Of Stereotypes, Nigerian Igbo and Beninese Yoruba
Researchers familiar with Nigeria would know that the Igbo have the reputation of being the money-loving, money-making, industrious people of Nigeria. The stereotypes go this way: The Igbo are the traders, the Yoruba are your average school-goers who look forward to a comfortable future earning predictable salaries, and the Hausa rule the country (never mind Nigerian minority groups). The Igbo for instance also join in essentialising themselves. They often say that they (the Igbo) are simply natural traders, and that their ‘republican spirit’ and lack of recognition of central authority predispose them to becoming great businessmen.
In Benin, the Beninese Yoruba describe themselves in exactly the same terms. I hear expressions like: ‘No matter what a Yoruba man does, even if he studies in the university, he has to come back to trade. It is simply in our blood.’ Those are about the same words with which the Nigerian Igbo describe themselves. Or, ‘Ha… Yoruba’s love money so much!’ Just like the average Nigerian says about the Igbo.
So, if trade is in the Yoruba blood, how come the Yoruba don’t have that kind of reputation in Nigeria? I point this out to many Beninese Yoruba and they normally don’t have anything to say about it. I then tell them that one has to pay a closer attention to history, and the particular development of each country, in order to be able to understand how each ethnic group came to acquire the description. One has to accept it that the stereotypes are largely true, especially about Igbo businessmen of Nigeria and the Yoruba businesswomen of Benin. Yea, Yoruba businesswomen; gender scholars have a lot to deal with in that.