“Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographic expression. There are no ‘Nigerians’ in the sense that there are ‘English,’ ‘Welsh,’ or ‘French.’ The word ‘Nigerian is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not.”
Obafemi Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom, (London: Faber and Faber, 1947)
What I find fascinating about this quote is not that (Chief, not just a mere man) Awolowo was unaware of the long and arduous process by which English or French governments had to actually create an 'England' or 'France'. Indeed, I am completely guilty of this, and I remember the shock I experienced the first time I learned that the French government was terrified of sending bureaucrats to the countryside in the mid-nineteenth century (!!!) because nobody there spoke French nor wanted the government to interfere in their lives. There is nothing natural about a nation or a state. Before that, I thought there was always some sort of French common culture and language. Yet, to this day people bemoan the 'artificial borders' of colonial African states while ignoring the 'artificial borders' of European 'nation-states', and though one might make the case that the colonial powers should have inculcated a deeper sense of nationalism (a complaint I often come across in my research and in my everyday conversations), this is still problematic to me. What Awolowo said is applicable to most any government that believes in a national project, and I wish his writings (amongst others) got more respect in the political canon.
Of course, he completely served in both the precolonial and independent Nigerian government, "geographic expression" be damned! Not only have Nigerians produced some of the most astute political observations in the past century, but they succeed in having their cake and eating it too!