I sincerely lay no claims to being more knowledgeable than anyone, but I do confess that I know better than I did yesterday, last year and a decade ago. Isio Knows Better is an attempt to capture the shocking and highly entertaining conversation within myself. The conversations between my mind (the sharp witty one), my soul (the lover and the spiritual one) and my body (the playful one concerned with the more mundane things of life). She is the eternal referee between the caustic mind and the sensitive soul. This is Isio. So, here’s to making private conversations public.
The irony is that I have suffered more tribalism from my own people, than I ever have had racism by the white man. This is the simple truth. It is peculiar to note that while racism does exist in its ugliness, tribalism is racism’s older cousin. Tribalism with its sharp claws that deliver devastating blows, scratches open deep wounds and spews hate for its own human-kind. It is twisted, ugly, unforgiving, can be irrational and is still very much present in our society, even as it was in our parents’ generation, and as it is being bred in our children – still.
(It really does make you wonder the kind of world we are leaving behind for our kids).
In 1988, I was shipped off to the boarding school in Ikenne-Remo, Ogun State. I was a tiny, wiry, skinny and a black Urhobo girl with a strange name, from a strange tribe and a small voice. I stared with round eyes at everything happening around me; the new food, the sounds of a new language, and the culture of a people that I would later school with for twelve years. I was ‘‘different’’, and not a day went by that I wasn’t reminded of this. I was brutally reminded by other kids that I was neither Yoruba, nor Ibo, nor Hausa (the three major tribes in Nigeria). And that meant that I would be country-less if the country did split up. Yes, I spoke English. Only English was supposed to be the official language spoken. The unofficial and more popular language of communication was Yoruba.
Not many years after my entrance to the school, the country had some sort of political upheaval. In its most simplistic terms, the Ghanaians were forced to evacuate the country in Ghana-must-go-bags. Many of our academic and medical staff were Ghanaians. Nigeria had become hostile to these migrants; ergo, they had to leave. The story filtered from the capital to that school tucked far away on the hills, and as primary school students, we knew such news was not for us to act upon, as the late Tai Solarin frowned upon any kind of discrimination and fanactism in his school, be it racial, tribal or religious. Being caught would mean ‘‘express’’ expulsion.
But some students couldn’t help themselves. One evening, after supper, they went to the school field where they knew the children of many of our Ghanaian staff were playing, rounded them up and began to taunt them to leave our country, and our lands. The government had said so, so they had to leave. They clapped and sang and jeered as they spat their venom against these helpless kids, whose only crime was that they had been born here. The injustice was not only in this act in itself, but that it was carried out by children between the ages of six and ten. The horror was that the elder Nigerian staff members who were nearby at the time took their sweet time in breaking up this… ugliness. They found it…amusing. They stood and watched and laughed.
Racism is real, so is tribalism. Neither is acceptable if we are really serious about fairness and equality. You cannot condemn racism and excuse tribalism. If you, as a black man, cannot tolerate another black man from your neighborhood, tribe, country or continent, why must you demand acceptance from another of another race/continent? See it for what it is. If you cannot tolerate yourselves, yet being one of those you condemn, why must another who is ‘different’ from you accord you the courtesy or right of ‘acceptance’? Change can only happen when you change yourself.
Before leaving for my studies in Europe, I decided to do a little research into the country I would be living in. The things I heard from people I had asked were horrifying. I was told that Italians were racists. They were terrible. They are this, they are that. I would hate it there. I would be scarred for life at the level of discrimination I would face. Still, I went. Was I a victim of racism? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Honestly, the only episode I recall was at the physiotherapist’s. I had gone to her to fix my back. She was an Italian woman in her forties. She was very friendly towards me, until my friend Giordano came in. She asked me if he was there to see me. Just to see her reaction, I said yes. She asked if he was my boyfriend. Just because I could, I said yes to that too. This was mid-massage o!
Omo, the tenderness of her massage changed quickly. See the way she was pulling my head from my body (all the name of straightening my spine). All her small-talk ended swiftly. She then told me abruptly that there was nothing I had that yoga wouldn’t fix. (Meaning that I should vacate my position on the massage bed and go and do Yoga). Omo I no gree o. I hear you ma, but you gatza massage me my complete 200 Euro per hour. Na beans. Vex all you want. Begin dey press am jo!
I didn’t blame her sha. Giordano was hella sexy. He was a tall athletic boy with thick wavy hair that fell to his shoulders. He wore his beards close to his beautiful olive skin. His eyes nko? Hazel-green. He was indeed a glorious human being to look at, with slight bow-legs that were evident in the skinny jeans he chose to wear that day. Fine boy no pimples, causing confusion anyhow. I would later tease Gio that a potential mamalet was waiting for him upstairs to service her engine. He didn’t get the joke.
All the time I spent in Italy, that was the only act of blatant racism that I noticed directed against me. And that was more vexation than racism, but still a form of discrimination. *chuckles*
Consider these; you are not given that job because you are from that tribe in this state. You cannot be with the person you love because you are from that other tribe, and both your families would rather die than see it happen. You are not given promotions at work because your boss is from that tribe, the company is owned by that tribe, and you are from a minority tribe. Contracts nko? Forget merit. You better kiss-ass and speak the language of the powers that be, or na OYO (On Your Own) you dey. Yet we condemn the South Africans that treat our Nigerian brothers badly. Forgetting that we don’t treat ourselves in our own land (Nigeria) any better.
As Nigerians, we have tried the ways of tribalism for generations, and have seen the devastating consequences it has had on us; its citizens, and to our image abroad. How about we try something else instead? How about we learn from our history, lay down the burden of tribalism and try tolerance and acceptance of ourselves (irrespective of tribe) as Nigerians FIRST? How about we try this and see where we are in fifty years?
Seriously though, what do we have to lose?
Isio Wanogho is a top-model, TV Personality and entrepreneur. She is conversant in five languages and has 12 years of experience in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Isio, popularly known by her brand name Isio De-laVega, captivates audiences with her signature wide smile and relatable, quirky personality which endears her to many. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @isiodelavega