The Complicated Dynamics of Nigerian Relationships

Today I went to a salon with my friend Fatima. Now here are a few things to know about Fatima. Fatima is great. Fatima is basically the best person I know. Fatima is Selfless, Fatima is generous. Fatima is a genuinely happy person. Fatima is a Muslim. And you are probably tired of reading about…


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Today I went to a salon with my friend Fatima.

Now here are a few things to know about Fatima. Fatima is great. Fatima is basically the best person I know. Fatima is Selfless, Fatima is generous. Fatima is a genuinely happy person. Fatima is a Muslim. And you are probably tired of reading about Fatima; so…. On this fine Saturday Fatima wants to tie her hair into Bantu knots so we drive to this salon on Mayne Avenue . But soon as we walk in , one of the stylists who from her attitude I assume is in charge of the place points to Fatima and says “you can’t come in here, We no dey do hair for muslims”. We both start to leave but then she says to me. “Fine sister, no be you na. Come tell me which style you wan do?”

I immediately go into a fit of laughter because isn’t it too “judgy” to assume every one with a hijab on is a Muslim? And then You just drove the actual person in need of your service away. So I say, my friend wants to get her hair done if you wouldn’t attend to her we’ll just leave. This time she is the one that bursts out laughing. Then she speaks in igbo to her colleagues “Onye na- akpa okuko ka obulu ihe nkili ga-egbu ya otu mbosi were mere ntri”. translation? He who keeps a chicken as a pet would kill it one day for food. Then she turns to me and says “if wahala burst for this country, na you she go first kill”.

As we leave I tell Fatima, I’m your pet chicken but she doesn’t understand. So I let her be. She doesn’t seem bothered by the whole situation.

She’s probably used to people thinking she’s Hausa because she’s a Muslim or people thinking she’s a Boko Haram because she’s Muslim, she must be used to the thorough search of her hand bag or car when she goes to the mall or the cinema. The hushed whispers when she passes in her hijab and … the awkward look from strangers when she socializes with her Christian friends.

And I think to myself isn’t It sad really, that we have to define ourselves, our friendships and relationships along religious and ethnic lines.

So this is when I start thinking of the relationship dynamics in Nigeria.

For example; I’m Adiah, I’m efik and I’m a Christian. So what happens when I meet Chidiebere who is a Christian too but is igbo? Nigeria says we are incompatible. Fatima’s case becomes even more complicated because she is Yoruba and she is a Muslim. So let’s assume she meets Bankole who is Yoruba too but is a Christian? Not compatible. Oh wait! What if she meets Abdul who is a Muslim but is Hausa? Still not compatible.

This on the other hand is what Nigeria expects;

Oge, igbo , Christian + chidiebere, igbo, Christian = Compatible

Fatima, Yoruba, Muslim + Jibola, Yoruba, Muslim = Compatible

Bisola, Yoruba, Christian + Lawal, Yoruba , Christian = Compatible

Aisha, Hausa, Muslim + Abdul, Hausa, Muslim = Compatible

Do you get the point I’m trying to make? Basically everyone is to stay within their ethnic and religious lanes. Do not switch lanes for any reasons.

I wonder to myself, when did we get so divided? My mother says it started during the civil war. But then what was the cause of the civil war? Struggle for power? Religious differences or ethnic diversity? I don’t know because I wasn’t there and to be honest not most of us alive today were alive then. We grew up hearing stories about the war, reading history books about the division between the Igbos and the Hausas, the Igbos and the Yorubas, the Muslims and the Christians. And we keep passing down these stories of hate we didn’t experience or wars we didn’t witness.

I look at Fatima again, and I think, maybe her grand father fought against my grandfather in the war, I don’t know. She doesn’t know either. And why does that have to determine if we could be friends?

Why can’t the new generation leave the past in the past?

Why must we constantly choose to identify ourselves by our tribe, state and religion?

Why can’t we just simply be “Nigerians” ?

But I guess it’s too much to ask for a Nigeria where a Yoruba Muslim walks into a salon and has her hair made by an Igbo Christian.


  1. G B
    I asked all these questions (and more) of Zeynab before she left me (Christian guy with English surname) for Abdullahi (Muslim; that’s it). His most desirable trait was being able to speak Arabic. The Believer in her just couldn’t resist, his terrible English notwithstanding. (I promise, I’m over it.)

