Urhobo Historical Society

I Am Not From Wazobia – I No Be Gentleman Like That

By N. H. Ibanga

I was born a Nigerian. I like the Nigeria I was born into. I would like to die a Nigerian. There is ample evidence that the Nigeria I grew up in has ceased to exist. In its place is something called Wazobia, a tripod none of whose legs is me, but whose member I am told I am compelled to be. Let me unequivocally state here that I am not a Wazobian _ I no be gentleman like that. If I am not wanted as a part of the molecular aggregate called Nigeria, I am fully content to resort to my atomistic state and remain an Ibibio man.

Let me tell you about the Nigeria I grew up in. Although the British created the country for British interests, our founding fathers saw fit to negotiate amongst themselves and arrive at a workable set of rules to govern ourselves. Those rules were evolving, as they should with time, until they were violently interrupted in 1966. They recognized that we were our brothers’ keepers. Hence the slogan, “Unity in Diversity”. In that Nigeria, we had a formula to finance our affairs. Fifty percent of the revenue accrued to the locality of origin, 35% was shared with all other regions, and 15% percent went to the center. Each region made do with what they had. There was healthy competition among the regions.

In that Nigeria, two kids (ten and eight years old) could be handed over to a lorry driver (previously unknown to the parents of the children) in Asaba, by their aunt, to be taken to their father’s station in Warri. They would arrive safely. In that Nigeria, a young mother arriving very late at night in Aba could go to a local police station and spend the night and continue her journey after daybreak. No harm would come to her or her children. In that Nigeria there were standards. Students who passed the school certificate examination were divided into three grades, 1, 2, and 3. You never heard of students claiming to have passed two papers. In that Nigeria, neither Church nor Mosque was burned by people who were sure they were the only holy people in the country. It was possible for church and mosque to be side by side. In that Nigeria, one saw soldiers once a year when the army band came out to entertain the public at the stadium. Imperfect as that Nigeria was, there was hope.

What do we have today? In today’s Nigeria, an insane mother would think twice before committing her kids tot he care of a known person, let alone a total stranger. In today’s Nigeria, someone returning home from overseas and believing that the country still resembles what it was when he left, goes to spend a night at a Police station (for safety) only to be found dead in the street the next day, his belongings gone. In today’s Nigeria, one builds a prison and lives within its confines for fear of armed robbers.  In the Nigeria I grew up in, one left his front door open all day  - even in cities like Lagos. A thief would steal food and maybe money. They never took people’s lives. They ran at the prospect of being caught.

Today, there is absolutely no hope in the country. Sola Fasure (‘In Defense of Bala Usman’ -- http://www.nigerdeltacongress.com) informs us that we are COMPELLED to be Nigerians. There is no free will anymore. In America, they say “love it or leave it”. In Nigeria, love it or not, you cannot be other than a Nigerian. The question is this: How long are the lines in Nigerian Embassies all over the globe, of people seeking citizenship in the compulsory country? How many foreign dignitaries come to Nigeria for “medical checkup”? Will Nigeria’s elite accept and obey a permanent moratorium on going for medical checkups in someone else’s country where citizenship is voluntary?

In today’s Nigeria, the President urges the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups to meet and sort out their differences for the good of the country. What about the rest of us? Aren’t there supposed to be about 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria? Or does it mean that the rest of us get along so well that it is only the three groups that are causing problems? It sounds like Wazobia to me and I am not Wazobian. I no be gentleman like that. I can and I want to speak for myself at a National Conference! Without further delay!

In today’s Nigeria, I cannot speak my mother tongue in the Senate or House of Representatives – only Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo can be spoken there. Haba! Are the rest of us spectators? Whatever happened to Unity in Diversity? Bala Usman and compadres tell me that I did not exist until the British showed up in West Africa. Is this why I cannot speak Ibibio in Abuja?

In today’s Nigeria, people argue that the advent of the British was the magic wand that turned what was mine to what is ours, and what was theirs is still theirs. Elected officials have thrown any pretense to the wind and demonstrated that they are in it for themselves, not public service. Imagine if the first members of Congress of the USA demanded plots of land in Washington DC. What would those coming two hundred years later demand? What will the Nigerian legislators in Abuja demand to two hundred years hence?

In 1980, Dr. Ekeh, motivated by “a desire to know, not to control”, argued that colonialism had had a profound impact on the ethnic groups that inhabited the geographical space called Nigeria. When Dr. Ekeh made his statement, Nigeria was not yet in as bad a shape as it is today. However, the Federal structure that was there at independence had been replaced by a bastardized version, which had begun to give rise to ethnic tensions. Dr. Ekeh can be understood to argue that the ethnic tensions were avoidable with just governance. In 2001, Bala Usman and Sola Fasure, obviously motivated by “a desire to control and not to understand”, assert that colonialism had wrested sovereignty from the people to the state, making the people subordinate to the state. They forget that “for England, the army no fit take over”. Instead of confronting their different (form Dr. Ekeh’s) motivations, they accuse Dr. Ekeh of a volte face. The people now have no say and are compelled to do what the government says. One wonders whose welfare the government is meant to look out for.

Get this. By the day of independence, every pupil and student in Nigeria had been given a flag of the country to own and wave not just on Independence Day, but whenever a patriotic feeling gripped them. Today, in this compulsory country, ONLY big government officials are permitted to fly the flag on their cars or anywhere else. Whenever you see them, you must “commot for road for am”, as Fela put it.

Voices of reason have emanated from every corner of the country. Is the government listening or are the elected officials now omnipotent? We the people demand a Sovereign National Conference right away.

In a direct response to the provision in the 1999 (Abacha self- succession) constitution, that only Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba can be spoken in the legislative bodies, I offer again a suggestion I had made earlier. In order to build a more perfect union where no one feels like a compelled citizen, we should select a linguistically rich language of one of the minority ethnic groups and make it our national language, Nigerian. We developed Pidgin English, didn’t we? Everyone will be starting at ground zero but before long, we could talk to one another in truly Nigerian language, instead of that of the former colonial overlord. Of course, the language of world commerce, English, would still remain the second language.

If una only wanna speak the Wazobian languages, una dey welcome to them, but leave us out of it. Thank God Ibibio land is not sandwiched between the three. The ocean, which they have derided as our only possible friend, has always been our good friend, providing food and sustenance. It will continue to do so, ExxonMobil, Shell, Texaco, Chevron, Agip, Elf and their pollution notwithstanding.

Nigerian Publius