The term “ethnic bigotry” has the potential to hinder any society’s progress. Why? Because within and beyond our borders, I have witnessed and heard of no realm that consists solely of one clan. Even if it means setting the place on fire, many clans are unwilling to lay down their weapons and coexist.
The ferocious news we encounter on our TVs or in magazines often portrays violence: someone killed, expelled, or trapped by a rival ethnic group, or individuals resorting to aggression over mere words. It’s as if we are all descendants of fire and water.
As social media continues to gain popularity, the number of influencers on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube also rises. These influencers, with their substantial followings and the power to influence our youth and society, are like fuel for the path they choose to tread.
One cannot deny the impact of these individuals, both positive and negative, as they march to the beat of their own drums. Among their influences are shades of ethnic bigotry, which I will delve into below.
Influencers are often perceived as role models and trendsetters, especially among young people, becoming their primary source of information and, at times, even akin to deities.
To illustrate, during an intellectual discussion on arts and cultures a year ago, my friends and I presented references, but two-thirds of the panel leaned towards a single perspective. Only one person challenged the status quo by insisting on citing a Facebook influencer’s articles, which, after fact-checking, were proven incorrect by one of the respected literary icons we admire. This friend of ours clung to that mistake until the influencer corrected and updated their viewpoint.
One positive aspect of influencers is their ability to initiate change. A few weeks ago, a Twitter influencer highlighted the benefits of unity in society and its potential impact on economic and social development. This influencer also addressed the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria—Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba—drawing attention to how unity could combat ethnic bigotry.
The response to this post was astounding, with people passionately expressing their views as if they were ambassadors of their clans. It was retweeted over 100,000 times, shedding light on the deep-seated hatred between some ethnic groups.
Another significant incident involved a 12-year-old Yoruba girl living on a street in Zaria, who was tragically assaulted by a 34-year-old Hausa man from the same area. The distressing news spread quickly, accompanied by disturbing comments, especially from the Hausa community, suggesting that the girl somehow provoked the attack due to her ethnic background. This kind of hatred is far from the actions of rational and compassionate human beings.
An advocate and child rights activist from a different ethnic group stepped in, covering the girl’s hospital expenses and ensuring the perpetrator faced justice. An influencer penned heartfelt paragraphs, prompting an examination of the case by the public. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed that the girl, despite her humble background, had a passion for education and was sponsored by a group of Hausa individuals.
These examples demonstrate the potential for change in our society through ethnic diversity, with influencers playing a vital role.
However, if I were to discuss the negative impact of online influencers on ethnic bigotry, my story would be far from uplifting:
A friend and mentor mentioned me on Facebook, inviting poets to participate in a competition with a cash prize. I submitted my entry like the others, but when the results were announced, I discovered I hadn’t won. Later, a friend informed me that one of the winners had plagiarized my poem. I reported this to the organizer, who admitted they were aware but explained that they chose the other contestant because my words didn’t fit the profile of a “Hausa writer/poet.” I was disheartened but moved on.
Furthermore, there was a well-known influencer who refused to engage in any development activities or gatherings involving a particular ethnic group. He openly declared that he had been taught never to show mercy or let members of that ethnic group benefit from his influence.
These two cases provide a glimpse into the potential harm that online influencers can inflict, especially on impressionable young minds who often value media more than traditional sources of guidance.
I urge everyone in this position to be a positive influence, guiding others to combat ethnic bigotry within and beyond our society. Such efforts will undoubtedly contribute to economic, social, creative, and political development.