The greatest injustice done was the dismantling of our educational system, imposition of their own educational system, albeit half baked, and the enforcement of learning these in their own languages. Language is the most important tool in education. If you must learn another’s language before you can read his books, you are forever translating strange words into your language first before you can understand the concepts being taught
CHANGE, they say, is the one thing that is constant in this World, and perhaps also, in the Universe. Whatever your belief is about the origins of the Universe, the World in it has been changing. Africa has changed tremendously over the years, and so has Nigeria. There is a huge difference between the way we live now and the way we lived before the arrival of various invaders as well as during their colonialist occupation. Understanding this difference is crucial for both present and future generations.
It is of paramount importance for us to incorporate the historical transitions brought about by these invasions into our educational institutions, our civic lives, and our daily lives if we must achieve a more perfect union. I choose the word union firstly for the simple fact that the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates was the union that created the geographical entity now called Nigeria. Secondly, within these erstwhile protectorates were different ethnic and cultural entities who co-existed in peaceful harmonies as independent mini nations of their own before the arrival of the invaders. These mini nations are the true building blocks of Nigeria, and the creation of states in Nigeria in later years worked hard to recognize this fact in their geographic delineation of state boundaries.
Towards achieving the supreme goal of a perfect union, It is imperative that we actively strive to liberate ourselves from the influences of these invaders who were mainly the British, Portuguese, French, and Germans and who together produced a hodgepodge of cultures and traditions that they proceeded to foist over us. But first, let us go back in history to examine how it all came about.
The invaders arrived on these shores firstly as individual explorers eager to see what the rest of the world looked like. Some of them were escaping from oppressive regimes back home, and yet some were criminals running from justice at home. Those with keen eyes were quick to appreciate the potentials of these newfound lands; and recognizing that they would need a structure to extract these potentials, returned home to solicit the assistance of their home governments. The various governments responded with armies and missionaries that they called expedition forces, followed by economic entities laden with gifts for the Obas, Obis, Kings, and chiefs. They also promised more gifts and wealth if they could be allowed to trade with the natives.
Wherever they encountered resistance the army of the invaders mercilessly sacked such entities. These happened in Songhai Empire, Benin Empire, in the Mid-Western Region of present-day Nigeria during the conflict known as the Ekumeku Wars. These wars were waged to destroy the people, their educational institutions, their arts, and their foundries. In addition, able bodied men were shipped away in chains into slavery in distant lands of Europe, the Caribbeans, and the Americas. Having decimated ‘recalcitrant nations’, the citizens were cowed into silent acquiescence and other possible potential trouble spots had to swallow their objections to these strange white marauders. The invaders then proceeded to impose their political ideologies, customs, religions, and education on the hapless people, reshaped our geographical boundaries, and presented us with new, beautiful and colorful boundaries and territories that had no cultural affinities with our history.
With total conquest achieved, the occupiers settled down to govern, loot our resources, proselytize to us, and educate us in their own ways. Their attempts to educate us had the elements of brainwashing the students. We were not coordinated in our resistance to colonization and so, rather than us learning their ways in order to beat them and drive them from these shores, they made us learn to be like them. They exploited the ethnic diversity between us, turning us into perfect tribalists who hated each other on ethnic lines. That system of theirs, called “Divide and Rule” ensured that they had peaceful colonization period for them. Elsewhere as in Kenya, this system did not work so well. Parts of the citizenry engaged in armed resistance.
In South Africa they were ready to unleash a new experiment that had the vestiges of World War II era Aryan-Race-Superiority. Recognizing the intellectual prowess of certain Africans as a ticket to knowledge based existence they decided to curtail their access to Western-style education, replacing it with Bantu education as a concerted effort to influence the indigenous population of South Africa. Bantu education was a system of education that was implemented in South Africa during the apartheid era, which lasted from 1948 to the early 1990s. The term “Bantu” was used to refer to the black African population in South Africa. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 was a pivotal piece of legislation that institutionalized a separate and inferior educational system for black students, designed to perpetuate racial segregation and reinforce the white minority’s control over the country.
In summary, Bantu education was a deeply flawed and discriminatory system that aimed to reinforce apartheid’s racial segregation. Its disadvantages were far-reaching, impacting individuals, communities, and the nation. The detrimental effects of this system continue to shape South Africa’s social, economic, and educational landscape today, making it an essential aspect to consider when studying the country’s history and ongoing struggles for equality and justice.
