The detribalized Nigerian does not exist. It never was

In 1989, scholars Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin published their highly successful study of the evolution of various dialects of the English language from different empires. Their title was The Empire responds. The book shows how various outposts of the Empire appropriated the language and adapted its grammar and usage.

Few outposts of the Empire have been as prolific in this endeavor as Nigeria. Conceived as an illegitimate offspring in the threesome between Sir George Taubman Goldie; his mistress, Flora Shaw; and his near successor, Frederick Lugard, Nigeria became a colonial experiment in the Tower of Babel.

A national anthem composed in 1959, a year before Independence in 1960, acknowledged this reality in the third line of its first stanza, reminding the world of the aspiration to create a country even “though tribe and language may differ”. The anthem itself invited citizens to “hail” the country to the antiquarian, in the biblical third person, symbolizing a relationship to the country fractured from its origin. It does not matter that the interpellation had to be made in the borrowed language of a foreign country.

Without compulsory access to basic education, which could have created a common vocabulary in the imported language, the Nigerian imagination invented its own grammar of mutual intelligibility. This language is called “Pidgin English”, which doesn’t quite do it justice. It is characterized by an open grammar in which meaning is always available to reveal itself to anyone interested in exercising the imagination.

But this is not the only function of Nigerian English. The French colonial policy of assimilation also offered their way of life the pinnacle of civilization, promising the natives (as the colonists everywhere called Africans) the opportunity to “evolve” to the highest level of civilization, whether they claimed to be French citizenship. For those of us in Nigeria, access to Nigerian English is our license to civilization.

Here, we qualify as “detribalized” those who have reached this level of civilization. This is arguably the greatest compliment a Nigerian can give to another. On the contrary, for the possessors of the language, to detribalize someone is to uproot him.

When his former minister, Jubril Martins-Kuye, died last year, President Olusegun Obasanjo called him “detribalized”.

Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal says only a “detribalized” Nigerian is fit to rule the country.

Thus, the supporters of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, hasten to claim the torch, calling him the only “detribalized” in the race to succeed Muhammadu Buhari, mainly accused of being The opposite.

Supporters of Labor Party candidate Peter Obi argue that he too is “detribalised”.

Not to be outdone, even the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate’s tribesmen in the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) claim he is detribalized, which raises the question of why they exist. in the first place.

To show how meaningless the phrase has become, former Kano State Primary Education Board (SPEB) chairman Malam Yakubu Adamu even called the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, detribalized. But if the Emir, by definition, was the incarnation of a tribe, how can we qualify him at the same time as “detribalized”?

Columnist Tayo Oke complains that the word is “widely embraced as a mark of respect by the political elite…yet so devoid of substance”, adding that “people should find it infuriating that someone refers to them as a ‘Detribalized’ Nigerian; it’s an insult to intelligence.

Academic Jideofor Adibe explains that “when speaking of being ‘detribalised’ in the Nigerian context, it is assumed that there is a specific Nigerian culture to which those who have voluntarily given up any form of relationship with cultures and customs of their ancestors are socialized.

Under colonial occupation, the tribe was (in law) under civilization. Those who were defined by it naturally wanted to be freed from it.

For the native, the tribe was both a sanctuary from colonial predation and a prison from which he sought to emancipate himself.

So it was the mission of colonialism, they said, to bring these people to civilization.

Mechanisms were built into this to ensure that the tribalization of the native was resilient.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London determined in 1918, at the end of the First World War, that the African tribes were “so low in the scale of social organization that their usages and conceptions of rights and duties should not be reconciled with the institutions or legal ideas of civilized society. The tribesmen, they said, were incapable of exercising legitimate leadership, ownership or identity and were below dignity.

The tribalization of the native was at the heart of the methods of colonial administration. Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has described the tribe as “the unit of indirect rule”. As a result, the settlers ensured that “each tribe should be considered as a separate unit…. Each tribe must be led by a leader.

A year after the Privy Council’s decision, Frederick Lugard could state in his amalgamation report rendered in 1919 that the policy was that these “chiefs should govern their people not as independent rulers but as dependent rulers.”

First, leaders who were given powers of life and death in this way (like the emirs) had every interest in supporting them.

Second, the tribe was the means by which settlers calibrated government benefits and burdens. It thus ensured competition between different populations and peoples for the attention and affections of political power.

This meant, third, that tribe as identity did not depend simply on the subjective opinions of those who identified with it; it also defined how those outside your tribe see you.

It is therefore no coincidence that the Nigerian elite who seek to govern the country believe that their highest form of evolution is to describe themselves as “detribalized”.

In fact, the term “detribalized” is worse than condescending colonial nonsense. It starts from a conceptual error that “tribal” identity is expendable like a piece of traditional equipment. It’s not.

By using this expression, the Nigerian elite makes the tribe seem like a pigment that can be cured with ejaculations from a tube of anthropological bleaching cream.

Ayodele, Ekaette, Kyari, Nkeiruka and Owoicho are all markers of belonging and exclusion. No matter how evolved the wearer wishes to feel, these identities remind others in which boxes they should fit.

Nativization, in this way, is the mechanism by which Nigerians prepare to clash in the existential war over tribalization. It is also how we remember that “detribalized” is an elite trick on the peasantry. While claiming to be “detribalized,” these elites also ensure that their followers are fully tribalized representatives of intertribal warfare. This is the only way they can preserve their territory in the battle to carve up the country.

The implications are very important. In Nigeria, at least, that means you can remove the tribe from the man, but it’s impossible to remove the man from the tribe. It is no coincidence that the first question almost every Nigerian asks the next is “where are you from?”

So many decades after the departure of the settlers, this situation has hardly changed. Simply put, no matter how civilized you think you are, as long as you are in the country, Nigeria will come to you and remind you of where you came from without necessarily telling you that it is going anywhere.

Lawyer and teacher, Odinkalu can be reached at [email protected]

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