By Farooq A. Kperogi
A lot of people are often shocked to find out that Joseph Wayas, Nigeria's former Senate President from Cross River State, is “Tiv.” He comes from a part of Cross Rivers State called Obanliku where people speak Tiv, but call it by a different name. And the man was made Senate President on the basis of his being a Southerner.
During the still-born Third Republic, Iyiorcha Ayu, another Tiv man, became Senate President because was supposed to be from the North!
Take the case of Edo State, too. The people of southern Edo had shared, and still vastly share, deep cultural and historical ties with the Yorubas long before colonialism, and those in northern Edo had deep ties with northern Nigeria dating back to hundreds of years. The people of Akoko Edo, for instance, speak the same language as the Ebira in Kogi State, although they call their language Igara. Yet Edo is supposed to be in the South, and Kogi in the North.
Again, the people of Auchi have cultural values that decidedly owe their debts to people of the extreme North. I remember that Auchi people used to be called "Bendel Hausas" when, in actual fact, their language is almost mutually intelligible with Bini and Ishan in southern Edo State
The point of these examples is to demonstrate the untenability of the claim that Nigeria is a "forced" nation. We were too culturally and ethnically intertwined even before colonialism for that claim to have any basis in truth. Even without colonialism it is conceivable that Nigeria in its present form would have emerged.
I brought the examples of the cybernetics of our social and cultural relationships in pre-colonial times to make the case that if we related that closely, the British merely accelerated what was likely to have happened anyway.
Of course, the result of these robust pre-colonial relational intercourses could very well have resulted to a different kind of nation than Nigeria is today, but there is no reason to suppose that it would be the product of the kind of elaborate, unrealistic consensus that irredentists claim is indispensable to national formation.
I'm not by this pretending that Nigeria does not have profound problems that it must confront frontally to realize its vast potential. I'm only concerned that efforts at nation building are stuck in prolonged infancy because of this unhealthy and, in my opinion, inaccurate claims about our differences and the insistence that these so-called differences make the emergence of a virile, united nation impossible.
I have been involved in arguments with my Nigerian compatriots in the diaspora about this issue for several years. A persistent example people cite to underscore the “unnaturalness” of the troubled ethnic alchemy called Nigeria is the United States.
They claim that America was founded through the consensus of the Founding Fathers and that this somehow illustrates their point that if Nigeria must endure we need to have some kind of a roundtable discussion where we “renegotiate” the basis of our co-existence. Fair enough.
However, a cursory look at the history of the United States will show that claims about the consensual nature of the national formation of the country are balanced on a very fragile thread of socio-historical evidence.
Although the argument can be made that the power structure of the dominant white population built this nation on the basis of some kind of consensus, the fact also remains that the subaltern population—African Americans, Native Americans, etc—were systematically excluded from this consensus.
The African slaves that were brought here were not allowed to become citizens until relatively recently. And in much of Southern United States, they won the right to vote only in the 1960s.
Native Americans who had lived in this country for ages before the Anglo-Saxons came from Europe to cruelly uproot and, worse, exterminate most of them only became full citizens hundreds of years after the country was formed—and against their wishes. The first Native American in the U.S. Senate was elected only in 1992!
A majority of African slaves in the US wanted their own separate country within the Western Hemisphere. They were denied this right to self-determination, yet they were not fully integrated into the mainstream U.S. society even after desegregation. And we’re talking about a people who constitute about a quarter of the population of the United States.
But there are other reasons that weaken the case that America was built on the express consensus of the people who live in it. The state of Louisiana, where I lived for about two years, was BOUGHT from the French without the consent of the people who inhabited it.
Alaska was also BOUGHT from Russia without the consent of the people who inhabited it. This is true of most other states in the United States.
Again, like Nigeria, the United States fought a long, hard and bloody Civil War to "FORCE" the Southern states to remain in the Union. This makes the United States a “forced” nation—if we are persuaded by the logic of Nigerian irredentists who hold on to the idea of a mythical consensus as the foundation of national formation.
The truth, as I pointed out last week, is that every nation on earth is a “forced” nation in some fashion. Maybe advocates of “consensual” national formation should take a mass flight and hang permanently in the air since they can’t afford to live in “forced” nations!
The point of this sarcasm is to dramatize the invalidity of the thesis that nations implode or stagnate only if their coming into being was not the consequence of the express consensus of the people who inhabit it.
It is, of course, true that empires wax and wane. However, they do so not because their formation was “forced,” but because they are human institutions that are amenable to all the foibles, frailties and vicissitudes of life.
If human beings who populate nations don't live forever, why do we imagine that nations can be permanent? Nations are living things. They endure only if they're consciously nurtured and nourished.
I agree that Nigeria in its present form was created for the convenience of British colonial conquerors. But so were India, Singapore, Malaysia, and several other thriving modern nations. The fact of their colonial creation is not a reason to expect that they will collapse. If that were to be the case, only a few nations will remain on earth.
To be continued
Conceived in Atlanta, born in Abuja!
On October 24, my wife gave birth to our second child. We have named her Maryam Kperogi—in honor of my wife’s late mother who died in a car accident in 1996. To say that my joy is boundless that I am blessed with another charming baby girl is to state the obvious.
But I am also struggling with the pains of what I like to call transnational fatherhood. Although I get to see my new baby on a crystal clear web cam when I chat with my wife through Yahoo! Messenger, nothing can compensate for the loss of real filial and parental bonding that my absence engenders.
But it’s one of the prices one has to pay for desiring a better life for one and one’s family. I hope Maryam will understand when she grows up.
On a lighter note, one of my American friends here suggested that I propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to allow children conceived in America but born outside the country to become U.S. citizens! I will report back here when my proposal goes through.