By Jide Ajani
Hip, hip, hurray! How do you determine whether to celebrate an epoch?
That appears to be what has gripped some Nigerians now: How to celebrate Nigeria’s centenary, whether to roll out the drums.
Some agree. Some disagree. Yet, the fact remains that Nigeria’s amalgamation of 1914 happened and, therefore, can not be wished away. Nigeria is 100years, simple.
Last week on this page, the caustic assessment of Lord Frederick Daltry Lugard about the Nigerian was exhumed – comments he made in 1926, which sought to present the Nigerian as an unthinking, vain, disorganised, shambling and shambolic individual. Many, very many Nigerians have raised their concerns particularly directed at the interpretation and amplification of Lugard’s views. Was Lugard wrong?
Well, the only people who can prove Lugard wrong are Nigerians – moving forward, that is.
History deflects the damage which Lugard sought to inflict on the psyche of the Nigerian. For instance, when, in 1472, Portuguese navigators reached the Nigerian coast, they did not meet cave men. History tells us that they met a people who were not necessarily hostile but warm.
Take, for example, the Benin Kingdom! In a research work, THE GLORY OF THE BENIN KINGDOM, by Anthony Okosun, it was discovered that the “ancient Kingdom of Benin was described in glowing terms by early European visitors. When the British came to Benin Kingdom, they were shocked and awed to find a very well planned capital city. Already well described both in writing and in sketches by earlier Portuguese and other early European travelers, historians and visitors alike; and acclaimed by all as a world class city; thus the use of the term BENIN CITY by the Europeans to describe Benin Kingdom’s geo-political headquarters as far back as the 15th century”.
In one of the editions of The Economist in the last decade, discussing the evolution of democracy and governance, the Oyo Empire was mentioned. The respected magazine described in glowing terms how the Oyo Empire had its own instituted form of governance steeped in the virtues of checks and balances, the hallmarks of today’s representative governance. One comment posted on The Economist’s site states “the Old Oyo Empire (15th to 19th century AD) in present day West Africa had a governance system with sophisticated checks and balances that the West is presently claiming as its invention. The Sokoto Caliphate managed very competently an area the size of present day Western Europe with administrative dexterity over two hundred years ago”.
In mid-19th century, Bishop Ajayi Crowther translated the English Bible into Yoruba language – as well as doing some other codification for Igbo and Nupe languages.
In 1923, Herbert Macauley formed the Nigerian National Democratic Party, NNDP.
In 1933, The Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) became the first mass political party in Africa. In 1938, the late Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ernest Ikoli issued the Nigerian Youth Charter, the first call for complete independence by Africans outside of Algeria, Madagascar and Cameroon; a feat in its own right.
All these suggest something: That Lugard’s assessment of Nigerians as “thriftless, excitable person, lacking in self control, discipline, and foresight. Naturally courageous, and naturally courteous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity…” could not have been true in all material particular.
Mind you, there may have been reasons to wonder why things want wrong with the leadership of Nigeria since 1965 as was posited last week on this page; that would not obviate the reality of Nigeria’s hundred years. And though some professional critics of government activities do not agree that the centenary is worth celebrating, the fact remains that their criticism would not turn back the hands of time.
Therefore, looking forward, what should the people do?
The centenary has already presented a good uniting factor that is worth celebrating – and is being celebrated – which is the victory of the Super Eagles at the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations; three of the players even won personal awards for their efforts.
The story of Victor Moses and the tragedy (he lost his parents to religious crisis) that befell him before seeking greener pastures abroad, and then eventually choosing to play for his motherland should be a good reason why Nigerians should begin to look forward with hope and vigour that Nigeria is a country worth celebrating. The government has laid out elaborate sets of activities to mark the centenary.
However, the most important part of the celebration is the pursuit of unity, peace and progress as the events are staged.
Anchored by Anyim Pius Anyim, former President of the Senate and present Secretary to the Govt of the Federation, SGF, the centenary activities seek to Celebrate Nigeria’s history and unity; diversity, hopes and great promise that inspires our people; reinforce our hopes and express our shared values, to strengthen national consciousness and patriotism; preserve our heritage, and document our history, achievements and progress; institute legacy projects as a lasting reference for the centenary; promote enterprise development, wealth and job creation; promote women and youth empowerment, sports and tourism; promote environmental awareness; and promote our national image and enhance our prestige.
Effectively pursued, the centenary activities could re-ignite the spirit of a people eager to rise above pettiness, ethno-religious conflict with a view to enthroning a regime of prosperity and greatness. That is why the centenary should be celebrated, looking forward. That way, Lugard’s assessment of your great grand-parents would be proved totally wrong. QED.