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Our perception of the next person: the African Scenario

05 January 2015, 11:33

As individuals, the way we relate and perceive the next person goes a long way in influencing our actions towards him/her and also impacts the society we live in. When we see the next person as a potential threat, we tend to relate with him/her with lots of suspicion. However, if the next person is seen as someone that can be of importance in the journey of our lives and as a member of the human family, he/she will be treated with care and love. Of course, such understanding and attitude of love and care has the capacity of evolving a peaceful society that makes progress in all ramifications. At the group level, the same scenario plays out among families, communities, ethnic groups, countries and even at the continental level. How one group perceives the other influences how it relates with it and this impacts our world positively, or otherwise.

In my local government, Ihitte/Uboma, an average Uboma man sees an Ihitte man as a probable threat and therefore should be closely watched. Same goes for some Ihitte men towards an Uboma man. This is a local government that every member speaks same language with slight difference in the dialects. Thus, the only major difference that brings about this huge suspicion and sometimes hatred is the little variance in the Igbo language spoken by the two groups. While these elements that have this unfortunate understanding of the next person are always very willing to go to any extent in the defense of every member of their ‘own side of the divide’ they see others as wicked and evil.

At the state level in my state, Imo, I have heard many Imolites say an Mbaise man will never govern the State. According to them, they are not trustworthy to be entrusted with the control of Douglas House. It is obviously shocking and unbelievable that in order to shortchange Mbaise people in the scheme of things in the state, all Mbaise people are labeled untrustworthy and should never be allowed to lead. We suddenly forget that bad people exist in every community or society and that no society can and will ever claim immunity to having some members that are fraudulent, wicked and evil.

At the regional level, an average Imolite or Abian sees an Anambraian as greedy and capable of doing something silly in order to outsmart others. Once again, same goes for an average Anambraian towards people from these states. This ugly trend is also evident within the people that make up the other ethnic groups in Nigeria. To some Ondo people, every step taken by an Ekiti man should not be taken for granted but closely scrutinized. In fact, due to different languages spoken by indigenes of states like Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna etc in the north, it could be worst in this part of the country. It is always my own people are all good while everyone that does not belong to my group is either a thief or a potential threat.

At the national level, it is obvious that to some Igbo men, every Yoruba man is a betrayer and saboteur. To Igbos that reason in this ugly manner, everybody that has a Yourba name should never be trusted. Further, to them, while all Yorubas are enemies that should not be given space to operate, every Igbo man despite his manners and attitude is perceived as a better creature that should be embraced and respected. In the same vein, to some Yorubas, all Igbos are full of greed and desperate to acquire material things at the expense of other tribes. To these people who are so narrow-minded, every Igbo man is not worthy to be a friend because he/she is capable of anything; he could go as far as using a friend for money rituals. In their view, an Igbo man is so disrespectful that it is obvious that they have no home training unlike their own people, who will prostrate publicly to an elder even when such a person may be experiencing spinal cord disorder. To these elements, there is nothing like cultural relativism.

At the continental level, while studying in Europe, it took me days and concerted effort to convince my fellow African brothers and sisters that just about 2% of Nigerians engage in illicit activities. To so many of them, every Nigerian is a thief and poses a serious threat. They forget that Nigeria is like 20 countries put together when compared with most of the other African countries. To them, being seen with a Nigerian in the streets of Munich, Paris or London could put them in serious jeopardy. It could mean being mistaken for a drug baron. Often, when an African from a country other than Nigeria is caught dealing in drugs or any other illegitimate business, they quickly dismiss it and insist that the fellow is a Nigerian but only claiming a false nationality. They quickly forget that in their home countries they also have drug barons and citizens that indulge in illicit businesses.

My experience right from my local government to the continent of Africa has shown that we are full of stereotypes and prejudices towards the next person and group, yet, when we travel to Europe and have a European stare at us as if we are Santa Cruz or the one that runs away from the seat we are occupying in a metro, we scream racism. We often call westerners names and make so much noise about how they belittle us at every slightest opportunity. We want the world to see their actions to us as inhuman and utterly unbecoming but we easily forget how we as Africans see the next person, particularly, our fellow Africans. Are we not one way or the other racists in our own little ways? Should we accuse an American or Germany that behaves in a way we do not like of wrong doing when we also see the people from the next ethnic group in our own countries as lesser beings, illiterates, unmannered, infidels etc?

In politics, this wrong perception for the next person or group reigns supreme, especially, in Nigeria. That is why a section of the country will be very comfortable to insist that leadership, particularly; the office of the president remains their birthright. To those that reason in this manner, others are either not qualified or may pose dangerous if given the opportunity to lead the country. At the national level, they insist that zoning is not appropriate while at the state and local government levels their opinion change like chameleons. They are fast to insist that the best hands who must come from their own zone should lead while at the state and local government levels they surprisingly become advocates of zoning. It is pertinent, to share a case study I witnessed recently: A senatorial aspirant in Delta State during an interview with AIT, stated that there is nothing like zoning in Nigeria and that the north should forget about the issue of 2015 being their turn to capture the office of the presidency. However, when asked why he feels he is the best qualified to go to the senate in his senatorial district, he quickly stated that his people have for many years been marginalized and that being the only aspirant from his LGA, he should be given the ticket unopposed. Thus to him, zoning is acceptable in his senatorial district but a taboo at the federal level.

In fact, it goes beyond ethnicity and political affiliations; religion is not left out. It is common to come across a Christian in Nigeria who belongs to the orthodox sect arguing that another Christian of Pentecostal sect is nothing but a hypocrite who should not be taken seriously as a Christian. Of course, people belonging to the later sect most often also have same view towards members of the former. Among the Muslims in Nigeria, most northern Muslims will emphatically tell you that a Muslim with Yoruba origin/background should not be taken seriously. To them they do not practice true Islam. The list goes on and on. We are so judgmental!  We have decided to arrogate the powers of both earthly and divine judgment to ourselves. And while doing that, we only see through the lens of ourselves or people from our own side of the divide as worthy of trust while the other person or group should be treated as enemies and unworthy until proven otherwise. This attitude has not only kept us back in terms of collective growth but has also greatly affected our development as individuals. It has brought hatred and wanton destruction of lives and properties because we do not see the next person or group being worthy to live.

It is a New Year and it is high time we introspected on what we think of the next person. The current perception is one we must discard in 2015. As an Igbo man, a Yoruba or Hausa man may have been destined to help him actualize his potentials but due to this unwarranted misunderstanding and perception based on general assumption such opportunity may be missed. Every community, ethnic group, country etc have people of good and bad behaviour. Therefore, generalizing that all the people that make up a community are evil, fraudulent, manner etc amounts to unnecessary and hasty conclusion that does nobody any good. It is also quite unfair to the people being blatantly judged!


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