Please find below a sample of the responses that my last week’s column elicited.
You have this uncanny way of giving depth and insight to seemingly trivial subject-matters. When I first saw the title of your article, I said I won’t read you for this week. I thought it would be the usual tedious, condescending blah-blah about Nigerians that we have become used to from Nigerians who live abroad. When I read the first paragraph with intention to move on to the next page, I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. I am ashamed to admit that I am also guilty of thinking that Nigeria was the biggest country in Africa in both population and landmass. I had never thought that Niger Republic was bigger than Nigeria. After reading your column, I looked up the map of Africa and, to my shame, realized that Niger Republic is indeed bigger than Nigeria. That’s such basic information, and it’s doubly shameful for me because Kano, my home state, shares a border with Niger. It’s sad that it took your article for me to learn that Nigeria is number 14 in Africa in terms of landmass. Our education is failing us. But, well, we are in good company: your America is no less ignorant than Nigeria, as you rightly pointed out in your first paragraph!
Sabi’u Umar, Kano (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Your write-up just hit the nail on the head. I didn't know Niger Republic's landmass, even though it is something I have been taught. I once told my sister that Niger Republic is just the size of Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara.
I know for sure every member of a Nigerian ethnic group looks down on the others. They think they are better. It is pathetic and sad but that is the truth. We are all guilty. We all want to preserve our cultures and we go to extreme length to do that. We end up alienating others and ourselves. If we continue to think that way then we are no better than the white supremacists and any other person who has that kind of thinking. Even among us Hausa people, some believe they are "more equal than the others". It is indeed a “know nothing nation.”
Hussaina Umar, Sokoto (email@example.com
You have touched on a very important subject. There is truly widespread ignorance about the country among Nigerians. I blame it on two things: poor coverage of the geography and history of Nigeria in our basic educational curriculum and secondly the fact that a lot of Nigerians learn their stuff from the media, especially print, which constantly misrepresents things. Everything in Nigeria is described as "the largest in Africa" and if you grow up reading these things coupled with a poor education, you will be lost. The far north of Nigeria is in the Sahel region but because our print media calls it desert, a lot of Nigerians have adopted that description.
The northern climate is misrepresented as always hot when in reality, it exhibits both extremes. The north is both hotter and cooler than the south depending on the time of the year. Many are surprised to discover this when they visit the north in January. Also, the media doesn't reflect our ethnic diversity. I'm sure not many in the south will believe that the Arab-looking Shuwa people of Borno state are Nigerians. Because of my modest Fulani features, traders in a market in Ibadan thought I was an Indian! And because of my first name Raji (a name with Arabic origins) I have to frequently answer enquiries on whether I'm Yoruba or not.
I once introduced myself to an elderly man in a village outside Zaria and on hearing the name Raji, he paused and then asked "ko dai Rabiu ne?" The man thought I must have gotten my name wrong! While some of these encounters were with people with little or no education, the "educated" ones in Nigeria are not much better. They know more about the shopping districts of London (whether they have been there or not) than their own country.
Raji Bello, Abuja
Haha! Very funny stuff. Oh....my ribs hurt! Couldn't help from laughing. The lady was unrelenting. You had to be Hausa or Yoruba. After all, what business do you have being so smart if you are not Hausa or Yoruba and not even Igbo! Funny as hell. Please keep these coming!! Thank you so much
Innocent A. Nweze, Ohio, USA
Wonderful article considering I’ve had the same experiences you've had—trying to explain to Nigerians and some Hausawa about my Borgu roots. It’s either Borgu are Yoruba or Hausa; they can't be themselves.
Imran Mora, Zaria.
As someone who has lived in both Yenagoa and the creeks in Bayelsa State, and met folks including hardcore nationalists from across Bayelsa's ethnic minorities, I found this piece very interesting. My concern however is that FK tended perhaps inadvertently to portray ethnicity as rigid static social groupings. If that were the case, we would not have as many ethnic groups as new ones would never have emerged from the ancient ones nor would some have gone extinct as we know.
In reality, ethnic identities are flexible and ethnogenesis is a recognised phenomenon of human social evolution driven by exigencies of economic, political or other considerations. In the context of Nigeria's primordial politics, fractious ethnic dynamics and sundry dysfunction, there are enormous benefits from belonging to a larger group rather than some obscure one.
It is entirely possible that large numbers of Nigeria's ethnic minorities will eventually be subsumed into the bigger ones and Mr Jonathan's apparent "misclassification" may represent a tiny step in a wider phenomenon of ethnogenesis in Nigeria. Whether that is right or wrong is beyond the scope of my comment. I also recognise that there would always be hardcore nationalists from small ethnic groups who would self-identify as such.
Ọna Uchechukwu, Liverpool, UK