When we hear the word Nigeria, our first thought is an African country, where people of the same race and nationality- Nigerians live, right? Nigeria is much more than that. Nigeria is extremely diverse, almost like the United States and Australia. Nigeria is beautifully united in its diversity.
Let me first give you a few statistics. Nigeria’s official population is about 180,000,000 (one hundred and eighty million). Yes, you read it right! We all know that the world map was made by a white man who distorted the world and made European and American continents look bigger. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. The country is democratic, or at least on paper. Nigerians belong to 371 tribes, and they live in 36 states that make Nigeria. Its main religions are Islam and Christianity. Both religions are further divided into different groups.
So, Nigerians divide themselves a lot. The major division is tribal, followed by the division based on States. You will often see Nigerians judging or being biased based on those two. You will hear them say things such as ” He is my (name of the tribe) brother” or ” That’s how (name of the State) people are”. States are further divided into zones, zones into local governments, local governments into wards and so on. Nigeria often reminds me of Ancient Greece. Ancient Greece was made of many States that used to always be in war with each other. Yet, if they were attacked by some Country outside, they would all get together, join the armies and fight them off as one. Except, Nigerians are not in wars, but still there is a lot of discrimination, divisions and lack of love among some Tribes and States. In the end, besides all the differences, they live happily united, without major issues and very proud to be called Nigerian.
Let me explain a little bit how Tribes function here. Sometimes, people from the same tribe live alone in one State, but the majority of the States are inhabited by several tribes. One tribe can live in many states. The largest Tribes are Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo. Each tribe has its own language. Very often, two Nigerians will speak in their tribal language and the third Nigerian will not understand them. Although there are hundreds of languages in Nigeria, English is the official language. Some Nigerians, not having the opportunity to go to school, never learn English, while many speak street, broken English that they call “Pidgin English” (Pigeon English). Pidgin English is so modified that no matter how good your English is, you might not be able to understand anything if you are not familiar with it. Here are some examples:
• “How you day?” (How are you?)
• “I dey fine” (I am fine),
• “Wetin dey happen?” (What’s going on?)
• “Wahala” (Trouble)
• “Comot” (Get out)
• “I wan chop” (I want to eat)
• “Chop ma money” (Spent my money)
• “Abeg” (Please),
• “Abi” (Isn’t it?),
• “Na so?” (Is that so?)
• “Wayo” (trickery),
• “I go land you slap” (I will slap you)…
Eventually, you learn all this, since some words are often used by everyone (wahala, for example).
Hausa Tribe is known for agriculture and food industry and they basically supply entire Nigeria with those goods. They are also hard working. Yoruba tribe is considered to be the most educated while Igbo tribe is said to be the richest and most “exposed”. As I said before, all Tribes have different traditions, customs, traditional attire, and beliefs. They each have their own music and their traditional dance. Most of them fear black magic (they call it “juju magic” in some parts) and witchcraft. Some tribes cut or burn their children’s cheeks, some as a tribal mark and some for other reasons.
One Architect that worked for my company was from Ibala Tribe. I used the opportunity to ask him why some of his subordinates that are from the same tribe as him have deep scars (In the shape of a line) on each cheek under eyes. He explained to me that the tradition dates back in the past; that was the way to distinguish their tribe from the Igbo tribe. He explained to me that Igbo tribe was in a war and to prevent being mixed with them in some areas, Ibala marked themselves with scars. Today many people believe that the scars are some kind of protection from being possessed by a demon, so they continue the tradition.
Many tribes still do tribal marks, tribal tattoos, some wear different kinds of hats to show they belong to certain tribes and so on. Many Tribes have their traditional rulers that they address to as “His Royal Highness”. Traditional rulers again wear different sorts of hats or sticks. Some tribes still practice ancient rituals, wear ancient tribal clothes and perform dances as a prayer. Some organize yearly traditional masquerades and festivals. Some tribes believe that children who cry and scream a lot are possessed by demons, while some eat rats (“bush meat”).
There is nothing you won’t see and hear in Nigeria! On the other hand, you will see Nigerians so modern and westernized that you will not be able to connect them with the things I just described. The lavish modern houses, new cars, branded clothes, Instagram, iPhones, short shirts and shorter skirts, American slang, and the highest levels of education..
In Nigerian Arts and crafts village, you can see old huts full of traditional handcrafted souvenirs and arts, sold by people in tribal clothes, while through the village on the speaker, 50 Cent’s “Many Men” is playing. On the road, you will see the newest bulletproof Lexus riding next to Keke Napep ( tricycle) loaded with 4, 5 people. Next to the modern mansion, there will be a dilapidated hut. There is really, really nothing you can not see in Nigeria!
I have tried only to briefly sum up all the contradictions and beauties of Nigeria. Certainly, all these things will be covered in my future stories with more details. Even if I would write about Nigeria every day for years, I hardly think I would be able to describe and tell everything that Nigeria is. However, before I round up this story, I would like to share one more fact that all non-Nigerians will find highly interesting.
In Nigeria, a man can have many wives! Muslims are allowed to officially marry 4 wives, while Christians can marry one officially and the rest traditionally! It has nothing to do with religion! Nigeria is simply a polygamous country. Of course, the male population. In most cases, wives know about each other, and often they live in the same house with all the children. And that is completely fine.
Having a lot of children is important in Nigerian culture, for both men and women. It started a long time ago when many people owned lands where they needed children to work at. It was a symbol of wealth. The richer they were, they had more land which equaled having more children. Even today, among rich Nigerians, having a lot of children is the symbol of status. Among the poor Nigerians, who also have a lot of children, it is a sign of masculinity and femininity and in some cases lack of education. Most of the Nigerian women have average 4 children, while men have 10, with different wives, of course.
One of the employees in my company who is a Christian, came one day to ask for a loan, telling us that his wife is in the Hospital, about to have a baby. I congratulated him and asked him is that his first ( I assumed because he looked young). He answered that the child is their forth. Trying to hide my disbelief, I advised him in “Pidgin English” to slow down to avoid poverty and struggles; that having four children is more than enough since he is the only one working in the family. He agreed. However, a year later he showed up seeking a loan again (after many loans that year), saying that his wife is about to deliver their fifth child. I friendly criticized him and he said to me: ” If I tell my wife we shouldn’t have more children, she gets angry and tells me she thinks I have other women and I don’t love her anymore.”
Another interesting story that intrigued me (I had completely different upbringing and education when it comes to marriage and children) was hearing a Muslim man saying how he just got his 27th child. He added that a few nights ago he had to call a meeting with ALL HIS WIVES, and he told them: “No more children until the economy improves!” He said that they were angry, but, “see that is the current situation in the country”. What I found the most intriguing is his normal tone; like he wasn’t saying anything extraordinary. And in Nigeria, he was not, indeed.
So, all the men that live in the countries that do not support polygamy, Nigeria is a good place to go to!