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RECAP | All Herdsmen Are Not Killers, That Is The Work Of Group Stigmatization And Bias

Etim

July. 08, 2019

I hate group stigmatization. I detest it with my whole being. It paints everyone with the same brush irrespective of evidence to the contrary. It goes” all Igbo are rent defaulters..they are thieves and currency counterfeiters; they dominate business and kill the business of their host communities; there is no crime you don’t find Igbo...”. 
“Yorubas are cowards and traitors, you can't trust them. They betrayed the Igbo during and after the civil war. Awolowo deceived the Igbos and joined the government to kill them through evil policies.. they are an equally very fetish. They do nothing without consulting babalawos”. 
“The Fulani are arrogant invaders and killers. They all have this we-must-rule mentality. They go about everywhere destroying things. That is how Usman Fodio started his war. Allow them into your place and it will become an emirate. It does not matter that President Buhari, Atiku Abubakar, Emir Sanusi, and so many others, are also Fulani. It means nothing that the Fulani have been living in almost all parts of Nigeria peacefully with the people of their host communities!
Group stigma or bias are beliefs, real or imagined passed down through generations. Groups just accept and run with them without asking questions or challenging them. They fit the attractive narratives that have been handed down through generations.
No group has a monopoly of vices and virtues, they all have vices and virtues. We have bigots in every ethnic group. We have thieves, robbers, armed robbers and kidnappers from all parts of Nigeria. We have the good and the bad everywhere. It is silly to point at the actions of some and use it to profile others.
 In 2003 I was in Johannesburg SA.  I returned an item to a shop spending money in the process. They couldn’t believe a Nigerian can be honest. They said to me” all we hear about Nigerians is that they are all thieves and scammers, we just can’t believe that a Nigerian can be honest at all”. I told them about how Nigerians also believe that South Africans are violent criminals, child rapists, and extremely lazy people. I made them understand that majority of Nigerians are hardworking and honest people, and that it is a tiny minority that is giving us a bad reputation. They also told me about South Africa is a great place to live and do business, and said:” less than 1% of the people are involved in crimes”.
I was almost a victim of group bias or stigma. My father in- law, an Igala from Idah, Kogi State, said I would not be allowed to marry his daughter because of the belief by the Igalas that my people, the Idomas, are wicked and hard-hearted. 
The Idomas, on the other hand, believe that the Igalas are troublesome and fetish.  The trigger was an Idoma pastor married to an Igala woman. The woman was electrocuted and they returned her corpse to her parents for burial. 
Unfortunately, the tradition in the pastor’s part of Idomaland is that a  husband is not allowed to witness his wife’s funeral. And so, the husband didn’t attend the funeral. The story was that the Idomas are uncaring and stone cold hearted people who just dumped the corpse of their daughter and left. 
As an Idoma, I was going to do the same thing if allowed to marry his daughter. Another incident was the recalcitrant attitude of an Idoma policeman my father-in-law encountered oh his way to Warri, Delta State. The policeman delayed him and insisted that he must roger before leaving. 
All appeals from his colleagues and my father-in-law fell on deaf ears. He collected money after wasting his time. That was no doubt a confirmation of the bias by the Igalas against the Idomas that they are stone cold hearted people, and was sufficient to deny me marrying his daughter. 
When I was informed of his decision to stop the marriage, I met him and made the following argument. I said” sir do people stop driving vehicles because some people died from a car accident? I said that vehicles will be used to convey the corpses to the mortuary and the funeral ceremonies. He relented. Today we are best of friends. But look at what group stigma or bias could have done to us!
There was a time in Nigeria when Nigerians lived in different parts of the country irrespective of tribes, tongues, and religion. Yorubas and Igbo, were everywhere in the civil service of Northern states. The Fulani, were everywhere, too. In their host communities, they had Seriki Fulani who was responsible for resolving problems with their hosts. Crises were few and far in between unlike now when a week or month hardly pass without violent conflicts between herders and farmers.
Recently, I was given a house to lease. When I met with the owner to take instructions, he said to me” Kurtis please don’t give my property to Igbo people. They don’t pay rent and after some time, they start claiming ownership of the property. This thing happened to my friend. All Igbo are the same”. I said to him” sir don’t talk like that. I know Igbo people who pay their rents as and when due. 
Every group has their own share of deviants sir”. He said to me” I don’t want”. Group bias at work. He has not been a victim himself, but he bought into the bias and stigma. 
This is what is happening to Herdsmen in Nigeria. Almost everyone in the South of the country now believes that all herdsmen are killers. This is not true. Yes, some herdsmen are violent criminals on a rampage destroying farms, attacking and killing people, and raping women; but not all herdsmen are criminals. Many are peaceful and law-abiding. 
Group bias and stigma, are mostly artificial construct intended to divide and make cohesion difficult if not impossible. We can overcome these things if we deal with others with open minds, and not with some preconceived ideas handed down through generations.
This opinion was written by Kurtis Adigba.
Adigba is a Social Commentator And Lawyer
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