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Friday, 16 May 2014

RACISM, ETHNICITY AND TRIBALISM .... What's the difference?

In the last week, if you watched the CNN channels in the United States of America, you will be 'assaulted' with the story of one old man named Donald Sterling who seemingly committed 'harakiri' by making what Americans called racist comments to his girl friend. Donald Sterling a Jewish American who is a very successful sports entrepreneur who owns the LA Clippers, a professional Basket Ball team that is part of the NBA got into big time trouble by making racist comments recently. He castigated his girl friend Stiviano for going out with black boys and bringing them to his games. He did not like the idea of sharing the girl with blackmen.The girl friend recorded this conversation and released it to the media and things have not been the same for Donald Sterling since then. Infact his world seems to have crashed.

First, the NBA commissioner has banned him for life, he will not attend or participate in any NBA game again for life. Second he has been asked to sell his stake in the team and to get out. Third, Shelley his wife for 58 years has filled for a divorce, essentially on the basis of adultery. In the effort to defend himself, Donald Sterling said he made those remarks in the heat of passion trying to have sex with the girl Stiviano. Fourth, Donald has lost most of the esteem and respect of other NBA owners, his team players and most ordinary Americans. Indeed he has become the butt of jokes as he has said many more terrible things and offended more people in his effort to wriggle himself out of the quagmire. Indeed for every new recording or Television interview, Donald Sterling has gone from bad to worse. His unjustified attack on Magic Johnson for example has incensed many Americans- black, white and brown who see Magic Johnson as a national Icon.

Watching Donald Sterling face humiliation and seeing the pains he seemed to be going through, I began to wonder what would make such a very accomplished man fall suddenly from grace to grass. First,would this have happened elsewhere in the Wold outside the USA. Certainly not in most of Africa, Nigeria inclusive. Even in South Africa, where racial issues may be as 'hot' as in the USA, I doubt if this would happen . Second I began to wonder if there was any difference between racism, ethnicity and Tribalism, the latter two being rife and very common in Africa, especially in Nigeria.

What actually is Racism? My understanding is that it is the act of discrimination based on Skin color - white, black, brown or yellow. When one is discriminated against because of his skin color, he is said to have suffered racism and the one who discriminated against him is said to be a racist . The racist may have superior or inferior feelings, but usually superior complex and may feel that people of other color have inferior attributes like Intelligence Quotient(IQ), skills or capabilities based essentially on their skin color. Racial Prejudices many times are stereotyped and can be used to limit opportunities for other races. The United States of America has a very long history of racial discrimination. For a long time, it was official policy to discriminate against the black. The white rode in different buses and ate in different restaurants and went to different schools until the civil rights movement which climaxed with Dr Martin Luther Jnr.led to the abrogation of the official Racist discrimination in America. Since then , America has been struggling with dealing with the vestiges of this obnoxious practice.So many blacks still feel discriminated against because of their color and many of them have responded by discriminating against the white, which is racism too. But the society seems to stand squarely against racism in the public space.

South Africa also practiced official Racial discrimination called Apartheid . The same segregation of the blacks from the white. A show of white supremacy and dominance. Here, the white controlled the Politics and governance and ruled the economy. Indeed there was career ceiling beyond which no Blackman could ascend and there were some political and economic pursuits which no Blackman could attempt until the revolution that was led by Nelson Mandela. There is some slight variance between the US racist regime and SA's apartheid genre. Where as the whites first lived in the US before the black came, essentially through slave trading; and were in majority, the whites in SA came later than the blacks who were the original settlers in the place and who remained in majority. This genealogical difference notwithstanding, the practice was similar until officially abrogated.

My understanding of Tribalism and ethnicity is that of discriminating against people just based on their ethnic origin or Tribal affiliation. Here, one is denied allocation of land because of his tribe or his child is denied admission into a school because of his ethnic background. Tribalistic People look after people from their tribes and give them preferences in allocation of rights and privileges. When a tribalistic man is the head of an organisation, virtually everybody in that institution will be from his tribe or ethnic region. When there is an opportunity for career advancement he thinks of his people first. Intact in the extreme display of tribalism, people fail to see anything wrong in what people from their tribes are doing but will readily criticise people from other tribes for doing the same things. Some will only vote for people from their tribes or ethnic regions each time there is a contest.

