On October 1st 1960, the enslavement program of Nigeria was finally complete and the masters handed over Nigeria to incompetent hands to continue the good work of colonialism. We called it ‘independence’ but it wasn’t something we earned or created. It was something we begged for. Our ‘noble’ masters designed it and handed it over. The borders of the nations residing in the new entity were collapsed and a single entity seeking homogeneity in heterogeneous settings was reached. Recipe for disaster! Nigeria they called it, an unholy matrimony of more than hundred different people without the knowledge or consent of these people.
The lover of the destroyer, Lugard, coined the name to replace the emotionless Royal Niger Company. We were a Company, for real, and our black sweat and dark blood motorized the mill. It is said she got the pretty name from the River Niger and translates to ‘Niger Area’ but looking at the produce that she and her husband Lugard engineered, Nigger Area (An area inhabited by shadow looking black demons who think they are humans too) would have been an apt derivation. Independence was simply independence from the direct rule of these angels but would it even pass for indirect rule when new incompetent hands still got direct rules from the old masters?
We took a foreign creation and tried to make it local. The colonial masters designed what they felt was right for us(even though they knew it wasn’t right for us). Our architects knew what was right for us, but embraced what wasn’t right for us. The story of our independence tantamounts to the story of our enslavement.
“The only reason physical slavery is necessary is because the mind of the slave is not yet captured and lost. The only reason people are enslaved through chains and hard labour is because their minds are yet to be chained, broken and they still think independently and act accordingly. The moment the mind of anyone is no longer their own, they can no longer think for themselves. They will permanently turn to a superior for direction and guidance. Putting physical chains on them becomes unnecessary because they will not fight. The mind controls the body and whoever controls the mind controls the body. In this case, the body of the slave is just a tool in the hands of his master and he’s given the illusion of control.”
We had communities leading heterogeneous lives and what is today known as African Spirituality was daily exercise. We carried the seed of Ubuntu in our souls and winning was a communal thing. Our souls were synchronized. When a brother felt pain, we understood enough to draw the shape of the dagger thrust in his pulse. We had sad cultures and wonderful cultures. What we consider sad cultures based on our understanding today, were built on the sustenance of human existence.
Health was not just a physical thing but also spiritual wellbeing. Our Oyemesi system and the Oba, though powerful and mighty, ruled with caution. Attempts at dictatorship were checked. It was a system designed by us. Our people in that part excelled with it as fulcrum as can be seen in their stolen artworks all over the so-called civilized world. We created a beauty that was objective. The good and most important thing was that this was our creation, our system, our making, our own way of life.
The Oyo Empire reigned for over 900 years and though there were skirmishes, blood was thicker than water. Brothers always reconciled. They ate the same type of food. They had a similar culture and their spirituality dripped from the same vine. They had similar ceremonies. The prosperity of the Empire was the goal of every citizen. Praying for the nation to fall wasn’t commonplace and the mind of any thoroughbred wouldn’t glorify such thoughts. Independence and freedom was all over the place and instead of foreign chains, they existed in the very ideas they believed and cultivated. They had peace, not the type of peace uttered by the leaders but a certain peace that existed in the mind from where other thoughts flow. They were different from this Nigeria.
In the Eastern part were cultures created by the people and a system of governance that made governing easy because it was a people’s parliament. They didn’t adopt it because a certain man brought it down to them but because they agreed with every content of it. They had no Eze and problems were handled in a parliamentary manner. Issues were brought up and remedies and penalties agreed upon after deliberations and logical conclusions. They had the same food which was different from the food eaten by the people in the western part. They had a culture that worked but was different from that of the people in the west.
They had a spirituality that sought the same thing the people in the west sought for. They had freedom and independence and they did business with the people in the west. Their Kingdom was called the Nri Kingdom and it existed for over 1000 years. The Kingdoms in the Northern part also had similar experience. They had a Sarki and the system was the making of the people. Look at Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and compare with Libya, Syria and Iraq. The northern kingdoms had a similar culture and it was easy for growth to happen. To be a nationalist went beyond serving the king but serving the state.
They ate Tuwo while their counterparts in the West and East ate Amala and Akpu respectively. There was no need for war between them because occasions that could have made that possible were minimised and eliminated. They understood the concept of ‘live and let’s live’ and didn’t try to bring people with different methods together. They were truly independent and when slavery did happen, our bodies were, honestly, the least preferred. The body is just the surface. The mind is everything. Our colonizers worked tirelessly to trap our minds. About 200 years later they achieved it and gave us Independence. After capturing the minds there was no reason to chain the body anymore or sit back and control things anymore. That was how we lost our independence.
But…If we want to become independent again we have two options. One: In 1994, Rwanda had a civil war that took the life of over 800,000 people but today the people are rising. The Tutsis and Hutus were handed a system like ours and just like we did in 1967-69, they killed themselves. Unlike us, they learnt what transpired, wanted to put them off and then they put them off. They eliminated tribalism from their lexicon and obsession with tribe and ethnicity was replaced for a nation of citizens. In Rwanda, everyone is a Rwandan. No one identifies as a Hutu or Tutsi anymore.
In Nigeria, we are first from our tribes and then our Religion comes second, and nationalism comes last after every other status. Rwandans are nationalists in words and in spirit. They also forgave each other and where forgiveness was difficult, government and international bodies helped to intercede. In Nigeria today, we hate each other and the crimes of a person’s father defines our relationship with that person. For this method to work, we must collapse the tribes for nationalism and to be honest, it would be faster where there is a major religion or major irreligion — a large percentage of citizens in homogeneity with a particular belief or viewpoint. Change the foreign footprints and erect structures that will erect a new mindset. For the country to work, these are the conditions that must be reached after we agree to be together. After constructing new structures we can then say Happy Independence.
The second option is separation. If we keep killing and spreading hate among each other, it becomes foolish to stay together. It is either we stand united or break this thing so that everyone will go back to the old path. We were living separately for hundreds of years before the British joined us together without our consent, so if we can’t live without our consent it is better we consent to a break up. We lived peacefully before they came and forced us to be one community but if our differences outweigh our similarities and we pledge to hate each other for life, we raise the power of our stupidity screaming Happy Independence. We can’t have the keys to our torture cage but still frown at whoever dares to open the lock. We can’t live in sorrows and pains we inflict on each other but fight against whoever tries to break the tug of war.
By Rey Alaetuo,
The author is a conscious Poet and health care professional living in Lagos, Nigeria..