“Where are you from?”
This frequently asked question often comes after “what’s your name”?
The reason for asking could be out of curiosity.
It could also be to identify or place a label on a person for political or official reasons.
The response is likely to vary, depending on who, what or why the question is asked.
It could be simple or complex.
A different answer for a foreigner, another for official purposes and another for friends etc.
As Nigeria is a patrilineal society, the answer is usually your father’s state of origin/town/village.
It is what most people use particularly for official purposes. Even though inter-tribal marriages are quite common nowadays.
Inter-ethnic marriages have made responding to the question slightly complicated.
It is getting more difficult to presume a definite ethnic identity from a Nigerian name.
The name combinations could be interesting.
Which leads to the next question “Where is your mother from?”.
Sometimes the responder offers the information without being asked.
An example could be a person whose parents are from different ethnic groups and who is born and raised in a state in which his/her parents are not indigenes.
Such a person may or may not speak or understand his/her parents’ native languages.
They may, in fact, only speak the main language spoken in the state where they reside and may have only visited their parents’ hometowns a few times or never.
Where does such a person really belong?
Their parents may have different religious beliefs.
I know someone who refers to people like the example above as “stateless Nigerians”.
Simply put, they are children of interethnic marriages.
Some of their parents are themselves products of inter-ethnic marriages.
She said that “stateless Nigerians” could help in weeding out the problem of tribalism in Nigeria.
They may find it easier to be less tribalistic and more patriotic.
In many Nigerian customs, women are told that they adopt their husband’s place of origin when they marry.
By implication, a new identity.
Questions arising are what happens if there is a divorce?
Does the woman’s place of origin revert to her father’s, or can she retain her ex-husbands?
What if she remarries, more than once after that?
Is it realistic to expect her to drop all claim to an identity she has had for many years?
Those who want to put this custom to test should conduct research on how many married women from a different tribe/ethnic group/state can contest for political positions in their husband’s State/local government or even be considered for appointment to public office.
I doubt that the numbers will be impressive.
At the foreign level, identity could be very flexible.
Often we see Nigerians who hold dual citizenships representing their other country in for example sports competitions.
At such times, their Nigerian identity is deleted.
Only their names point to their Nigerian origins.
Though if the situation is one where some illegality is involved, their other country reminds us that they are Nigerian.
Identity can be likened to a product made by combining several ingredients.
It is subject to changes; can be redesigned or rebranded.
Many people identify with or belong to different places.
The more inter-ethnic marriages we have, the more we have citizens belonging to different states/places of origin.
Perhaps, it is a good thing and should push us to ensure Nigeria should work for all.