Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group. ~ Steven Pinker
I’ve been conditioning my mind and body for the upcoming 21-day challenge. When I wake up, I just pick up my phone to read ODB and then leave it in the room while I work away in my attic. So I didn’t plan to write this piece. Actually, I didn’t intend to write at all this morning. My writing aim for the day was to do a paragraph or two during my break later in the afternoon. Nor did I plan to be distracted by Twitter this morning.
But here we are, so let’s start with the tweets below.
I could have simply labelled the first two authors but on second thought, I decided to put pen to paper and make some sense with my experience.
When I moved to Lagos in 2006, I settled for Northern Foreshore, a newly built estate in the Chevron area of Lekki. My agent Charles eventually got a nice bungalow for me to view. I loved the place. It was built to standard with quality ceramics and durable fittings
Charles scheduled a meeting with the landlord for some sort of formal introduction. When we got there, he rang the man to confirm he was coming. But something strange happened. His countenance changed after the call. I noticed this and asked if everything was okay. Charles being a jolly good and progressive fella replied that all was well but the man would be delayed. He suggested that we should drive to the waterfront so I could better appreciate the beauty of the estate.
We did and when I asked him to call the landlord again he had no choice but to confess that the man wouldn’t be joining us. I was curious to know why. He told me the man was already on his way when he overheard me speaking in Igbo. He immediately told Charles that he would not rent his property to me.
I was stunned! Of course, I’ve heard similar tales countless times but never imagined it could happen to me. My perplexity trumped my anger really because Yorubas are arguably the most liberal people I know. Some of the best professionals I’ve dealt with in the petroleum industry were Yorubas.
Before that incident, I’ve only had what I’ll call minor, even negligible experiences with tribalism.
As Uniport jambites, my friend and I had an altercation with the chief security officer which resulted in our detention for hours. The man’s reference to our tribe hardened my resolve to make him eat his words. When my dad got the report he called my aunt who was the deputy registrar and she immediately sent her secretary to get us released. As we left the security post I mockingly told the man that after all the gragra he took orders from an Igbo woman..with emphasis on woman. It stung and I loved it.
In another incident, while driving down to the east from Lagos, a police officer accosted me at Sagamu. During a heated exchange, he retorted “who be Igbo man for this country?”
Well, I had to show him. I rang my uncle who was an assistant commissioner of police and in an hour he sent his men to bundle them down his station while I continued my journey.
Overseas I witnessed what may pass as racism in Kassel, Germany while I was on my honeymoon. An elderly cashier with a contemptuous countenance repeatedly slid the note I gave her through a counterfeit detector, pinched it, scratched it and almost x-rayed it before finally deciding it was fake. My protest that the note was from the same bundle I had been shopping with right from Frankfurt airport was to no avail as she insisted on calling the cops.
The cops came and after what seemed like an eternity of screening, my note was certified as authentic while the counterfeit detector was deemed faulty. Furious and implacable, I dumped the clothes including a fine bargain Hilfiger denim shirt on her counter and demanded a refund. Not even an apology extracted by the cops could change my mind. She said it in German by the way so how was I to know if she didn’t rattle on? I still ask forgiveness for the invectives I rained on that poor old lady.
Back to my Lagos story. The action of that ethnically challenged landlord amplified my determination to live in that estate. And I made sure I communicated that resolve to the man with a stinker. A few weeks later, I secured a better house for a cheaper rent. The crib was even closer to the waterfront and my landlady had planted a garden so exquisite that she could pass for a florist. She tastefully fitted the house too. And guess what? She was a Yoruba woman!
My point is that discrimination will always happen so long as nomenclature is part of human nature. As Paulo Coelho said, the world is full of idiots distributed strategically so you can meet at least one per day. So it is how you deal with the situation that matters more. Some may not have the ability to punish such idiots, but I would say do what you can to shame them for your own good and the larger society. Or at least ensure that you are not deterred from achieving your objective.
Yet, being widely travelled and having lived among different Nigerian tribes I know discrimination isn’t peculiar to a particular people. The idiots are also strategically distributed among different tribes, races and groups. But you can choose to focus on the positives because there are definitely more good people out there.
The best boss I had in the petroleum industry was a Yoruba man. During one of the usual fuel crises in Nigeria, I was almost bankrupt when I heard he was in charge of our Apapa depot. I called and he invited me over.
The meeting lasted for less than 30 minutes. After my tale, he just asked. “Cmoni can you handle 2 bridgers for a start?”
I couldn’t quite believe him. Two trucks loaded with 40,000 litres of premium motor spirit PMS? That’s liquid gold!
I replied, “Yes sir”.
He said, “Go back to Enugu, we’ll raise the invoice on credit and you can pay back after sales”
That gesture revived my business. I became liquid again without having to chase my bankers for any facility.
At Uniport I met wonderful people from various tribes some of whom I remain friends to date.
A German man I met at Frankfurt airport in 2002 helped me buy a car 15 years later at no cost. He just volunteered to check out the vehicle and certify it was okay before I made the purchase. And I continued shopping in Kassel. The Deichmann at Koningsstrasse is still one of my favourite footwear shops.
My wonderful landlady in Lagos made sure to visit us whenever my family returned to Nigeria for Xmas. She will even bring different pastries for the kids. Surely, the bigoted landlord wouldn’t have cared.
So whatever the situation, whether you are faced with a stupid landlord or disillusioned by the tribal idiots during political campaigns, just remember that for your own good and that of society, it is important to try and prevail.
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