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Nafisa Atiku: We Need to Lay Down the Arms of Tribalism to Achieve a Cohesive Nigeria



I am essentially a detribalised Nigerian. My mother is from Delta state and my father Fulani. As a young child, I was never aware of the distinctions between tribes, I just knew, we were all Nigerian. The only indication that perhaps the marriage of my parents was somewhat unusual was when I told people where I was from, people would have this shocked expression on their face. Then they would say, ‘Your mother tried o. How did she manage to marry a Fulani man?’

I didn’t understand. I just thought it was because of the distance. Well, I was a very young child then.
I was born in Lagos, lived in Port Harcourt for the first nine years of my life, moved to Lagos, schooled in both Epe and Ogun state for my secondary education before I finally went to Enugu for university. Did my law school in Lagos, NYSC camp in Kebbi eventually finished up service in Ibadan and currently shuttle between Lagos and Abuja for work.
These do not include the trips we embarked on for vacation. Growing up, I never saw tribe. The fact that you were Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Igbo, Efik or Fulani never mattered to me. It wasn’t just important to me as a person.

That changed in university. The most important event that made me realize we had a problem with social cohesion in our society was in my third year. We all had to submit our course registration papers for our before exams, so we were all lined up at our year tutor’s office.

When it was my turn to submit my papers, and I handed them over to her. She took one look at my name and said, ‘So it’s your brothers killing our people?’ I didn’t understand. I was shocked. Did I mention she was from the East? It hurt. After then, I became more conscious of statements that would try to describe a person according to the perceived or assumed traits of a particular tribe. Because I was schooling in the East, to prevent further tribalistic statements, I took on another name; ‘Emmanuella’. From then on, most people called me ‘Ella’. You see, I was sort of contradictory. Muslim name, but Christian faith. My identity underwent an overhaul.

Societal issues always affect everyone on a personal level. Never think you’re safe. Nobody is.
As time went on, the issue of social cohesion became more obvious. I faced it during NYSC in the Oyo state Ministry of Justice when a clerk told me that it was my brothers that were destroying his farm. I faced it on the streets. I wrote about it and what it was costing our country. Voting decisions based on tribalism.
However, when the world cup came; it was an entirely different story.

When Musa scored the goal against Iceland, the Igbo man rejoiced forgetting that Musa is from Borno State. The Yoruba man clinked glasses with his Hausa neighbour when he scored. When we lost to Argentina; we all mourned with them. It wasn’t simply a loss for the Super Eagles, it was a loss for us all as Nigerians. I remember how we all forgot our differences and sat down shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow to watch France defeat our sworn enemies Argentina. However when the match was over, we rose remembering our old resentments and injuries. We forget that progress is found in new beginnings and not rehashing the wounds of our forefathers.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela used the tool of the national sport of rugby to lessen the tensions between the different tribes in the country. It seems as if sports might not be enough to pacify old wounds but wholesome leadership which represents the totality of our people in all respects, and a willing nation ready to lay down their arms of tribalism to forge a brighter future for the next generation.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Atiku Nafisa Emmanuella is a legal practitioner, public speaker, CEO of Kambi Hair Products and founder of NYouthSpeaks; a civic education platform that sensitizes Nigerian youth on critical national issues and through economic empowerment helps them to make a difference in their local communities. She is an advocate for young people in politics and this passion led her to become one the founding members of LASO Youths, an organization meant to inspire Nigerian youth to take responsibility for their nation. She is a 2018 Walter Carrington Fellow, a fellowship created by the US Consulate Lagos.


  1. nnenne

    July 9, 2018 at 1:18 pm

    The only way out in ANY relationship is FAIRNESS, EQUITY and JUSTICE!

  2. Bowl

    July 9, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Possible only after rapture !
    I never take these kind of opioids!

  3. delta woman

    July 9, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    I dated a Fulani /hausa guy during NYSC we were a cute couple but I just wasn’t the marrying kind but talking your Fulani blood, e no catch u at all. U missed out on the curly hair and exotic skin colour

  4. Rex

    July 9, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    Brilliant write up Nafisa! I hate to be a pessimist but I don’t see us setting aside our tribal differences anytime soon. Ibos are very ignorant people. They know next to nothing about the North. My service year in Enugu was hell. As a Northern Christian, I found it annoying how Ibo people always expected me to tell them why “my people”, northern islamists, are killing Ibos. I’m like, hello, these “my people” would kill me too if they set eyes on me. At 1st I tried educating them that I’m neither Hausa nor a muslim, when that 1 failed, I let them wallow in their ignorance. I had 2 leave after service coz they made it clear they’d hurt me whenever sectarian violence erupts. Ignorant much!

  5. Chekwube

    July 9, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    You should have ask what have rise to tribalism? .Unless we restructure this country we will still be mess.The foundation and structure of this country is faulty. It rest on injustice. Even if you bring trump to rule this country with present structure he will still fail.

    • TheRealist

      July 9, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      @Chekwube, my first reaction was that Trump is failing in the US so why on earth would he not fail in Nigeria? But, on second thoughts, given that Trump is an ignorant, misogynistic, tribalistic (racist), despotic, money-grubbing dotard, he probably will thrive in Nigeria. SMH

  6. Physio Tinu

    July 9, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Nafisa, your article struck a chord within me. This is something I have been pondering for years and it’s so interesting to read about your first hand experience.

    The mechanisms which ought to aid in our national cohesion have been systematically eaten away by the rot in our society. For instance, the Fed govt sec schools and universities by their quota system ought to be a melting pot of different ethnicities where a hausa fulani can get admission in the east and vice versa. It was the case during my days in Queens College Yaba, we several students from across Nigeria attend school in Lagos. There is no how you will spend 6 years with someone and not have tribal prejudice challenged and maybe even thwarted.

    Also, civil servants working with certain ministries such as education and sports ideally should be transferred about 3/4 times during their careers and since they move with their entire family, integration would have occured. But what we have now is a failed public education system where parents would rather struggle to send their kids to a nearby private school or the civil servants are bribing not to be transferred cos of insecurity.

    Obansajo tried to ensure VC’s of universities came from regions outside their place of location but the acrimony was so terrible, he gave in.
    Even the terrible state of our roads contribute to segregation and tribalism. How can you travel and visit other regions for holidays when you fear for the state of the road?!!

    The list goes on…NYSC, inter-collegiate sports such as FEDCOL and several international competitions are supposed to be platforms which should aid national identity and integration but we have had decades of leaders and public servants who do not care about us and have contributed to the mess that is called Nigeria.

    • ceetoo

      July 11, 2018 at 7:53 am

      I hope it is ok to copy this and use in my engagement on other forums. I so agree with this.
      Nothing to add.

  7. Engoz

    July 9, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    There’s nothing wrong if we go our separate ways. We have a clash of ideologies traditionally. Nothing binds all of in Nigeria ideologically. Is there an ideology we can speak with one voice on? The biggest/chief difference/dichotomy in ideology is between the South and the North. Even a blind man can see this. The conversation of going our separate ways need to be had versus remaining in this abusive and demonic relationship. .

  8. Sam

    July 10, 2018 at 10:49 pm


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