For this piece, we asked 9 young Nigerians.
“I had to pay my house rent through someone” — Nnebuife
In Delta state, your tribe was only necessary when you filled out important documents. But since 2021 when I moved to Lagos, I’ve only been able to pay my house rent through a Yoruba flatmate because the landlord is more comfortable with Yorubas, and I have Igbo names even though I’m Delta.
“I was accepted because of who I wasn’t” — Ehi
I grew up in a face-me-I-face-you flat. This meant I had neighbours from different ethnic groups, but I also learnt quickly that these groups didn’t like each other.
I was in my teens when a friend’s mum told me it was okay to be friends with their child because at least I wasn’t Igbo. I’d meet Igbo people who would express relief at me not being Yoruba. I’m Idoma, but until adulthood, not many people knew what that was or cared. They were okay with accepting me because I wasn’t someone else.
“My neighbours said we needed to return to where we were from” — Kate
There have always been the occasional slurs my mum gets at her shop, but this election period has been especially scary. While at my polling unit in Oshodi, one of the popular area boys threatened and rained insults on the Igbos, asking us to return to Nnewi.
My parents and I are currently looking for a new place because while our neighbours loudly celebrated the victory of Tinubu in the election, they added that they couldn’t wait for the Igbos to return to where they’re from. And if we refuse, they’d kill us. Note these were said in Yoruba, but I understand the language well.
“They attended to the Yorubas first” — Emmanuel
In 2010, my mum took me to a government hospital in Festac because I was ill. When the time came for them to attend to patients, they started with the Yorubas, not minding that we had been there before everyone else. The whole time we waited to see the doctor, I kept thinking of how I just wanted to be home playing video games. But we were among the last set of people that left that day.
“I could only get special handouts through my Hausa friends” — Khloe*
From my University days in Zaria, I learnt that if you weren’t from the North, West or middle belt, you’d be classified as Igbo, and that affected how you were treated.
For instance, it was very difficult to get hostel space in my final year, even though the Hausa students in their first year were getting bigger rooms. Sometimes you may be lucky to get a space with them, and the next day, they’ve requested that their rooms be changed.
Telling people I was from Delta state didn’t help either. I have met people that assumed I was a prostitute or drunk because of where I’m from. A particular coursemate of mine called me “pipeline vandaliser” every day for over four years.
“If I were his person, the outcome would be different” — Malakai
I had gotten admission to Unilag in 2015, but because I hadn’t turned 16 years yet — my birthday was later in October — they withdrew the admission. My mum and I met some man in the university’s senate building, and he said he’d have tried to help me if I were Yoruba. According to him, Unilag had a higher quota for its people.
I guess that’s okay, but for the longest time, I couldn’t shake the fact that if I were his “person”, the outcome would be different.
“My name was a joke” — Toristeju
I met a woman at the office where I went to buy my university entrance form, and when she saw my name, she asked, “What is this one?” After I answered that I was from Benin City, she proceeded to insult me in Igbo. I couldn’t understand it, but I knew they were making fun of my name. I got so used to hearing, “Is this one name?”, whenever I visited offices in school. They made it seem anyone different from them was beneath them. Some people even called me tortoise instead of Toristeju.
“They referred to us as Boko Haram because of our accent” — Muktar
During my three months training at the Immigration Training school in Imo state, I met people that referred to me and my Hausa friends as Boko Haram. Because of our accents, it was easy to identify us as northerners.
On a particular day, while my friend and I were on our way from Kaduna after a five-day break, we got to Owerri late and were low on cash. The bus we found asked us to pay ₦400, while we tried to bargain for ₦300. We even showed our id cards as proof that we were cadets from the training school, but the driver claimed we were serving Nigeria and he was a Biafran. When we got to Umuowa, we begged him to take us to the training school because it was just a few minutes drive, and he asked us to pay ₦3k. We got down, and he zoomed off.
As we waited by the road, we were also praying because the area wasn’t safe at night or on foot. Some minutes later, two Igbo guys on bikes passed by and asked if they could help us. They drove us straight to our school and refused to take any money from us. We insisted on giving them something, so they accepted kilishi.
“They sell at a higher price because I can’t speak Hausa” — Timi
Even though I’ve lived in Zaria for nine years, I still have a hard time going to the market. I can’t speak Hausa, they’d want to sell to me at a higher price. It happened so frequently that I decided to boycott markets and buy directly from supermarkets. If what I want can only be found in the market, I’d get one of my Hausa-speaking friends to get it for me.
There’s also a bias with how students were graded. But that was more religious than tribal. Southern Christians had to fight harder for everything, from grades to opportunities. There was a lecturer that’d say, “A is for Allah, B for Balarabe and C is for the rest of you”. Whenever the results came out, the few people that got As would be Muslim students. It was the same with the law chambers. Out of the seven we had, only one was Christian dominated. And even when we wrote to the faculty, the chances of the request being approved were low.