A Snap Reflection on Nigeria’s 49th Independence Celebration
On 1st of October 2009, Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation – turned 49 years. To commemorate the moment, Nigerians in the small town of Athens Ohio, converged at Bromely Hall, Ohio University on October 3rd 2009. Meeting together provided an ample opportunity to showcase our rich cultural heritage including traditional attires, dishes, and the abundant resources that could be harnessed even within the small community of Athens. Socially, it symbolized a spirit of national identity as the sense of togetherness, solidarity, and mutual excitement was vivid and alive. Consequently, the Nigerian motto (found on the Coat of Arms): “Love and Peace, Unity and Progress” was reflected. I was asked to make a few remarks on what the moment meant to me. My response was more of an optimistic thesis. In general, I feel it is from yesterday that we can better understand our today, and then get equipped to prepare for tomorrow. Added to the fact that not everyone present was aware of the make-up of this most densely black nation on earth, I felt a brief history was required.
In my opinion, reflecting on the historical antecedents that gave birth to the nation will help to understand and appreciate both the beautiful aspects of the nation as well as some of the intricacies associated with impediments to development. Even the name “Nigeria” was coined by the colonial masters; from the terms “Niger” and “Area”. The country came into existence as a nation in 1914, a result of the amalgamation of the northern and southern regions and boundary adjustments with Cameroon by the British government led by Lord Lugard and supported by the efforts of the missionaries. Nnamdi Ihuegbu noted that,
“British colonialism made Nigeria, joining diverse peoples and regions in an artificial political entity; the British, it is said, created a country called Nigeria, not a nation. The creation of this collage of people involved socio-economic and political troubles that the country once again relied on British advice and policies to help solve.” (From Colonialism and Independence: Nigeria as a Case Study)
The British, during colonial times, used education as a tool to further dominate and oppress Nigerians, a tool to cultivate a ‘proper’ style of thinking. The inculcation of this style of thinking came in the guise of Christianity.
There are over 300 ethnic groups in Nigeria, of which the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo groups dominate in the north, west, and east respectively. However, no one language is used nationally, despite the attempt to employ a lingua franca over decades. As such, English is the official language. At this juncture, I wish to remind us of Walter Rodney’s assertion that, “To be colonized is to be removed from history, except in the passive sense.” (From How Europe Underdeveloped Africa). “African political states lost their power, independence, and meaning” (Quoted in Africa Under Colonial Domination). “What came to be called tribalism at the beginning of the new epoch of political independence in Nigeria . . . was itself a product of the way that people were brought together under colonialism so as to be exploited” (From Nigeria: the politics of adjustment & democracy). It was a product of administrative devices, entrenched regional separations and differential access by particular ethnic groups into the colonial economy and culture. Suffice to say that, some of the most decisive failures of colonialism in Nigeria and Africa were its failure to change the technology of agricultural production, build viable institutions capable of producing skilled labor, provide infrastructural facilities to all and make adequate provisions for technological development and sustained self-reliance.
Regarding my remarks to fellow Nigerians and the international community that we were privileged to share this day with, I acknowledged that with the current global economic crisis, each country faces challenges, and Nigeria is not an exception. There are multiple issues to face squarely, including reforms in electoral body, our education system, energy sector and so on. I told the audience that I always ask myself some questions: As a Nigerian in Diaspora, what am I doing to appreciate the good side of my country? Do I sit back and point at the “nation’ with accusing nail fingers? Do I expect angels to remedy our situation? Am I being fair in comparing the colonizer with the colonized? Was Rome or Egypt for that matter, built overnight? Is development a process or an accident? Is the International community via its powerful media providing the correct image of my country? What about the efforts made by the authorities to combat some of our problems that have been planted by colonizers? For instance, do I appreciate the fight against corrupt practices going on in the country? Are the developed nations providing the type of support needed to deal with such problems? Nigeria has come a long way in her pre- and post-colonial conflicts and experiences. Do I appreciate history if I ignore it and look at the present? And most importantly, what will the next 49 years of Nigeria’s independence feature?
Preceding this celebratory moment, on September 19th 2009, District 9 – a South African Blockbuster movie that rose to number one in the United States – was banned in Nigeria because of its negative portrayal of Nigerians. Nigerian Information Minister Dora Akunyili criticized the movie’s portrayal of Nigerians as cannibals. Akunyili was particularly referring to the scene where the main gangster character, Obesandjo, tries to cut off and eat the arm of the film’s protagonist in an attempt to gain his supernatural powers, among others. One can note the similarity of the gangster’s name Obesandjo to that of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and wonder about the international community’s perception of Nigerians. It is clear that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the next 49 years, however I am confident that all hope is not lost. History and prosperity will remember us for the positive legacies that we leave as we remain critical and optimistic.