I saw an article by Mr. Emeka Obasi in the Vanguard recently, titled “Forget it, Nigeria Can’t Work”. I wanted to share the article because of the first part which was some sort of brief anthropological study on the different components of Nigeria, but I refrained due to its conclusion. Mr. Obasi reminded us of how many languages in Nigeria are similar, denoting the fact that the different tribes, which are now labouring so hard to show the world ‘how different we are’ have been interacting, intermixing, inter-trading and inter-marrying and, of course, warring for ages. It’s just quite interesting that in this information epoch that we have communications gadgets aplenty, we aren’t hearing each other like our ancestors often did. Mr. Obasi’s title and conclusions were surprising, given his many examples of our similarity. I also disagreed with the usual manner of dumping every blame on the doorsteps of the British. In my view, we were a conquered territory, but there was nothing the British did to us that we hadn’t done to ourselves (well almost), or that they (the white people) hadn’t done to themselves. Ireland suffered even more in the hands of the English. Imagine being colonised since the 16th century, and only getting partial independence (attainment of Republic of Ireland/Southern Ireland) in 1922. For as long as we still talk of why the British merged us without our consent, we are still mentally conquered. We have to move on.
Emeka Obasi observed start realities in our languages that shows clearly that every culture takes a little from its eastern, western, northern and southern neighbours and that no culture is absolutely distinct in Nigeria. He observed that Abeokuta is called Ebeokute in Igbo, that the Oba of Lagos does not dispute his Bini heritage and that ‘Eko’ is a Bini word (also ‘Idumota’, ‘Idumagbo’, ‘Iduganran’ – my addition), and that any new Obi of Iselle-Uku has to travel to Benin as part of the installation rites (I believe there are many royal fathers around Benin who do that too). I have other additions. The idea of ‘money’ is almost universal to southern Nigeria. ‘Owo’ in modern and mainstream Yoruba up to Oyo, means money, but watch what happens next. As you move up north in Yoruba land, in Ondo and Ekiti States, it becomes ‘Eho’, or just ‘Eo’. Then it becomes ‘Igho’ in Edo and most of Delta State, only to transform to ‘Ego’ in Igboland. Mr’ Obasi mentioned the similarity between monkey (Enwe) in Igbo, which is called Eme in Bini language. I actually read from Nnamdi Azikiwe’s autobiography that his Onitsha people migrated from Benin after a disagreement, hence the presence of Onicha Ugbo, Onicha Olona, Onicha Ukwu and other similar sounding settlements and towns along that axis. I also discovered upon interactions with Igala friends that several of their words are the same with Yoruba. Even up to Nupe. At least six out of 10 numbers are pronounced the same between Yoruba and the Igala/Nupe language. I could go on and on.
There is something I picked up from playing Scrabble back in the day when we used to check the meaning of words from Chambers Dictionary. After each word, there would be an etymology describing, shortly, the origin of that word. What was remarkable for me then was the fact that almost every English word originates from outside England. Most of the words have Latin, Greek, French, German or other origins in a way that shows how interlinked the histories of the European people are. The unwritten lesson is the mutual respect that the European people have for each other till date. At the end, they know they are brothers, despite fighting two extremely costly world wars, and hundreds of civil wars and conflicts, some of which still simmer today. The Europeans know that unity is the way forward for their people. This they have achieved today. I believe within Nigeria, and even bleeding into our neighbouring countries, we have exactly the same type of sociology. Indeed, I learnt from Mr. Obasi’s article that the Angles (a Germanic tribe) conquered southern Britain in the 5th Century (hence the name England), and that the Gauls (now called French) gave the name Germanus (neighbours) to Germany. This is how the world has evolved. We should stick to honest analysis. It is when we insert tribal superiorities, and begin our Hausa/Yoruba/Fulani/Igbo brickbats that every logical analysis breaks down.
But my main thrust here is about some of our treasures – beyond artefacts.
We are not particularly great with appreciating what needs to be appreciated. We speak about our culture and languages but no one is documenting and preserving them. The latest uproar around culture came up when the eccentric minister of youth and sport showed up for at least the second time since he became minister, at his village festival, 99 per cent naked but for a pair of very short black pant, socks and Nike trainers. I wasn’t quite impressed with the unsightly look of the man, but many said it was his Tarok people’s outfit. I didn’t see any outfit though. There is actually nothing to preserve about walking around naked. The man should have ditched the trainers, socks and white man’s pant as well, so that we revert to our primitive state in the name of culture. He also ought to have trekked from Abuja to Plateau State as well just to prove a point. I don’t believe that nakedness is a treasure. At best it is about defiance; defiance of the concept of modernity. This is what I couldn’t reconcile. The minister belongs to a class that maxes out on the enjoyment of modern things, once the government can pay. Heck, he rode to the festival in something like a Mercedes Benz G Wagon! At that point I start to wonder where our modesty is, and whether we have any sense of contrition. You cannot be making a point about history while maxing out on the inventions of the white man. Culture is also dynamic. Some stated that Jacob Zuma and the King of Swaziland also show up near naked. I pointed to the results of the governance of those two people.