Now if you ask me if there is any difference between Racism, ethnicity or tribalism, I will say that there is not much. It is like saying that there is a difference between Six and half a dozen. For me they are all reprehensible acts that cause unnecessary divisions and disruptions of society's cohesiveness. But why do they still exist, even in Societies where they have been outlawed? Though to the best of my knowledge, there is no law banning Tribalism in Nigeria, for example, yet it is a negative emotion and orientation which only very few people will identify with publicly.

To my mind, Racism, ethnicity and Tribalism are more related than different. And the reason is that they arise from the same root. Yes God created us differently and we come from different cultures and traditions. Yes we have different skin and hair colorations. But we are all created in the image of God. When you go below the skin, we are the same. Irrespective of our skin colors, we all have red blood cells. Our skeletal system is the same and our human parts are the same and perform the same functions. We have the same five senses of feel,touch, see hear and taste,though a few have the 'sixth sense'. Then why do we still harbour these negative social traits of racism and tribalism?

Anthropologists and sociologists can explain it in terms of human experience and historical adaptations over the ages. Yes,like aggregates with like and like protects like. It is true that due to the finite nature of resources available to a group of people within a geographical location at a given time, there is bound to be competition and struggle to appropriate the most for one'self or for one's kith and kin. Such competitions will always lead to categorization of people using different criteria to determine scale of distribution or allocation or sharing. Nigeria' revenue sharing formula between the federal, state and local governments on one hand and that between States on the other hand illustrates the point, that it is in the nature of man and human institutions to always find a way to discriminate in order to find a'rational or logical' basis for resource allocation. ' We got here before you','We have made more investments than you',' We cleared the obstacles' or ' fought the enemies before you came' are such justifications that enable man and his institutions to seek advantage over other peoples or groups that share common space. The battle for the derivation principle in Nigeria further illustrates the point. The Niger Delta People feel that they are the ones contributing more to National Income or that they are the ones who bear the greatest brunt of the devastation or environmental degradation caused by oil exploration. And so they are entitled to get more of the income than other regions.

But there must be a difference between 'natural' Struggle for advantage and the offensive social traits of racism and tribalism. These take their roots from the debased nature of the fallen man whose god is his belly. Racism,ethnicity and tribalism spring from the root of hatred. They are antithesis of Gods injunction to man to love his Neighbor as himself. Love is the glue that can hold humanity together and remove the negative social traits that manifest as racism or tribalism. When you truly love your neighbor, you become 'blind' to his color, his race, his ethnicity or to his tribe. You just see him as a fellow creature of the Almighty God who Has made the World beautiful with different colors, shapes and styles. Deep down, despite our physical differences, we are just same, with similar emotions and craving for a successful life.

But is this kind of universal love possible? Yes indeed. What motivated the missionaries to leave the comfort of their homes to come to Africa, many dying from Malaria? What motivated James Wilberforce,David Livingstone, Mary Slessor and the many men and women who fought against slave trade and the killing of twins at personal cost and peril? Men and woman who worked hard to pass the legislations that brought slave trade, racial discrimination in the USA and Apartheid in South Africa to an end. We need such men and women in Africa to bring Tribalism and ethnic bias to an end. And we fully recommend this to the likes of Donald Sterling. The Spirit of love which only comes from Living a life surrendered to The Lord. Which if he had, his world would not have come crashing on his head In a twinkle of an eye because he would have abhorred the sin of adultery that elicited the racial bitterness that brought his fall. And the truth is that all men, who live and sow to the flesh must reap corruption, no matter their wealth or political power, sooner or later.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Monday, 12 May 2014


Sometimes it is challenging to be a Nigerian. I get to travel outside the Country once in a while. And often, the image of my Country puts me in some uncomfortable positions and I find my self struggling to defend the integrity of the Nation.

