You are Not Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba
Most of you reading this identify yourselves as members of an ethnic group that your great-grandparents did not. It is very unlikely that your great-grandparents regarded themselves as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Ogoni, Tiv, Kanuri or [insert name of applicable ethnic group from the list of 250+] in the manner than you do today. When Nigerians engage each other in bitter ethnic battle, the extent to which the effects of colonialism still holds them captive becomes apparent.
Until the 19th and 20th centuries, many African ‘races’, ‘tribes’, or ethnicities such as the Yoruba, Shona, Igbo, Hutu, Tutsi and Ogoni did not exist in their modern form. Many African ethnic groups are fictional social constructs created by the departed colonial masters. Colonial authorities did not just create the nation called Nigeria, they also “created” many of the ethnic groups inside its borders.
The existence of Igbos, Yorubas, Ogonis, Hausas etc as centuries old, ancient, stable, ethnic groups, each with their own homogeneous culture and unambiguous identity, is nothing but a myth. Nigeria’s governments have also bought this colonial lie of ethnicity hook, line, and sinker. Today ethnic riots often break out over “ethnic groups”, “indigenes”, and “settlers” that did not exist before 1900. Prior to colonialism, there were numerous groups of people with cultural and linguistic links who later became Ogoni, Yoruba, Igbo etc. However 200 years ago, people from Ogbomosho and Abeokuta did not regard themselves as part of the same ethnic group. Neither did people from Owerri and Onitsha.
THE “YORUBA NATION”
People who currently self identify as “Yoruba” did not do so until around approximately 110-115 years ago. The Yoruba phrase originally applied only to the group of people in modern day Oyo. Even the famed Oyo Empire was not a Yoruba empire as such. It incorporated areas of modern day locations that are regarded as Nupe-land or Ebira-land (as well as modern day Benin Republic). Even Transatlantic slaves taken from (modern day) Yorubaland and emancipated by the British in the early 19th century did not identify themselves as Yoruba.
Pan Yoruba consciousness grew in the early 1900s when trading, migration, religious conversion and education drew various related groups in modern day south-western Nigeria into contact with each other. Neighbouring groups who are today regarded as Yoruba (such as Ekiti, Ondo, Ilesha, Ijebu etc) subsequently adopted Yoruba identity. These groups thus acquired collective identity and designation under a common name.
The pre-independence nationalist agitation for independence, and Nnamdi Azikiwe’s pre-eminence in the Igbo State Union and National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) amplified pan-Yoruba identity. This encouraged the creation of a pan-Yoruba movement to compete against other ethnic groups (especially Igbos). This phenomenon later manifested itself in political form via the NCNC/Action Group political party rivalry.
ETHNICITY AND BORDERS
Early European arrivals in Africa had a tendency to observe their African hosts through European tinted binoculars, that automatically correlated geographic location with language, identity and race (as is the case in Europe). Colonial authorities’ use of maps and geography assigned unique ethnic or tribal identities to Africans living within a certain area – where no such identities had existed before.
The myth of large African ethnic groups compartmentalised within neat geographic boundaries, was reinforced by colonial bureaucracy’s arbitrary use of borders and maps to demarcate and classify where one ethnic group’s ‘turf’ ended, and another group’s began. Remember the British division of Nigeria into three regions? Is it not odd that such geographic division just happened to coincide with the notion of a country dominated by ‘three major ethnic groups’ (whose geographical boundaries just happened to coincide with the intra-country regional borders created by the British?).
THE BIBLE AND RELIGION
Colonialism was not the exclusive vehicle for the creation of ethnic identity. Religious missionaries also unwittingly contributed. Lost in a breath-taking matrix of African languages, and eager to communicate with, and spread the word of the Judeo-Christian God to newly ‘discovered’ populations, Christian missionaries were prone to compiling ‘standardised’ versions of several local dialects they encountered. They thereby transformed these standardised versions into ‘authorized’ or ‘official’ versions of the other/related languages spoken nearby. For example, Christian missionaries translated the bible into the Oyo/Egba dialects and designated the dialect of the Oyo kingdom as ‘standard Yoruba’. These translations and their teaching in schools also perpetuated pan-Yoruba identity. The same phenomenon was observed among the Igbos with missionaries’ translation of a “Union Igbo” bible.
By compiling and translating new grammars from one among a diversity of variant local dialects (usually that spoken around the mission station), missionaries frequently transformed a local dialect they encountered into the ‘authoritative’ version of the language of a whole ‘tribe’ and propagated it through their schools.
