Abdul-Gafar 'Tobi' Oshodi
Societies are often classified into different groups. These groups could be ethnic, as in most Sub-Saharan African societies, or racial, as in the mixed societies of South Africa, Western Europe, Australia and America. The bases for division could also be religious, such as in India, Ireland, Nigeria and some mixed European countries. At times, the points of division among these groups-a point which Samuel Huntington has described as fault lines (Huntington, 1993: 29)-could be a point of mutual insecurity, competition, conflict and in some cases violent outburst. This is visible in Iraqis Sunni-Shiite antagonism, Pakistan’s liberal-radical struggles, South Africa’s recent xenophobic black-on-black violence, Nigeria’s Christian-Muslim violence killings in Jos, Bauchi, Kano, Kaduna and so on.
While these conflicts are represented and justified in terms of religion, historical linkages and occurrence, resources, election or ethnicity, a critical look at these “points of division” increasingly clarifies certain underlying currents: group affiliation, attachment and solidarity. It is this affiliation, attachment and solidarity that have informed the increasingly common dichotomy of people, locally and sometimes internationally, between the “we” and the “them,” “the in-groups” and “the out-groups” or, as is used among the Yorubas in western Nigeria, between the “Omo-ilus” and the “Ara-ilus.”
In the Yoruba language the Omo-ilus denotes a group of people who belong to a particular area in terms of religion and culture, and not only reside in such areas, but are attached to the land. Conversely, the Ara-ilus are people who find themselves in the same area as the Omo-ilus, but who are considered aliens by the latter because of history, religion, tribe, etc. Therefore, there is a clear division to the extent that an Omo-ilu tends not to see an Ara-ilu as his tribal brother even when the latter has stayed in the Ilu (village or locality) for more than 20 years, or even where he was born in the Ilu and haz imbibed some of the culture of the land, including its religion. Though elsewhere, this division is termed the native-settler syndrome, the underlying logic is similar.
The “group thesis” as an explanatory paradigm postulated by Arthur Bentley is not new in the social sciences, but its essence and relevance has been a subject of academic standoffs, while the respective groups continue to move towards violent settlement of issues. Even the global system has not been left out in this segmentation of the humanities. While Huntington spoke about a “clash of civilizations,” President George W. Bush partitioned the world into “Our Allies” and the “Axis of Evil,” even as some Arab scholars and leaders publicized an “Arab Renaissance”-sometimes termed “Arabism”-which splits the Northern African countries from other parts of Africa, and in other, more Machiavellian usage justifies conflicts in places like Darfur, Sudan. All these assertions and points of view tend to perceive of the global system as a mixture of groups with mutually exclusive interest and existences. These patterns of thinking, though gaining grounds, qualify as perhaps the greatest form of communal self-deceit. Men will always remain interrelated and interdependent on one another.
It is within this milieu that I propose Justobification, a simple interpersonal disposition to be adopted or adapted by these various groups. Justobification is a personal experiment that has helped me understand, to a large extent, someone from “another group.” Today that someone is my wife. It is simple and replicable in a wider context. Most importantly, it is adaptable in attempting to address some of these socially constructed divisions with a sense of love and respect, emphasizing centripetal rather than centrifugal forces. Justobification is a story, spanning nine years of my life and culminating in my marriage to my friend, classmate and, now, wife, Justina Olatuga. We had different backgrounds in terms of religion, state of origin (a key means of division and appropriation in Nigeria), family background and differing opinions on a number of issues. Though we belonged to the same Yoruba ethnic group in Nigeria, the aforementioned differences created a dialectical summation which made us Omo-ilu and Ara-ilu simultaneously, depending on whether we are in my native Lagos State or in her Ondo State in Nigeria. To complicate issues, our parents are religious leaders: a Pastor and an Alhaji. Justobification is in itself, and originally, an attempt to merge my native name and hers to form a word: Justina and Tobi. It was coined by a colleague of ours who had, unknown to us, watched us since we stated our friendship in 1999. But beyond his coinage, I proceed to justify Justobification.
I have always had the belief that one’s position and stage in life is determined by a number of factors. These factors have been broadly identified as nature or nurture. By nature, it presupposes the fact that a human being’s way of seeing things is shaped by the way he or she was born. Thus, often it is said in some cultures that a fat person is usually friendly and lively, or a baby with a gap in its tooth means that it will be a socialite when it grows up. More clearly, race and ethnicity are key nature-factors; for instance, people who are born by European parents see themselves as Europeans just as an African, in the strictest form, gives birth to an African, though nurture also has a role to play in the formation of racial or ethnic identities.
The nurture angle argues that human beings are influenced by those events that they experience and the circumstances in which they find themselves. This means that the opportunity for and location of their education, their friendship, the books they read, their family orientation and so on all being a function of what occurred after birth. In other words, experiences have an enduring impact on the way we see things. As a factor, religion-without any attempt at interpreting the embodiment of the Books-falls under nurture. Thus, a large number of people are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sango worshipper, etc., most often because their parents belong to such religions.
