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What will Nigeria's legacy be?

FLYING THE FLAG: Nigeria's white and green are waved proudly in the air

IN CELEBRATION Of My Sisters, the landmark event in honour of women of colour, has become an institution. It’s been going on 21 years, which makes it a longer-lasting institution than the Nigerian constitution.

It has been singing the praise of our mothers, sisters, lovers, friends and daughters longer than Nigerians have been singing their current national anthem.

Do you see the point I’m trying to make? Which would you rather trust to be there in 100 years’ time? In Celebration Of My Sisters? Or the current Nigerian constitution? Let’s not flim-flam now – which are we more likely to be singing the praises of in 100 years’ time?

You see, for all our best intentions, we cannot rely on a legacy of here today, gone tomorrow heads of states, written constitutions, and other national institutions that lock our diasporic identities into a perpetual adolescence. That is where so many African countries find themselves trapped.

For all its oil wealth, Nigeria is in no less of a fragile state, practically and philosophically, than the youngest African state. South Sudan is that youngest state. The youngest state on the planet, indeed. And yet, despite all the goodwill of the world and the help of the United Nations and all the oil money that underpins its youthfulness, it is in a state of crisis, verging on civil war – again.

As Nigeria was when it broke into a civil war 40 years ago exactly the month after next.

The world had never seen anything quite so brutal as the Biafran war (don’t worry, we’ll talk about that in a later column, although feel free to send me your thoughts on it from now). We starved our children and did unspeakable things to our sisters. In celebration of nothing. And, of course, we kept the British arms industry in business and secured thousands of jobs, for the one million Nigerians that died.

And yet, we can almost explain away our self-inflicted holocaust. We can use the old ‘We were just a young nation barely out of puberty at the time' in the way that the forthcoming musical Hamilton explains away the American revolution and all its brutal injustices. But that excuse is wearing thin.


We’ve had to use that excuse ever since for Nigeria’s inadequacies. Most recently, the ineptitude of the Nigerian government in trying to liberate the 276 schoolgirls of Chibok who were spirited away from their boarding school three years ago next month, the majority of whom are still missing.

An ineptitude that included the discovery that the military did not have the number of aircraft it thought it had, as someone along the line had spirited away the cash that was supposed to have been used to buy choppers and the like.

That’s not to say western countries do not have their hang-ups. But unlike Nigeria, they have long-standing institutions, such as the monarchy, which go back a thousand years, to ensure the checks and balances are gone through.

Cultural reassurance is perhaps the best definition of institution. That cultural reassurance cannot be destroyed by enslavement or colonialism. Otherwise the indigenous religious institutions, customs, monarchies and (most importantly) traditions would not still be in place.

Our languages are an institution. The way we relate to one another (hierarchical or otherwise, respect for elders etc) are part of the institutions that keep our people strong. But the institutions that should have been built up by our politicians are not worth the pounded yam they are built upon.

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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