By Dr. Prince Charles Dickson
You do not catch fish in anger…
Sometime next week I would be one of the keynote speakers at an event with the broad topic Youth and politics, my section would deal with Youth and Identity Politics, in search of a new Nigeria.
At first I was not exactly sure what to make out of the topic, do I believe in a new Nigeria, are the current crop of youth, I mean is this generation the real deal, what were the lessons of the recent near nation-wide protests, and the aftermath, have we treated the ringworm or we have just scratched the leprosy?
Nigerians especially her youths, her young persons, and by these permit me to say persons aged from 18-50 excels everywhere in the world, but never, I mean hardly ever excel at home, the reasons are many, but some are not far-fetched, so I picked one of the reasons; IDENTITY!
Do you know where your mother is from, is your father from Plateau or is it your mother, and where does your mother’s mother come from, your father is Lagosian, and your mother is from Kaduna and you were born in Bauchi, and you suffer identity crisis. You are not native, you are not indigene, you are possibly not even Nigerian and you are not alien, you hold a national ID card or passport but yet you cannot be voted for in most of those places but you can vote. We are a laughable nation, or collection of people.
We are proud of our multicultural ethnic collation but it remains largely our undoing, and the young persons have keyed into this ageing malice of bitter ethnicization that has never promoted national cohesion.
Let me share the core of the problem, one does not eat “I almost” in a stew. (What one missed narrowly; one cannot enjoy at all).
Today, the Nigerian young person does not know Nigeria, cannot relate with his or her nation, what does Nigeria mean to our kids. Can a university freshman or grad define Nigeria?
When a lad introduces himself as Kolawole Adams Ugochukwu, each time people look up, other times he is greeted with the question, where do you come from amongst many other identity questions. Names…I am yet to see anybody who does not have one, the English language calls it a noun. Everyone and everything has one, from the very popular to those that are virtual unknown.
Most people have a vague idea what their name means, but few give them much more thought. The study of names is called onomastics, it is a Greek word that sounds like Onome, a Niger Delta name…ÉÕÉÀÉÕÉ Éø (onoma), which means, “name”. It is a field that touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, sociology, philology and much more.
Questions onomasticians try to answer about given names include:
* What they mean – their etymology or origin.
* How they affect the people, their cultures.
* Why names are chosen.
Etymology is the study of the origins of words. The etymology of a word is its linguistic history. The word etymology comes to us from the Ancient Greek Language. It is composed of two parts: the Greek word etymon, which means “the true sense of a word”, combined with the Greek element logia, which means “doctrine, study”. Combining these two parts gives us “the study of the true sense of words”.
So, my first question would be what is the etymology of the word Nigeria? While we ponder on that, the name Nigeria first appeared in print in The Times in 1897 and was suggested by the paper’s colonial editor Flora Shaw who would later marry Fredrick Lugard, the first Governor General of the Amalgamated Nigeria. The name comes from a combination of the words “Niger” (the country’s longest river) and “Area”. Its adjective form is Nigerian.
In writing this essay I spoke to a number of historians, spoke with Nigerians and no one could give me a satisfactory explanation, definition, in one word no one could give me the etymology of the name Nigeria, the common thread was that the name was given to us by Flora Shaw, it means Niger Area and I asked how many of us would name our kids Abuja, Lagos or Kaduna Area because they were born close those places without as much as knowing the origin of the names.
What is in a name, why is it that the Jonahs, Daniels, Ibrahims, Mohammeds, and Isas, in our political landscape have not behaved to name. Can someone show me a stealing or a corrupt government official and I will tell you the history, the origin, anthropology and philosophy of the name whether Muslim, Christian or Pagan and the question then is why are they like they are. Do they respect the values that their names stand for, and talking about values, what value does the name Nigeria stand for?
Is it because we do not know the meaning of Nigeria or could it be because we do not know the origin of the name that we have attached a phenomenon to it called the Nigerian myth or the Nigerian factor…?
I dare say at this point that hence Nigeria has no meaning, can we not start to give it an etymology, after all what we want as Nigerians are simple, a Nigeria that is as good as its promise. We need a Nigeria that is a definition of principles, of idealism, of character, not birthplace, creed, ethnic group or tribe. This lack of origin is one that has led to a weakness of attitude, which translates to weakness of character.
Our name Nigeria has left a sour taste in the mouth right from time, we have become fanatical, we cannot change our mind, we cannot change the subject, so we are still grappling with the same problems, only the styles that change and new terminologies developed but the ideology be it corruption or ethnicity it remains largely the same. So, our culture has been shaped by the Nigerian factor, one that we have been forced to develop for lack of direction, for lack of a beginning. So, as a nation we have continued with a culture of indifference.
When we do not know the meaning of our name, we do not know why it was chosen, our case can then be only likened to getting a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Telling our leaders who are Nigerians to tell the truth is like un-Nigerianizing them, they lie about everything, they are loved for what they are not, they speak of changing Nigeria, but they are not changing. For lack of an origin, we do not know the why of Nigeria, we have leaders that have integrity without knowledge, thus they are weak and rather useless, the other lot possesses knowledge without integrity and this equally portends danger and a dreadful end.
Great people, we still live in the shadow of the Woles, Achebes, Okochas, our production line of quality people seems to be depreciating, not when millions remain jobless, millions graduate, baked in some form and milled into a nation that lacks a strong definition other than an imagined resilience.
Do we appreciate Nigeria, if we do not, we do not deserve it, we want the Nigeria of our dreams, with this and that, with leadership made in heaven but we have refused to go back and ask patiently what is Nigeria, who is Nigeria, what makes Nigeria?
That Nigeria has gone wrong, should we also go wrong with Nigeria, can we not help Nigeria take a new meaning, animals do not hate and we are supposed to be better than them. Yet we live in hate…
For us ordinary Nigerians we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. We cannot start to give a new meaning to this structure called Nigeria, we have to change it from a Niger area of corruption, an area of lawlessness, an area of bad leadership to an area of hope, an area of godly expectation, an area where all and sundry are treated fair and square. In contemporary Nigeria we have continued to exhibit that we have neither history nor heritage apart from all the scatters of cultures from Odua to Arewa, Biafra to South-South.
I end this with this encounter, a politician was charged with profanity for calling an opponent a bastard: the politician retorted, “When I call him s.o.b I am not using profanity. I am only referring to the circumstances of his birth”. What is the circumstance of the birth of Nigeria, can anything be done to bring destiny and fate to conjure up some good for us all—Only time will tell.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org