It would seem that but for Nigeria, or rather Lord Lugard, who forced these dissimilar and unequal cultural experiences into the current chimera, these other expressions of the country were doing just fine. But, then again, it is the lot of man, confronted by trying conditions, to create myths that help it hold together.
If anything good has come of the last five years in this country, it is in the way it has forced Nigerians to critically examine the country ― if not themselves. To the obvious chagrin of the incumbent Federal Government, there have been no persons, principles, events, or processes that have not been challenged from first principles. Sadly though, the result of this self-examination has not been good at all ― at least, if the discussions arising from this effort indicate anything. The emerging consensus is that Nigeria has comprehensively failed its people. In 60 years, we have not found a way to entrench either truth or justice. And so, each generation has struggled to hand over to the next an untainted ensign. With more citizens oppressed than uplifted, the country has been cursed with a dearth of peace and plenty.
Why did this happen? The #EndSARS protests briefly offered a pointer to a possible answer. Since 1960, the Nigerian state has conspicuously failed to strengthen individual rights and freedoms. Preferring instead to coalesce around putatively communal rights whose corporeal form whoever leads the country is argued to give expression to. And whose realisation is not possible without further abridging civil liberties. Hardly surprising, then, that by rejecting the fundamental argument of that protest, the Buhari administration has led a significant number of our compatriots to conclude that Nigeria is not just incapable of acting in the interest of its individual citizens, and that its claim to defend collective interests is a cheap masquerade for advancing narrow, often sectarian interests. Consequently, a growing share of the population argue that we should begin post-haste the process of its dissolution.
Except that a large part of those who would quickly be rid of the impost that Nigeria is said to have become then offer up stronger communal responses as a solution. And so we hear that Biafra and the Yoruba nation, to the extent that they are more culturally homogeneous will be better able to hold their leaders to account than a loosely-structured Nigeria has so far accomplished. Where Nigeria the geographical expression failed, these not-so-new cultural expressions, longer-lived than Nigeria will succeed.
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The telling goes further. It would seem that but for Nigeria, or rather Lord Lugard, who forced these dissimilar and unequal cultural experiences into the current chimera, these other expressions of the country were doing just fine. But, then again, it is the lot of man, confronted by trying conditions, to create myths that help it hold together. After the death of Alafin Abiodun in 1789, most Yoruba would have been as embittered as most Nigerians are today. And for almost 100 years they fought to validate several of such myths. What about the evidence that some Yoruba kings did invite British help to put down threats to their kingdoms from other Yoruba states? Well, that was so many years ago.
Recently, Nigeria overtook me. One arm of my mongrel heritage reached out to invite me to properly identify myself. And so I attended a meeting of distinguished Igbo sons ― alas, no daughters were distinguished enough to be in attendance. At this function, culture trumped women’s rights. In Nigeria, geography is accused of trumping all rights. Did it rankle? Yes. I have two daughters. Young enough to hold strong opinions about female rights in 2021. And I cringed at the thought of both somehow running into their father taking part in an all male meeting after having brought them up to think themselves the equal, albeit not muscularly, of any human on earth.
The contradictions didn’t stop there. The first 30 minutes of the meeting was taken up by febrile disputation over how the kola nut ought properly to be broken. Amongst my mother’s people ― the Igbo of the West Bank of the River Niger ― this is chore proper to the oldest male in the gathering, irrespective of the provenance of the caffeine-containing nut. Amongst the Igbo of the East Bank, though, the kolanut may only be broken by the host, who is duty bound to provide it to the assembly. Forget that this was early in 2021. The meeting was in a bind. The eldest Igbo in the room was from Okpanam. The host was from Imo State.
Between the rock and a very hard place, Solomon had to come to judgment. The eldest man broke and ate of his kolanut. It would have been an abomination for him to eat of kolanut broken by a stripling. The host broke and shared of his. And when it was time to nominate and vote new members into office, you could see the struggle to ensure that all shades of Igbo opinion was reflected ― as in careful adherence to the affirmative action principles that underpin Nigeria’s failed “federal character” project. Each time the question, “Where is he from?” accompanied a nomination, and before the vote, I felt slightly at ease. For, it was evident that the differences within the constituent parts of this country are deeper and wider than between each one such part and the rest of the country.