The Modern Nigerian Youth: A Question of Identity!

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By Elijah Abuni Peter

The demography of Nigeria affords the onlooker very few interpretations into the question of identity. The evolution of the world and the dialectical constructs of the society have ensured that the desire to ascribe and punctuate an identity to any person attracts a wide range of questions that creates an argument into the basis of what identity is in itself.

The question of identity starts from the basis of the question “Who are you?”

The question above is certainly dual pronged. On one hand the mind decides to create a picture of the personal, the inner representation of the person. On the other hand, there is the identity that is social. Defining what identity is entails that one defines a context from which the definition can be ascertained. For example Wendt 1992, describes identities as “Relatively stable, role-specific understanding and expectations about self”. Wendt’s view when critically measured, leans into the notion that identity can be considered from two contexts, “the personal and the relative”. The same notion is represented in Hoggs and Abrams 1998 definition which defined identity as “people’s concepts of who they are, what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others.” It is however, another definition that captures my mind, in this definition, the author opines the following”

“Identity emerges as a kind of unsettled space, or an unresolved question in that space between a number of intersecting discourses….. {Until recently, we have incorrectly thought that identity is a kind of fixed point of thought and being. A ground of action… the logic of something like true self…. Identity is a process, identity is a split, identity is not a fixed point but an ambivalent point, identity is also the relationship of the other to oneself. (Hall 1989)

Hall’s assertion above pushes the argument of the complexity of what identity entails. The question of who you are at any moment in time can be sure to necessitate a couple of different answers that have the underlying goal of satisfying the idea of “recognition”. The question in the end remains, what do you recognize about yourself?

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It is this question that falls on the reality of the modern Nigerian youth. This question is pertinent because the reality of the society that the Nigerian youth is faced with is made up of different factors that contribute in making the question of identity a tedious exercise. Nigerians often identify each other through 3 defined precepts, the first is culture, the second is religion and the final is regional affiliation. Every child born has to go through the demystification of these precepts before he arrives at a settled response of who he or she is.

For instance; a child born in Plateau state would have to grow to recognize that there are over 50 different ethnic orientations. The hegemony of culture becomes the first intra-personal conflict that such a child faces. The question of hegemony in cultural identity is vital. This is because in historical context, most cultures or in these case tribes, have at a point, observed a curious relationship with the tribe bordering it. It is not these relationships that harbor the biggest question; the biggest question comes from the native-settler dichotomy that rules the understanding of what cultural identity is. In most cultures, careful emphasis is made to identify the settler populations who have already been absorbed into the culture and traditions of this society in question. This presents a peculiar problem to the young mind that has to deal with the differences that have been accentuated in the fabric of his most important identity. The dualism of the native tribal man and the settler tribal man reflects the first conflict of identity that the modern Nigerian youth has faced.
While dealing with the subdivisions of the identities that culture creates, the modern Nigerian youth is forced to confront the constructs of religion. Religion remains one of the more valued precepts of identity in Nigerian societies. In the first instance, there is a tripod view of the traditional, the Christian and the Islamic. Under each of these base identities are deconstructions of different identities. In Christianity for instance, the young youth is confronted with the debate of the protestant and the catholic and the emergent churches. Each of these deconstructions are representations of the Christian ideals with slight variations of ideologies that controls their beliefs. In this sense, each Nigerian youth is brought up with a religious identity that conforms to the ideology of the church he/she represents.
The main issue with religious identity, especially in the Nigerian society that is often a struggle of identity, is the fact that it presents with it differing moral definitions. These differences in moral perceptions serve to create a hegemony that creates a dualism in the society. Like most societies, the conservatives and the liberal are at loggerheads in the grand drama of the Nigerian society and this conflict leaves the modern Nigerian youth, who is struggling with the native/settler dichotomy in his own culture, at the mercy of another conflict of identity.
The next point in the discourse represents the diciest. This is because; it is the one which represents the political hegemony that has undermined the reality of Nigeria as a nation. The regional identity is a subject of the dialectics of oppression that has historically been present. Of particular interest is the subject of the north-central/middle-belt argument. The region made of largely indigenous cultural identities, have in earnest, sought to provide an argument as to why the idea of the “North” is an uncomfortable argument. The region (North Central/Middle belt) is vastly populated with the native indigenous tribes who have historical conflict with the Hausa/Fulani populated North-East and North-West. The need to understand this identity is because in Nigeria, the basic assumption is that one’s core identity is subsumed under the hegemony of the region he comes from. The citizens pay no attention to the importance of recognizing that the identity of a person goes deeper than the symbolic “griot” that has been placed on every region. In a way, this is the conflict that best divides the modern Nigerian youth. The conflict of having an identity that defines what region he comes from and sticking vehemently to it.

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In the end; the modern Nigerian youth is faced with different battles of identities. This war of dualisms that exist at every precept of his identification presents him with a complex idea of whom he is and who he represents. So maybe when next I am asked to introduce myself, my response will be thus. I am Elijah Abuni Peter, A real native Amo Man, I am from Bassa, and I am a native of the Middle-belt region of Nigeria. I am a Seventh Day Adventist and I vehemently believe in the statutes of my church.

You see, I am all the above; and in all that confusion, I am still a Nigerian, searching through the myriad of identities to find one basic identity that fits everything I am. The question then my dear reader is…

Who are You?

Let me know your views and arguments on this.

Wendt, Alexander. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wendt, Alexander. 1992. “Anarchy is What States Make of It.” International Organization 46:391–426. 4

Hall, Stuart. 1989. “Ethnicity: Identity and Difference.” Radical America 23:9–20.

Hogg, Michael and Dominic Abrams. 1988. Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes. London: Routledge.

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