Thursday, 17 July 2014


Chibuzor had always been a force to reckon with in the race for who tops the class at some point in his primary years – a very cheerful and vibrant young lad. As expected, he came first at the end of the term. It was a brief three weeks Christmas holiday. On the day of resumption, the class was bustling with tales and gossips when Chibuzor ghosted in. That was unlikely and immediately caught my attention – the real Chibuzor always made a scene of his entrance.

‘What happened?’ I asked, an arm over his shoulder.

He was silent for a while before the words flew out of his mouth, ‘Daddy. And. Mummy. Fought. All. Holiday.’

The forceful and drolly manner in which the words came told me he never intended to share. I was pushed to ask further questions but my heart would not let me, gazing at his lifeless face. I rather provided as much solace as I could muster. His mood lightened over the next coming weeks with constant encouragement and friendly nudge. About a month later, he came to school with watery eyes. Walking straight up to me, he broke down in tears,

‘Mummy has gone away,’ he cried.             

I hugged him tightly and let his tears soil my uniform on the shoulder. He cried his heart out and cleaned his eyes. I for once knew I wasn’t sure of what to say so I kept quiet. Later, at break time, I engaged him in an elaborate chat. That was when I found out that his mum was from the Idoma ethnic group while his dad was Igbo by tribe and that tribal difference sprouted the dispute, somehow. His father forcefully took custody of them and sent them to the village. Chibuzor never got to make it to the top of academic excellence he was known for and currently enjoys a meagre salary as a teacher. Probably, his academic excellence would have made way for a better fortune for him but that was never to be. Tribal difference at then to me didn’t present any meaning, talk more of being a threat to peaceful  coexistence until years later when I prepared to leave home for university.

I had packed my bag that morning and readied to leave when my father called me aside for a last minute fatherly advice,

‘Ebuka, come here,’ he had called.

‘Sir?’ I responded and came over.

‘You are now leaving for the university so be very careful and face your books.’

Brief pause, I nodded.

‘Yoruba girls are dangerous, they easily charm men. Run from Nsukka girls (who are also Igbo but with confusing accent) too because those ones behave like the Hausas and you know very well Hausas don’t have sense. The Calabar girls…’

I felt uneasy with the discussion because I at then had a phobia for women (caused by his ugly tales about women) which obviously he had failed to observe so I let my mind trail off cutting short assimilation of his words. To my father, every other race or tribe – even those of his tribe but with different accent – had demonic tendencies.

Watching him talk to people of other tribes rudely or associate with them coldly was to him justifiable because they were evil. When I grew older however, his mentality gradually washed off me and I began to make my own judgements. Firstly, I realised that there was no such thing as a bad race but bad people; my secondary school classmate who helped me put out my best through his unending competitions was Yoruba by tribe, the girl that became my personal teacher after my first year woes in the university was Igbo by tribe but from a different state of origin (in fact, shares the same state as the Nsukkas), the girl that fed me with sumptuous meals to ensure I didn’t die from my poor diets during my service year (of mostly soaked garri and sugar) was a Yoruba Christian from a Muslim ancestry.

It is without doubt that many ethnic groups or race see themselves as being superior to another. This mentality to a large extent directs their behaviours towards the acclaimed lesser tribes or race and vice versa. This same mentality has pulled down most inter-tribal and inter-racial marriages due to pressures from families of both parties. Therefore, it is easy to see that causes of disunity stems from the mentalities we flaunt.

Another conclusion I reached quickly was that every chaos had a small beginning. Such thing as a simple feel of superiority or inferiority by an individual or a small group could blossom to a nationwide mayhem if not nipped at the bud. Same can be said about religious and political violence – they mostly start with one party posing as superior or threatened.

As a teacher now in a remote primary school, I saw how a simple advice could turn around an individual’s life. Jemila wasn’t witty in the class albeit she manages to secure promotion at the end of every session. I had observed her solitude for some time and it was worrisome. It was break time when I entered the class – haven completed a lesson with another class – and found her sobbing.

‘Jemila, come here.’ I said when I was seated.

She walked sluggishly from behind the class to my seat at the corner of the front of the class, ‘Sir?’

‘Why are you crying,’ I asked.

‘Nothing,’ she replied amidst tears. She was reluctant to say but after few more times of repeating myself, she burst out her tantrum, ‘I don’t like what Joy and favour are doing. They are always insulting me that I don’t know anything but don’t talk to Juliana. Anything I do in this class is different. Is it because I don’t have father or mother?’

At that point, I didn’t want to hear anymore. Children will always be children; they always seek fun even if it means capping on the weakest classmate. I didn’t think twice before I gave her my reply,

‘Why are you behaving like a kid? Don’t you know that they like to see you cry and you are making it easy for them? When next any of them insult you, insult them back and if they beat you, come and tell me and I will take it up from there. Stop seeing yourself to be inferior to them and mingle freely with them and you will see how they will come to respect you.’

Even though I said the words so convincingly, I still nursed doubt if she would ever take it or if it ever works. But alas, she heeds to it and it worked! The once shy and timid Jemila soon began to bubble with life and excitement and even joined the boys to play ball. Although those words didn’t change her poor grades, it changed her worldview and I think that’s most important – I gave her something to live for. Imagine if I hadn’t taken that bold but sublime step but throttled the road of ignorance. Maybe she would have sought solace elsewhere and could easily get it amongst bad company. This would have been terrible because her default demeanour towards the world and everything it contained would have been hate. This same animosity I presume consumes terrorists when they launch their attacks.

When individual’s feelings are neglected or treated mildly, be it the feeling or superiority or inferiority, we pay the ultimate prize, war. Most importantly, we should put the future of our young generation first before taking any major decisions that could make or mar them. The fight against terrorism should begin from the home. As it is said; “You can’t give what you don’t have”, so also, a war torn home can never make a peaceful society.