A Review of Bayo Olupohunda’s “Are You Not a Nigerian?”

Are you not a Nigerian

  • Title:                         Are you not a Nigerian? Thoughts on a Nation at Crossroads.
  • Author:                     Bayo Olupohunda
  • Publisher:                  Narrative Landscape Press, Lagos
  • Year of Publication: 2017
  • Page extent:              340 pages

The title “Are you not a Nigerian?” is jarring and emotional. One is forced to pause and make some deep reflections even before opening the book. The riotous imagery it invokes brings to mind the perennial search for the Nigerian identity. Scholars have confronted this question: what really defines our national identity? What is the role of ethnicity in defining national identity?[1] Is our ethnic diversity a blessing or a curse?[2] Hence, am I first an Igbo man before being a Nigerian or vice versa? Can I claim to be both? This is a question that will continue begging for answers.

Are you not a Nigerian is a worthy addition to literature in the subject area of national identity and memory. The author presents Nigeria’s recent political history in episodes, like a soap opera. This approach has the merit of not being interested in establishing causality. Rather it seeks to deepen the understanding of a phenomenon. This explains the author’s constancy in presenting the nuanced context of the stories he narrates. The reader is thus, aided to fully appreciate the Nigerian experience but equally given the liberty to draw his or her own conclusions.

Each post takes one back in to the past – a “once upon a time!” kind of feeling. In the first part, take the post “Encounter with a Blackberry Babe” for instance, now seems like an encounter with an extinct civilization. Who would have thought that a time will come when BB will be discussed with the awed curiosity of a relic? But this only jolts one back to the present, seeing how digital media has transformed our society. It is true that we still grapple with the binary bifurcation of media scholars – the digital enthusiasts and cynics. The author came out in this post as a digital cynic. It would be interesting to know if his stance has changed or has remained the same.

The stories in second section “the Nigerian Condition” evoke despair about our national reality. These excerpts accentuate the observation I made above:

They will converge at airports to welcome the leaders who had gone abroad to receive treatment… What a country? What a people?[3]

A trip on the famished road called the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway presents a chilling scenario. My heart was in my mouth; my blood pressure was in an all time high. To underscore my fear, I had rejected many invitations from family and friends to attend social events that require one to use that road.[4]

Also this section shows how Nigerian citizens have been perpetually brutalized by those paid to protect them – no bi today! This was captured in “Citizen Akpan and Lagos Task Force.” But from the ashes of stories like Akpan, hope has also grown. For instance, the #EndSARS campaign is a movement that was born on Twitter by one man – Segun Awosanya – who had the guts to say enough to the incessant and vicious harassment of citizens by the police. It soon grew into a movement that has gained considerable mileage in protecting Nigerians, especially the youth.

The third and forth parts of the book could be jointly renamed the more things changes, the more they remain the same. And since we are in an election season, it is pertinent to pay attention to these two parts the book. It reveals that Nigerians are the victims of the failed promises of Nigerian politicians and their government. All we get most often are empty slogans and nothing more. From a Breath of Fresh Air to Sai Baba and Changeall na scam!

The last part reveals an open secret, that there are no political parties in Nigeria. Rather we have a club of people who are only interested in having a direct and unlimited access to fame, power and our common wealth. Peter Ekeh’s seminal theoretical statement[5] advances a reason for this intractable issue: the two publics. This disparity between the primordial and civic public; the private and public morality; the ‘our own syndrome’ versus the common good continues to plague Nigerian politics. The absence of ideological foundation in party politics was aptly captured by Aisha Osori: “there is not much to distinguish Nigeria’s two main political parties: the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC), at least not in terms of ideology and core values.”[6] Rather they both share in the godfather syndrome which Isaac Albert succinctly defined as gladiators who “use their influence to block the participation of others in Nigerian politics. They are political gatekeepers: they dictate who participates in politics and under what conditions.”[7] Similarly, Adeniyi[8] recorded the unprecedented rate of defections that was witnessed at the threshold of the 2015 elections. What has really changed; nothing, absolutely nothing!

The curation of memory is no easy task. Yet this is a task that has to be done because no nation has progressed without confronting its past and learning from it. This is what the Oluphunda achieved in Are You Not a Nigerian? We are invited to take a look at Nigeria’s contemporary past through the Olupohunda’s personal lens, the lived experience of what is now referred as ‘his truth’. As Achebe said, ““until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” And for this we should be very grateful to the author for doing this thankless job and hence saving us from being afflicted with mutilated versions of our own history.

 

Endnotes

[1]           Ukiwo, U. 2015. The study of ethnicity in Nigeria. Oxford Development Studies, Volume 33, Issue 1, 2005, pp 7-23

[2]           Osaghae, E. E. and Suberu, R. T. 2005. A history of identities, violence, and stability in Nigeria. CRISE Working Paper, No. 6, January 2005, pp 1-27

[3]           Olupohunda, B. 2017. Are you not a Nigerian? Lagos: Narrative Landscape Press, page 41

[4]         Ibid, page 43

[5]           Ekeh, P. P. 1975. Colonialism and the two publics in Africa: A theoretical statement. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Jan., 1975), pp. 91-112

[6]           Osori, A. 2017. Love does not win elections. Lagos: Narrative Landscape Press, page 15

[7]           Albert, I. O. 2005. Explaining ‘godfatherism’ in Nigerian politics. African Sociological Review, 9, (2), page 82

[8]         Adeniyi, O. 2017. Against the run of play: how an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeria. Lagos: Kachifo Limited (under its Prestige Imprint)

 

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