Lazy European anthropology also played its part. Anthropological observers would often spend time researching an isolated group, then issue ‘authoritative’ academic treatises identifying that group’s customs and culture as emblematic of a much larger group of people in that area. This is turn encouraged the lopsided recording and standardisation of local histories and customs. The practices of a group near a mission station or anthropologist’s base, would often be incorrectly propagated as being the customs of an entire region or ethnic group.
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
Since religious conversion often came with the added bonus of literacy attached, various sub-groups had an added impetus to attach themselves to, and identify with, the modified ethnic identities that were being created by the Europeans in their midst.
Education, literacy and the recording of religious texts into local languages added to this pattern of ‘standardised’ grammar and language. Since the “standard Yoruba” and “Union Igbo” came wrapped with the enticing benefits of education and literacy, it became first a social, then an ethno-linguistic group. The demarcation of Nigeria into federal units also accorded political benefits and relevance to those who ‘belonged’ to this Yoruba group (and encouraged such belonging).
A modern example of constructed ethnic identity are the Ogoni. The people who today identify as Ogoni originally spoke what one academic described as a ‘cluster’ of languages (such as Khana, Gokana and Eleme), one of which could be further sub-divided into different dialects. As recently as the 1930s, there was no great pan-Ogoni consciousness. The efforts of colonial and post-independence governments to create states for minority ethnicities, encouraged pan Ogoni nationalism and identity. This was motivated by a desire to form a new state separate from the Eastern Region, which minorities wanted to leave in order to rid themselves of Igbo domination.
So before the next time you suggest breaking up Nigeria into its “component ethnic nations”, or express frustration at your inability to understand or get along with your “Aboki”, “Ngbati”, or “Nyamiri” neighbour, or your “Mai Guard”, consider that you are playing a game created by a colonial referee that has long since left the playing field…
Click any of the links above to listen an excellent BBC programme about the annulled June 12, 1993 election in Nigeria. It also shows Abiola’s travails as he went from being a confident philanthropist who would host and entertain several hundred guests a day to “losing his confidence” as he became increasingly isolated and no one would ring him for hours.
This programme also has an audio recording of the dramatic moment when he was arrested on live radio while on the phone with the BBC. He told the BBC reporter (live on worldwide radio) “Please leave me. I am delaying them.” (the dozens of police officers who came to arrest him after he declared himself President)
Nigerian leader Major-General Gowon Interviewed After the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970
Nigeria’s federal leader Major-General Gowon speaks after the end of the Nigerian war on his nemesis – Biafran leader Chukwuemeka. Gowon said: “He didn’t do a Hitler. Ojukwu ran away and left these poor people that he led into such suffering…just left them…I hope his conscience will allow him to rest. God knows.”
A really interesting interview on the BBC below with “Moments with Mo” talk show presenter Mo Abudu. She has had some A List talent on her show including Hillary Clinton, Nuhu Ribadu, and Ibrahim Babangida.
She has her own syndicated television show syndicated across Africa, and now wants to break into Hollywood…
Rivers State Govenor is a man in the news at the moment. He undergoes the rigour of the BBC Hardtalk interview and talks about many issues including the PIB, insecurity, agriculture, the oil industry, the 2015 elections, his prospects of running as Vice-President in the 2015 elections, his expulsion from the PDP, his disputes with the President Goodluck Jonathan, and improving education in the north.
He humorously referred to Nigerian state Governors as “commanders-in-chief without troops”.
My new book “Soldiers of Fortune: Nigerian Politics From Buhari to Babangida (1983-1993)” was released last week. The book is a sequel to my other book “Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976)”. It continues where Oil, Politics and Violence stopped, and chronicles the Buhari and Babangida years in Nigeria.
I gave an interview last week to Anthea Gordon of the Africa is a Country website. In the interview, I answered questions and talked emotively about my motivations for writing the book, the challenges I faced, and what the book seeks to achieve. You can read the full interview at: http://africasacountry.com/nigerias-soldiers-of-fortune/
KEY EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
“I want to present Nigerian history as something more than a mechanical rendering of dates and facts.”
“My books have the feel of a fly on the wall reconstruction, or an action packed thriller. I do not just want the reader to know what happened. I also want to take the reader on a journey through the dizzying twists and turns, and cast of characters in Nigeria’s history: Ibrahim Babangida, Mamman Jiya Vatsa, Muhammedu Buhari, MKO Abiola, Dele Giwa, Gideon Orkar, Gani Fawehinmi, Ebitu Ukiwe, Sani Abacha etcetera. Many people also do not know the exploits of some of these familiar names before they entered the national limelight. There are also other people who are not as famous as them, but who the public do not realize made pivotal contributions to Nigeria’s history.
