Johnson Babalola
April 2, 2024

Intra-Racism: A Challenge Nigerians Must Confront

As I tuned into the interview featuring Allen Onyema, the CEO of Air Peace, on Arise TV from the comfort of my home in Canada, a wave of empathy washed over me for my dear country, Nigeria, and the citizens. Among the myriad of issues he addressed, one statement resonated deeply with me: the revelation of Nigerian civil servants’ concerted efforts to undermine the airline. It’s a sentiment many Nigerians who have navigated bureaucratic hurdles can relate to, but what struck a chord with me was his account of being denied suitable parking space for his aircraft due to the assertion of a staff of the airport that it was reserved for a foreign plane. Before we rush to condemn the airport staff, it’s imperative we reflect inwardly. Are we any different? Regrettably, many of us perpetuate intra-racism within our own communities and workspace.

I recall the story of a friend who, after being rejected for a job bid with the Nigerian government, resorted to presenting one of his white Canadian staff members as the face of his company to secure success. It’s a stark illustration of the preferential treatment often afforded to foreigners over Nigerians, even in our own homeland including in areas where Nigerians are better qualified.

Observing the deference shown to foreigners, particularly white individuals, by Nigerian airport staff juxtaposed with the disrespect often exhibited towards fellow Nigerians is disheartening, yet it’s a reality we must confront. Even within professional circles, the tendency to favor foreign expertise over local talent is pervasive. The anecdote of a woman opting for a white lawyer over a black one, only to seek the latter’s assistance when faced with deportation, underscores the self-destructive nature of intra-racism.

Intra-racism not only stifles individual potential but also erodes the fabric of our society. The prevalence of sentiments like “He is Ibo, don’t employ him”, “She is Yoruba, don’t marry her” or “don’t trust a Hausa person” underscores the insidious nature of discrimination within our own communities. The recollection of a discriminatory encounter during a job interview based solely on regional origin serves as a stark reminder of the deeply ingrained biases that continue to plague our society.

Yet, amidst these disheartening tales, there are glimmers of hope. As my friend aptly pointed out, it’s a two-way street. While some Nigerian professionals may succumb to discriminatory behavior, others rise above it, treating clients based on merit rather than ethnicity. It’s a principle we must all strive to uphold, not just for the sake of others but for our own dignity and self-respect.

In conclusion, while the prevalence of intra-racism within Nigeria and within Nigerians outside of the country is undeniable, there is cause for optimism. It’s heartening to acknowledge that many Nigerians, whether as professionals or clients, engage with each other without discrimination. These instances of mutual respect and fairness serve as beacons of hope in an otherwise challenging landscape. However, it’s imperative that we continue to actively challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviors wherever they may manifest. Our leaders must stop using ethnicity or race to divide us. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect, we can collectively strive towards a Nigeria where opportunities are afforded based on merit rather than ethnicity or race. In doing so, we not only honor our shared humanity but also pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for all Nigerians.

Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.