Waiting for the discovery of Nigeria
Forget all the fine words about Mungo Park discovering the River Niger. What urgently needs to be discovered is the country called Nigeria where the River Niger flows. The mere fact that Lord Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914 and got his paramour Flora Shaw to name the country Nigeria does not in itself make for the discovery of a nation. A lot of people may not know that the River Niger, after which Nigeria is supposedly named, bears the imprimatur of the offensive word “Nigger”. This way, Nigeria only stands for “Nigger area”. In short, there are so many questions needing urgent answers before we can truly talk of the real discovery of Nigeria.
These are some of the fundamental issues that the National Confab delegates ought to be tackling instead of debating on the allowances of drivers and concubines! There is the need to ask very hard questions about our country for us to attain a measure of nationhood. The country has just celebrated the centenary of the amalgamation but there exists so much work to be done. As Chinua Achebe said, Nigeria is neither our father nor our mother, but a child who needs to be nurtured and brought up properly. Our work is therefore before us all.
Nigeria’s first President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe famously said that the country won her independence in 1960 “on a platter of gold.” But Zik’s great rival, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the Western Region, did raise the crucial issue of Nigeria being “a mere geographical expression.” Against Zik’s charge that the many nationalities of Nigeria should forget their differences to forge ahead, the then Northern Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, countered by asserting that what was needed was for the different nationalities to understand the differences of the diverse peoples. It is amid the cacophony of voices that Nigeria has trudged along over the years without any homogenising leader actually emerging to lend a measure of direction to the country.
The country courted disaster from the very beginning. The colonising British masters did not hide the fact that amalgamation was effected to get the Southern “lady of means” to keep alive the arid North. It is against this background of not really growing the talents of the two protectorates that the country was launched forth onto flag independence, standing on three unsteady and unequal legs. The early politicians simply saw themselves as inheriting the mantle of leadership from the departing erstwhile white masters. Democracy was compromised from the very beginning to ensure a script of hegemony authored in Westminster!
Wole Soyinka wrote his play A Dance of the Forests to mark the independence ceremonies, prophetically listing the war of the tribes as a dark future to behold. Chinua Achebe in his 1966 novel A Man of the People prophesied a gruesome passage of coups and counter-coups.
The five young army majors who idealistically staged the bloody 1966 coup did not reckon with the acidic dimensions of the country’s diabolical geo-politics. The bloodier revenge coup of the selfsame year was forged as a means of secession by the North, with cries of “Araba” renting the air, until the British masters ordered a rethink on the part of the hotheaded lot remorselessly marching to arid extinction. The inheritor Yakubu Gowon’s initial speech that “there was no basis for unity” in Nigeria had to be changed to some patriotic marshmallow.
Of course the civil war supervened, but ages on, no lessons have been learnt. The country continues to teeter on the brink of disaster. It has to be admitted that in many accounts Gowon distinguished himself as a humane war leader, but he was quite naïve in the grave business of founding a country, especially when it is remembered that he told the wide world that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it!
General Murtala Muhammed who succeeded Gowon had too much baggage in his past to really make the difference. In his haste to clean the Augean Stable he ended up ruining the civil service though he must be given the credit for raising Nigeria’s profile in the fight against imperialism.
General Olusegun Obasanjo has enjoyed two incarnations as the leader of Nigeria, but he cannot in good conscience be credited with showing any kind of direction toward the discovery of the nation. He did receive worldwide applause for quitting power in aid of the enthronement of democracy during his first coming, but the election he organised was fraught with problems in view of the Twelve Two-Third imbroglio that pitched President Shehu Shagari against Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Even so, it was in his second coming, this time as a supposedly elected democratic President that Obasanjo completely exposed himself as lacking in the necessary credentials needed in the founding of nations. Unlike nation-founders and discoverers such as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Dr. Mahathir of Malaysia, Obasanjo lacked the gumption to understand that nations are not built on platitudes. Of course time soon ran out on the man from Ota while he was furiously campaigning for the elongation of his tenure through the ignoble Third Term project. The man he handpicked as the nation’s leader, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, died ever so suddenly, symbolically showing that Obasanjo’s legacy was built on quicksand.
Every nation in history must confront and master its own road to Damascus. Mighty America, for instance, used to be a fiefdom of Britain. It took the writings of fine minds, especially Thomas Paine in his pamphlet Commonsense, to challenge Britain’s superintendence over America. This was the intellectual muster needed for the American War of Independence, culminating in the true discovery of America by its founding fathers such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington as opposed to starry-eyed adventurers like Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci!
Before he passed on, Chinua Achebe dropped the bombshell of a book entitled There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Beyond all the controversies that the book elicited, there is the nagging fear that we must perforce reclaim our country from the forces of anomie.
Nigerian is today poised on threshold of monumental historical contradictions. When Sharia was introduced in the course of Obasanjo’s tenure, people expected the then president to put a stop on the matter as Nigeria was deemed a secular state constitutionally. Obasanjo dismissed it all as “political Sharia” that will soon peter out. The initial seed planted has now grown into the monster now called Boko Haram, a terrorist endgame poised ostensibly on a complete Islamisation of Nigeria through the killing of everybody within sight.
The abduction of more than 200 girls from the federal secondary school in Chibok gave Nigeria a global kick on the solar plexus. Bombings and assassinations became daily and nightly rituals of current Nigerian life. The then President Goodluck Jonathan had to pay a steep price with his presidency.
The hope in many quarters was that the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari would lead to a national redemption. Regret is all the rage today. The variants of so-called bandits, Fulani herdsmen, killer kidnappers and the sort have literally brought Nigeria on its knees with even a “One-Nigeria” veteran addict such as Obasanjo lamenting the looming “Fulanization” of the country.
The heart of the matter is that a country cannot forever exist in suspended animation. What faces Nigeria today is the eternal question posed by Chernychevsky and taken up by Lenin in old Russia: “What is to be done?”