African Independent Television, AIT, made life-broadcasts of the zonal sittings of Nigeria’s Constitution Advisory Committee. I did not know they did that until callers drew my attention to it. I had just made, on behalf of the Obowu Development Association, a presentation to the Committee sitting at Umuahia. It was on Obowu people’s thoughts on the agenda and modalities for the conference.
What struck the callers most, and object of their calls, was the presentation of Kolanut by Obowu people as an important document to guide the conference. Callers, from all over Nigeria, joined some that were in the hall with me to ask the same questions. The enquirers wanted clarifications on why Obowu people called kolanut ‘document’ and the relevance of kolanut, as symbol, to the constitution-making conference.
But before answering the query, it must be pointed out that Obowu submission to the Committee consisted of much more than the Kolanut Document. Among other points, Obowu had suggested that the conference be called Independent National Constitution Conference. This name will obviate the issues raised in the debate about ‘SOVEREIGN’. It will allow the decisions of the conference to stand, via a referendum, without interference by politicians and government. It will also assuage the canvassers for ‘sovereign conference’, who simply want conference decisions to stand without adulteration by interlopers. The fact that Nigeria already has Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which has the power to act independently of the government, without inciting sovereignty arguments, makes this case.
Another important Obowu suggestion is that the venue of the conference be Oturkpo in BenueState. Oturkpo is a town of the minority Idoma ethnic group. It is located in Northern Nigeria, near the border with Southern Nigeria. It is a reasonably neutral territory. It is also off the focus of violent militants, and their sponsors, who might want to disrupt the conference. Oturkpo as venue will save the conference from the distraction and undue influence of Abuja wheeler-dealers. It will, as well, save cost from less exorbitant logistic expenditures.
Now, back to the kolanut queries! The first query was easier to answer. We are used to thinking of document as written piece of paper. But that is only one of the definitions. Another is: “anything serving as a representation of a person’s thinking by means of symbolic marks“(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Document). Kolanut is a document; a symbolic mark of thinking on the nature of society. Most traditional African documentation is in the form of living emblems, like the kolanut. Emblems are ‘condensed’ books. If we, modern Africans, understand this and transcribe the many ‘symbolic marks’ our ancestors bequeathed us into verbal forms, the resulting literature; books, on African world ideas, will surprise many people and, perhaps, help change the world for the better. We owe the debt to African ancestors, duty to African posterity and responsibility to humanity, as a whole, to carry out this transcription.
The second part of the query! What does the kolanut symbolize, that makes it relevant to constitution-making? Kolanut, as used socially in Nigeria, is a symbolic mark of social thinking and relations. Obowu people wanted the constitution framers to incorporate the thinking symbolized by the kolanut into the constitution for a better Nigeria. The history and culture of Nigerian peoples is, in contemporary times, hardly understood; even by the peoples themselves. The information might, in fact, exist in written documents, but Nigerians are not the world greatest readers.
If people read the colonial documents in the archives, they will find out that the Isuama Confederacy, of which Obowu was a part, gave the British colonialists great hell. What historians call the Isu Movementwas finally overwhelmed, militarily, by the scorch-earth policy of the British in 1911. Even then, the Isuama remained defiant. One notes that before 1911, all the famed ‘empires and kingdoms’ in the then Niger-area were already under British control … as ‘civilized; well conducted’ peoples, the British styled them. The British considered the Isuama ‘encephalous, stateless and wild’. The Isuama saw the British as socially backwards abominators … who shot women and children in battle, and burnt farms and barns.
The IsuamaState was a Confederal Republic, with headquarters at Ezumoha in present day Mbano, ImoState. It encompassed territories in parts of all the states of present South East zone of Nigeria, Igbo Heartland. And it was a democratic republic, as the people’s culture is known to be. Many key ideas that guided the creators and leaders of this sophisticated state are encapsulated in the symbolism of the kolanut.
In social associations, including community formation at all levels, the kolanut plays great symbolic role. It is a symbol of the all-inclusive, universalist, community. It symbolises truth-justice, Ogu, without which no association can endure. The bonding of the lobes of the kolanut intrigues. The force holding them together is not quite visible, although its effect is quite manifest. The kolanut symbolises association without the chains-of-bondage. That is what proper federalism, which Nigerians aspire to, should be.
Interestingly, the kolanut is more pan-Nigerian; indeed pan-African, than the popular saying about Yoruba growing kolanut, Igbo praying over it and Hausa chewing it suggests. In a Vanguard write-up, 2012, titled “Kolanut: Nigeria’s Seed of Togetherness”, the author noted that “nut has given this country, called Nigeria, a unifying image”. He noted that it is not only Igbo that pray with the four-lobed kolanut; the Yoruba, who call it ‘obi-ifa’ and others do, too.
The head of the four-lobed kolanut has the image that Nigerians call ‘Arewa Symbol’, but is in fact the symbol of the African people that scholars call “African Archetype“. Hausa call the symbol Talhatuna, Igbo call it Izuas, the Yoruba put the design on every other cap they wear. “He who brings kola brings Life!” From the meeting point of the four-lobes of the kolanut life sprouts. Life springs from synergistic union. Kolanut is the symbol of life-promoting union. That is exactly the kind of union a proper nation-state should be. If Nigeria properly interrogates and understands the kolanut, incorporating its symbolism in her new constitution, she shall become a life-promoting Federal Republic of free, mutually-cooperating people. That is the message of the Obowu Kolanut Documentto the Advisory Committee of Nigeria’s National Constitutional Conference.
Mr Chidi G Osuagwu, a socio-cultural activist, wrote from Owerri