"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: Time to Change Nigeria’s National Flag

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Time to Change Nigeria’s National Flag

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Nigeria undoubtedly has one of the world’s worst designed flags. It is unimaginative, aesthetically unpleasant, and sterile in imagery and symbolism. It is one of only few national flags I know that repeat one bland color twice and that does not faithfully depict the culture, peculiarities, and history of the people it purports to typify. 


This may seem like a trivial subject-matter--and maybe it is-- but recent events in Nigeria should cause us all to question our representational images and the relation of those images to our experiential realities. As children in primary school, we were taught that the green in our flag represents agriculture and that the white represents peace. Contemporary Nigeria, as we all know, is anything but an agricultural and peaceful country.

But before I dissect the representational inexactitude of our flag, let me examine its creativity deficit. I have never been able to wrap my head around the justification for the repetition of the color green in our national colors. You would think the color green was in danger of going out of circulation and needed to be captured and curated on a flag—or that the scores of color types that could be worthy symbols of our everyday realities suddenly developed wings and took a flight from the earth.

Are colors the only symbolic representations we can invoke to depict our culture, peculiarities, and history? What about the awe-inspiring, time-honored rivers that course through the length and breadth of our country’s landscape; the rich, labyrinthine tapestry of our history; our uniquely sumptuous culinary treats; our valiant pre-colonial empires and their extravagantly elegant royalty; our creative orthographic inventions such as Ajami in northern Nigeria and Nsibidi in southeastern Nigeria? 

What about our rich ethnic and linguistic diversity? What about the creative genius of our art and craft and the fascinating meteorological diversities of our regions? And so on and so forth. Why is none of these captured representationally on our national flag?

It takes little or no imagination to design a flag with two mind-numbingly commonsensical colors. In fact, it takes a spectacular lack of imagination to design the kind of uninspired and uninspiring flag that Nigeria hoists. It fills me with enormous shame that we call that irredeemably nondescript esthetic embarrassment our national flag. Yet, a certain 73-year-old man by the name of Michael Taiwo Akinkumi, who claims to have “designed” our national flag, perennially bewails that he has not been sufficiently rewarded by the Nigerian government for his “genius.”

During every Independence Day celebration, our newspapers never fail to tell us how Mr. Akinkunmi, an Owu man from Abeokuta who lives in Ibadan, is mired in grubby poverty in spite of having the “distinction” of “designing” Nigeria’s flag. If I wasn’t brought up to respect old age, I would have suggested that we start a national ritual of flogging the man every October 1st until we come up with a more creative and befitting national flag!

To be fair to the man, though, his original entry, according to the Wikipedia entry on the Flag of Nigeria, “had a red sun with streaming rays placed at the top of the white stripe.” But the judges, who chose his design as the best out of thousands of entries, removed the red sun. Any wonder we’ve been enveloped by metaphorical and literal darkness since independence? I imagine that the judges were British colonialists, since this competition took place in 1959 when Nigeria was still under the yoke of British colonialism. What could be the judges’ motivation for foisting a bland, colorless (never mind that it has two colors!), and uninspiring flag on us? Your guess is as good as mine.

But we have been “independent” from British colonial rule for 52 years now. Isn’t it about time we rethought the colors and design of our national flag? For one, it is a holdover from colonialism; it wasn’t a product of a post-independence effort. Since we changed our colonially inherited national anthem (which, sadly, is worse than its predecessor in content, cadence, and creativity) we can also change our national flag. It isn’t a sacred symbol, after all. In any case, it’s customary for countries to redesign their national flags—if they have a reason to. Britain’s national flag, for instance, has been changed many times since 1603 when it was first designed.

And we have many good reasons to change ours. Nigeria is no longer the agricultural country it was when the flag was conceived and designed. The groundnut pyramids of the pre-independence and post-independence eras in northern Nigeria have evaporated into thin air. The cocoa farms in southwest Nigeria have been lost irretrievably. All over Nigeria, we have condemned ourselves to subsistence farming.

So agriculture—or whatever the green in our national flag represents—isn’t a faithful representation of who we are now. It’s doubly shameful that we have repeated that representation twice in our flag. If anything needs representing on our flag, it is a color that signifies our dependence on oil. Of course, that, too, would be shortsighted since oil is a fleeting natural endowment.

And peace? Oh, please! Given the mindless, ever-present, fratricidal bloodshed that has been our lot since independence—and that seems to be deepening with every passing day—we should spare the world the horror of calling ourselves a peaceful nation.

We have no business having a green-white-green national flag.
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