My Rude Awakening To What Nigeria Truly Means
In 2015 I wrote about my article titled “My thoughts on the Biafran agitations”, these days as I spend 20 days writing on Oduduwa nation I was being asked about Biafra, so I have decided to modify my previous article and express my personal stand on the subject for the next 13 days. This therefore is the part one of the 13 articles. I’ll like to use this opportunity to warn my fellow Nigerians or Biafrans who will come here to comment please try and be civil, make your points without insults, name calling and abuses, if you do you’ll be blocked and you won’t ever get the second chance to write anything on my page. So be warned!!! Let’s go…
As a Nigerian, I only managed to live in the country for the first 19 years of my life, but the Nigerian factor is so strong that it is not letting me go 35 years later. Even though I have lived in another continent more than I ever lived in Nigeria, yet the connection, the upbringing, the culture, the attachment and the Nigerian embodiment have all been so strong in me, that I am a Nigerian and will always be one. I, like many other Nigerians living abroad, have had the opportunity of changing my nationality by naturalization to become a citizen of one of the European countries, but I have managed to resist that temptation, at least so far.
My thoughts are that everything about me says that I am a Nigerian no matter what passport I carry, and I will always be a Nigerian. I can imagine myself standing before the German immigration officer carrying a British Passport; even without a Nigerian passport, they would immediately be able to tell where I came from or at least question me, because they wouldn’t believe that I was an Englishman. I simply don’t look like one, I don’t speak like one, and everything about me gives me away. The way I speak, the way I look, hence no British or American passport could help me. I am a Nigerian through and through.
While growing up in Nigeria, though I must admit, I never valued what it meant to be a Nigerian. I mean to say I love being a Nigerian, but I never appreciated the whole meaning of what it means to be a Nigerian. To be more specific, I was not exposed to the wealth and beauty of the diversity that Nigeria presents. As a matter of fact, because I was only limited to my region of the country while growing up, I thought the people I saw in my vicinity were the only Nigerians around. Yes, that included some people of other nationalities that I was aware of at that time, Yorubas, Igbos and Hausas. I never knew much more than that, about Nigeria before I left the country. Nationalities like, Tiv, Ibibio, Efik, Idoma, Igala, Ijaw, etc. did not mean anything to me while I was in Nigeria, and they were just a bunch of names.
The scale of my ignorance became clear to me just before I left the shores of Nigeria at Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos. After I had said goodbye to my relatives that came to bid me farewell, I was left alone with other young, aspiring Nigerians who, just like me, had just won a scholarship to study in Europe. There were 300 of us in all, the first batch had left a week earlier and I was now traveling with the second batch of students. Sitting alone in a corner on that mild September evening of 1986, I had no option, but to get to know my fellow Nigerians for the first time in my life. The first couple of people I got to know were from Imo and Anambra state. Then I began to hear people introducing themselves from places like Edo, Delta, Ogoni, Angas, Bambora, Bambuka, Baya, Bette, Bwazza, Baba, Degema, Ebira, Gokana, Igbira, etc.
What a shock it was for me to discover that behind this seven letter word – Nigeria, stands a whole chain of peoples, nationalities and nations. I was pleasantly taken aback when we began to discuss how each and every one of us had secured our scholarships. I couldn’t believe that all these people that I was talking with had so many distinctions from their school certificate exams. The lies and misconceptions I had grown up with as a Yoruba man that Hausas, Fulanis and Igbira people were uneducated evaporated within a few minutes. I discovered that these people were not worse than me, but in some cases they were much better than me.
Another thing that totally shocked me was that some of these fellow Nigerians noticed how timid I was. I was seeing an airport for the first time. I had never traveled far from my village, worse still I was seeing a plane for the very first time. These Nigerians, seeing that I was the youngest among them at only 19 years old, surrounded me with so much warmth, comfort and brotherly affection. I quickly discovered that Nigeria went far beyond my village.
Another aspect of Nigeria that was discovered by me was in the airplane itself after we were served with our first meal. As the “bush boy” that I was, I was not only unable to eat most of the food that was being served, but even ordinary bread was repulsive to me. This was a different type of bread. I had never before seen black bread in my life. It was at this point that these senior Nigerians showed me what a protection Nigeria offers to another Nigerian in their times of need. These people responded like my village people would have responded if not better, with much care, love, warmth and provision. Some of them sacrificed some of their food that they had taken with them on the plane, others offered me words of encouragement. I never expected to have my first rude encounter with cold on a plane. I was unaware that the atmosphere in the sky was much different from what I was used to all my life living in the hot Nigerian weather. Again, these Nigerians were there with empathy, love and understanding. I got a blanket and I was covered for the 8 hour duration of our journey.
