If Nigeria was a human, an Igbo man from Ohaozara, the most suitable name for it would have been Onyekwere; meaning ‘Nobody Believed’ or literally, ‘Who Believed?’ It is a name that announces triumph over certain conditions which people, including bearers themselves, doubted conquering. For instance, a couple named their son Onyekwerenamgamu, which means, who believed that I could have a child? They had lost hope of having a child. But as God would have it, a son came; so, they named him Onyekwere, shortened for Onyekwerenamgamu.
History tells us that what we know as Nigeria today has gone through the crucibles, some of which nobody believed it could survive. Whether we look at Nigeria’s journey as a country from years 1914 or 2021, we would be punctuated at uncountable intervals by incidents which threatened the foundation and unity of Nigeria. But one factor that has remained constant and runs through the 107-year unbelievable experience is that Nigeria never disintegrated.
In the begining, the colonial masters had tough times reaching a decision in favour of Frederick Lord Lugard to amalgamate the Northern and Southern Protectorates of a British colony lying in the River Niger area in West Africa. Lugard, who hitherto was the Governor of the Northern Protectorate was appointed the Governor-General of the entire colony in 1912. Immediately, Lugard started looking at convenience, including financial and manpower, for his administration. He proposed amalgamation of the Protectorates but his idea was opposed fiercely by his contemporaries; it was considered impracticable by mere looking at the individualities of the various components that would constitute Nigeria. It took Lugard two years to convince the Queen to accept the amalgamation proposal. At that time, nobody was assured that Lugard’s proposal would sail through. But it did; and Nigeria was born. That was the triumph for Nigeria, Number One.
A lot of disagreements among the colonial administrators came between 1914 and 1960. There was the Aba Women’s riot of November 1929 that sent a strong signal about the gregarious nature of the Southern women contrary to their Northern counterparts. Nigeria survived that and moved on after amendments were made to the Warrant Chiefs and Native Courts system. One other issue that became contentious was the motion for Nigeria’s Independence. It was so contentious that it always divided the Parliament anytime anyone moved the motion. First, in 1953, as a Member of the Western Region House of Assembly, Anthony Enahoro, moved the motion, calling on the Federal House of Representatives to pass a resolution for Nigeria’s self-rule in 1956. This motion was not voted upon as the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello immediately sought an amendment to the motion, asking for the replacement of “in 1956” with “as soon as practicable”; and another parliamentarian, Ibrahim Imam, moved a motion for adjournment of the sitting after Northern Members of the Parliament staged a walkout in support of the Sarduana. In 1957, the Western and Eastern Region got their own Independence. In 1958, Chief Remi Fani-Kayode again moved the motion for Nigeria’s self-rule on April 2nd 1960. This time, the motion was passed by the Parliament and acquiesced to by the British. A slight amendment proposing that the month of independence should be moved from April 2nd to October 1st was proposed by a fourth motion to Parliament by Sir Tafawa Balewa in 1959 and it was passed. Consequently, Nigeria gained her independence in 1960. Again, Nigeria triumphed, withstanding all the shocks.
Between the day of Independence and the day of the first military coup—January 15th, 1966—Nigeria grappled with the challenges of self-rule. It felt like a half-hearted student pilot taking his first practical test. The military regimes which claimed to have come for the rescue did not succeed in uniting Nigeria, instead, they succeeded in dunking the country into a civil war—the Biafran War which is described as one of the bloodiest in the world history. Nigeria, till the present day suffers the debilitating effects of the 30-month long civil war; the war whose effects continue to reduce Nigeria to a pinata of a country; with a federal constitution and bourgeoning human and natural resources, yet barely struggles to dispense with the grainiest of the responsibilities of a state. However, Nigeria survived the civil war; and has been able to hobble forward for 51 years after.
Some more incidents have also threatened the existence of Nigeria just like the civil war: the June 12 election and associated issues, the transition to democracy in 1999, the build-up to the 2011 General Election, the 2015 General Election and different levels of narcissistic governance spread across the history. However, over the last 107 years of its chequered history and pandemonic existence, Nigerians from across the country, like children of a forced marriage, have struggled to exist and to exist in unity; and they have succeeded in building a common economy and social co-existence whose dissociation is not simply likely. One can therefore risk the unforeseen to say that Nigeria has come.
Nigeria hobbles because of avalanches of characteristics of injustice and perceived injustice; and slews of lack of patriotism demonstrated by most of its leaders at various levels. It is likely that Nigeria will continue to hobble, may be not dissociate, until there comes a conscious effort by its leaders to focus primarily on Nigeria, not on its ethno-religious and social compositions; and to address the grievances of any unjustly treated co-owner of the country.
Elections times are approaching once again; those seeking political powers have started highlighting and fanning the embers of Nigeria’s disunity. They want to ride to power on the shoulder of the country’s history of divergence. When they get political power, they would stand on this dais of injustice to demand peace from a deeply fractured innocent population.
Mr Okoronkwo, who is a Nigerian, journalist and Public Relations Executive, sent this piece from Abuja