Where Do You Stand: Nigeria’s Four “Tribes” and You

I am a Nigerian. Please don’t look at my name and try to peg me to a tribe otherwise I will be glad tell you the stories of other people I have met in the last three decades of my existence — people who can not be defined by any tribal nomenclature. I will also remind anyone who’s willing to listen of the fact that tribal issues mostly raise their heads when people fail. When a leader succeeds, the people call him a great Nigerian leader (regardless of the reach of his influence) but when a ruler (please notice that this word is deliberate) fails, (s)he is suddenly tagged by various tribal connotations. Even her own tribe call her by an hyphenated tribal name. Ask the immediate past Speaker (of the Nigerian House of Representatives) how the people she called her own tribal parapo gave her a sub-tribal tag when she was in deep trouble!

I am a Nigerian. Even though I grew up hearing stories of people I was given reasons not to be seen with — tribes that were eternally tied by erring minds to greed, others unfortunately seen as sluggish, etc. I have come to learn that people use these stereotypes to get away with selfish needs. When you need that political appointment, your opponent is obviously guilty of being of the same tribe with the immediate past occupant of that position. Those whose jobs are threatened quickly write an anonymous memo to the powers-that-be about the sudden discovery of how the threat’s tribe has always produced the MD while a certain tribe that has huge investments in the company has never produced even a DMD. Watch it, the author of the memo is from the deprived tribe (even if it requires him/her laying claim to maternal links — her mother’s brother’s younger sister’s cousin’s friend was married to the trader who sold the first mirror in the history of the deprived tribe :)).

Truth be told, the difference between Nigerians isn’t tribal. Neither is it even dependent on location or present (note: present) socio-economic or political status. Well, some would argue that there are the untouchables and the rest of us but even that is a transient stratification. Ask some of the past untouchables who have seen the unpreventable shift of loyalty towards the new power brokers and they will tell you that being untouchable has an expiry date. “So, what are these four ‘tribes’ that this young man is referring to?” As I told the group at the launching of the New Nigeria Club, they are the Hopeless, Relieved, Returnee and Strategically Positioned.

The hopeless are those who usually speak of facing reality as a major excuse to explain their frustration with the Nigerian project — and the impossible task of bringing about change. They are quick to refer to agents of change as frustrated time markers and a bunch of unrealistic people. The hopeless have simply given up and you waste your time when you tell them to see the silver lining because they will assure you that the sound they hear cannot be that of anything but the rain that will wash away your perceived silver lining! The hopeless never recognize change when it happens because it’s seen as either some form of trickery by the ruling elite or a temporary situation. “Do you remember 19-gone-past,” they say, “when Olusare tried to trick us with XYZ and it didn’t last.” For them, history serves as an archive of mistakes. Stay off that tribal space!

The second group is very dangerous because it presents an illusion that appears as a solution — while it comes with extra doses of self-induced problems. The relieved have escaped from the rot around them, as far as they are concerned. Physical absence from the perceived location of stress and self-generated short-term solutions come to this group as natural options. But little do they know that those who are relieved of the problems are also relieved of [disconnected from, unlikely to see, blind to] the opportunities because their time is spent celebrating their exit from the common rot. Make no mistakes, this group of Nigerians have nothing to do with specific location, but they will be quick to challenge you when you tell them that their temporary relief is just that — temporary. They are usually encouraged by stories of others who have been relieved, but much of what they hear is actually make-belief (an attempt for each of the members of the group to give the impression that their relief is the best option).

The Returnee is most likely one who was previously relieved but has come to see the need to return to the space where opportunity is available. Unfortunately though, most returnees find out that the pace of change (even the slightest of it) has shifted the balance of things. As you know, a slight change in direction of only 1 degree can create a huge gulf when that same change is sustained over a period of time. Returnees usually need time and help from the last group in order to key into the change process and be able to benefit from it. It is not uncommon to see returnees get frustrated when they find out that their sojourn back home is met with hiccups, but reality is that being away for so long is unsafe for anyone who wishes to benefit from what you once departed from — and that is an established law of life!

Hmmm… I hail this group! The Strategically Positioned are not very popular when they start the process of proclaiming, then leading, change. They are accused of being unrealistic and are usually the first to get text messages, eMails or phone calls when things go wrong. But when these people — who have laboured to position themselves as agents of change while others were busy complaining — move from their lonely abode to the limelight, they are tagged lucky or even dismissed as being friends with people in high places. Where were you when they decided to locate a problem, improve themselves (and others) to solve that problem, design a solution, test their solution, prove the sustainabilty of their model… and then get rewarded for it. Trust me on this, Nigeria is on sale! And by that, I mean that certain smart individuals (and people-groups) have positioned themselves (or are in the process of doing the same) in such a way that when calls are made for solutions, their doors get the first knock. In a few years, when many will wake up to recognize the change process, the juicy segments of the nation’s space will be sold out to the early believers and actors! I salute you, New Nigeria ambassadors!

Where do you stand? Do you believe in this change we speak of? Are you too sucked into the past that you interpret every new development according to the dictates of your fears? Will you not wish to be on the side of those who are not denying the obvious — they see the rot — but are also not blind to the signs of change? I have been around Nigeria (and the world) a bit, and I keep meeting people who don’t only believe in the New Nigeria (and many of them are not Nigerians by citizenship), but are also working. Some are even already being recognized and rewarded for believing in (and acting on) change. Standing in this space has helped me identify opportunities — and I’m loving it! Of Nigeria’s four tribes, I declare myself a Strategically Positioned Nigerian. I stand with the opportunity of changing what others run away from, where do you stand?

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