A History of Nigeria by Toyin Falola and Matthew M. Heaton was a wholly enlightening and interesting reading experience, but it created a lot of issues for me. With every page turn and every paragraph break I found myself burning with queries and indignation that I, at twenty years old, should know so little about my own history.
I confronted others with the gory details and they all answered my questions and nodded along with a seemingly unconcerned air, but were more resigned to the facts of Nigerian history. I felt like a newborn, seeing things clearly for the first time. I was in the midst of a ground-breaking awakening and everyone else seemed to know already the good facts; had accepted the terrible facts; and had moved on.
I, on the other hand, am a true African Millenial: I went to school in at a time when education was not the country’s strong point, and my parents struggled to find an institution with a suitable balance of experience and broadness of curriculum. The school they settled on had its merits, but was notably devoid of certain aspects that are crucial to a child, such as appropriate history lessons. I did learn history, but The Tudors, the great fire of London, and Shakespeare hardly pertained to me as a Nigerian. My education had been white-washed.
I went to a talk the other day, run by the African Caribbean Society and the International Politics Society, about terrorism and the media, where Dr Louise Richardson, Dr Jeffrey Murer and Dr Jasmine Gani spoke about the bombings that took place in Baga, Nigeria, mere days before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Nigeria. In a show of solidarity with the rest of the world, the then Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, made a statement condemning the Charlie Hebdo attacks. However, it seems staggeringly ridiculous that he made no statement about the events in his own country. Gani recognised the ridiculousness of Jonathan’s actions but also shed light on one important facet. I questioned whether Nigerian consciousness has recovered from the scars of our colonial past putting the White man on not only a higher social level, but also on a higher level of humanity. Does the White man garner more sympathy than the Black man, even for the Black man himself? She suggested that a message is being reiterated by everyone from the media who do not report our stories, to our President who failed to recognise a travesty. We do not matter.
Ikoyi, one of the more affluent areas in Lagos is a relic of the colonial past. The network of streets sported names like ‘Alexander Avenue’ and ‘Gerrard Road’ until relatively recently, when the Government, in a presumably nationalist gesture, officially changed them to Nigerian names. Our past does not define us as a nation, and whilst our leadership up until now has left much to be desired, we do value ourselves. As the biggest economy in Africa, Nigerians are truly a force to be reckoned with, and an ineffable entrepreneurial spirit prevails.
Reading this book was certainly an emotional experience more than anything else for me. At face value it provided me with a wealth of information about a country that has so much potential, but has also squandered a lot of it. It made me wonder what the collections of tribes, once dubbed the ‘Niger-area’, would be today were it not for the interference of the British, and most importantly it gave me a starting point to think about whether the Colonial past is still a gaping wound in our consciousness.