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Re: Achebe’s “what Nigeria means to me”

A DEAR friend, Professor Ogwo E. Ogwo, last week forwarded an interesting article he saw on the pages of The Guardian of London to my mailbox. It was written by Nigerian-born literary legend, Professor Chinua Achebe and entitled: “What Nigeria means to me”. I had not even completed reading it when I decided I was going to write a rejoinder discussing what Nigeria means to me against the general flow of Achebe’s reflections.

In a nutshell, Achebe traced his Nigerian (nay African) roots to his native Ogidi town in Anambra State which, while he grew up, was only one of over a thousand other typical Igbo city-states, which existed in their autonomous, republican settings.

The autonomous republicanism of the Igbo is a  major reason they not so easily understood. But the founding fathers of that ethnic grouping knew the value of freedom and autonomy, and thus no sub-group ever raised an army to subjugate the others in a bid to create large kingdoms. Tribal wars were won and lost but with only minor symbolic reparations exacted.

Achebe also rightly observed that Igbo people were at the forefront of the struggle for the independence of Nigeria. Says Achebe: “One proof of this: the British had thrown more of them into jail for sedition than any others during the two decades or so of pre-independence agitation and troublemaking. So the Igbo were second to none on the nationalist front when Britain finally conceded independence to Nigeria in 1960, a move that, in retrospect, seems like a masterstroke of tactical withdrawal to achieve a supreme strategic advantage”.

What makes me to join in telling what Nigeria means to me is this remark by Achebe at the beginning of his essay: “The first passport I ever carried described me as a “British Protected Person, an unexciting identity embodied in a phrase that  no one was likely to die for”. Our early struggle for independence was based on the assumption that we did not need the protection of the colonialists. What an arrogant presumption for foreign powers to come here, colonise us and declare us their protected property!

But what an irony of Nigeria that no sooner had the British colonialists reluctantly left than Nigeria started proving its inability and  unwillingness to protect its citizens. At least when the colonial masters were here, they were able to protect their subjects as well as their strategic interests. But since Nigeria became independent, Nigerians became unsafe in their “fatherland” and so are the country’s strategic assets.

Achebe reflected on the National Anthem left by British (composed by “a British housewife” as he put it) and the current one composed by a panel of indigenous Nigerian experts. The housewife’s anthem called Nigeria “our sovereign motherland”. The experts’ clone called Nigeria “our father land”. Achebe says: “Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father”.

To him, we are parents of Nigeria, and Nigeria is waiting for us to give it proper upbringing. That may be so. But I want to observe that if under colonial rule Nigeria was a mother to us, she did a fantastic job of giving us protection, unlike this irresponsible father who is unable to rise to the demands of fatherhood.

It was under this father that elections and political rivalries went out of control in the First Republic and triggered a half-chewed “revolution” that backfired and led to vengeful massacres of innocent civilians in the North. “The final consequence of this failure of the state to fulfill  its primary obligation to its citizens”, Achebe points out “was the secession of eastern Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra.

The demise of Nigeria at that point was averted only by Britain’s spirited diplomatic and military support of its model colony. It was Britain and the Soviet Union that together crushed the upstart Biafran state”

When the Igbos were being killed  and the authorities looked the other way, little did Nigerians know that hateful killings and revenge killings that would go unpunished were going to become a permanent feature of the Nigerian social culture, which today, makes Jos its latest epicenter.

Nigeria is neither  my mother nor  father too. Father and mother provide for their children. They feed them, send them to school, provide them with decent shelter and teach them how to grow up to be good citizens. They  prepare them for a future in which they would hopefully mature to become bigger, better than their parents.

What does  Nigeria do for us? We provide our own power, security, private schooling for our children, and when we cannot build our won houses, we remain tenants or vagrants for life.

Because of the extreme hardship that Nigeria offers for its citizens, many Nigerians have run away from her, and sadly, Achebe is one of those, for clearly cogent reasons. Some are seeking shelter in wilderness countries such as Libya, where its leader, Gaddafi, can afford to deride us by asking for the decapitation of Nigeria.

When Biafra surrendered, Nigeria’s fighting spirit was speared. The engine that drove our independence struggle knocked, but the car  wobbled on to June 12 before it conked out. Today, Nigerians are said to be cowardly, apathetic and ready to be abused to any level. Look at what Hajiya Turai Yar’ Adua and “the cabal” are able to do to us!

But Nigeria still means a lot to me, too. She is all that we have. At 50, Nigeria is in search of parents, as Achebe rightly observes. Let us help her.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.