By Morenike Taire

I ONCE had the acquaintance of an extraordinary gentleman who had come from Jos to have a business meeting with me in Lagos. In the more cordial moments after business had been taken care of, I had remarked conversationally on how his name Malaky, knowing he was from Kaduna State, sounded rather unusual. I had heard of Mayaki, observed I, and wondered aloud if his name was but a variant of the latter.

To this, he replied that he was sure I had heard of the name before. “It’s Malachi”, he said, “as of the Bible”. “Oh! You’re a Christian?”. Here, he expressed his surprise at my surprise because, according to him, the probability of his being Christian, being from Kaduna, was statistically higher
than it would have been had he been from Lagos. This, he put at about 90 per cent.

I thought to myself that this must be a gross exaggeration. I admitted to his hearing that I had not known that. The words he said to me then, in his usual, dispassionate way, was to change the way I saw Nigeria, probably for all time: “You Lagosians, once you face that your water, you don’t know what is happening again in the rest of Nigeria”.

Before those words, I had been a fence-sitter on the Nigeria unity question. One had thought that since our diversity had been not a policy adopted after painstaking deliberation and democratic agreement, it was therefore not worth fighting, let alone dying for.

This point of view had been reinforced by no mean measure by  the socio-political philosophy of the late Awo, who had  more or less propagated the theory of nationhood based on common history, language and traditional values. It was the way it had been done in much of Europe, and would certainly eliminate a lot of infighting.

But here, now, was this distinguished individual, a Nigerian like me, as much a Nigerian as I, whose Nigerianness was distinctively different from mine, but who had experienced parts of my Nigerianess in  ways by which

I had never experienced his.

In a sense, sharing a nationality with him, with his own distinct experiences of the self-same nation, made the perception of that nationality not a poorer but a much richer one.
Does this, then, detract in any way from Awoist or pseudo-Awoist nationality theories?

One had the acquaintance also, many years ago, of an American lady called Amy in Texas; actually a taxi driver . As she drove me from the airport that cold morning, we conversed, and she remarked on how she had much better understanding of my speech than she did of most of her clientele, which was mostly English.

I said this was probably so because in spite  of the fact that the British colonised Nigeria  and we followed a mostly British school curriculum, there was also on our society a vast amount of American influence; and so while I thought like a Yoruba, I could switch back and forth from the ‘American’ to the ‘British’ to the Yoruba ways of thinking and speaking with an ease that would be envied by the nationals of those countries.

She told me she had, at 41, never left the United States and never planned to. She had never owned a passport and though she would like to visit New York someday when she might have “had the hair done”, she was not particularly keen on ever leaving the state of Texas.

This was upsetting to no small degree, because it suddenly struck me that this woman was far more similar, in manner and inspiration, to any other American I had ever met than I might ever be to a Nigerian woman my age living in Gwarzo or Abakaliki.

Malachi was to change all that.  He was a young, intelligent compatriot as bewildered about his Nigerianness as I was with mine. I realised, then, that this was what every Nigerian of my generation must have in common, from Akwa Ibom to Adamawa, Sokoto to Edo: This bewilderness, this yearning, this pain. It is this desire that we all have, deep inside, to have a country we can call our own.

Why is it, then, that tribal sentiments appear to be so prevalent that the ruling party has to resort to the out-dated, somewhat backward practice of candidate zoning, such that the crisis it had tried to avert, by the very fact of the zoning in the first place, now stares it squarely in the face and to a much greater magnitude? Why is there another round of ethnic cleansing in Jos. In other words, why are communities living in the same country and claiming the same nationhood wallowing in the mortal fear  not of the enemy from outside, but from their neighbours?

It is due to the absence of mutual respect, and pride in the common nationhood, and to narrow it down to resources is to oversimplify the issue.


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