FEATURE ARTICLE

Rev. Dr. Adenike YesufuWednesday, August 9, 2017
ayesufu@yahoo.ca


BIAFRA@50: THE NIGERIA THAT I GREW UP IN

his presentation at a Biafra@50 Event is my Personal review of Nigeria that I grew up in Pre Independence, Post-Independence plus some snapshots of how Nigeria has changed dramatically. To start with the Nigeria that I grew up in had the words of a National anthem that read in part: "Though tribe and tongue may differ, In brotherhood we stand, Nigerians all are proud to serve Our sovereign motherland". These were not mere words of an anthem, but a reality in which we all lived. Yes there was recognition that Nigeria was composed of many tribes and culture which were recognized and celebrated. Nigeria had three main languages then and when the news was read in English, they were translated into Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba and later Edo when the Midwest State was created. We all got along very well with each other. The word "Tribalism" which has now become a weapon of political gimmicks did not exist in our vocabulary. It was not taught to us in school. We went school with children from all parts of Nigeria and so had best friends, school mates and acquaintances from a tribe that was not the same as ours. People married across tribes. In fact the differences did not matter to us. We even went to school with children from different parts of West Africa, mostly Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Gambia, even those whose ancestors were slave's returnees from Brazil, and those of Portuguese descendants, the first slave traders in Africa. Such was the diversity in our schools, in our communities, in religious establishments and in our neighborhoods. The differences between us did not divide us. Everybody spoke everybody's language. I even spoke "agoyin" the language of the Togolese in West Africa. All we knew was that we were ALL Nigerians. That was our identity even the so called foreigners among us defined themselves as such.

Religion also did not divide us. Islam came to Nigeria before Christianity. The entire Northern Nigeria like the rest of North West Africa was overrun by Islam due to trades. Christianity came to Nigeria via the missionaries that came from Europe. So there are about 40% of Nigerians that are Muslims, mainly found in the North, another 40% of Christians mainly found in the South, about 10% continue to practice the various African Traditional Religions which existed before the influx of Islam and Christianity. (Pew research Center). The diversity in families, groups and communities, were NOT limited to tribal composition. It also existed in religious composition. Many families composed of different religions. Nigerians married not only across tribes but also across religions. There were many of such unions, including mine.

The Nigeria that I grew up in had meritocracy as part of its values. People were chosen to perform National tasks not based on whose child one was. I was a member of Girl Guides Movement. My father was Boy Scout. He became the Deputy Scout Commissioner for Lagos State. Hence he encouraged me to be very active in Girl Guides. I eventually became the first Queen's Guide (the highest attainable award in the movement) in my School. In 1960 I was chosen with others to lead the Parade March at Race course for the Independence Celebration. I carried the New Nigerian flag in the parade wearing the uniform of The World Association of Girl Guides when it was formed in 1928. We were all proud to be Nigerians. If it were today there would have been tussle among top Politicians, Civil servants, Ministers, Governors etc, everybody jostling to push forward their children for that spotlight. We were chosen solely because we had excelled at what we did.

In fairness, Nigeria was a land of communalistic culture and cohesive groups, a place of family values, high educational standard, where people had high hopes that if they have an education which is considered leverage in most countries, everything will be fine and life will be good. Nigeria was also a country of viable infrastructure and effective health system. I always remember the remaining words of the National Anthem that I was taught in school. "Our flag shall be a symbol, That truth and justice reign, In peace or battle honour'd, And this we count as gain. To hand on to our children, A banner without stain. O God of all creation, Grant this our one request, Help us to build a nation where no man is oppressed, And so with peace and plenty, Nigeria may be blessed". Wow!!!! Such glorious thoughts!!!! That have evaporated from our diction!!!!

