Democracy has been turned into coup at the polls – and the result is announced in the darkest wee hours when robbers are wont to strike!
The Nigerian elections of February 25 and March 18 were turned into deadly battles akin to brutal tribal war.
It’s not my wish here to dwell on the partisan politics of the dangerous state of affairs of this benighted country that is now in tatters.
Even as the politics of Nigeria divides the nation tragically, literature somewhat comes to the rescue.
Prominent Nigerian politicians always mouth the ideals of “One Nigeria” but they happen to be the greatest apostles of clannishness, nepotism, tribalism and all the sundry isms that divide the people.
Being a so-called tribal claimant of a section of the country trumps being a bona-fide Nigerian citizen desirous of living in any part of the country.
It is against this sordid background of tribe-baiting that I decided to pick up the novel Where Are You From? by Lola Akande published by Kraft Books Ibadan in circa 2018.
Lola Akande presciently puts Nigeria’s fault-lines of identity on the front burner in Where Are You From?
The plucky protagonist of the novel, Anjola Adeniyi, dares to engage her beloved country Nigeria in multiform dimensions on the identity question.
A sprightly graduate of English from the University of Ilorin in her native Kwara State, Anjola Adeniyi embarks on an eventful National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Anambra State.
The challenges of the Nigerian ethnic mix of Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are sucked into the demanding whirlpool of survival in a dire landscape.
Starting from her place of birth, the identity question rankles given the history of Ilorin, and indeed, Kwara, in the 19th century when Afonja “liaised with the Fulanis, who were Jihadists” to undo the old Oyo Empire.
According to Lola Akande, “After killing the Afonja, the Jihadists fully established the first administration in Ilorin in 1837 and began to overrun, one by one, all the towns and villages in Kwara.”
It is thus incumbent on the young one to ask the father: “What about us, Father? What and who are we? Fulani? Yoruba? What?”
The identity issue of course cuts across the Nigerian terrain as people must perforce change their bona-fides to fit into the needs of divergent moments.
For instance, Anjola’s boyfriend and eventual husband, Ifeanyi – Ify, for short – and his entire family, originally from the Igbo state of Anambra but born and bred in Jos, Plateau, “had to hide their links with Anambra to be approved. They were educated to believe that they had to renounce their father’s native name and state of origin and acquire Plateau State Citizenship certificates before they could advance their interests. They had also had to discard their Igbo names – at least officially – and adopt Plateau-sounding English or Biblical names.”
Anjola thus becomes Mrs. Anjola Jeremiah upon her marriage.
In the hunt for a job in Kaduna, Anjola is made to undergo the problematic process of going to the Kaduna High Court to swear to an affidavit of Change of Name, thus becoming Angela Adnoyi of Zango Kataf in Kaduna instead of Angela Adeniyi of Kwara.
She discovers that she even needs to go further by claiming to become a Muslim with hijab to be fully accepted, whence her adoption of the name Hajia Zainab Abubakar.
Of course, the move goes awry as her tribal marks easily give her away, and she confesses to coming from Kwara State.
After being told “You are obviously Yoruba by descent”, she is compassionately not arrested and prosecuted for forgery but gets this advice: “Go o Ibadan. I have it on good authority that Oduduwa International is on recruitment drive and will hold a selection interview in December.” Getting to Ibadan to vie for the job, she gets this ouster: “This is Oduduwa International. This interview is for applicants from the western region, not for northerners.”
She is dismissed as an alien, only for the outraged Anjola to cry out: “You called me an alien in my country?”
Anjola can only wallow in lament: “I can’t find a job, Father. Nobody seems to know where to place Kwara in the comity of states in Nigeria; and it tears my heart to think that I’m lost in a country of my birth. I’m a complete stranger in my own country.”
A patriotic Nigerian per excellence, Anjola dares all travails to forge ahead with her inter-ethnic marriage to her Igbo lover, Ify, despite the evil machinations of Ify’s elder brother Cajethan.
She triumphs in the end as a teacher of the community in the dear “home” of Magaji Njeri in Kaduna State.
The schisms in Nigeria point to the fact that Lola Akande’s Where Are You From? needs to be made recommended reading for students, and political leaders alike, all over Nigeria.
In getting married to Ify, the Nigeria of Anjola’s dream runs thus: “In my mind’s eyes, I saw how our union would offer hope and engender greater harmony between our different ethnic identities just as the marriage between the parents of Maj-Gen Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu did. Nwachukwu was born to an Igbo father and a Hausa-Fulani mother and he grew up in Lagos. In no distant future, Ify’s blood and mine would form a formidable connection and we would have adorable children who would be true specimens of Nigeria. Through our children, a new generation of Nigerians with a common identity would evolve and it would be difficult for people to take up arms against one another.”
This is the way to go instead of the “Vote my tribe or I kill you” crude tribal war that passed for a gubernatorial election in Lagos on March 18.
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