However, while nature-nurture makes human beings different in terms of their culture, race, tribe, region, religion, etc, this nature-nurture engendered classification has been at the core of local and international crises. These crises are reinforced by the fact that some of the emergent groups tend to view themselves as superior or more civilized or more indigenous than the other, as can be seen in the native-settler violence in Middle Belt of Nigeria, the Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda, violence in Darfur in Sudan, Kenya with regards to the recent electoral violence, the crisis in Ireland some years ago, pre-1990 apartheid in South Africa among others.
My marriage to Justina exposed me to certain points. First, all religions teach love and respect. Similarly, all ethnic groups, which are likened to race, teach morality in which love and respect are central. There is hardly any religion, race, tribe, etc, that advocates violence and mutual hatred for the followers of other religions or members of other tribes or groups for no just reason. As friends, not only did we love ourselves as creatures of the Almighty, but we also respected our various points of view on nature-nurture factors such as ethnicity, religion, tribe, class, etc. We understood that these views are personal but we also, most importantly, understood that we must not assume that these individual views must be accepted by the other party. The global system can learn from this in the sense that civilizations, to use the words of Huntington, should not claim to be on a mission to civilize another civilization. Instead, efforts should be made to understand and respect the others’ views through love. Love, if present, allows individuals and groups to overlook the mistakes of others. This certainly does not mean that we should ignore human rights violations, injustices, and corruption; more appropriate and influential means of interaction should be used if we truly want to eliminate such violations.
Second, listening to ourselves helped us make sense of some of our beliefs. This helped us scale the hurdle of assumptions and the breaks in communications which are some of the reasons for group related intra/inter-state conflicts. These can be illustrated by such events as the myth of the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, the emergent Sunni-Shiite enmity around portions of the middle east, a failure to communicate between the top leaders of Palestine and Israel, the continuous religious vacuum created in the neglect of some Islamic leaders in Somalia (Oshodi, 2009) and the ethno-religious violence in 1994, 2001, 2002 and 2008 in Jos, Nigeria to mention just a few. Listening to people helps one to understand their respective points of view. The importance of listening allows the Ara-ilus and Omo-ilus to understand one another better. For instance, our interactions have helped me understand some aspects of Christianity that I never knew existed. Also, I was able to relate a number of the verses of the Qur’an to her, even before we decided to marry.
Thirdly, Justobification helped me understand that some of the points of difference among groups could be transformed to points of understanding. We achieved this by learning to see our similarities rather than overplay our differences. Even as there were areas where we did not agree, we laid more emphasis on the centripetal forces such as common humanity and love, while understanding the centrifugal forces by listening to each other with respect and understanding. Unfortunately, some group leaders tend to over-blow these differences to a massive level, leading to the emergence of hybrid interpretations which find expression in the various violence and counter-violence among a large number of the nature-nurture groupings of the world.
Fourthly, Justobification showed me the importance of prayer for peace and friendship. Though it is unquestionable that prayers are a communication between human beings and the Creator, these prayers often have a psychological effect on us. By praying for a person, you tend to wish such a person well, thereby overcoming any hitherto existing antagonisms or hatreds. I recommend that groups pray for other groups. By this I look, hopefully, for a day when Sunnis pray for Shiites in Iraq, and vice versa in their mosques on frequent occasions, or the day when Christians pray for Muslims, Arabs pray for Americans, Yorubas pray for Hausa-Fulanis, or leaders of larger groups/states pray for others. For instance, the Israeli President pray for Palestinian leaders, or ex-President Bush praying for President Ahmadinajad of Iran, and vice versa. Though this may be considered laughable and debateable, there is no doubt that saying a prayer for peace and friendship will soften the hearts of these groups and their leaders.
In conclusion, even as I write there is the threat of nature-nurture related violence in different parts of the world. Societies are dividing along ethnic, religious, tribal or civilizational line. Sadly, this may continue unless we, as humans, begin to see the need to love, respect, expand points of unity and pray for peace and friendship. Simply put... we could all use a little Justobification.
Abdul-Gafar ‘Tobi’ Oshodi is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University (LASU), Lagos, Nigeria. Also a trained journalist, Tobi Oshodi specialises in Advanced Specialised Reporting and International Political Economy with bias for the “African Condition.”
- Huntington, S. “The Clash of Civilizations,” in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993.
- Oshodi, T. “Religious Vacuum and the Making of a Failed State: Somalia in the Eyes of the World” a paper presented at the Conference on Religion and International Relations in the Post Cold War Era held at the Uthman Dan Fodio University (UDU) Sokoto, Nigeria, January 16th – 17th, 2009.