After Independence things became different. The language we used to describe ourselves began to change. After my secondary education in Lagos, where I was born, bred and "buttered". I went to Ibadan Grammar school for my Higher School Certificate program. It was there I got exposed to Nigerian politics. It was here for the first time I started hearing about tribes. Awolowo was talking about the West and the Yorubas, Azikwe was talking about the East and the Igbos, Sardauna of Sokoto was talking about the God given right of the North to rule Nigeria. The way they were all framing their language you would think that all these places were separate countries within a country.

I believe this was the beginning of Nigeria's woes. The language of segregation being used by these so called political leaders as far as I am concerned laid the foundation for the mess that we are in today. It was also in Ibadan that I met Christopher Okigbo, the poet, who became a close friend and who I always refer to as the most detribalized Nigerian that I know. At that time he was the representative for Oxford University Press in Nigeria. I became his unpaid secretary (smile). He would write his poems and I would read them to him. I also got to meet some of his friends who were ethnically diverse: Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro Wiwa, Chinua Achebe, Lindsay Barrett, J Pepper Clark, Nkem Nwakwo, Demas Nwoko, Femi Johnson, and of course his very close friend Emeka Ojukwu and Tom Biggar, Ojukwu's bi-racial half-brother. This list depicts the diversity that would exist in the lives of many people. When the political leaders started using divisive language many people were uncomfortable. They were highlighting our differences which had never been an issue.

After independence Nigeria elected officers for the running of Nigeria: Prime Minister for the country and Premiers of the States in Nigeria, and Ministers for various arms of government. Nigeria was fairly efficient considering the fact that this was our first experience at formal self-governance. Everyone was watching closely. Elections were relatively fair. After my stint at Ibadan, I entered the University of Lagos, which marked the beginning of my academic journey. It was on a bleak morning in January 15, 1966, when we heard that there had been a military "coup d'état" which toppled the government of President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa thereby rewriting the political, social and military history of the country. The reality of what happened did not take long to sink in. "No it cannot be". We have just studied the French Revolution. Those things happen in History text books and not in our country.

Of course everybody knows the story, what happened and what eventually followed: the killings of top politicians, military personnel, and innocent civilians. There were also the "coups" and the "counter coups". All these changed Nigeria's terrain and the country forever. Nigeria has not recovered up till today. Of course, one thing led to another and another and another. There were gross misrepresentations of all that was going on. However one thing stood out clear, the tribal game being played by the politicians had come to bite all of them. There were many disgruntled elements. All these eventually led to Emeka Ojukwu's "Declaration of Secession" from the rest of Nigeria. The main issue for him was the resentment against the Northern hegemony and domination of the South by the North. Suddenly Nigeria was at war with herself. It was all so dramatic, so unrealistic and so absurd. The Civil War changed the fabric of Nigeria forever.

Nigeria became divided. Nigerians started defining themselves in ethnic terms. The inter-tribal relationships and marriages that were quite common became an albatross (a psychological burden that feels like a curse). Friends, neighbors, family members suddenly became estranged from one another. The war was very divisive. Unfortunately 3.5 million people got killed in the war including Christopher Okigbo my very close and personal friend and Tom Biggar, my neighbor. I dedicate this paper to their Precious Memory.

Biafra is celebrating 50 years of existence. What is Biafra? Who are the Biafrans? Different people have different responses to those questions. The war ended. Nigeria remained one as that was the goal and slogan of the Nigeria Government. "To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done". Nigeria has remained one but at what cost. With the end of the Civil war everybody thought the issue of Biafra has been dead and buried. Until a young man named Nnamdi Kanu surfaced. Today there is a resurgence of the concept of Biafra which is enmeshed in controversy. Fast forward, Today Nigeria is plagued with severe problems. After 35 years of military rule and inept and corrupt politicians, Nigeria has been transformed dramatically and beyond recognition. This has kept everyone wondering what happened. Today Nigeria has IPOB, OPC, DELTA, AREWA and many other minority groups seeking "recognition and autonomy". The problem Nigeria is facing today is not that of being Ibo, or Yoruba or an Hausa or coming from the Delta or being an Edo. It is a problem of collapsed sense of nationalism which was the basis of our unity, and of our identity.