Back to the new nation of Nigeria still under colonial occupancy, the governance of these invaders saw the weaponization of gifts as a corrupting practice that eventually eroded our indigenous political, legal and religious structures. This disintegration extended to our educational, scientific and technological advancements, as well as our financial institutions. Despite the absence of a currency system, a functional financial framework operated through trade by barter, use of cowry shells and Isusu existed and all of which had hitherto effectively served the needs of the people. It would have been only a matter of time for monetary system to be introduced, if we had been left alone.
The greatest injustice done was the dismantling of our educational system, imposition of their own educational system, albeit half baked, and the enforcement of learning these in their own languages. Language is the most important tool in education. If you must learn another’s language before you can read his books, you are forever translating strange words into your language first before you can understand the concepts being taught. There was no attempt whatsoever to encourage the translation of educational books and published works into indigenous languages, steps that would have kick started publication of books in local languages. In a nutshell therefore, the stage was set for the total manipulation of our people to reason, behave, and adopt the ways of the western invaders in our journeys through life. At so-called independence we had been educated in their schools, cloned their institutions, and imbibed their politics and culture, whilst hating each other’s ethnic heritage. Post-independence, therefore, the quest for development became a race for individual power grab for self-aggrandizement or for ethnic domination at best.
In business, the best managers are those who can delegate properly using good management techniques and identifying the right staff to implement them. This is truer of nation-building, where good governance is the key. In present-day Nigeria, the states are not properly engaged. Except for Lagos State, the states are doing absolutely nothing. They do not provide any social amenities, water, power, good roads, schools, hospitals, none. Everything is in abject decay. If states cannot function, the nation cannot function either
RECENTLY, in a lecture that was delivered by Prof. Wole Soyinka, he wondered why in our myriad of public holidays we do not celebrate or commemorate traditional African/Nigerian religions, in addition to those of the invaders that we now celebrate annually. The immediate answers a Nigerian would give you will revolve around the fact that traditional religious worship are fetish, ungodly, and satanic.
The origin of this belief is the indoctrination we received from the invaders who drummed and cajoled into us that we did not know about the One True God; never mind that we have Chukwu and Olodumare (The Big God), Chineke and Osanobua (The God of Creation), etc. The invaders told us that our religious rituals or traditional rites were satanic verses and we believed them. Yet their so-called pure religions also are riddled with religious rituals and rites. They condemned our smaller gods, deities, and ancestors but kept their prophets, disciples, and saints.
However, the indoctrination was much worse. As I said in the early part of this essay, it is crucial that we incorporate the historical transitions brought about by these invasions into our educational institutions, our civic lives, and our daily lives if we must achieve a more perfect union. This comprehensive education will aid in reclaiming our authentic identity, a prerequisite for achieving true independence and fostering genuine religious and political systems. We did not have to jettison our cultures, value systems, traditions, governance norms, and justice systems that have for centuries made our societies humane, democratic and republican, or monarchical, prosperous, and egalitarian. I am not saying here that there was nothing bad in our societies before the invaders arrived; no, there were. But my point is that with the type of education that they gave to us, we ought to have integrated their knowledge into our value systems to build better institutions that will make this union of diverse nations a successful one. I will give examples in the course of this discussion.
Before the arrival of the invaders, it was the practice to kill off twins after birth in some communities east of Benin Empire. To our people then, the act of childbearing was mystifying enough. To then have two or more in the womb was nothing short of the devil at work; so, such babies could not be allowed to live. The invaders stopped this heinous act after successfully educating us on the process of such births. But just as our ancestors needed time to understand multiple births, we might have gotten there somehow, albeit at a much later stage in our history, for us two had scholars and educational institutions in Africa which regrettably the invaders first destroyed.
I recall an incident that happened to me while building my first house in the village. A thief came to the site one night and stole a bag of cement. This was normally reported to the king who together with his elders unearthed the perpetrator. The thief was made to keep watch over my site until my subsequent home visit. On my arrival to the site, I found this man there who then told me his story himself. Finding it ridiculous that he would serve such a punishment for so long a time for stealing one bag of cement, I let him go. Unfortunately, my act of summary clemency did not go down well with the king’s council. An appropriate fine was extended to me for arbitrarily upending a traditional act of justice. In today’s Nigeria a thief like that will be taken to the police station, he will be bailed, the two sides will engage lawyers for court action, the case might take years to resolve, and the one bag of cement held as exhibit will cake and become useless to the owner and the thief.
Similarly, we have as Africans, viewed life as a sacred gift from our Big God. It was a heinous crime, simply unthinkable to take a life except in a war. This sacrilege of murder was one good reason wars were not easily advocated in our primordial societies. We never had the death sentence in our traditional penal codes. A murderer was simply made to forfeit his birthplace and banished for life, to the knowledge of all contiguous communities. Such criminals would end up lonely, passing away unheralded in strange lands, sometimes by their own hands. Back home, his family will live in shame and ignominy for generations. The invaders introduced to us the police system and their jurisprudence. Unfortunately, due to the performance of the police force at the time of colonization, we saw the police as an instrument of oppression rather than a body charged to maintain law and order. To date we have been unable to effectively create a friendly police force that puts the peoples’ welfare and safety first.
