Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is Nigeria A ‘Wayward Child,’ Her Father Long Ignored?

Is Nigeria a ‘wayward child,’ her father long ignored?

~ By Adeleke ‘Mai Nasara’ Adeyemi.

On the eve of the centenary of the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates, above and below the River Niger respectively, to give birth to Nigeria, the question of the nation’s paternity has never been more pressing.
Years ago, noted Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) posed the all- important question: “What is Nigeria?” Not surprisingly, he proposed an answer to his own question: “Our 1960 national anthem, given to us as a parting gift by a British housewife in England, called Nigeria 'our sovereign motherland' --the Mother image.
“The current anthem, which [replaced] that first one, was put together by a committee of Nigerian intellectuals, and in my view is actually worse than the first anthem. This second one invoked the Father image. So Mother image in the first one, Father image in the second one. But it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child; gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed and incredibly wayward.

“Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting. I have said somewhere that…I want to come back as a Nigerian again. But I have also in a rather testy mood in a book called “The Trouble with Nigeria” dismissed Nigerian travel advertisements with the suggestion that only tourists with an addiction to self- flagellation pick Nigeria for a holiday. And I mean both. Nigeria needs help; Nigerians have their work cut out for them, to coax this unruly child along the path of useful creative development…”

But there is a logical limit to Achebe’s extrapolation, after which it goes awry and out of kilter. It’s quite simply illogical of him to assert that “we are the parents of Nigeria, not vice versa.”

It’s sad that more and more trains of thought run empty of etymology in the present age. The Anthems, respectively, assert not ‘Pater’ but ‘Patria’ (Latin patrialis "pertaining to your country"), and ‘Matria’ not Mater’, quite contrary to Achebe’s reading of their lyrics.

The Latin word ‘mater’ is the root of the following English words: madrigal (a type of song popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries); material; maternal; matriculate; matrimony; matrix; matron; and matter.

Its Indo-European ancestor in turn gave rise to the English words mammal, metropolis, and, most tellingly, mother. The Latin alma mater, which we now employ with relish to refer to our ‘old school’ means "bounteous mother". Isn't 'a school a book in which is written the future of a nation'?

However, Achebe’s summing-up of Nigeria as “a wayward child” is quite simply spot-on. Nigeria does have a Father—only he has been long ignored, treated as non- existent by a turncoat omo on’ile ol’ona t’o d’agbero; omo wo’le iya bu’ekun (a pedigreed son-turned-rascal, now a source of perpetual sorrow).
It is just as Holy Writ says: “A foolish son is a heartache to his father and bitter grief to his mother.” 1

Despite Achebe’s faulty reading of the words of the Anthems at points, his conclusion nonetheless remains apt: “Nigeria is a country where nobody can wake up in the morning and ask 'what can I do now?' Nigeria has work for everybody.”
It must start with the following prescription: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show thee; your elders, and they will tell you: God Most High gave land to every nation. He assigned a guardian angel to each of them.”

Can it be that Nigeria does indeed have a father, whose memoirs we are to
consult, to “ask” him a thing or two? It has to be the most intolerable thing for a father, for him to be ignored and neglected. What else does honour—or, in this instance, the lack of it—consist in?

This ignorance and neglect of the patrimony must work to the detriment of successive generations. Again, hear Holy Writ: "Honor your father and mother that everything may go well for you, and you may have a long life on earth." This is an important commandment with a promise.”

For Nigerians, Mother is Niger Area; whether proto-Nigeria was nubile or ready at Amalgamation is a topic for another day. Yet she remains our matrix (or womb), the crucible from which our nation may yet be forged and birthed.
A ready, well-documented example exists for us to understudy, for general principles: the United States of America.

That nation is essentially an heterogeneous entity forged out of the crucible of the territories the Plymouth Pilgrims—a group of Separatists who broke away from the Church of England to escape religious persecution—laid claim to and settled.
It began in 1620 when they voted to travel to America on the Mayflower and came upon Plymouth colony near present-day Province town, Massachusetts. The group, among others, settled a land earlier uncovered by the great explorer Christopher Columbus.
Ajayi Crowther (1809 – 1891), trailblazing Bishop (from Latin episcopus meaning 'overseer', from the Greek episkopos meaning 'watcher'), was a pioneer of several Expeditions up and down the Niger and the Benue, Nigeria’s twin watermark features.
But Ajayi Crowther was more than a surveyor; he was a shepherd who went on to codify and delineate various ‘land gauges’ or languages of Yoruba, Ibo, Nupe, Kakanda, on both sides of the Niger and Benue Rivers and worked for the best interests of all, regardless of creed or ethnic derivation. In truth, he’s our long ignored, even disdained, father. We could make him our guardian angel also. Consider the following:

“Ajayi Crowther’s work, like his name, remains an imperishable monument of all his faith and labour. Whatever achievement … [is to be found in] the Niger [Area], it will never be forgotten that he broke the hard and fallow ground. It was his brave heart and strong hand that cut the first path through the dense undergrowth of superstition; it was he, as a wise master builder, who laid the foundations of the work…that was to be. Like [first US President George] Washington, he was the father of his country; but he did more, for he proved in his own person the capacity of the African to serve his own people.... His life has silenced many who made us to differ, and in the advancement and development of the native, not only in spiritual but in civil responsibilities, he will be remembered as the forerunner of a potential race [or people] to be.” --Jesse Page, The Black Bishop, 1916.

“Writing,” as Francis Bacon proposed, does indeed “maketh an exact man”, like Jesse Page above. Since “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” 4 let us call on a second ‘accessory after the fact’, as it were, to establish our case; first without, next within.
Below is the full text of a letter of monumental historical import. It dates back to 1881 and was originally written in Hausa. It was intended for the attention of none other than the Shepherd of the Niger:
“Salute Crowther, the great Christian minister. After salutation, please tell him he is a father to us in this land; anything he sees will injure us in all this land, he would not like it. This we know perfectly well.

“The matter about which I am speaking with my mouth, write it; it is as if it is done by my hand, it is not a long matter; it is about barasa (i.e. gin). Barasa, barasa, barasa! My God, it has ruined our country; it has ruined our people very much; it has made our people become mad. I have given a law that no one dares buy or sell it; and any one who is found selling it, his house is to be eaten up (plundered); any one found drunk will be killed. I have told all the Christian traders that I agree to anything for trade except barasa. I have told Mr. McIntosh’s people to-day, the barasa remaining with them must be returned down the river. Tell Crowther, the great Christian minister, that he is our father. I beg you, Malam Kipo (Rev. C. Paul, native missionary), don’t forget this writing, because we all beg that he (Bishop Crowther) should beg the great priests (Committee of C.M.S.) that they should beg the English Queen to prevent bringing barasa into this land.

“For God and the prophet’s sake, and the prophet His messenger’s sake, he (Crowther) must help us in this matter, that of barasa. We all have confidence in him; he must not leave our country to become spoiled by barasa. Tell him may God bless him in his work. This is the mouth-word from Maliki, Emir of Nupé.” –Quoted by Jesse Page, in his book The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop (1892).

Adeleke Adeyemi is the winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2011, with his first book, The Missing Clock (written under the pen name of Mai Nasara)

1 Proverbs 17:25
2 Deuteronomy 32:7-8 (Contemporary English Version)
3 Ephesians 6:2-3
4 Matthew 18:16


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