Unfortunately Nigeria has pushed the politics of division to the extreme. The country has reveled in the politics of tribalism, the politics of marginalization, the politics of entitlement, the politics of exclusion, the politics of alienation. When people have retreated or have been forced into their various corners they usually start to fight back from those corners. When the interest of some groups have not been addressed, it is inevitable that there will be discontentment. Nigeria is now a place of intense and unprecedented corruption, where Garden City has become Garbage city, a place where self-interest and self-aggrandizement is the order of the day, a place where people with unexplainable wealth are revered, a place of extremely corrupt judges, dishonest civil servants, sharp business people who lack integrity, religious leaders who sell God to make money, parents who have little or no values to pass on to their children, where stealing is not regard as corruption, a place where the 70% of illiterates identified by the World bank have taken over the governance of the country and are in charge of the affairs of the country. Nigeria is now a place of depleted infrastructures, to the point where Nigeria is being described as a "Failed State".

People have been talking about "Restructuring", which is a very vague term. Those using it have not really defined what it is or what it would look like. However restructuring for some people means going back to the Constitution that Nigeria had at Independence, which is Federalism. Let it be noted that Restructure that is neither all-inclusive nor all-encompassing will NOT work. I have always maintained the position that we cannot continue to be emotional about Nigeria remaining as one entity. Eritrea came out of Ethiopia, South Sudan emerged from Sudan, United Kingdom is a conglomerate of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Switzerland virtually has four nations with four official languages French, German, Romanish, Italian. The world witnessed the break-up of USSR and Yugoslavia. Canada is still struggling with the Quebec issue. After all when a marriage is not working people are entitled to a divorce. The Jury is still out on that!!!!. Before the colonial era Nigeria was a land of powerful kingdoms that were forced into unholy alliances with the Amalgamation. If Amalgamation worked before, it is NOT working now. The forced marriages of various ethnicities in Nigeria have been unions of inconvenience. The subsequent and further creation of 36 unviable states has made Nigeria dysfunctional!!!!.

We all agree that Nigeria needs a change. The nation is too divided, the policies are too divisive. There are too many suppressed voices, too many disgruntled elements. When people's needs are not met, according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, problems abound. Maslow also talks of self-actualization. When governments cannot provide the basis for self-actualization, dreams cannot be achieved. When dreams are not achieved, frustrations abound, the ensuing result is discontentment. When the various voices are not given opportunity to be heard there will be chaos. Every social institution in Nigeria is not working. Even Religion has become a weapon of manipulation and brainwashing.

What then is the solution to the quagmire that Nigeria is in today? Many people are peddling all sorts of solutions from their various corners. That is not a viable way to address serious National issues. The undeniable truth is that Nigeria is at a cross road. "Que faire" as the French will say. Conflict resolution says bring the aggrieved people and the disgruntled elements together at a round table talk, where all parties are allowed a voice. But then such round table discussions require Responsible Adults, Mediators and Facilitators to proctor such a meeting. Unfortunately at this point Nigeria does NOT have such people to move the Nation forward. There is too much Vested interest devoid of National interest all around. I am sorry to end on this Note of Pessimism.

However as a Clergy, I know that Prayers heal all wounds. The Lord who hears all prayers says He will answer when we call upon Him. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land". At this point Nigeria needs intentional prayers, for God to raise effective leaders, and to grant them guidance and wisdom to direct the affairs of the country in a way that would be beneficial to everybody. 1Timothy 2:2 says we should pray for kings and all who are in authority so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and reverence essentially so that it may be well with all of us. I hope and pray that prayers will continue to ascend for the country, for the people, for all the tribes of Nigeria and for the Light of God to continue to shine and guide the paths of all so that there will be light at the end of the dark tunnel that Nigeria is in now. Amen Amen Amen.

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