The import of Prof. Soyinka’s rhetorical question, to me, lies in how we have elected to govern and build our nation. It appears that we are forever adopting other peoples’ ideologies and systems without infusing our own norms and values; call it adoption without adaptation if you will.
The strategic decision behind the creation of states during the civil war was to break the seeming unifying bonds within the then-Biafran-Eastern Region. But subsequent state creations became hinged on the ideas of grassroots development and economic growth. Whether inadvertently or by design it turned out to be an ingenious way of almost returning the people to their pre-colonial mini-nations. But in doing this, the governments of the days denied the states the single most important resource they would need to survive and grow as viable socio-political entities; economic viability. In order to prosecute the civil war, Nigeria devolved from a federal system of governance that was operational at independence to a unitary system. That change would have been short-lived, with economic power returned to the states at the end of the Civil War.
Not doing that was the harbinger of the failure of the Nigerian State that we have today. The Federal Government abrogated powers that it was ill-equipped to wield effectively. Just look at it; the Federal Government must provide electricity, water, roads, railroads, ports, airports, shipping lines, airline carriers, education, healthcare, and pilgrimage to the people, whose population had grown from 55 million at independence to 210 million today. In addition, the same Federal Government will need to build requisite industries to support the economy, mine our solid minerals, drill for oil and gas, refine petroleum and distribute the products, maintain the refineries, fund the universities, and provide employment and training for the workforce. While at these tasks, the Federal Government will also provide police to all the states, operate and maintain other relevant security agencies, provide watchdogs to check its own excesses, maintain a viable Military that will protect the territorial integrity of the Nigerian Nation from all enemies within and without. Then finally and above all, fund the 36 states. I pray, in what Universe will this be possible?
Of course, such a structure cannot work. In business, the best managers are those who can delegate properly using good management techniques and identifying the right staff to implement them. This is truer of nation-building, where good governance is the key. In present-day Nigeria, the states are not properly engaged. Except for Lagos State, the states are doing absolutely nothing. They do not provide any social amenities, water, power, good roads, schools, hospitals, none. Everything is in abject decay. If states cannot function, the nation cannot function either. Stay tuned for the last part of this series, coming up next week, where we will summarize our main findings and insights.
About the Mini Nations
In this poignant moment, as I find myself among the precious few in our 80s and 90s who bore witness to the fading echoes of our bygone way of life, a bittersweet sense of nostalgia fills the air. The passing years have brought changes that have gently eroded the fabric of our past, revealing to us a tapestry of memories that seem both distant and yet vividly etched in our hearts. While we acknowledge that not all aspects of those times align seamlessly with the demands of modern development, we cannot help but cherish the simplicity, the camaraderie, and the genuine connection that characterized our world
THE many mini nations with different but unique identities that were forced to become the nation Nigeria meant that unification and the quest for a more perfect union should be our daily mantra, taught in civic classes in schools and in all works of life. Our diversity and respect for all people should have been our battle cry. In this union, no community joined as a conquered nation. So, everyone ought to be treated with respect and equity. You cannot have equity without the rule of law, to be applied always and to all persons in equal measures. It is the failure to observe all these that formed the legacy of the politicians of the First Republic. The first coup arrived on the back of citizens’ disenchantment with excesses of the political class. Inexplicably the same thing is happening again. The political class is disrespecting the people and our political institutions even in the face of their failures to offer good governance and economic viability. We fought a civil war over these injustices, yet regrettably and as far as all can see, the factors that birthed the civil war are still with us. That civil war was an aberration, un-African. We do not murder ourselves. We thought we had learned our lessons, hence the then government of the early seventies embarked on Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rehabilitation. This policy was meant to usher in forgiveness on all sides and complete reintegration. This policy failed woefully in all respects hence we are still; confronted with separatist movements from IPOB, MEND, and splinter groups of all shades. These failures have given rise to serious security infractions all around the country with Boko Haram in the North-East, Fulani Bandits and Herdsmen in Kaduna South, Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Edo, Delta, and Enugu States. Today, rail and road travels are nightmarish trips.
