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Nigeria and the rest of us

By Obi Nwakanma

Those who are waiting, and hoping that Nigeria will collapse and disappear, and from its fragments would emerge new nations are wasting their time. They have no sense of history. Those who say Nigeria is unworkable because it is such a culturally diverse mongrel nation; that its various parts are historically different and so it is logically impossible to forge a nation out of it, are only partially correct.

Nigeria is indeed made up of historically distinctive cultures, each with its values almost intact and nearly autonomous. Yes indeed, Nigeria was the creation of imperial artifice which fashioned a new nation out of a vast tapestry of disparate peoples and cultures, so much that the late Obafemi Awolowo came to describe Nigeria once as “a mere geographical expression;” not yet a nation. Yet, when we look at every nation in the world, those very words describe them all. All nations are the products of artifice. The art of war and the will to power. All nations are artificial creations, historically held together by forces that shape them eventually into common or organic nationalities.

There is not a single nation in the world; not even a single tribal group in the world that evolved from a single organic source. Even the sub-nationalities that now claim common sources and common lineage in the Nigeria – the Igbo, the Hausa-Fulani, the Kanuri, the Yoruba, the Ijo, the Ibibio, etc. – the over 360 ethnicities and subethnicities in Nigeria – did not evolve from common sources.

Many Nigerians may be shocked, were they to be properly educated in these matters, by the very close genetic and cultural affinities between the Igbo and the Kanuri and the Jukun, for instance, and their wide circulation across what we now call Central West Africa, or that many Southern cultures were offshoots of what historians might now call the “Kwararafa complex,” or that old Igbo communities have been living and mixed-up in a place like Zamfara, and probably beyond in precolonial Hausa land, long before the Fulani Jihad, and that the Bassa cut through a west African swath as far as Liberia down the Senegambia valley; or that the Yoruba and the Igbo broke free of each other, possibly not too long ago in historical times, certainly no more than 1000 years ago, possibly within the period when a black African, Justus Prescenius Niger, was Emperor of Rome.

We can still hear their intersection today in that very remarkable ethnic group, the Itshekiri – one part Igbo, one part Yoruba, and entirely unique to itself. Or as the late Professor Ade Obayemi once noted, the convergence of facts in Ife certainly requires us to contemplate and revise issues of autochthony and origins. The story has been told that Obatala, now mythologized in Yoruba lore as one of the “Orishas” (gods) of the Odu-Ifa, was actually once the leader of the Igbo in Ife (Igbo-Omoku), and high priest of the temple of the Sun-god, Igwe/Anyanwu, and protector of the ancient republican ethos of the people.

The fight between Obatala’s group and the group led by Oduduwa (whom the Idu say was their prince, Izoduwa) was a war between those fighting for the protection of the popular will of the people, and those in support of the rise of the powerful cult of the monarchy in Ife. Obatala was defeated, and he went into exile. It was a defeat which occasioned a scattering of populations from the Ife location to places including Obayemi’s own town of Iffe Ijumu, and beyond to parts today where we still have a hybrid echo of Yoruba and Igbo spoken in a very interesting mix, up to places like Ogidi, now in Niger state.

The defeat of Obatala did not end the resistance. For years, Igbo masked warriors, the “Egwugwu,” fought and terrorised these places we now call Yoruba land, and occupied swaths of it, until the spy and Yoruba culture heroine today, Moremi, like the Jewish Esther, found the weak point of the leader of the Egwugwu, revealed their secret, and led the devastating defeat of the Igbo warriors.

The story is accounted for in the Ifa corpus. The great Yoruba-Nigerian playwright, Femi Osofisan, has written one of his finest plays, Moroutodun, about this event, shorn of course of its larger historical implication; and to date, followers of Obatala still invoke him as an emissary of “Udo” (peace) as have Yoruba preserved their liturgy of liberation in the annual celebration of Liberty following the defeat of the Igbo in what they call “the Egungun Festival.”

It is in fact the traditional Yoruba equivalent of the “independence celebration.” As with the other groups in Nigeria, so the Igbo. There is not a single Igbo source. The world we now know as the Igbo world is the product of years of agglomeration and convergence of diverse people from diverse parts, including those who suffered original waves of catastrophe in what we now call the Sahara desert, and more recently, from about the 17th century, when many of the Igbo towns, displaced by internal wars, and the slave raids, formed new town federations essentially as mutual Defence and Economic pacts.

In other words, there is not a single nation in the world that is not an “artificial creation” and often founded to serve the purpose of a higher commercial or political or spiritual interest. So, yes, Nigeria like every nation in the world is an artificial creation, whose original purpose was to serve British imperial, commercial interests. But that purpose was revised with decolonization.

At least, that was the idea: that an independent and free Nigeria, which declared itself a republic in 1963, was no longer an appendage of the Queen or a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. But an independent republic with its own parliament and Supreme Court and President who was no longer an emissary of the Queen. The Charter of the Republic established by the Parliament of Nigeria in 1963 putatively said that Nigeria as a nation was therefore no longer a colonial state, but was constituted on the solemn will and in the interest of those nations of peoples who agreed between 1957 and 1958, through all that negotiations that took place in the London conferences, to shed the “protection” of imperial Great Britain together as one nation, and make up its own new commonwealth under the Federation of Nigeria. The elected representatives of every part of what is today Nigeria were given a choice to go it alone.

They all chose as one to go as one nation into political independence. That act of sovereign union makes Nigeria no longer an arbitrary formation, but a negotiated state. It was no longer subject to the will of Lugard. It in fact abrogated the Lugardian charter by that action, and affirmed its sovereign charter, and by 1963, the elected leaders of this independent nation declared the new nation a republic: that is, it was no longer part of the “possession” of the British Empire, nor governed by British interests, its laws, or conventions, nor answerable any longer to her queen.

This is historical fact that countermands the argument of those that continue to claim that Nigeria remains the creation of Lugard. That is not true. Nigeria became the creation of the Nigerian people through their representatives in a properly constituted parliament, and by a properly created Act of the Republic in 1963. Now, Nigeria is not going anywhere. What this nation must do is return to the 1963 Republican charter upon which they negotiated nation-being. Two things might however happen: one serious-minded power, driven by historical will might impose itself upon the rest and fashion the nation out of its image.

The more we look, the more it is clear that there is a cross-border Army of Janjaweed fighters called “Fulani herdsmen” streaming into Nigeria, and circulating furiously, and creating logistical beach heads. Any student of history looking closer will see the 17th century replaying itself. But those who think that a break-up of the current nation will stop the surge of conquest, are living in an illusion.

The next thing that might likely happen is that in the midst of all these confusions and firefight, another external power might emerge as a successor power, and absorb all. But whatever happens, Nigerians must stop bitching and defend themselves. If the National Defence forces have become, as Danjuma said, complicit, then Nigerians must democratically, through local congresses, constitute provisional chapters of the Nigerian National Guard, made up of Citizen Soldiers, and using local legislative power, give them the right to bear arms in defence of the Republic against an external threat. This is urgent and necessary. The widespread incidents of killings by these external forces makes it so.

President Buhari’s administration seems clearly overwhelmed and no longer able to defend Nigeria from external aggression. The president himself has acknowledged it: Nigeria is at war with an invasive army using weapons from the arsenal of Gadhafi’s worsted army. If this is so, then every Nigerian from the age of 18, must be sworn to bear arms, and defend their towns, neighborhoods, and families, given that the Nigerian police, her security services, and her military have proved themselves unable of securing these lives lost daily in Benue and Taraba, and moving gingerly southwards. The will of the people, trumps the letters of the constitution. That is the axiom of democracy.

 


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