Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Naija Till I Die!
That's how its spelt in Ibibio, Idoma, Ijaw, Hausa, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Yoruba, Igbo, Fufulde, Gwari, Edo, Efik and the thousand other languages and dialects within the geographical space called Nigeria.
You wonder why an intelligent person like Reuben Abati just don't get it.
And it is not a recent phenomenon. It's a process that has been on since the end of our civil war. We have consistently made spirited efforts as a nation to find the things that unite us and define us as a people. Be it something as simple as the spelling of a name.
When Nigeria wanted to change its currency from the Pound/ Shilling regime in 1971, it reverted to the spellings of its name in the then three major languages and they all agreed that the name is N-A-I-J-I-R-I-A. That was where the name of our currency came from and since then we have been spending the Naira and Kobo. 'Kobo' is the Hausa name for copper - from which the coins were made - since the other two languages did not have a different word for it.
I remember that in 1985, prelude to celebrating our nations 25th Independence anniversary, an idea was mooted for a change of name of the country and several suggestions were put forward -from the ridiculous to the sublime - but the one I found most intriguing was the suggestion by somebody that we should just change the name to its local version such that any person who calls and write the name in any language would know what it means.
In the Yoruba worldview, names are very important and it is believed that a person's name actually affects the fulfillment of his destiny on earth. And that a person who does not know the meaning of his name may never actually fulfill his destiny.
The then military government of General Babangida did not go ahead with the renaming citing among other excuses, the volume of documentary changes that would need to be made. Besides, what would the people be called - Omo Naijiria? Ndi Naijiria? Umu Naijiria? Dan Naijiria? Naijirians? Nah, sounded 'too local'.
Instructively, around the same time, a group of young soldiers in a country then called Upper Volta (meaning?) took over the government of their country and renamed it Burkina Faso - Land of Dignity. The people now call themselves Burkinabes. Its been over twenty years now.
It is actually the word NIGERIA that is meaningless to us. We are not Latin or English. When we think, we think Naijiria but when we have to write, we write Nigeria otherwise we would fail the exams that were usually set in English. Since we cannot find Naijiria on the world map, we settle for the closest in spelling - Nigeria.
Jude Fashagba actually said it .. 'I love my counry but I hate its symbols'. Most of the times, the symbols that are used to depict Nigeria do not even remotely resemble its essence. They are just makeshift respresentations. 'Let's just put something make e no be like say we no do am'. That is why the recent re-branding exercise is such a disappointment.
The name Naijiria had somehow remained in our national consciousness in one form or the other for the last forty years, surfacing every ten years or so until its most recent incarnation as Naija. We are Naija people from Nigeria. How difficult is that?
I had written some time ago on this blog about the resurgence of patriotism in this generation of Naija people. A patriotism defined not by governments but by the youths themselves both at home and in the Diaspora. Seemingly without any formal synthetic arrangement but by a somewhat osmotic process. It is just seeping through the fabric of our national psyche without the usual baggages of tribalism, ethnic jingoism and all the other negative isms that have characterized all our previous efforts at nation building.
Naija youth is creating an identity for itself and for Nigeria. Rejecting the negative conotations that the world has tried to pin on it for years and rebranding itself creatively in sports, academics, movies, arts and music (yeah, and militancy too) so forcefully that the world took notice. Naija youth has given a new lease of life to this country. Saving it from the edge of the precipice and pushing it back to the top, where it rightfully belongs.
And it is succeeding, that is why people like Reuben Abati have noticed.
I think it is people like Dr. Abati, with their British mentality and orientations that miss the point. If we want to dance to our own national anthem, who can stop us? What exactly is wrong with that? Let's start it and see how many other countries will copy us.
I do not believe that this generation suffers from a crisis of identity. Rather, it is a generation that has found its identity among its peers in the world. It has chosen to bear its name and thus define itself as seperate from the confused illogisms that was its past.
It is a generation that is finally ready to meet and fulfill its destiny.
If only the ghosts of the past will let it.