The present Administration of President Tinubu is barely 5 months’ old. Though new, it is an extension of the same political party that was in power for the last eight years, so it cannot distance itself from the mistakes of the past. The Administration started governance with two major policies; one abrogating the fuel subsidy that kept the price of petroleum products low in an oil producing nation, and the other, a single foreign exchange policy that ended the dubious practice of dual exchange rates for our currency. Although both were bold policies, the ways of their implementation have unleashed untold and unbearable hardships on the people. It is inconceivable that this deregulation of the downstream oil products would occur without any of the four local refineries being in service. For years, the Government and the NNPC have failed to put any of the four local refineries in full service simply because they have been treating the required turn around maintenance of the refineries as reconstruction contracts at best with no maintenance schedules. Yet, the same officials will service their cars every 8,000Km or in three monthly intervals but for years ignore the refineries that are by far more complex machineries. The professionals and the technocrats in NNPC definitely knew what to do to keep the refineries working. So, it is safe to assume that the politicians sent to manage them as their bosses hamstrung them for obvious reasons of ignorance and greed.
Regarding the abrogation of the dual exchange rates, this was long overdue. However, you do not execute such a policy and practically send the Central Bank on recess. The Governor of the Central Bank was suspended, detained without charge (a breach of his rights), and the acting successor barely had any clue on how to protect the Naira. The result was that the currency lost a further 40% of its value in a month. This is what happens in a weak economy. The country’s major export commodity is underperforming at under 50% production, depleting foreign reserves. In the midst of all these the Government is giving unwholesome palliatives in their billions to the legislators and the judiciary. In a country with over 60% unemployment, is it too much to ask the above named pampered groups to shoulder some sacrifices?
Naturally, any discerning reader would ask what then can be done to right the ship of our state. I would advise that we must begin by letting the Federal Government to devolve powers and economic means to the states in a return of full autonomy, while maintaining oversight functions to ensure compliance to law and order, fair treatment of the state citizens, provision of equity and freedom under a new constitution that guarantees all these. These are the principles that will build confidence in the nation and drive the economies in the states. Although Nigeria is a more culturally diverse society, it is structurally similar to the United States of America. Some people have posited that we do not need to copy everything from the USA. I do not see anything wrong in adopting what works. For instance, California is a state in the USA. It is instructive to note that the economy of the State of California is poised to overtake that of Germany in a short while, that is becoming the fourth largest economy in the world. Yet this state contributes its GDP to the USA as one of its fifty constituent parts. Well, Lagos State is also doing the same thing in Nigeria, without autonomy; imagine how much it could do if it can be really free. Then multiply it by 36.
Another example in our context of adopting changes and policies that work is the story of Hong Kong. Over a century ago, China was a land that had weathered its fair share of conflicts and disputes. Unlike its continental counterpart, China, Hong Kong fell under the shadow of foreign occupation. The British Empire, with its maritime prowess and colonial ambitions, seeking to carve a niche in this strategic part of the world, had arrived at Hong Kong, a fishing village, from which they intended to invade China. Faced with the complexities of ongoing warfare and a desire to find common ground, China and Britain embarked on a journey of diplomacy that would forever alter the fate of Hong Kong. This marked the beginning of an unprecedented agreement – a lease of 99 years that allowed the British to occupy Hong Kong. This arrangement emerged as a symbol of compromise, enabling both nations to coexist peacefully while redefining the concept of sovereignty.
This land lease was in sharp contrast to the colonization of Africa whose people neither had anything to defend themselves with, nor any bargaining chips to offer the invaders. The British plundered their resources and in the case of South Africa, took over their mines and confined the indigenes into secluded ‘homelands’ in the arid country sides.
For the next 99 years however, the peoples of Hong Kong and mainland China coexisted in Hong Kong and built a culturally resilient society that worked with the British to build an economic power nation that epitomizes Hong Kong. Britain has gone and Hong Kong is thriving as well or better than China. And may I remind us that the former is an island of the latter.
The task of nation-building is a continuous one, never-ending. For a country such as ours full of diversity, it is more crucial if we have to forge one destiny. We can give examples of places like India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. These are countries with similar histories like hours. But they have left us on the highway of development. What is wrong with us? Have we no shame? Why are we impoverishing all our people? How do we account for our stewardship?
In this poignant moment, as I find myself among the precious few in our 80s and 90s who bore witness to the fading echoes of our bygone way of life, a bittersweet sense of nostalgia fills the air. The passing years have brought changes that have gently eroded the fabric of our past, revealing to us a tapestry of memories that seem both distant and yet vividly etched in our hearts. While we acknowledge that not all aspects of those times align seamlessly with the demands of modern development, we cannot help but cherish the simplicity, the camaraderie, and the genuine connection that characterized our world. As we recount these stories to younger generations, we hope that they can catch a glimpse of the beauty that once graced our days and perhaps find inspiration to weave threads of continuity between the past and the future.