Ah! A picturesque tree of old world languages…Now what is bizarre about this picture? It has left out languages spoken in Africa, where there are over 2,000 different languages still spoken today. In Nigeria alone, there are over 500 distinct languages still spoken. Even where significant parts of North Africa and West Africa speak variant degrees of Arabic, and majority of West Africans are fluent in either French or English, about 1,000 distinct languages are still extant in spite of colonialism.
In Nigeria, the retention of indigenous languages and culture is owed perhaps largely due to Lord Frederick Lugard, the first Governor-General of Nigeria, which he created through the amalgamation of various kingdoms in 1914. Lord Lugard favored indirect rule in Nigeria, and encouraged promoting indigenous leaders, who could relate with their kinsmen rather than promoting “black western intellectuals” and elite. The northern part of Nigeria, with its Muslim rulers were amenable to this due to their affinity with Islamic scholarship. However, the wealthy elite of the southern parts of Nigeria, among whom the white British missionaries and business people lived, were already exposed to western education, which they had started acquiring since the 19th century.
The Yorubas and Igbos in particular, continued to infuse western higher education and Christianity even as they retained their indigenous culture. However, Lord Lugard’s preference of favoring and promoting leaders who were “true natives,” that is indigenous men who were in every respect identifiable with their constituencies, villages and kinsmen, divorced from significant western elitism or attitudes, has left an indelible mark on the Nigerian political landscape. For a long time, leaders from northern Nigeria held meager western academic qualifications compared with their counterparts from the southwestern and southeastern parts of Nigeria. By virtue of “numbers” these leaders from the north also have factored more in “ruling” Nigeria. (Lugard’s motives were manifold, but also partly racist believing the Hausa-Fulani elite had an admixture of Aryan or Hamitic blood, given the transmission of Islam from the Middle East.)
From this eclectic paradigm, a Nigerian woman, Kofoworola Moore Ademola became the first woman of African descent to graduate from Oxford University in 1935. Her friend, Stella Thomas, was the first African woman called to the bar in 1933. She also was a graduate of Oxford University.
Kofoworola Moore Ademola returned to Nigeria and led a Women’s Council in addition to writing biographies and children’s books.
Now you do not hear about these pioneering African women, or about their progressive West African fathers, who sponsored their daughters to acquire legal qualifications and university degrees from the oldest and most prestigious university in the English-speaking world – Oxford – just less than two decades from when American women got the right to vote. Instead, there are manufactured images of naked African women during the colonial era (and even beyond)…where do they find them? Tuh, tuh, tuh lol.
People of African descent will write their own stories.