Ethnic Integration in Nigeria: Lessons From The Yoruba Race!

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By Fr. Justine Dyikuk


On April 8, 2015, Daily Post reported that the wife of Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), a Nigerian lawyer and politician who is currently the Federal Minister of Works and Housing, Mrs. Emmanuella as saying that religion has never been a problem for them. While her husband is a practicing Muslim, she is a devoted Catholic.

“My husband has practiced his religion and I have practiced mine. There is no trouble whatsoever. My husband has his own part of the house where he prays, I have my own altar there with my crucifix and my rosary and everything and everyone is minding their own business. When it’s time for family prayer, we pray. I pray mine to the name of Jesus Christ while he prays in Allah’s name and the children understand all that. My children are baptized and they go to church. When he wants them to go to the mosque with him they go to the mosque with him” She said in that report.

In the same vein, although, the former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a Muslim by faith, he married Mrs. Oluremi, the former First Lady of Lagos State and currently a Senator representing Lagos Central Senatorial District at the Nigerian National Assembly, who is Deaconess. In fact, she is a graduate of a Bible College. These are few stories out of many which reveal how the Yorubas intermarry without qualms or religious bias. These classic examples once again bring to the fore The Mosaic pattern of ethnic integration which we reflected about in a previous column.

While there are a legion of examples like these from Eruku to Abeokuta and Kabba to Ijebu-Ode, the experience in other regions of the country has not been pleasant. For instance, in northern Nigeria, it is often a tug of war within a family if a Muslim Bachelor attempts to marry a Christian Spinster and vice versa.

To this writer, although there are isolated cases, especially given the disparity of cult in the Catholic Church in which Canon Law permits marriage to take place between a Catholic and a Muslim, under certain conditions, tying the knots between Christian and Muslim youths is often met with acrimony, resistance and often times, blackmail.

In the midst of this, where this happens, it is often associated with abductions or forceful conversion. The sad part of it is that the victims are mostly minors and the consent of their parents or guardians is not sought. For instance, it has been established that: “44% of girls in Nigeria are married before their 18th birthday and 18% are married before the age of 15.”

UNICEF also disclosed that Nigeria has the third-highest absolute number of child brides in the world – 3,538,000 – and the 11th highest prevalence rate of child marriage globally. Northern Nigeria has the highest of these cases. While the low levels of education, political and economic ties, gender norms, violence against girls and poverty are fingered by a Civil Society Organisation, Girls Not Brides as drivers of child marriage, it is surprising that culture and religion were left out.

Well, since our preoccupation here is not forceful marriages but ethnic integration, it is crucial for other parts of the country to borrow a leaf from the peaceful coexistence that is enjoyed amongst Muslims, Traditionalists, and Christians in the South West. In one family, you can find brothers and sisters who practice African Traditional Religion, Islam and Christianity living happily and having common celebrations during traditional festivals like Christmas and Sallah. Because of this mature and humane disposition, it is not common to find someone abducting another person’s child as a bride. Even where this happens, the whole community comes out to condemnation such an act. On the contrary, during wedding festivities, the typical Yorubas appear in their sweet Ankara-asoebi and declare Owambe in a flamboyant celebration usually characterized by luxury, lavish spending, colour, extravaganza, paparazzi, plenty of food and drink while socializing to the rhythm of Fuji music in stylish dance steps.

Without prejudice to other ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Yorubas have been able to embrace The Mosaic pattern of ethic integration which helps them in forming a strong synergy that religion cannot separate. Unlike what happens in some parts of the country where the ties of religion are thicker than blood ties, the Yorubas are able to submerge all the ingredients that make for a peaceful living while allowing each person to retain his or her religious identity. This multiculturalism, patterned after the Europeans, is a most sought-after for nations struggling with issues of ethnicity, religion and bad politics like Nigeria.

Recall that The Mosaic pattern of ethic integration was introduced in the 1960s by Anglophone countries who wanted to assist Non-European immigrants to maintain their identity while still in the diaspora. One good example is the experience of other immigrants in Canada. Although The Mosaic is the best pattern of integration, we have failed to implement that in our cultural and national life. This is simply due to vested interests and illiteracy. Perhaps, the Free Universal Primary Education Programme introduced by Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of Western Nigeria helped the Yorubas to come across as a tolerant, docile and mature ethnic group. Unfortunately, 59 years after independence, other ethnic groups in the country have not been able to take a dosage of this Yoruba-Mosaic as a prophylactic for our national-migraine. God bless Nigeria!

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