encoded in your DNA that makes war inevitable with your neighbour, it is the one encoded in your medulla oblangata. Because the difference between Hutu and Tutsi is a colonial policy, and the language the Fulani speak is more closely related to the language the Igbo speak than it is to the language the Hausa speak. But perception is not rational. Neither is prejudice. I tell you, this is my problem with belief.
To say – I believe – without need of proof, without regard whatsoever for empirical data, without willingness to review or have it reviewed, without exception and without doubt, today tomorrow and for all times – I believe. In love, we say it is romantic. As faith, we say it is powerful. But in all cases it is deeply problematic, carrying with it the capacity for extraordinary feats of courage and kindness, yes, but savagery and inhumanity as well. I tell you, this is my problem with religion.
So, I will tolerate your blind faith, in as far as the obligations it imposes are on you alone and those who share it. Yes. In so far as it provides powerful incentives for self-discipline and community service, for integrity and substantive justice, I will even be inspired it. Even if tells you to talk to me too, and tell me how to behave, I will tolerate, so long as all you do is preach. But if, in addition, you want to use force and State, violence and Law, to compel my obedience to a God I do not believe in, then I will have to repeat myself. That I am intolerant. Intolerant of intolerance. This is my problem with extremism.
And by the time you stack them all on top of each other – the belief that culture is intrinsic, that God made, not man, but Yorubas and Ijaws, blessed this one and damned that one, Heaven is here and Hell is there, ordained enmity between the children of Ishmael and Isaac, and carved this ordinance into the earth’s crust – then you will understand my problem with Nigeria. Yes? Live and let live. That is all I mean by One Nigeria. Me? I can do this. You? Can you?
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