Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Nigeria Rocks #1

“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!


  1. It's an interesting notion, no doubt. One might expand the case studies to include other European and Asian 19th-century "nations" with colonial holdings. The development of German, Italian, and Chinese nationalisms is of particular interest in my view. Consider the growth of German "identity" from the 16th century. Back then Germany as we know it was a bunch of feuding principalities, discrete city-states, religious enclaves, "unaffiliated" rural districts, etc.


  2. you are missing something, something that france exemplifies more than any Med country other than Turkey-how Geostrategic position affects nation building. Look for Robert Kaplan's geopolitical analysis on France, contrast to his analysis of Angola, and really just read his American analysis (the inevitable empire essay series) and you will see how geography can be centrifugal or centripetal-things fall apart or things fall together? The Niger is more of a cultural border than a unifier, I dunno how navigable it is, but even so it opens up the east-west, not north-south. If you look at the rivers of france, esp the seine and loire, they damn near link the 2 coasts,which only spain has both atlantic/med coasts, but no rivers! France's beauce region is kings, thesouth and southwest have protective mountains, their main historical danger has been invasion via Belgium. Olives in the south, cheese in the north. Nigerians should take NO cues, NO succor, from the French example, not just any country gets to set the cultural tone for Europe. Not Just any country produces Charlemagne, Charles Martel, Talleyrand all down to Napoleon, CDGaulle, Daft Punk, Riberiy etc point is you need some advantages and unifying factors to get there. there is no defense, economic, transport, linguistic, or otherwise quantifiable benefit to Nigeria being Nigeria. Boko haram aren't as bad as the Janjaweed, and the south isn't Ogaden, but if Nigeria is not the most asinine colonial holdover I don't know what is

    This is all said with much love and best wishes, esp for the south. The north seems to me like more of the problem; ignorant, overly fecund, supremacist, indolent, monolithic in its political approach, strong strain of Arabinios/WannArabes and generally poisoning the relations of nigerians to each other and their natural wealth.