By Kurtis Adigba
I am Kurtis Adigba, an Idoma from Benue State. By geography and by some convenient political calculus, I’m from the North-North Central. I grew up knowing my part of the country as Middle-Belt, but now, I’m reminded daily that I’m a Northerner. The North, traditionally sees me and my folks as marginal indigenes, and the South see us as part of the North- a Gambari of sort.
I don’t speak Hausa, that doubles as the dominant language and tribe in the North, or Fulfude, spoken by the Fulani. I’m a Christian by religion. Majority of Northerners are muslims. Beyond finding myself in a geographical location known as the North, I don’t share many things in common with them. But I’m a Northerner, I’m told or made to feel and accept.
I attended the University of Jos, read Law, and graduated with Second Class Upper( this is not to praise myself). My class in the University produced Five to Eight Second Class Upper graduates. I arrived at the Law School in Lagos with high hope and confidence, but i was subjected to ridicule by some people from the South who felt that my University must have applied low standards to produce that number of graduates with Second Class Upper. In other words, I got my result undeservedly. In Law School, I graduated Second Class Upper, and we got more Second Class Upper results from some of our students who missed it by small margins in the university due to the high standard applied unbeknown to our colleagues from the South.
I was posted to Delta State for National Youth Service. My batch was the first set of Youth Corpers posted to Delta State. After the Orientation at St. Patrick School in Asaba, I was posted to the NPA Warri, for my Primary Assignment. Throughout my stay in Warri, I was treated and seen Northerner once they know I’m from Benue. I was derogatorily referred to as Gambari( I don’t know if anyone will do so now that a Gambari is Chief of Staff to the president).
After my National Service, I returned to Lagos in search of Job. I got a note from a senior friend to a top Banker from the North- my part of the country. I walked confidently to the Bank and delivered my note. After all, I was going to meet my’ brother’, a fellow Northerner. Well, it didn’t pan out well. I met the academic qualifications and passed the text, but I didn’t pass the most important test; albeit unwritten. I wasn’t Northerner enough- I was not a Northern Northerner. This happened to me from “ my own people”, remember!
I went on another job hunt, this time to a Bank owned by Southerners. My senior cousin, a brilliant guy, who graduated top of his class, and the best overall student from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, sent my CV to one of his colleagues. He is also treated as a Gambari irrespective of his brilliance, talents and skills. He has a Christian and Muslim names unlike me, but he is miles more intelligent than me and many people I know. I was interviewed by a panel comprising of Southerners- my traditional enemies politically, and I was given a job. The same job I couldn’t get with my people!
My life as a Northerner, is not one that easily and readily available to a typical Northerner even when I suffer from his burdens and pains. A typical Northerner is poor. He has the worst schools, hospitals, houses, and infrastructure. He is a subsistent farmer, a grave digger, water hawker or fetcher( mai ruwa), a shoe shiner, a concrete breaker, a load carrier, and the aboki , in the tiny security houses in the mansions in the Southern parts of the country. He is at the bottom of the economic ladder, and lives at the margin of poverty. He is the most misunderstood Nigerian.
He is told most times that he is not even a Nigerian. That he is the problem with the country. That he contributes nothing, but takes everything- a taker and not a giver. He is constantly accused as the unfair beneficiary of a lopsided system. He is a perennial victim of hot and toxic rhetoric. His realities and struggles are ignored. He is told that he is the one dominating power and other things in the country. He is the object of hate to people who don’t know his true situation. He comes under attack for the behavior of his folks, and he attacks other people when primed to think that they are his enemy.
Back at home, he is literally ignored until election time. He is told that the South hates him, and they want to cease power and dominate him. He probably doesn’t believe them- the political elites, but he is driven firmly into their columns because of the hate-filled rhetoric and incendiary comments coming from Southerners. He is forced to chose the political elites who are his problems over the abusive and self-possessed Southerners. He buys into the ugly narrative that he is superior to others he belongs to the majority group- The North. He may not be educated in the western sense, but he is politically aware. He clutches to his transistor radio daily for news as if his life depends on it.
But he is generally kind. He is largely accommodating. He has no problem with his neighbors until he is manipulated into seeing them as his enemy, or people after his life or his economic and political advantages that he is made to believe he has,( which he doesn’t). He makes his home easily anywhere, and he is not particular about being interred in his part of the country- anywhere will do.
I have lived my adult life in Lagos. I got married in Lagos and had all my children in Lagos, but I’m told” you are not a Lagosian” from time to time. My children born in Lagos, are equally not Lagosians. In filling forms, we are asked for our State of Origin. We are treated like foreigners in our own country. But we are Nigerians.
For Nigeria to march on in strength and togetherness, we need to see ourselves as Nigerians irrespective of region, religion, and ethnicity. I’m from the North geographically, but I have more things in common with Southerners than Northerners.
Let me be clear: I’m not after what belongs to the South. I want the things I’m entitled to. I want to be given the opportunity to deploy my God- given skills and talents to make a living peacefully in any part of Nigeria.
•Adigba a Nigerian Lawyer is also on the board of the International Association of Political Consultants