When the military were in power, I got embarrassed severally in foreign fora as people made uncharitable remarks about my Country. They accused the entire Nation of being corrupt and wanted me to explain why corruption was rife in the country. I made strenuous effort to explain that there were many more Nigerians that were not corrupt than those that were corrupt. At other times, Nigeria was painted in the International media as a country of Drug pushers and I was hard pressed to explain that it was only very few Nigerians that were in the illicit drug business and that most Nigerians did not know what cocaine or heroin looked like, not to talk of taking them or trafficking in them. Those were the days,when each time a flight arrived from Lagos, the airport arrival was filled with sniffer dogs .I faced the greatest challenge when Abacha was in power, especially after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa. Every where I went and identified myself as a Nigerian, I was immediately attacked as if I was privy to the execution. Matters got worse when the Commonwealth of Nations placed embargo on Nigeria and the green passport became a burden.

Things only improved when the Nigerian teams won football cups at international competitions, then the pressure was let off and People had positive things to say about my country. When Obasanjo came to power and travelled around the whole World to show a new Nigerian face, followed by his effort to confront Corruption especially through the instrumentality of the EFCC, the attack and the stereotyping declined significantly. Even our ranking on the Global Corruption Perception Index improved somewhat and I found that we were better treated at International airports.

Since then I have had mixed experiences but did not have cause to complain much except for the unfairly longer times it took immigration officers to clear Nigerians visiting countries like South Africa, the UK and the USA. When I enquired, I discovered that it had to do with another of our stereotypes, that of overstaying our welcome in these countries. Not only did many Nigerians overstay, many remained back permanently as illegal aliens.So despite the effort to limit Nigerians, by denying many entry visas including tortuous and punitive procurement procedures, those who pass through the needle's eye are now made to swear oaths that they would not overstay or disappear into thin air once admitted.

But when I arrived Houston Texas in the United States early this week, the immigration officer engaged me on a long discussion concerning Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls. It was like ' I hope you are not coming here to kidnap our girls'. When I kind of convinced him that I could not be in that kind of business, he then asked why we have been unable to get the girls released. I tried my best to convince him that our Security forces were doing their best. The way he looked at me showed that he was not convinced. It was like saying 'you guys ought to stay home and get the girls released instead of coming here for what ever reason'.He eventually stamped my passport and let me enter. I thought the ordeal was over.

Then I arrived at the Reliant Stadium where the Oil Technology conference(OTC) was going on and found that many people were angry at Nigeria. 'How come they will kidnap 234 girls for over 3 weeks and you guys ain't doing anything' seemed to be the question on many People's lips. I labored to offer explanation but the next day I was assaulted with the news that not only had Shekau or who ever he was on the video had boasted that 'Allah had asked him to sell the girls' but that another set of 8 girls had been kidnapped. I lost my voice.

Later that evening I ran into a group of Nigerians in Houston and the discussion centered on three paradoxical developments. First, was the REBASED Nigeria's GDP which now made Nigeria the biggest Economy in Africa and the 26th in the World and yet Nigeria according to the World bank is one of the poorest countries in the World. How can the country with the largest economy still harbour the largest number of the poorest People in Africa. I tried to explain that it was a game of numbers but my audience insisted that it is a game of a small proportion of Nigerians grabbing all the wealth of Nigeria and leaving the vast majority with little or nothing.

Second was that Nigeria represented by NNPC had the largest contingent to the OTC as they have done for several years but Nigeria really had nothing to show or exhibit at the Conference. Visit to the other country exhibition stands showed certain new Technology or process on display. In the Brazilian Pavilion for example I saw a Solar powered turbine . What was on display in the Nigerian pavilion was just Nigerians milling around and backslapping.

Third was that despite the security situation in the Country, foreign direct investment( FDI) was still flowing into the Country at a surprisingly high rate and indeed despite the security scare accentuated by the recent twin bombings in Nyanya, Abuja, the World Economic Forum Africa(WEFA) was holding in Abuja with a size able foreign participation. My country, a true paradox where the best has failed to happen,and the worst does not seem to happen either.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Tuesday, 6 May 2014



I am thankful to our Great God, the Merciful God of Nigeria, for bringing us here today. That we have a Country called Nigeria today is essentially by His grace, because we have done so much against this Nation, both by our actions and inactions, that it could have been dead. I am grateful to the leadership of this great bridge building organisation- South East, South South Professionals of Nigeria for the invitation to be part of this important dialogue. Let me start by asking the Permission of the Estate of the late Dim Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi and the former Biafran Leader, to borrow the title of my speech which was the title of a speech he made in 1967 at the heat of the Nigeria's Political crisis.


