Ethnocentrism: as an impediment to peaceful coexistence

Ethnocentrism: as an impediment to peaceful coexistence

While persuasion is better than force as a means of drawing public support or attention, the intuition remains that some speeches are in fact dangerous to the peaceful co-existence of the society. In this piece, SALAUDEEN HASHIM presents the impacts of ethnocentrism with resultant tendency for hate speech.

Hate speech mostly originated from ethnocentrism has hitherto been regarded as a dangerous but often neglected phenomenon that has set many countries ablaze and sent many more into cold war.

While hate speech is largely borne of deeply entrenched ethnocentric tendencies, it is undeniable that through malicious rhetoric, one time German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler stirred up murderous hatred that claimed the lives of over six million Jews.

In the bible book of Esther, Haman sort to instigate his people against the children of Israel by making them believe that the Israelites had no regard for their king. His plan almost worked, but for the intervention of Queen Esther and Mordecai, her uncle.

In the ‘70s Mohammed Marwa also known as Maitatsine, began spreading hate messages against the Nigerian government, calling on people to rise up against it. In the beginning, many paid no heed to his malicious proclamations, but by 80s he had won over an army of young people, unemployed migrants and many who felt that Islamic scholars were failing the people. Worse, his adherent openly confronted and attacked security forces.

His message, laden with hate, was frighten and a cause for worry, but he kept on spreading it, turning hearts and minds against the state, other Muslims and adherents of other religions. By December 1980, continued Maitatsine attacks on other religious figures and the Police forced the Nigeria army to get involved.  Subsequent armed clashes led to the death of around 5,000 people including Maitatsine himself, who died shortly after sustaining injuries in one of such clashes. This same hate is currently ongoing in the manner elites share information on various social media platform around herdsmen/farmers conflict across the country.

But the seed had been sown and many held on to his evil ideology. In spite of his death, Yan Tatsine riot continued. In 1984, Musa Makaniki, who emerged as Marwa’s violent successor, led the riot of Yola in Adamawa State that year and as a result, more than 1,000 people died and over 30,000 were left homeless. The city was almost completely destroyed. Makaniki fled to his home town of Gombe where more riots followed three years later, no thanks to his rhetoric against authority, the Qur’an and Muslim clerics. More death followed and he fled to Cameroun where he remained until his arrest in 2004.

Then there was the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, the Hutus began to refer to the Tutsis as cockroaches that had to be exterminated. A musician composed a song spewing negative sentiments against the Tutsis and a radio station played it endlessly, fueling the hate the erroneous message had ignited. More than a million Tutsis lost their lives and about 70 percent of the tribe’s population. Just like most media organizations have fanned the embers of hate to justify the secessionist agitation.

Also, 30 percent of the Pigmy Batwa was killed. The massacre would have continued, but for the seizing of power by Paul Kagame, who was backed by the Tutsi-led by the heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Anticipating that there may be great backlash against them, more than two million Hutus fled the country and became refugees in Uganda and other neighboring countries. These examples show that hate speech never ends in peace or unity.

Someone somewhere buys the idea being sold and decides to do something with his new found perception. He puts action to what is being repeatedly sung or said. On Saturday, August 26 2017, Owerri, the capital of Imo State boiled. It was perceived that the governor of the state had mishandled the issues surrounding the demolition of the Eke Ukwu Market near Ama Hausa, where the Hausa Community in Owerri, mostly live. Tensions escalated and the traders denied the security operatives sent by the governor—to protect the workers in carrying out the demolition exercise, access to the market. The security men responded with some force and chased the traders into Ama Hausa, where houses were burnt down. What began as a normal monthly sanitation exercise ended with a 12 year old ‘pure water’ vendor, Somtochukwu, lying dead and eight others injured. The incident may have initially had nothing to do with ethnicity, but it quickly degenerated to that when the traders fled into Ama Hausa and houses were burnt.

In another instance, a few months ago, a number of youth groups in Northern Nigeria under the auspices of the Arewa Youth, ordered Southern (specifically, Igbos) in the region to leave by October 1, 2017. This was in retaliation to the activities and clamor of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South Eastern states for secession.

The stage was set for an unfortunate collision, until a number of concerned people including CISLAC, well-meaning politicians and former leaders waded in to douse the rising flames. These situations were fueled by hate speech, which is many times the direct product of ethnocentrisim or religious fanatism.

The term Ethnocentrism was coined by America’s first professor of sociology, William G. Sumner, after he observed how people distinguish or discriminate between their in-groups and other groups. Ethnocentrism is thus the tendency to consider one’s own culture or race to be superior over all others. Though it is present in little forms in every culture, history has shown us how it can have tragic consequences if not controlled.

Ethnocentrism might seem similar to ethnic pride, which is having pride for your culture and values, but there is a very thin line between the two.

According to, anyone who judges people or tradition based on his own cultural standards is guilty of ethnocentrism. It means believing that the way you do things is the only right way to do them and that people or cultures that do things differently are wrong. Ethnocentrism comes from the Greek ‘ethno’ or ‘people and ‘centric’, centre’. When you consider your own people or culture to be the centre the rest of the world should revolve around, you are displaying ethnocentrism. For an anti-corruption czar bureaucrat with the Ministry of Defence, Hauwa Nana Abdullahi, the rot and damage wrought by ethnocentrism has eaten deep into the nation’s fabric.

“We are just using big words to define this ‘thing’, which manifest itself in Nigeria as tribalism. When you think your kinsmen are the best for a particular position and others are not, you are being ethnocentric. When you think only people from your area are the best for political appointment, a ministerial appointment, should head a particular task or are more cultured than others; when you think your ethnic group is superior to others and look down on people from other ethnic groups that is ethnocentrism. While this sounds as if it is strictly ethnicity-based, it can also develop from religious differences,” she said.

However, this fundamental right of freedom of speech is being used to disseminate hate speech, which goes contrary to the right itself and the spirit of the constitution that enshrines it. Nigeria is a federated state with over 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages. The survival of our 170 million people lies our ability to curtail conflicting ethnic tensions. We have, however, had instances of conflict along ethno-religious lines, most notably the civil war in the period 1967 to 1970, which saw millions of Nigeria citizens killed.

The ‘us’ against ‘them’ rhetoric that ignited bloodshed of a bestial magnitude since independence has re-surfaced again. A new breed of ethnic entrepreneurs seems hell-bent on causing anarchy for political motives. The lessons of our history are being ignored. Strength in diversity is considered weakness.  A healing of the cleavages that promote ethnic division is recommended. This also means the triumph of a national identity that transcends the opportunistic ethnocentric group identity, which has been the ban of Nigeria’s nationhood.

Clearly, we cannot pretend that all is well with our country. We assert that our union can only be saved by transparency, frankness and a deliberate revision of structures and relations. Because of the lack of boldness and their inactions of the past, we have a bad deal of a leprous nation in our hands. The view of all those troubled by the growing tendency of the Nigerian youth to embrace ethnocentrism and hate speech so readily is that it must be checked immediately. How may this be done? Hauwa thinks that by this need, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has its work cut out for it.

As part of recommendations, we need a re-evaluation of our national identity from the cradle through to the tertiary education system. According to her, “if we redefine our national values, these walls will be broken and we will begin to see us all as Nigerians first and then as people from a particular region or ethnic space.

“If we do not want it we must let it go and we must begin now, otherwise our children will be worse than we are and we will watch them destroy this nation more than we have, wishing we had done more to set things right,” she added.

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