Today, it seems to me like any Nigerian that I come across, comes from my village. This is better communicated when you live mainly among people of other races, far from your continent of birth. In cases when you don’t even see a black man for months or maybe for years; you will soon discover that seeing someone of your race or nationality is a thing of joy and celebration. In general Nigerians are a great set of people, no matter what tribe or ethnicity they come from, we Nigerians need one another and we always will at least because God created us to live in the same proximity, either as one people or as neighbors. In short separation will never actually get rid of other nationalities because they’ll always be there as your neighbors. Wisdom should tell us that if we will always be around one another, then we ought to simply learn to live together. The same principles apply in a family setting, though we each have our differences yet we work through them and live together. Hence I’m solidly convinced that the answer to our challenges in Nigeria is not separation but dialogue.
These narrations above are only a short reminiscence of how I discovered Nigeria for myself. I would not like to go into the story of my daily encounters with my fellow Nigerians over the past 35 years living outside the shores of Nigeria. I have come to discover, how proud I am of being a Nigerian in a new way, much more than I could ever have appreciated it if I had only lived in Nigeria. As prevalent and widespread as the bad stories about Nigerians are, I will dare to confess that 95% of my experience with Nigerians has been positive. I am only talking for myself and my experience, and I know several other people that could testify to the same thing. The lesson however is that when I was in the village I only saw my next of kin, my fellow Yorubas, hence my erroneous conclusion that my people are better than all other people. But the more I’m exposed to the larger world the better I know that the world itself is a global village.
If Nigerians from all ethnic groups are fairly nice people who then are Yorubas running away from, are they trying to say the Igbos are too bad we can’t live together with them, or vise versa who are the Igbos running away from, are they running away from the northerners, yet there have been times in our political history when southeast sided with the north as their political allies. As a matter of fact most of our civilian political history has seen more collaborations between the Igbos and the Hausa/Fulani than with any other nationalities in Nigeria. In the first republic Nnamdi Azikiwe and his party formed an alliance with the north to form our first government, in the second republic too the Igbos went with the north, even after returning from exile the Igbo warlord Ojukwu also joined together with a northerner party and contested on their platform. As recently as Obasanjo government, Yar’Adua government, and Jonathan government Igbos pitched their tent with the north, so no one should now be telling me stories like Nigerian ethnic groups are not compatible together. This is a story for the gods.
All peoples have good and bad elements among them. These days it’s popular to hear Biafra and Igbo agitators to say the ethnicities in Nigeria are not compatible, meaning we all cannot live together with the Hausas or Fulanis. What a fallacy, when such individuals go to England they easily live together with the same Hausas even if they are from Mali, or Niger Republic. In America the most diverse society in the world you have no option but learn to live with all the melting pot of nationalities there. So why do we live with these same people outside of Nigeria while we claim we can’t live together in Nigeria, it’s because those societies don’t ask for your opinions, they have a set of rules that all must abide by, no questions asked.
In Nigeria however we take advantage of lack of rules and order to create chaotic demands and conspiracy theories. If we are all interested in the truth, then we all must agree to work together to make our society a law abiding country, then we won’t see tribes and nationalities again, we will only see the set of values, the law and order that guide everyone. For example in England there is also a certain group that practices stabbing of school children, I wonder why the Yorubas or Igbos there didn’t demand for their separate nation over there, because they dare not. They together with the whole society there must put together their heads and together come out with a solution, why can’t we do the same in Nigeria. In America a quick google search will tell you that the killings and homicide cases there per annum is several times higher than ours, so also is the kidnapping, yet our people don’t demand for a separation from America. No, they will have to come together with all other nationalities in the land to resolve that problem, not by tearing apart the country. Why can’t we come together in Nigeria to resolve all our issues together?
We say Buhari has failed, yet we support a twice impeached American President Trump. When Americans saw the incompetence of Trump or any other President they voted him out, why won’t we do the same thing in Nigeria. Buhari won’t be in power forever, Fulani, Hausa won’t always be at the head of government in Nigeria. As a matter of fact we are only a few years to the next election so why can’t we just wait to put another president of our choice, sure it won’t be Buhari there after 2023. Some people will say, oh no nothing will change, if that’s your believe then gather yourself and form your own political party that can win an election in Nigeria. Dismantling a whole country is not the best thing to do just because of the present disagreements or inconveniences we Nigerians can do better if we apply ourselves to the task.