Saturday, 30 August 2014

Caliphates and other fictions

‘We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We don’t believe in this name... There is nothing like Nigeria.’ With these words, Boko Haram recently declared the new Islamic Caliphate in the north-east. There seems little reason to argue with the sentiment, if not the intention, in this the year of our purported centenary. The country was always a fiction, the creation of foreign adventurers and their native collaborators with no higher purpose than plunder. We have known this all along. Once, early on in our so-called independence, which was when the native collaborators really came into their own, the attempt to rewrite the terms of our forced union that could be the only affirmation of that independence was ruthlessly crushed on the grounds that, ‘to keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done,’ an accurate enough expression of the mindlessness now consumed in tragedy, a case of the chickens coming home to roost, as the deputy-governor of Enugu State in the once and future Biafra recently discovered.
This was not to be avoided. The Niger Delta militants had already demonstrated the impotence of a state mired in levels of corruption that now witnesses soldiers fleeing better armed insurgents who loot and rape at will, much like the government they have vowed to overthrow. Nigeria is fracturing although the government, which is unable to guarantee the country’s territorial integrity, still appears oblivious of the immensity of the crisis unfolding before us. It was only six months ago that it belatedly acknowledged we were at war, and it was just yesterday that the president received yet another report from yet another national conference supposedly convened to move the country forward but in reality to impede its progress by distracting our attention. Alas, the time for talk is over. It was over a long time ago, in 1970 to be precise, which was when Biafra was ‘defeated’ in order that we might Go On With One Nigeria, with what results we now see.
So here we are and - that famous question - what is to be done? The same question was recently asked by a well-known political commentator who usually has something sensible to say but not so this time. Alleging that ‘[w]e love our democracy, rule of law and human rights with all their imperfections,’ he recommends that Mr President ‘call on young Nigerians to come out and join the armed forces to save the country.’ He further suggests that we re-equip the military ‘with the urgency it deserves,’ and court-martial those responsible for its present parlous state. Finally, he calls for ‘a serious political and ideological campaign’ to rope artists into creating ‘the new slogans we need to mobilise for the successful prosecution of the war.’
I take this to be profound misunderstanding of what is happening in Nigeria. If indeed we had democracy, the rule of law and human rights - however imperfect - we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with. Moreover, to imagine that the country is teeming with youths dying (as it were) to offer themselves up as sacrifice for a country which delivers only grief in order to support the status quo that is their biggest problem is as deluded as the idea that anybody will ever be court-martialled for anything. Who is going to court-martial them? The man who told us ‘[t]here is no corruption but mere stealing in Nigeria,’ his wife having been labelled the ‘greediest woman in Bayelsa State’ by the US authorities in the days before she and her husband moved into Aso Rock?
The problem isn’t with this particular commentator’s staggering naiveté concerning the nature of the country he imagines he is living in but that his views are echoed in one form or another by many of his fellow commentators, even at this late hour. We see this in their affected surprise in the pages of the same newspapers that the latest expensive talking shop ‘merely’ agreed to disagree on the division of the spoils, which is all that has ever interested them. It’s hardly any wonder that the president’s constituency should threaten that ‘the blood of the dogs and the baboons will be soaked in the streets’ if their man is not returned come February next year, only surprising that they failed to follow Boko Haram’s logical example and secede altogether, thereby keeping all the proceeds of their good fortune to themselves, which was always theirs anyway.
To cap it all, we are now daily assailed by considered opinions as to who might or might not run in next year’s elections. INEC will certainly have its work cut out, perhaps, as in 2011, using youth corpers, i.e. ‘young Nigerians,’ as shock troops should they decline to sign up for direct military service. In other words, it isn’t only the ‘authorities’ who are deluding themselves concerning the nature of the challenges we are facing but those privileged to know better. There may be good reasons for this refusal to look the facts in the face given that nobody wants to contemplate the possible ‘Somalia-isation’ of Nigeria – as one current presidential hopeful once put it – but pretending that we live in normal times is equally likely to hasten the fragmentation we are now witnessing all around us.

So we come back to the question: What is to be done? In one way, the answer is simple, which is perhaps the problem with it: Let everybody go their own way. Since this is not going to happen by government fiat, government itself being largely a fiction, we will have to do it all by ourselves, just like the Biafrans attempted, just like the militants threatened, and just like Boko Haram has done. What will come out of it is anybody’s guess but anything has to be better than the slow drift to anarchy that bodes ill for all.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,

and Dream Chasers. The House My Father Built, a memoir, will be
published later this year.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. One response: "heavenly race // I no go taya" :D

    Current thinking: not only Nigeria is fake/imagined, every country is too? and maybe to strengthen the story of unity by discovering and considering historical fact e.g. archaeology?

  2. See what is happening in the UK now