By Tabia Princewill
Watching Obama in Kenya, I’m brought to think about the African story and Nigeria’s place in this world. Despite many of our self-styled and self-proclaimed heroes and founding figures, Nigeria is yet to figure out a unifying culture and purpose which if taught to our children would enable peace and prosperity, moulding our country into a global sphere of influence, a voice to be reckoned with on the world stage.
So many of the issues African-Americans and Africans face, are made possible because a country like Nigeria, the largest Black nation on earth, isn’t playing its role economically or culturally. However, it isn’t just about changing the narrative to include more positive, celebratory images about Africa.
Rather, it is about changing the African reality itself. Yet, we Nigerians have focused more on surface reforms and fickle changes, believing that luxury boutiques in Lagos or Abuja, for example, because they are mockingly referenced by foreign media, means we as a country are moving forward.
It categorically and absolutely does not, so far as the 1% who run said boutiques can only do so not because of any entrepreneurial brilliance but simply because our economy is a large enough racket run by so-called industrialists (often fronts for government) and their preening wives and girlfriends.
I am fascinated by the issue of culture, i.e. what is admissible in society, what sells, or what ideas are common currency and it is my firm belief that if state departments such as the National Orientation Agency or the Information Ministry played their role, Nigeria could have a premier role in Africa and the world, rehabilitating, modernising and exporting “blackness”, African culture, arts and values which would have both social and economic consequences for Black people all over the world. Finally, we could challenge a system that has always been unfair to Africans because fundamentally, it still sees “whiteness” as the de facto or mainstream, and everything else as inferior.
All of Nigeria’s institutions have great civilising potential, that is the ability to develop and promote our cultures by enlightening our own people and humanising us in the eyes of the world. Let us take the Northern Governors Forum. It should have been an engine room within which policies and ideas to develop and map out a plan of action for the North were birthed.
How is it that a region as dangerous as Latin America, known for drug cartels, vicious gangs and kidnapping (they make Nigerian crime look like child’s play) still attracts so many tourists and international attention?
Yet, Nigeria is seen as a sort of backwater, which the US snubbed till President Buhari’s inauguration. Knowing who you are is powerful. It’s no coincidence that the Greek philosopher Plato, like his teacher Socrates, marked “know thyself” as the supreme civilizing edict. How has government helped Nigerians “know themselves”, integrate and cooperate? Government has not provided Nigerians with a founding story or narrative to uplift us but instead has divided us, and kept us down, like domesticated animals.
The government agencies previously mentioned have failed Nigerians from inception. FESTAC was wasteful; Nollywood cannot achieve its potential if our culture promotes not our true selves but a corruption based on petrodollars and greed. But what could we sell, you ask? There are very many things. In this article I’ll deal with the North because it is time we in Nigeria become our brother’s keeper.
According to myth, the Hausa city-states of present-day Nigeria were founded by the sons of a Baghdadi prince who married one of the matriarchal monarchs that ruled Hausa people in ancient times. In fact, Queen Amina, the Sultana of Zazzau is said to have united what is now Northern Nigeria under the ideology of a unified Hausa nation.
Second class citizens
This makes me wonder (and question) what happened and how women went from being powerful rulers in African antiquity to second-class citizens in contemporary Africa, but that’s a story for another day. Queen Amina’s descendants used her mythology and trade based on the region’s unique gifts and attributes (such as gold, leather production, cloth, salt and henna) to hold the union together.
In modern terms, the Northern Governors Forum must work to unite the North in its ideology for peace based on regional trade to generate employment and stabilise the polity as a whole. Every zone should have a sense of purpose based on history and culture: these stories we could sell to each other, and why not, also sell to the world, enabling our creative industry to truly take off.
Rather than focus on revenue accrued through oil sales, each Northern state (like every state in Nigeria) should be known for some sort of production for export (artisanal creations for example). After all, in Northern African countries agriculture and tourism feed millions. The idea of tourism in Northern Nigeria is not laughable, if the North (again, like the South) is able to go back to knowing its history and make its natural features attractive to people inside and outside Nigeria, much like many Moroccan cities such as Marrakesh have done. In fact, Marrakesh is famous not for petroleum products but for Argan oil, an all-natural beauty product which has been commercialised and exported around the world. So why can’t Northern Nigeria popularise such typically Northern products as its milk, butter and yogurt? Commercialising, mass- producing the Fulani diet(or any traditional method, resource or cultural product) would give Nigerians, and Africans, confidence in themselves and their own inventions while developing commerce and employment. Why is there no real internal (or external) market for our local traditionally made produce? The scale upon which our agriculture operates is not befitting of our talents or potential.
Why is it that Arab countries have found ways to make their traditional culture benefit their development? What is so different between the rugs, leatherwork and beading in Morocco and Algeria and the work done anywhere in Northern Nigeria? Three words: quality, standards and training.
Standards and training
People come on holiday from London and Paris to Tunis or Algiers and purchase locally made goods. Why shouldn’t Kano be a famous holiday destination? In North Africa, the beauty industry is controlled by female cooperatives that produce and export traditional beauty products. Why isn’t this possible in Nigeria? Something terrible happened under the military.
We lost ourselves, our soul, our essence, our belief in our own story. But we are writing a new chapter and I’m very optimistic. Finally, we are beginning to analyse and review whom we are and where we want to go.
President Obama said in Kenya recently: “Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s right”. The North in particular must think about this while it reinvents itself to create new pathways for the future.
The Governor of Sokoto State spoke of a scheme defrauding workers of their salaries and benefits by withdrawing 60% of civil servant’s entitlements and sharing them amongst top local government officials. Workers were afraid to lose their jobs by speaking out, hence why such a corrupt practice flourished for so long. Here is another issue with our orientation: Out of fear we refuse to fight for our rights and play into the hands of the powerful. However, I think it is remarkable that finally, we are willing to talk about the gross mismanagement and corruption at the local government level.
THe political class of 2015 is an interesting one. We’re about to see change in the North if El-Rufai’s denouncing of the practice of using children as beggars or Tambuwal’s attempt to criminaliseparents’ refusal to educate their children, are anything to go by. El-Rufai’s chief of staff is a woman.
Stereotypes about poverty and gender in the North are about to be broken. I truly hope these governors can get the cooperation of traditional leaders to explain the need for change to the man on the street. Change is in the air.