Due to the multi-cultural nature of our society, Nigerians subscribe to certain general beliefs of the country’s many tribes that direct how we interact with the people around us.
Most times, these generalisations enable us to consider and respect cultural and religious sensitivities. However, more often than not, they create stereotypes, widely held but oversimplified ideas of the people who come from these tribes.
It is fair to say nearly every Nigerian tribe has its own stereotypes.
Over the next week and a few, we will address the most popular stereotypes about Nigerian tribes, why Nigerian tribes are perceived as they are, the most important events in the history of our tribal relations and whether we will ever find an end to that very present scourge, tribalism.
To start with, among the many you will find, here are five stereotypes about the tribe famed for their industry and tenacity, the Igbo.
(1) Igbo people run medicine shops:
The majority of Nigerians buy their medicine from small patent medicine shops, and when we visit these shops, it is usually with the expectation that an Igbo man, who we refer to as the "chemist" is in charge.
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As a 20-something year old born and bred in Lagos, I can say a fair number of the "chemists" I know were men from the east; likewise, there were those run by middle-aged Yoruba women and one in particular, run by a Hausa man, Mr Hassan.
The Igbo presence in that field is most likely a function of their industry and entrepreneurial leanings than anything else.
(2) The Igbos like business:
When it comes to trading and the fine art of buying and selling, in bits or wholesale, leave it for the Igbos. You will hardly find a field or industry where Igbos do not enjoy a strong share or influence.
Some of the most famous men from the East have been businessmen and captains of Industry, such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Tony Izenna, Ifeanyi Ubah and Tony Elumelu.
Much of this, as earlier pointed out, is down to a clear entrepreneurial ethic and years of influence that has been passed down over time.
However, putting them down to their business acumen is a disservice. The Igbos have also made a strong mark in other fields outside business. Chinua Achebe, Chiwetel Ejiofor and others of Igbo extraction in the diaspora like Tyler the Creator and Tinie Tempah are proof that it's not all business for the Igbo man.
(3) They are a domineering tribe
Many Nigerians believe that the Igbos have a tendency to enter new environments with the intention to control and bend the rules and resources to their will, a perception that was so strong that for a while, landlords in certain areas of the west would rather leave their properties empty than letting them out to people from the East.
This is a very old perception in itself.
During an interview with the BBC that has since spurred numerous conversations, the Premier of the Northern Region at the time, Ahmadu Bello said, "Well, the Igbos are mainly the type of people whose desire is to dominate everybody. If they go to the village or town, they want to monopolise everything in that area. If you put them as a labourer, within a year they will try to emerge as the headman of that camp...and so on...well."
"We are not alive to their responsibilities because you can see from our modernisation policy that in 1952 when I came here, there were less Northerners in our service. Then I fought. Now all important posts are being held by Northerners.", he added.
Over time, we've learned that this is the result of nationalist sentiments and a sense of duty among most tribes to keep their resources for themselves.
Unfortunately, this stereotype has created a lot of hostility against the Igbos, from the 1967 Civil War to the present resentment towards Igbos in some areas of the west.
(4) Igbo women are light-skinned and promiscuous
I'd like to blame Nollywood for this.
Over time, the Nigerian film industry has perpetrated its own fair share of stereotypes and one of the strongest has been made by writing Igbo characters as light-skinned women who have multiple partners to meet their many needs, including "maintenance".
As Stephanie Linus and Genevieve Nnaji and attractive without being light-skinned.
We shouldn't have to tell you that promiscuity has nothing to do with tribe.
(5) They will do anything for wealth
Again, Nollywood. Thanks to Kanayo O. Kanayo, there is a belief that Igbo men are so desperate in their hunt for money that they will go to any length to amass wealth including those infamous money rituals.
Instances of young Igbo men showing up with unexplained wealth, like Victor Okafor, aka Ezego of Money has also not helped the phenomenon. But then, who doesn't like money?
This stereotype has unfairly portrayed the Igbos as frantic lovers of wealth when in fact, there is little more than anecdotes on which anyone can base such a blanket statement