Mr Chairman, your excellencies, the choice of this title is not to evoke memories of the Nigeria-Biafra war, because for many, the memory is mixed. The reason I choose this title is that the spirit of the cure of Nigeria's lingering problem is encapsulated in that historical document drafted at a time like this when our Country was in dire distress.

In my Book: Nigeria, Time for the Evolution of a New Nation, I had surmised that Nigeria has underperformed over the 54 years of its existence as an independent Nation or over 100 years since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. We have wobbled from one crisis to another and have been quite busy putting out fires which come up so frequently that we often get distracted and in the process undermine our progress. Can any body calculate the amount of resources we are currently wasting on containing the insurgency by Boko haram or dealing with the current unwarranted killings in the middle belt of Nigeria. Trillions of Naira!. If this kind of resource is invested in developing our infrastructure or our Social welfare system, the Country will have been much farther in its economic development and the improvement of its human development index.


Pre Indepedent Nigeria enjoyed relative peace and progress . Nigeria after Independence enjoyed significant Economic growth which derived essentially from the focus of the Regional governments who exploited its comparative advantages to drive its economy. However the fault lines of the political arrangement began to be visible as evidenced by the 1964 general elections. Nevertheless, the Political Leaders then, managed the cracks with maturity, given the high level of independence they maintained with the Regional Autonomy. The scrabble for power at the centre was not as rabid. If it were, Ahmadu Bello will not have preferred to remain as a Regional Premier than become Prime Minister at the Federal level.

Nigeria became destabilized in 1966 when the Military abolished the regions and concentrated power in the central government. That was when Nigeria ceased to be a federal Republic in its true sense. Indeed that was when the Federation died. Much of Nigeria's instability since then has been due to the stress of running a federation that is highly unbalanced. Indeed we became a federation without real federating units. And the Federation has been struggling since to create Federating units which is a reversal of the normal order of things. And since then the centre has failed to hold. Today what are the federating units? The States or the local Governments or both?

Now with the death of the regions, the central government took over all the assets and hopefully the liabilities as well of the original and proper federating units and began to determine who gets what, setting up the biggest scramble for power as who ever occupies the centre determines what everybody else gets. It led to a series of coups and counter coups . Thereafter we began to have elections that were rigged and manipulated, elections that have become so violent that those who lose resort to all kinds of subterfuge and sabotage including insurrection as we are currently witnessing. The scramble for power in the centre has led to a rise in Corruption as many people try to get some pieces of the assets willy nilly, by crook or by fraud.

In the meanwhile the surrogate federating units called States can neither stand on their own nor fend for their citizens adequately. Every month, they carry their begging bowls to Abuja and when they come home,they split what they got somehow. Some are well fed but many are hungry. Those who are hungry make little effort to help themselves except to raise the cry of marginilisation, poisoning the minds of its citizens against the rest of the Nation. Some of whom then think that the way out is either to ask for more States or more local governments or higher derivation,failing which, they form Militant groups or militia or terrorist groups that try to get their own 'fair share' of the federal wealth through essentially criminal activities. When people are struggling for new States you would think they have been enemies forced to live together over many years, further polarizing the people. The growing divisions among our Peoples today have arisen from this splitting of the Country into States and the demand grows!


To us there is nothing really wrong with Nigeria except its structure and administrative arrangement which has spewed several other problems that are now threatening to destroy the entire country. Nigeria was largely in this situation in January 1967 when the Military leaders of Nigeria and their advisers met in ABURI Ghana at the invitation of General Afrifa and agreed that it was better to discentralise and survive than to sustain the centralization and collide and be destroyed.The ABURI accord which essentially called for a restoration of the structure and autonomy of the Regions which existed before 15th January 1966 would have saved Nigeria from the interminable political crises it has faced since then and certainly will have prevented the Civil war, if General Yakubu Gowon and his advisers had kept fate with the accord as fashioned out in ABURI.

