Sunday Trust online

Drop the idea

As I write, the National Assembly is debating a proposal by President Goodluck Jonathan seeking input from lawmakers for the celebration of the centenary of the colonial creation of Nigeria and, as expected, it has split the national assembly down the middle. The proposed celebration is to mark the 100 years of the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates, which ostensibly falls due in 2014. It is just as well that the lawmakers are having trouble coming to an agreement on the issue, though some of them are opposing it for reasons that have nothing to do with the appropriateness or otherwise of the issue at all. For instance, one had to do with allegation of breach of protocol by the president, as if that has any relevance to the matter at hand. All the same, the idea should be dropped.

Why the centenary of the cobbling together of the area now called Nigeria should warrant celebration is baffling. Now, I do not want to be misunderstood, the idea of Nigeria remains an ennobling achievement that should be striven for to concretely bring it to fruition and those great Nigerians who fought for it in their different ways so richly deserve their positions as architects of modern Nigeria. Yet, the point must be made that hacking back as far as 1914 –the year historians tell us the amalgamation occurred, to be able to celebrate Nigeria, is certainly not the way to go. Had the promoters of this notion made any effort to think through the idea or better still, thrown it up for debate (as the Jonathan administration did on the fuel subsidy issue), perhaps the total and real import of the centenary celebration would have become clearer, not as presidential courtiers and hangers-on would want us to believe but as the notion truly is --an unnecessary jubilation on the conquest of plunderers and raping usurpers whose aim had been to loot and denude the African continent of its people and material resources.

The amalgamation did not just happen. It was preceded by foreigners in search of booty to loot, and as was the norm in such matters, they came with a buccaneering mindset to let loose unimaginable violence on a largely peaceful people. And so it was that some well armed foreign brigands, voyaged across the seas and proceeded to raid the area that came to be called Nigeria, and other places on the Africa continent. They came not bearing gifts but superior weapons with which they subdued a proud but befuddled people and thereupon seize their land, cart a huge number of them into slavery in what seemed then as far away lands, to work as slaves. And when slave trade was abolished, the descendants of these perfidious people made everyone to believe they were out on a civilizing mission to save the Africans from practices unbecoming of human beings.  The fact that they came to meet highly developed indigenous ways of doing things, particularly of governance made no impact on them, rather they proceeded to dismantle the indigenous way of life to be replaced with their own.

Soon the vast continent was partitioned between the nations of the marauding slavers and their descendants began to undertake the kind of pillaging never before witnessed in human existence.  First, their interest was in slave trade, a form of crude sub-human treatment of the Africans taken across the seas to other land to be ‘’hewers of wood and drawer of water” and generally minister to every sadistic whims of their White masters, including the raping of their women and throwing the resulting babies to raving dogs to have for food.  No, all this is not sentimental drivel. It could be checked out in the experience of Blacks on the cotton and sugar cane plantations in the American South as captured in records.

After the trade in humans, came the pillaging of material resources in the form of carting Africa’s wealth away to develop countries from where the raiders came from. The grand scale larceny, for that was what the pillaging amounted to, was certainly the major reason why much of Africa is so poor.  Mine is an attempt at encapsulating centuries of humiliating and dehumanizing African experience in a few words, which only relatively recently was still being carried on in Southern Africa before sustained independent struggle supplanted them. .

Based on this factor alone –that the amalgamation was brought about only after the total humiliation and degradation of the indigenous peoples and on top of that the callous and forcible pillage of their resources for which reparation has yet to be paid—makes any idea of celebration of the centenary of 1914, a sad mis-reading of story of the Nigerian, nay African experience under colonialism and imperialism. The idea is nothing if not symptomatic of the shallowness that has continued to characterize policy making. Yet on this particular issue government if government was unsure of how to proceed, it should have availed itself of views of the experts on the matter which could be got from many renowned historians that abound in Nigeria. They certainly would have straightened the matter.

But even if good and reasonable reasons could be found to support the celebration of amalgamation, undertaking it would amount to an exercise in foolhardiness. What intrinsic benefit does Nigerians stand to gain from what is certain to be a monumental waste of, as government would have us believe, scarce resources?  Already, Nigeria appropriately celebrates its National Day on October 1 every year as a fitting recognition of the moment the country came to be, in reality and in the consciousness of every living Nigerian. It is the reason why this fact is drummed into every school child’s mind. What would we tell the children if we were to agree to celebrate amalgamation?

It boggles the mind that such frivolity can be entertained at all in government at a time when Nigeria is lagging behind on every index of development. If funds for such inanity exist, it should be used in equipping hospitals and schools and train the needed personnel to man them. Countries that are forging ahead do not have time to waste on empty celebrations, least of all in commemorating a dark and sordid past that was better forgotten. Government needs to wean itself from this predilection to celebrate, whether or not there is something to celebrate, what some would prefer to call Owambe  mentality, characterized by officials parading stuffily in pompous and garish dresses on podiums and making irrelevant speeches that go to no issue. If it does not, there will be no end to the derisive and cynical references to such public shows as squander mania and also as conduit pipes for graft, sleaze and making sure the boys get their own.

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