The everlasting conundrum of identity of the people living in the area marked Nigeria has raised up such phrases like “geographical expression”, “geographical entity”, “artificial creation”, “colonial creation.” Are we a ‘state’ in the true meaning of the word?
What is a ‘state’? According to Hobbes, a state is created to bring an end to the anarchy of individualised existence. Locke proposed that the creation of states was for the protection of life and property. Firstly, these ideas are predicated on the presumptions of pre-state anarchy which is not and was never a feature of communitarian societies. Ideas of precolonial anarchy are intertwined with ideas of the ‘uncivilised other’ who needs to be instated in a state to be humanised. This is colonisation. The ‘civilising mission’. Secondly, the evidence of history and the news makes it clear that the ability of a state to prevent anarchy does not depend on the existence of the state. So what makes Nigeria (Naija) a state?
Naija was created out of the consolidation of ‘real estate’ acquired by the British adjacent to the river Niger. It was named by the eventual wife of the ‘estate-manager’ of the real estate. It was never administered as a state but as a well-spring, an ever-flowing cornucopia of resources for a greedy-eyed empire. It only became a state at the end of colonialism; as an afterthought. This is opposed to a return to the status quo ante of the real estate. The creation of states in post colonial Africa allowed for the continuation of use of the estate without the need to continue managing it.
Many decades after our purported ‘independence’ we as a people have no conception of who we are. We do not know where we have been. Our identity crisis is further exacerbated by irresponsible leadership, selfish international influence and apathetic ‘citizenship’. (Although can we call ourselves citizens if we do not belong to a state stricto sensu?) In 1966, the talented Mr. Peter Enahoro wrote a book titled “How to be a Nigerian” which while being comical and insightful managed to capture the essence of the southern-most part of Nigeria alone. Our 3 main languages are a great insult to over 500 languages spoken by ethnic Nigerians, which are slowly dying out in favour of those 3. The supposed main tribes of Nigeria are minor compared to the kaleidoscope others which nobody cares to know about. How can we be Nigeria when we do not know what Nigeria is?
A lot of Nigerians do not have any idea of what Nigerian history is, and what Nigeria contains now. Many of us sit isolated in our badly conceived geo-political zones. Zones that make a mockery of the true beauty and diversity of Nigeria. Many Lagosians view venturing outside the ‘safe’ confines of Lagos with as much horror as you would expect from someone facing summary execution. To know Nigeria you have to visit her. Immerse yourself in her. Nigeria is so messed up right now. And it is so said, because there is such beauty in her. From the Savannah to the Rainforest, the deserts, the mountains, the rivers, the waterfalls. Natural resources, food crops, cash crops. And her people! Innovative, courageous, brave, resourceful, resilient. But understandably embittered and disillusioned with the Nigerian state. No longer convinced by iterations for change. Mainly because change starts from a false starting point.
Audre Lorde says:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women [people] who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
We are trying to change a mechanism that was created to strip us of resources by re-inscribing and upholding the mechanism that was meant to strip us of resources. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Our normative position for civilisation, rule of law, anti-corruption is always taken from polities external to ours. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Our starting point is not radical enough. It rebuilds the master’s house, essentialising it. The question for us should not be how to uphold the master’s house but to discover who lives in it. Who is this worthy of liberation. What does liberation look like despite the master’s house? Ultimately, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. The master’s house was meant to imprison, it will never liberate.
We have had a state imposed on us, leaders imposed on us, languages imposed on us, a way of life imposed on us. At over 50 years we are sometimes reminiscent of a derelict frankensteined experiment in state formation, a Mengelian creation who will never answer to its name. We are abandoned, despised. We are meekly being led to the slaughter while frantically bleating out the name of our ancestors, believing in the deliverance of our executioners.
But there is still hope. We are still here. Somewhere. Now more than ever before, we need to take this moment in time, and for the first time in history decide our own future; throw off our chains. Liberation can be now.
Now more than ever before, we have to find Nigeria and then find our way home, wherever home may be. Finding out who we are will tell us where home is. Creating a home that we can truly belong to is important. For our children… for their future… For us. Whoever we are. Nigeria.