By Chioma Gabriel
The centenary celebration brought back memories I cherished so much. My literature teacher in secondary school had a penchant for asking me to paraphrase poetry and I always obeyed. I was the comedian in his class, discussing serious issues jokingly. There were aspects of poetry I loved and Nigeria’s centenary brought back good old memories. If you had not read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, you would not imagine what amalgamation, the scramble and partition for Africa did to Nigeria’s value system.
So at that moment when President Jonathan was honouring Queen Elizabeth, Frederick John Dealtry Lugard and Dame Flora Louise Shaw, I was reminiscing about Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and imagining how the white man invaded and violated the values of Africans and in this case, a fictitious village in Eastern Nigeria.
The centenary celebration brought back memories of Africa’s spiritual history – the civilized and rich lives the people lived before the arrival of Europeans and the ruinous social and cultural consequences that the arrival of European missionaries brought. Achebe captured same in Things Fall Apart which was a sharp criticism of imperialism, or the European colonization of countries outside of the European continent .
Obviously, Achebe had great dislike for the violation of his people by the white man. In his bid to rubbish them as they rubbished us, he wrote:
Kotuma of the ash buttocks
He is supposed to be a slave
The white man has no sense
He is supposed to be a slave
Perhaps Achebe would have mourned when centenary awards were given to Queen Elizabeth of England, Lord Lugard and Flora Shaw who all connived to bring together strange bed-fellows and called them Nigeria.
We are victims of white scavengers and British colonial adventurers and empire builders. Nigeria is the markets for raw materials required by Britain to exert political influence overseas.
We are a people who lost it and who Dei Anang mourned in his poetry, ‘I know a world’.
I know a world,
A wondrous world,
Sweet home of haunting songs
And rolling drums,
I know a world,
A trampled world,
Partitioned and pawned
In centuries of greed
And still undone,
At the time President Jonathan was giving out awards to the befitting and the non-befitting and many were clapping for Queen Elizabeth II of England and foreigners who were specially honoured as part of the activities to commemorate Nigeria’s Centenary celebration, I wondered if he thought about Nigeria being trampled, partitioned and pawned.
I would not talk about some inconsequential people who got the awards. He who keeps his tongue keeps his soul from trouble.
But I wondered if Nigeria would ever wake up from her age -long slumber or whether she would remain a sleeping beauty.
In a fleeting second, I wondered how the ethnic groups that make up Nigeria would have been without being colonised by the white man.
One of my grand uncles died at the age of 135 years. I never knew I had such an uncle until I started an assignment on a borrowed course at the university and I needed to interview a centenarian. Then I met him.
He was strong and agile then at 120 years, when I went to ask him vital questions about my town. He was wearing khaki shorts like Tai Solarin’s and always came out every morning to enjoy the morning sun. He would relax in his lounge chair and smoke his pipe .
Afterward, he would ride his bicycle to the village square, the only place they sold newspapers to buy and then, return to relax and read. He never used glasses. Fifteen years on, Uncle Azodo lived an active life and died while the ovation was still high. He never wore trousers. Only khaki-brown shorts. And he never wore glasses or used a magnifier. He read newspapers with his natural eyes on the very day he died. Uncle Azodo deserved a post-humous centenary award more than anybody else. He had become a man even before the British colonised us and he had the privilge of working with the early invaders. While he lived, he drank only palm wine. He never tasted beer. He ate only freshly prepared traditional food. His soup must be fresh and he ate every freshly prepared food just once. I wondered if it had anything to do with his longevity.
And coming back to Nigeria, I wondered how we would have looked were we not colonised by foreigners. Perhaps, we would have looked like the Koma people in Adamawa State, the place of a unique set of people who see life differently. The enclave of a people discovered but never delivered and is left swinging like pendulum, between the region of modernity and tradition. Nobody would have weaned us of our primitive ways . We would still be floundering in the ‘Dark Age’ strutting around naked or near-naked in broad daylight; going to farms or markets in a state of semi-nudity.
Our timidity would also curb greed and the urge to get rich quick. There would be no corruption, no oil, President, governor or national assembly. There would perhaps be no political parties. There would also be no ethnicity or religious jingoism. There would be no Central Bank and no CBN governor.
And there would be no centenary awards! And the undeserving wouldn’t have received while the deserving were left out !
In Britain, some of the people who received Jonathan’s centenary awards wouldn’t have been mentioned. Membership of the British Empire, MBE, is perceived as the humblest of honours unlike in Nigeria where our Awards have become something that people lobby for and use for settlements of political associates, cronies, and sycophants. Morons, thieves, ‘monkeys’ and ‘baboons’ could get the highest awards in the land!
Depth of character unswayed by material attraction and superficial rewards get the least consideration in many cases. Persons of low pedigree, political jobbers, rotten eggs and crooks could get nominated for what ought to be a mark of distinction. Only few Nigerians have been able to say no when everything and everyone else seemed carried away by being honoured.
Only the visionary, the courageous and patriots in the mold of Wole Soyinka had the boldness to reject what appeared to be going to every Tom, Dick and Harry.
Many would have given their right legs to have such awards bestowed on them but real men would stand to be counted when it matters most by saying no to self-aggrandizement; preferring instead that the society where many are suffering be given a facelift.
Every nation has a system of recognising and rewarding the outstanding feats and achievements of its citizens. Such recognition and reward place on record public appreciation for the contributions of those citizens who have distinguished themselves in their services to the nation. These are also instruments for motivating the wider citizenry to strive to greater heights and to contribute more actively towards promoting the nation’s intellectual, creative and societal value systems.
But awards have been given to some people that did not deserve them while many who did were left out. Such undeserving people have not made any significant contributions to national development to warrant being given any recognition at all, let alone the nation’s treasured centenary awards. When such incompetent personages bag the prestigious awards, the meaning is devalued.
But that’s the Nigerian factor for you!
It was expected that the tardiness and cheapness that characterised past honours would have been avoided and that only deserving achievers would be recognised. The centenary awards should have been reserved for Nigerians both in low and high places who have made uncommon contributions to national development in the past 100 years. I salute the Nigerian ‘ingenuity.’