My Naija experience

I was born and bred in the North, Zaria, in Kaduna state, to be precise, just as my father and my mother. I have lived almost all the 21 years of my life in Zaria except for when I was a kid and we shuttled a bit between Zaria and Lagos. My father was an employee of Chanchangi Airlines then. But apart from that period, my life has been predominantly in the Zaria. 

 However, despite being a complete northerner, I do have some experiences of people from the South and they have played tremendous role in shaping my life and in aiding me to become what I am today, to some extent even more than the people from the North. 

 I attended the same school from daycare to secondary and the proprietor of my school, Mr Chikeze Nwambuko, hails from Southeast. About 80% of my teachers are southerners of South-west, Southeast and Southsouth; there were just a handful of teachers from the North. 

 This is the story of most of the schools I grew up to know in Zaria; from Therbow School through Premier Schools to Gideon Schools, most of the schools in Zaria were owned and operated by southerners. I have been described as a person who is intellectually inconsistent with his age. I have been described with attributes such as confidence, articulation, outspokenness, etc. If I was writing this a year ago, I would have said most of these attributes were innate. But I have lately understood that this is largely not the case. 

 Achievement, they say, is a product of talent and preparation but as aptly demonstrated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, even in the lives and careers of the gifted, the role “innate talent” plays in their success stories seem tremendously smaller than the role “preparation” usually plays. 

 In the same book, Gladwell while explaining the disparity between how poor and middle-class families train their children and how such training tends to define the children’s lives quoted a study conducted by Sociologist Annette Lareau that the middle-class parenting style is termed “concerted cultivation.” She explained that, “It’s an attempt to actively “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills. Poor parents however tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth.” They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own”. 

 The “concerted cultivation” tends to be more advantageous in our contemporary world because as Laureau explained further, mode of parenting style makes the children learn a sense of “entitlement” which by her description means that the children would usually act “as though they had a right to pursue their own individual preferences and to actively manage interactions in institutional settings. They appeared comfortable in those settings; they were open to sharing information and asking for attention…. It was common practice among middle-class children to shift interactions to suit their preferences”.

 I got trained by my parents through the “concerted cultivation” parenting style, but my teachers consolidated on such a style and did much work in instilling in me that sense of “entitlement”. Yes, my teachers that were mostly Igbo and Yoruba. As a kid of six years, I was mandated by Uncle T (Tunde) to address the morning assembly in a motivational manner every morning. I would shout some kind of motivational gyrations and the whole assembly ground would follow suit.  

 I am grateful to my teachers, who are mostly of southern extraction, and their momentous contribution to my life and what I have become today shall never be forgotten. My next destination after secondary school was Nursing School in Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital (ABUTH). Ahmadu Bello University is unarguably the most cosmopolitan university in Nigeria; this could also be said for the university’s teaching hospital. In nursing school too, more than 60% of the people who taught and trained me were of southern extraction, especially at the clinical areas. Imagine what a tremendous impact Southern Nigerian people have made in my life. 

 All my life, my parents have never showed me that people southerners were different from northerners. They have never taught or shown us, even indirectly, how to discriminate between the two sets of people in terms of respect, relationships (be it teacher-student, business), etc. In fact, what I have witnessed is a clear demonstration of equality in many instances. 

 While my dad was running an Islamic Media Center many years back after he came back from Lagos, I usually was with him all the time. Very small I was then. One day, we were at the center when a man came. He looked like an electrician, or a welder I cannot vividly recall. He came and from their conversation, I understood that he was supposed to do a job for my dad, but he was not available and my dad was in a hurry so he contacted someone to do the job. 

 But the particular thing that amazed me was my dad’s next move, he brought out some notes and gave the man saying “this is the exact amount I paid for the service, you can have it too. This is the kind of training we got from our parents”. The man was so excited; he thanked him in a way I have never heard before. He was a man of southern extraction. This is the kind of lessons I learnt from my parents in terms of mingling with people including non-northerners. 

 All these experiences were garnered in Zaria as I have never stepped out of the North until I was appointed chairman, National Association of Nigeria Student Nurses and Midwives Independent Electoral Committee. The convention was to hold in Afikpo, Ebonyi state. I embarked on my first journey to Southeast alone, with the thought that I would meet some other northern brethren there. On reaching the convention venue – a missionary nursing school that was inside a Catholic Church –  I discovered more than 90% of the participants were of southerners. The only northerners were students from Abuja and Jos (very nice people). 

 Even with this skewed formation, I was not discriminated against, and my authority as chairman of the ELCOM was protected and was not compromised in any way by my southern brothers. I was accorded full respect, in fact, beyond expectation. My confidence, articulation and dexterity in execution of some tasks kept most of them that never had any experience with northerners wondering, I could hear some of them whispering “so these northern guys are like this”. The respect was even precipitated further when a lady among them asked if she could know me better and I collected her phone, typed my name on google and asked her to search jokingly. She was extremely amazed and went ahead to talk about me wherever she sits. It was a very wonderful experience – filled with love, compassion, mutual respect. 

 These were my experiences and they defined my perception of the people from Southern Nigeria before I got involved in the serious conversation about the “National Question”, “Restructuring”, and a host of other issues around national existence. They were my experiences before I got exposed to the hate, toxicity and ethnic wars on social media, and before I dipped my head in search for the history that predates such issues. 

 I thought if we could all reflect on and narrate our #NaijaExperiences and make it a nationwide campaign, we could reach citizen-consensus. We could extinguish this inferno of hate. We could realign the conversation back to peaceful grounds on a citizen level. And we might be able to discuss peacefully and reach citizen-consensus on how we could continue to live together as one Nigeria, or how to achieve a system that would guarantee us the liberty of being Nigerians and at the same time identifying with our regional and ethnic roots with a certain degree of autonomy or how we could peacefully part ways. 

 I know it sounds simplistic but as they say, sometimes the most simple things matter the most. Ringim writes from Zaria via [email protected]