I want readers to feel as if they personally met these people, were physically present when crucial decisions and conversations took place, and experienced all of it.”
“Nigeria’s history reminds one of a Greek or Roman tragedy in multiple acts, with a revolving cast of characters. There is a lot of Caesar like back-stabbing.”
“The origins of, and answers to, many of Nigeria’s problems are buried in the graveyard of its past. Only by digging up those buried secrets can the country learn lessons from them, heal, and move on.”
“My intention is for Soldiers of Fortune to become a “one stop shop” compendium and ultimate reference point for Nigeria between 1984 and 1993. That is why I dotted the book with several tables and a massive “library” in the Appendices. For example, the Appendices contain an itemization of every single cabinet minister, military governor, and AFRC member that served in the Babangida government. I want Soldiers of Fortune to be the “go to” place for anyone that wants to check any prominent controversy, fact, event, person or date in Nigeria between 1984 and 1993.”
“Nigeria’s young generation did not create most of Nigeria’s problems, but they inherited them, and have to deal with them. “
“It is rare for Nigeria to go more than a few years without a “near death experience”. Most countries go through cliff-hanging and tense crises every decade or so. In contrast, Nigeria has cataclysmic hold your breath and close your eyes dramas every few years.”
“I am not sure that young Nigerians appreciate just how drama filled their history is. Hollywood script writers could not have written a more conspiratorial thriller with as many plot twists, friends turning on each other, corruption, gun battles in city centers, dazzling women, and rags to riches billionaires.”
After President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, army troop reinforcements have begun arriving in northern cities such as Maiduguri and Yola.
It is a long overdue move and I am surprised it took the President this long to declare a state of emergency. The state of emergency means that the army can take greater responsibility for security in those three states. Troops can occupy city centers, take over buildings, and arrest and detain suspects without trial. Two incidents seemed to have tipped the balance in favour of the state of emergency:
1) Boko Haram nonchalantly dismissed the President’s offer of an amnesty. By doing so, Boko Haram seemed to declare its intention to settle its scores with the government on the battlefield, rather than via dialogue. It seems that President dialogue is now ready to meet them on a battlefield rather than in a conference room.
2) The recent Baga attacks which left hundreds of people dead marked a new deadly escalation in the conflict with Boko Haram.
Although Boko Haram has launched attacks across the north and as far south as the capital in Abuja, the three north-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe in the Kanuri heartland, represent Boko Haram’s support base. It has taken over at least one-third of the local government areas in Borno state. Losing control of its own territory to a terrorist organisation seems to have been the last straw for the government. President Jonathan accused Boko Haram of declaring war against Nigeria.
Excerpts from the President’s national broadcast announcing the state of emergency:
Innocent civilians are likely to be caught in the inevitable shoot-outs between the army and Boko Haram. There are reports that Boko Haram has been forcefully conscripting new members, and threatening them with death if they do not kill in the group’s name within weeks of joining.
Nonetheless the state of emergency will be popular among the general Nigerian population. Many have accused the President of being weak and of treating Boko Haram with kid gloves. This state of emergency will boost his security credentials and demonstrate a willingness to forcefully confront Boko Haram.
Even if the troop surge proves successful, it would offer only temporary respite. Boko Haram can easily slip across the border into neighbouring countries, regroup, and return. Only a long term political and economic solution can permanently end Boko Haram’s violent insurgency.
Good video about the rebuilding of Nigeria’s railway lines between the north and south. There are (to be) three main north-south railway lines:
*Lagos-Kano (already re-opened).
*Port Harcourt in the south-east to Maiduguri in the north-east.
*Another line to be reconstructed by Chinese civil engineers to run from the former capital Lagos, to new capital Abuja, to Kano in the far north.
Great radio broadcast chronicling Chinua Achebe’s 2009 visit to Nigeria. That was his first visit to Nigeria in several years. Achebe was interviewed by the Royal African Society’s Richard Dowden. Achebe’s son Chidi was also interviewed.
The programme discusses Achebe’s horror road accident that left him paralysed from the waist down.
The legendary Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has died aged, 82. Achebe is most well known for his book “Things Fall Apart”. He died in Boston in the USA. Achebe’s death comes shortly after he wrote his memoirs on the Biafran war.
Sincerest condolences to his family. May he RIP.