*Because I Care series #9
The internet is an amazing thing. It saves you from foolishness and separates you from the ignorant mass of people who confidently peddle falsehood. Nigeria turns 100 next year. I was trawling the internet for useful material on the subject, just in case some nosy reporter accosts me in front of the Federal Secretariat to interview me. (God forbid that a common journalist should disgrace a presidential aspirant). As I surfed, my eye caught the Wikipedia page of Nigeria. I have not been the same since then.
It is not that I did not know this fact I am about to reveal. I have been hearing of it like a rumour, but in Nigeria when you hear a thing, whether from the mouth of a government official or not, it is not true unless they confirm it in writing, swearing by whatever living relatives they have. Like that time when Nuhu Ribadu said that Bola Tinubu was a big thief and later swore to the Nigerian god during his campaign that he was just playing. Or when he was investigating Mrs. Patience Jonathan for money laundering and later touched his tongue and pointed to heaven when he was running for President and said he had never investigated Madam. I thought it was that kind of thing when I heard that it was Lord Lugard’s live-in girlfriend that named Nigeria. Until I saw it in writing. On Wikipedia.
This is how Wikipedia attributes the origin of the name Nigeria: ‘This name was coined by Flora Shaw, the future wife of Baron Lugard’. Now, every Nigerian man knows the score. He knows that the easiest way to deceive a girl into sleeping with him is to tell her: ‘I will marry you.’ Sometimes the plan does not always work and the woman is smarter than the guy and he gets hooked and finds out one day, much to his chagrin, that he is actually married to the woman. Thus the term ‘future wife’ does not add any dignity to the origin of our country’s name. Lord Lugard was sleeping with a girl and the girl, probably without any clothes on or worse, in post coital excitement, blurted out the name NIGERIA. The fact that Mr. Lugard later found himself married to this woman is beside the point.
This unfortunate fact of our history is why I agree with those who want to change the name of this country on the eve of our centenary. It is not because, after reading Wikipedia, any time I hear ‘Nigeria’ I think of two naked British people. Far from it. It is purely a legal matter: that a woman without legal status in this country- neither colonial government official nor the spouse of one- produced our name while doing something we all agree is a sin. That’s all.
So Margaret Thatcher went and died this week. Since then I have read wicked people write bad things about the woman. Sadly, even some of my friends joined in saying things like she supported apartheid and called Mandela a terrorist. Some even quoted Fela- a promiscuous man notorious for singing naked and under the influence of marijuana- calling the then Prime Minister an ‘animal’ and ‘friend’ of South Africa’s (apartheid) Botha. But President Jonathan impressed me. He called her ‘one of the greatest leaders of our time’. This is quite appropriate. Even Jonathan knows this.
I know what is causing all this aggression among Nigerians about Thatcher. In 1983, when she was Prime Minister, the British Nationality Act of 1981 came into force, abolishing the principle of jus soli. In plain English, Nigerians (and others) could no longer just buy a plane ticket, saunter into the UK pregnant, give birth and confer British nationality on their children. You had to be a citizen or have permanent residency to confer British citizenship on your child born in the UK. This pained a lot of Nigerians. But please, what bad thing did Thatcher do to deserve all the name calling? Just because she stopped Britain from potentially being populated by Nigerians and possibly becoming an annex of Nigeria? Isn’t it bad enough that now, no thanks to Nigerians, Peckham smells of kpomo and crayfish? Forgive me, but I must join my soon-to-be-predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan in declaring her one of the greatest leaders of our time.
I must thank Jonathan for one more thing. In the ten commandments of Moses, commandment number eight reads: ‘Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’ Moses did not know our Jonathan, for there might have been a footnote that read: ‘Thy neighbor includes thy president.’ So, locking up those lying journalists from Leadership newspapers was a smart thing to do. In fact to show that everyone knew they were a bunch of liars, other newspapers and journalists continued doing their work and printing their papers as if nothing happened. In other countries, when a journalist is imprisoned, editors of other papers do things like have blank first pages and protest, you know, some sort of camaraderie. But when Jonathan put the handcuffs on those journalists, apart from a few grumbling articles, nothing happened. Because they lied about the president trying to muzzle opposition. I know, because, I am in the opposition.
Ps. I passed by the Embassy of Lebanon in Abuja this week. The plot of fallen trees and rubble where the huge signboard stands must be a metaphor. It must mean something, maybe about the state of that country. If that is the case, it is a work of art.