We do have treasures though. Look at the language that those young Fulani boys speak to the cows? I have watched as they command cows. I then realised that they have a deep, inexplicable relationship with the cows that go beyond commercial interests. Each cow has a name and understands instructions from the herder. Again this priceless culture is being hoarded like we black people hoard everything. The example of the white man is that it is better to be open with information, and to document properly. We can only increase knowledge, understanding and our humanity that way. But what our ancestors did was to document little or nothing and that is what we are doing today. That is even why it was easy to colonise us, steal everything we had and usurp our ability for independent thought. In matters of science – medicine especially – our ancestors passed down the codes to select people and many times, we lost trail of a lot of our treasures. Now we have to purchase the same medicines after some refining and at much higher costs, from abroad.
Another great treasure of ours is the Yoruba culture of cognomens (orikis). As our older ones are dying, only those who stayed back in the villages now understand the idea behind orikis. Yet these orikis tell eloquent histories of tribes, clans and families. As I have suggested elsewhere, there is a lot of work for our university students to do, in documenting relevant aspects of our cultures and also adding value to society. Imagine if a massive project is initiated to collate our people’s histories all over Nigeria, and we can develop a Nigerian Google that incorporates all information that anyone could seek about Nigeria – historical and contemporary. Imagine if we could find the orikis of any Yoruba family and create genealogical trees for everyone in Nigeria. Imagine how that feeds into a larger national identity programme, and the pride of a people.
It took a white man to speak on TEDX about a phenomenal programme that is indigenous to Nigeria – the Igbo apprenticeship system – for us to take it serious. I have been speaking about this to my usually self-critical friends from East of the Niger without much success over time. This is an indigenous system which has positioned the Igbos in good stead all over the world. With little education, many Igbo men have become persons of substance. I believe this is also behind the educational excellence of Igbos in Nigeria today, because good education is now being financed for the new generation. This apprenticeship system, which emanated from a sense of self-responsibility and solidarity created by the civil war, is the reason why Igbo businesses are all over the world – because there is a limit to how much they could expand within Nigeria. There is however a slowdown of late, because there have been some breaches of the unwritten contracts. Some ‘masters’ renege and refuse to ‘settle’ their apprentices. Some apprentices also betray the trust of their masters. This is natural for such a system. However, I am not sure many local researches have been carried out to at least document this phenomenon; for example to estimate how much wealth this system has created or the estimated future value of the wealth that has been unleashed. That is the approach white people will take, given the same opportunity.
There are many interesting phenomena in Nigeria that makes us an interesting people – even beyond their tourism value. There is a village/small town in this country where the language of all the males differ from that of all the females. There are matrilineal cultures where women rule and dominate all over Nigeria (feminists may study that). There are places where they never kill but worship some animals, like snakes, monkeys, and this has shaped the behavioural pattern of those animals among friendly humans. There are animals that are peculiar to parts of Nigeria. There are peculiar histories and peculiar behaviours – again I will not admit Dalung’s naked dance as a thing of repute. Nakedness is everybody’s first costume. Tribes and clans that still go naked may not fit into today’s modern society. There has to be something more they bring to the table.
In all of Nigeria’s uniqueness and beauty, we have continued to wreak injustice on one another. Nigeria is a land of cheating; a class society. Those who lead Nigeria in the main are feudalists who believe in racial, tribal, religious and personal superiority. The mismanagement of Nigeria’s resources, the wanton wastage, the cavalier nepotism, inefficiencies and mediocrity that is collapsing Nigeria today, stems from this ill-luck we have had with leadership. Every country naturally chooses its leaders from among its people. Leaders therefore come with biases and belief systems which may unfortunately hold a people down, or much worse, destroy them. Nigeria’s leadership selection and trajectory has almost achieved its annihilation.
Yet there is cause to cheer. The opportunities are thinning out rapidly but we can still see some chinks of hope, and we know that achieving a turnaround will be swift if we should get lucky and torpedo this present crop of leaders. How that will happen, no one is sure but some of us are striving daily to barrage the system in the hope that something will give. On the day this happens, we will see how easy it is to unite the people of this country, to get those who are enjoying undue largesse to back down some, to unleash the wealth of this country, to get our youth to be extremely productive, to build Nigeria, a country laying waste presently, and receding to an inglorious dark age.
Until that happens, happy new 2019.