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On the contrived controversy of Air Peace’s Isi Agu uniform

Air Peace debuted a Lagos-London route at a relatively affordable price and somehow the dominant conversation has been about the Isi Agu uniform the cabin…

Air Peace debuted a Lagos-London route at a relatively affordable price and somehow the dominant conversation has been about the Isi Agu uniform the cabin crew wore.

Apparently, there were folks who thought that by dressing his crew up in Igbo traditional attire, Mr Allen Onyema, the CEO of Air Peace, was being an ethnic bigot. Note that Air Peace is a private airline and Onyema doesn’t have to take permission from anyone to have his crew dress up in any uniform of his choice. So, accusing him of ethnic bigotry just doesn’t make sense.

It appears though that there are some for whom everything is filtered through the thick lens of tribalism, and where there is nothing to complain about, they’d manufacture one. Rather than celebrating a local carrier’s Lagos-London route, a move that’s been credited with forcing other airlines to revise their ticket prices, some folks are diverting attention to what they think the Isi Agu uniform symbolises: an Igbo takeover of a space they consider neutral.

I wonder if these people have the same issue when they fly other national airlines where the cabin crews dress to reflect pride in their cultural origins. How does anyone get triggered by seeing smartly dressed cabin crew officers? Bikonu! The mind boggles. Or maybe, the mind shouldn’t boggle.

I witnessed important conversations about past elections devolve into ethnic sentiments. I saw in real time how voting for the right man in Lagos became about voting for the “true Lagosian”. In churches and mosques, preachers were climbing the pulpit and adding kerosene to the fire.

Tribalism is arguably one of Nigeria’s biggest problems, and therefore one of the biggest threats to our greatness. It exacerbates all of our other issues. How do you fight corruption, for example, if you are unable to hold people accountable because they belong to your ethnic group? How will you ensure that you’re giving the right people jobs if your primary concern is ensuring that you populate vacancies with people from your region?

All over social media, there is barely any discussion – from Tinubu’s (non)performance to drug traffickers caught by NDLEA that escape the tribalism treatment. Not even carefully curating the eco-system of one’s feed makes it possible to escape seeing it.

As a product of a unity school (FGGC Bwari, Abuja) who is still in touch with her classmates from different parts of Nigeria, as one who believes in the project called Nigeria, it is painful to be confronted by ethnic bigotry.

No one is superior because of where the lottery of life has placed them. No one ethnic group has the monopoly on crime or cleverness or whatever. Our worth as individuals is not determined by the ethnic group we belong to any more than it is determined by our birth month. These are arbitrary distinctions.

No matter how much your “people” are known for hard work, it’s not written in your DNA. You do not become a hard worker simply by the accident of your birth. You’d have to decide to be a hard worker to model yourself after those whose work ethic earned your group the reputation. You’d have to put in the work as no amount of lore would make it so.

We cannot begin to work together for the country that we want if we put ethnic loyalty above everything else. When we let ethnic allegiance take precedence over the collective wellbeing of our nation, we cheat ourselves in a nation that works for everyone. It is natural to feel pride in one’s cultural heritage (Igbo kwenu!), but when we elevate ethnic loyalty above the greater good, when we allow it to determine our political decisions, social interactions, opportunities we give to others, spaces we enter, etc., it not only polarises us, it  diminishes us as well.

So, if you’ve let yourself be so blinded by tribalism that instead of celebrating Air Peace’s laudable achievement in launching a cost-effective international route, if the Isi Agu uniform of its crew members is stealing your sleep, I wish you a full and sustained conversion. May your chains be broken today! May you realise that ethnic loyalty is not a virtue.

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