Last Thursday’s death of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom brought another opportunity to interrogate Nigerians’ perception of their own realities. Before her transition, arguments had risen as to the exact place of the monarch in history.
A professor of Nigerian descent stirred the hornet’s nest with a tweet which recalled Great Britain’s role in the Nigerian civil war. It arrived at a damning conclusion and resolved that the Queen was not worthy of consideration and empathy. Instead, this lady wished the Queen the worst probable outcome of the uncertainty doctors ventilated about a 96-year-old’s situation.
An assortment of sentiments followed this tweet, which oozed bitterness, dictated, as usual, by the country’s identity politics. At the end of it all, you would realise a few basic things Nigerians fail or refuse to understand about their country.
First, in most of their arguments, Nigerians do not realise that no part of the country gets a fair deal. This is contestable when we consider certain tangible factors like appointments to offices and maybe physical infrastructure.
However, the reality of the humanitarian crisis in today’s Nigeria must tell us that building social infrastructure trumps constructing bridges and roads. There is no taking anything away from how important infrastructure is to economic development but a nation which does not build its people digs its own grave. Only a quality citizenry knows the value and can maintain a good infrastructure. This gap explains the volume of vandalisation of public facilities in Nigeria today. But I digress.
So, northern Nigeria, which is advantaged in the estimation of many, including indigenes of the area (as suggested by a misguided young man in a tweet this past week), is, in fact, the poorest of all. When you consider the level of poverty, lack of education, access to health, population growth and any other development indices, perceiving the North as the most favoured part of Nigeria will pale out. Every part of Nigeria is a captive of its ruthless power elite if we were all to accept the truth.
Second, most Nigerians don’t understand that no one group is better than the other. Nigerians should have equal rights with no group feeling like they can lord it over another. It is only in such an environment of mutual respect that a country can make sustainable progress.
The third thing, which is a corollary to the other two, is: that Nigerians do not realise they are their own problem. And when people wallow in the mental siege of being victims of other people or circumstances, they risk perpetual underdevelopment. Redemption for people and societies starts with an honest self-assessment and the single-minded decision to confront challenges and do things differently, with development as a goal.
When Queen Elizabeth died at age 96 last week, many Nigerians and Africans remembered the roles her family played in the transatlantic slave trade, the colonisation of countries on the continent, and with Nigeria, the civil war.
It is impossible to deny the devastating effects of these atrocious periods in global history on countries and peoples of the world. It is also possibly insufficient to suggest that Elizabeth was born 59 years after the slave trade was abolished in 1867 and 41 years after the Berlin Conference, where Africa’s partitioning occurred in 1885.
Reminding Nigerians that the amalgamation, which birthed Nigeria (to the eternal disgust of many compatriots), occurred 12 years before the late Queen’s birth or that Elizabeth was a monarch who reigned but didn’t rule and was, in fact, noted to have favoured racial justice, including supporting the end of apartheid in South Africa, may also be inconsequential placation. The plundering, physical dislocation, dehumanisation, and impeachment of Africa’s civilisation that attended colonisation are unforgivable.
But is Britain or any of those countries that took territories in Africa the only ones guilty of slavery and colonialism? The urge to dominate and oppress the weak is a natural tendency in all human societies. In the history of African societies, there are many examples of the desire to expand territories and take control of weaker communities.
In pre-colonial Africa, various social, economic and political factors, including the personal ambitions of war leaders, inspired hostilities. These led to wars, slave raids, and many confrontations in which some communities fought, conquered, and made colonies of other communities.
So, pre-colonial Africa had various forms of indigenous slavery precipitated by indebtedness, military incursions, criminal justice and, sometimes, to satisfy someone’s sexual cravings—just as you had expansionist tendencies motivated by economic considerations or a superiority complex. At the end of these wars and conflicts, they took captives away to become domestic, plantation, economic, or even sex slaves to their captors. With this, perpetrators of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade found ready and easy native collaborators.
However, the slave trade ended 155 years ago. Nigeria and many other African countries also became independent 60 years ago, and so, the question should be “what have we made of this independence?”
And it’s a fair question, given that many other countries with a history of colonisation have broken the chains of underdevelopment, even surpassing the United Kingdom in some ways.
Some Nigerians blame the British for supporting the civil war that caused the deaths of millions of Nigerians but whom do we blame for the current violence all over the country? A report published by The PUNCH in June showed that 3,478 people died in violent attacks, with 2,256 others abducted across the country between December 2021 and June 15, 2022. Which country do we blame for the war zone that our country has become?
What about the modern slavery that Nigerians still go through? We impose all so much hardship, with the majority living in abject poverty. There are caste systems in place in many parts of the country, and the average Nigerian can’t reach their full potential.
That is not to speak of the inability to sustain and build on some benefits that colonialists left with us. The solid educational and healthcare systems that Nigeria inherited, for instance, have collapsed and become albatrosses.
Sixty years on, wealthy Nigerians travel to India for their health needs. The same United Kingdom is the number one destination for pursuing higher education, while Canada and the United States of America are the favourite posts for economic migration amongst Nigerians.
By the day, more and more Nigerians choose the same countries that we blame for our underdevelopment over their own country. Leaders across party lines jump on aeroplanes and fly to the UK to hold ordinary political meetings just because they have access to public resources and understand that they can get away with it.
Therefore, Nigeria’s problem is failing to ride on the wing of adversity and inspire greatness. It is the lack of visionary leadership and the refusal of the populace to see their perpetual enslavement for what it is.
And what is it? It is the capture of the state by a callous elite that capitalises on the country’s fault lines to keep the people divided and impoverished. Nigerians must realise that the problems come from their inability to attain the unity of purpose needed for national development.