    I also asked the same of my friend Ikemdinachi while he was getting angry at Yoruba people because of actions our people took during the Civil War. That he wasn’t even alive then did not register.

    People are raised in different ways. If they are born with some prejudices, they almost certain to stay that way unless something dramatic changes them.

    Let’s just hope for a better next generation. This current one is as bad as their parents.

  2. Uche
    Awww, I am really sorry for your experience. But there might be some explanations to some of these things.

    1. Christian vs Muslim:
    The religions are fundamentally different. How do you plan to raise your kids if you plan to have any? Religion has been the death of many marriages/families. Would you feel cheated if your wife shipped them off to church instead of a mosque if you were Muslim? Would you insist on your wife covering her head as a proper Muslim wife? Would you read the dictates of the Qur’an or the bible? And so on. Even within Christianity, it is not unheard of for people to marry within their denomination or the denomination they practise. Faith is a very big issue. Let us not forget the Holy books and their instructions not to be ‘unequally yoked’.

    2. Yoruba vs Igbo vs Hausa vs The one million other tribes we have in Nigeria
    This one is a bit dicey as we expect that education and modernisation might have changed things a bit. But for example, in Igbo land, kneeling down to greet is not by force. Imagine you married an Igbo lady and she didn’t kneel to greet your people. The outrage that would ensue. (Assuming your people are strong Yoruba). The point is: sometimes the culture of your parents influences the way you are brought up and in Nigeria, we say you marry the spouse and their family. You might deal with a lot of culture shock if you are not careful. Trust me, every tribe has something about them that can be controversial and displeasing.

    3. Parental Influence
    You personally might not mind but imagine if it has been drummed into your ears not to bring home some certain man/woman because of some preconceived notion your parents have (my father, for example, thinks all Yoruba men want to impregnate and ‘useless’ girls and run away). Just to avoid too much drama, you limit yourself to ‘parentally acceptable spouses’

    In all, I am not covering tribalism and the other negatives that come with the blessing of many languages and tribes. I am only trying to help us see why people settle for the path of least resistance.

    1. G B
      Thank you, Uche.

      To be very frank, my hold on Christianity these days is tenuous, Lord help me, so the marriage part is kinda “easy”. If I had kids with a Muslim, I’d do my best to expose them to both religions and let them make their minds up when they grow up or are old enough to choose. They are also free to turn their backs on both ways and venture out into uncharted waters. My kids are my kids, regardless. But, I won’t raise them with any doctrines or habits. I just want bright, curious young children who aren’t afraid to question shit or speak their minds.
      As you have said, being intolerant is behavior taught by parents and other ‘elders’. The detrimental effects of letting our cultures dominate are apparent, I think. Nigeria is where Nigeria is.

  3. Ope
    Funny thing is something similar happened to me days ago. Went to my HMO cos I was a bit down with fever, I met this Dr guy who I found quite interesting,we exchanged numbers, and as I was leaving his office, I asked his name, and he said Victor. My excitement died there.
    P.s: I’m Yoruba and a Muslim.
  4. Victor
    am a christian and have a lot of female Muslim friends… And they tell me they can NEVER marry a christian lol… It’s just the way it is… Religion especially in Africa is a very serious business… you dare not cross over… Parents practically disown and threaten their own children who do so… #SafetyFirst
  5. J Kruz
    Even the so called Christians do not tolerate each other. I was in a gathering today where most of us attend the same church. In the course of the conversation, We discovered that one of us is Roman Catholic, immediately the attacks started “why aren’t you attending our church” “you should come to our church o, all these Catholic churches sef” I just wanted to Scream STOP IT!!!!! She’s catholic, not an idol worshipper, she serves God in her own way . So my dear if Christians cannot tolerate themselves then how do you expect them to tolerate people from other religious groups?
  6. Abby
    It is sad really, the prejudice that blind us and make us hate one another. It is for this reason that anytime I meet someone for the first time and I’m asked the question “where are you from?”, I simply say I’m a Nigerian because most time someone asks that,the person wants to know what filter to use in viewing you.. There’re far more important things to learn about a person which matters more than where is from-for me it is how intellectually sound a person is and how much I can pick from the person’s brain.
    I hope we the millenials will not only complain about how our parents sowed seeds of hatred in us but will raise our children differently to see people not regions or religion.

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