Therefore it is the considered opinion, of most of our People in the various conversations that we have had over the last several months that to stop the drift and political instability that has dogged us since 1966, we have to return to where 'the rain started to beat us' captured stringently by the spirit of the Abuja accord:

First is to return to the original Regional Political structure. And where this is not feasible, then we need to adopt the Six Geopolitical Zones structure that we currently associate with. This is a fundamental step that We must take. The current fragile 36 state structure will not work and we need to understand that, no matter our sentiments and attachment to this.

Second, we need to allow the different zones to work out their own constitution and then they will then RE-FEDERATE, and then evolve a new constitution for the Federation. In effect, the federation as constituted now may have to dissolve relinquishing power to allow a new federation to emerge with the Geopolitical zones becoming the federating units. With this move, so much will be achieved in one fell swoop. Power will automatically devolve to the federating units who will now decide what roles and power to give to the Centre. That is how a true federation is organized so that we can restore stability, orderly and sustainable growth.

Following from the above the following will be included in the new Constitution of the New Federation:

1. The Federating units will have the freedom to create their own States, Provinces, Districts or local governments or what ever administrative and political structures that are agreed.

2. There will be individual property rights and this should cover resources of land and what ever is below the ground, including mineral resources. The properties and resources will have to be taxed by the Regional or Zonal governments who will pass an agreed portion of the tax to the Central government. By the way that should be the name of the government. Not Federal government. It should be the Central government. By so doing we will whittle down free money available to the governments and leave the money in private hands and operate with tax revenue. Not only will the scramble for Political power decline, corruption in the Public sector will also decline. Additionally, the governments will have to work for their money. They will compete for investors and tax payers. It will change Nigeria and clean its image .

3. To deal with security, we should have at least three tiers of Police, the Regional, the Central and the local( state or Province or District). It has been proven beyond all doubts( reasonable and unreasonable) that only a Central or Federal Police formation is grossly inadequate for a large country like ours. There will of course be one Military formation for the entire federation along with a short exclusive list for the Central government.

4. There should be equal citizenship rights for all Nigerians, wherever they may decide to live. All discrimination about State of Origin, ethnicity or Religious persuasion should cease. Because if we want a united Country then, People should be free to live, work and procreate and die wherever they may desire. That is what is applicable in progressive Countries.

5. We may have to rethink our system of Governance. Having tried both Parliamentary and Presidential, it is certain that the Nigerian mood is more amenable to Parliamentary system. It is more participatory, more accountable and less expensive.

6. We should adopt a unicameral legislature to save cost and remove too much delay in law making. If possible, make legislative work part time, so that the legislators can Practice their professions and make the office less lucrative.

7.We need to make the Private Sector, the dominant sector in the economy and drastically reduce the size of the governments-both Regional or Zonal and local. There should total Privitisation and complete deregulation.The Private sector should be assigned the role of developing infrastructure and supplying goods and services to the economy since much of the National Wealth will be left in their hands while the government should use the tax revenue to focus on Social well being- Security, Education, Health care, Environment, Population Control and Regulation.


Nigeria is a country blessed by God with so much resources carefully placed in different parts of the Country. After 54 years of Independence,Nigeria has failed to realize its full potential. Much of the time it has had to deal with one crisis after another, distracting the Country from focusing appropriately on sustainable growth and development . Our thinking supported by our findings is that much of these problems have arisen because of the structure of the federation where the 'tail seems to be wagging the dog'. Since 1966, Nigeria has been running an inverted federation, which is very unstable, thereby stirring up several problems which are stifling growth and giving the Nation a wrong image.

The kernel of our proposition here today is that we need to restructure the Federation. Indeed we need to Re-Federate. Surely, that will not solve all of Nigeria's problems. But it will be a major step to restoring our Nation to a true federation and eliminating most of the contradictions and irritants that have bedeviled us since 1996. I believe that with the current National Conference going in Abuja, the opportunity has presented to correct this anomaly and begin the process of regaining our Nation which the Military hijacked in 1966.

Thank you and God bless

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR