The death of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom last Thursday provided another opportunity to question Nigerians’ perceptions of their own reality. Before her transition, arguments had arisen about the queen’s exact place in history.
A professor of Nigerian descent touched the wasp’s nest with a tweet recalling Britain’s role in the Nigerian civil war. It came to a damning conclusion and decided that the Queen was not worthy of consideration and empathy. Instead, this lady wished the queen the worst possible outcome from the uncertainty doctors vented about a 96-year-old’s situation.
A range of sentiments followed this tweet, which radiated bitterness, as usually dictated by the country’s identity politics. At the end of it all, you would realize a few basic things that Nigerians do not understand or refuse to understand about their country.
First, in most of their arguments, Nigerians fail to realize that no part of the country is getting a fair deal. This is debatable when looking at certain tangible factors, such as office appointments and perhaps physical infrastructure.
However, the reality of the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria today should teach us that building social infrastructure is more important than building bridges and roads. There’s no denying how important infrastructure is to economic development, but a nation that doesn’t build its people is digging its own grave. Only a good quality citizen knows the value and can maintain a good infrastructure. This gap explains the magnitude of the destruction of public facilities in Nigeria today. But I digress.
So Northern Nigeria, which many believe is favored, including the area’s indigenous people (as suggested by a misguided young man in a tweet last week), is in fact the poorest of them all. If you look at the level of poverty, lack of education, access to health care, population growth and other development indices, the north will pale in comparison as the most favored part of Nigeria. Every part of Nigeria is a prisoner of its ruthless power elite if we were all to accept the truth.
Second, most Nigerians don’t understand that no group is better than another. Nigerians should have equal rights without one group feeling that they can control another. Only in an environment of mutual respect can a country make sustainable progress.
The third thing, which is a corollary of the other two, is that Nigerians don’t realize that they are their own problem. And when people wallow in the mental siege of being victims of other people or circumstances, they are at risk of continued underdevelopment. Salvation for people and society starts with an honest self-assessment and the determined decision to face challenges and do things differently, with development as the goal.
When Queen Elizabeth died last week at the age of 96, many Nigerians and Africans remembered the role her family played in the transatlantic slave trade, the colonization of countries on the continent, and with Nigeria, the civil war.
It is impossible to deny the devastating effects of these horrific periods in world history on countries and peoples of the world. It may also be 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 the partition of Africa took place in 1885.
To remind Nigerians that the amalgamation, from which Nigeria emerged (to the perpetual loathing of many compatriots), took place 12 years before the birth of the late Queen or that Elizabeth was a monarch who reigned but did not rule and was in fact known for racial justice, including supporting the end of apartheid in South Africa can also be an insignificant reconciliation. The looting, physical disruption, dehumanization and accusation of African civilization that came with colonization are unforgivable.
But is Britain or any of those countries that have taken over 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 precolonial Africa, various social, economic and political factors, including the personal aspirations of war leaders, inspired hostilities. These led to wars, slave attacks and many confrontations where some communities fought, conquered and colonized other communities.
So pre-colonial Africa had various forms of indigenous slavery, accelerated by debt, military incursions, criminal law, and sometimes to satisfy one’s sexual desires — just as you had expansive tendencies motivated by economic considerations or a superiority complex. At the end of these wars and conflicts, they took captives to become house, plantation, economic or even sex slaves for their captors. With this, perpetrators of the transatlantic slave trade found easy and easy native collaborators.
However, the slave trade ended 155 years ago. Nigeria and many other African countries also gained independence 60 years ago, so the question should be, “What have we made of this independence?”
And it is a fair question, as many other countries with a history of colonization have broken the chains of underdevelopment and even surpassed the United Kingdom in some respects.
Some Nigerians blame the British for supporting the civil war that has caused the deaths of millions of Nigerians, but who do we blame for the current violence across the country? A report published by The PUNCH in June showed 3,478 people died in violent attacks, with 2,256 others kidnapped across the country between December 2021 and June 15, 2022. Which country do we blame for the war zone our country has become?
What about the modern day slavery that Nigerians are still going through? We impose so many hardships on everyone, while the majority live in abject poverty. There are caste systems in many parts of the country and the average Nigerian cannot reach their full potential.
That is not to speak of the inability to maintain and build on some of the benefits that the colonialists left us. The solid education and health care systems that Nigeria has inherited, for example, have collapsed and become albatrosses.
Sixty years later, wealthy Nigerians travel to India for their health needs. The same United Kingdom is the number one destination for higher education while Canada and the United States of America are the favorite places for economic migration among Nigerians.
Day by day, more and more Nigerians are choosing the same countries we blame for our underdevelopment over their own. Leaders across party lines jump on planes and fly to the UK to hold regular political rallies just because they have access to public funds and understand they can get away with it.
Therefore, Nigeria’s problem is that it does not ride on the wing of adversity and inspire greatness. It is the lack of visionary leadership and the people’s refusal to see their eternal enslavement for what it is.
And what is it? It is the conquest of the state by a heartless elite who take advantage of the fault lines of the country to keep the people divided and impoverished. Nigerians need to realize that the problems stem from their inability to achieve the unity of purpose necessary for national development.