Thursday, September 4, 2014

Nigeria Wasn't Ready


"Nigeria was not ready for the white man to leave."

Continuing my delve into racial politics...

My parents recently visited a cousin of ours, from my Nigerian side, no less, who was actually integral in my parents' first meeting. Dr. Nwachukwu, or Doc as they knew him, was the head of the Department of Afro-, Afro-American and Chicano Studies (or something like that) at the University of Michigan, Flint in the 1970s when my mother, a recent graduate from the University, was his receptionist for a time. My father, a young, 20-something chemical engineering student, used to visit his cousin Doc and nod to his young secretary before entering the room.

The young secretary would not pay this man much attention until they were set up on a blind date in a party in Flint years later. And the rest is history.

Anyway, after over 30 years, my family reunited with Doc, who now lives with his second wife and children on the east coast. My parents drove their with my Nigerian Uncle and Aunt.

Besides my grandfather's death, it has been a summer of reunions--reunions of brothers after 30 years (my father hadn't been back to Nigeria since 1984, so quite literally), reunion of much of my mother's family to celebrate the life of my grandfather, and now, reunion of family for the first time after my parents marriage made him family to her.

My parents had a great time at Doc's home. One of the things that he did was share his perspective of Nigeria years after independence to the state that the country is in now. And his thoughts were as above. That Nigeria was not ready for the white man to have left.

To hear that from a Nigerian, though second hand, was astounding.

After living in the United States and being not only a full professor, but a head of a department for some time, Doc decided on two occasions to move back to Nigeria. Once in 1980, but then he returned to the United States, and another time in 1989. Between those two visits, he saw what was of Nigeria's infrastructure continue to crumble and democratic governance cease (as Nigeria was well into dictatorship by the second visit).

Of all of the descriptions of decrepit infrastructure, weakening culture and fractured politics that he must have told, my mother clung to the following example:

Doc was in a Nigerian university, a full professor there, trained in the United States, everything, walking into the building. Ahead of him was a graduate-level instructor who also happened to be white. As the white instructor entered the building, the students hailed him, cheering for him, enthusiastic for his arrival. As Doc walked into the building, the students turned their backs on him.

My mother's reaction is perhaps the topic for another post. But the long version of her reaction was that...maybe he is right. If these students' reaction says anything about the sentiments of the larger society as a whole, maybe they were not ready for the white man to leave! Maybe whatever tribal divisions that lead to genocide and war in the 1960s, that continue to this day under the guise of religion, keep Nigeria from the good governance that would ultimately lead to their further development. Whatever petty issue kept the students from revering their black professor over the white TA are perhaps borne out in larger society, and if it's going to be like that, maybe things would run better if the President of Nigeria were a white man, unconnected to tribal politics and not any other type of brown person.

And coming to that conclusion is really, really sad.

However, this is the opinion of one man, one Nigerian-born professor who ultimately decided to make his permanent home in the United States.

But what is it? Was Nigeria not ready for their independence? A whole lot points to yes. And does that inherently mean that they were not ready for the British to leave?

Then there comes the key question--would it have been better for the British to have never come to Nigeria, or the Europeans never having come to Africa, colonized, anything? And if so, what would the continent look like now? What would the world look like now? Would there even be a United States of America without African slaves' backs on which to build it on?

These questions and assumptions are all fraught with problems, the main problem being that we are in the present now. Independence has been declared. The arbitrary lines have been drawn on maps and groups of people who previously had nothing to do with each other have been called Nigerians  for 54 years this October 1. Not ready to be independent or not, not ready to be ruled by themselves, with all of the tribal baggage that survived 60 years of colonization, this is the present reality. And brain drain is a mug.

They weren't ready, okay, but now what? What kind of leadership is needed, what kind of reform is needed, how to you combat corruption that is near institutionalized?

Since my father left, I will always be an outsider, looking in. And while my cousins seem to be more concerned about what the existence of ISIS means about the second coming of Christ and upholding homosexuality bans for the sake of Nigeria, I'm not sure they have any concrete aspirations for elevating the political situation of Nigeria, of improving infrastructure, actually.

These are just my family members, though.

I would love to read contemporary Nigerian political thinkers and their take on the state of Nigeria and the best direction of the future. If any of my readers have some resources for me, I'd like to read them. I recognize that the disappointed musings of an ex-pat must pale in comparison to people who are living Nigeria as a reality.

Or is it really that the only way that Nigeria will work as a country is if it is run by white people?

1 comment:

  1. Nigeria is a complicated beast! Your observations are spot on. When my dad left Japan and returned to Nigeria to "serve his country" he was met with frustration at every turn. He is a Professor in polymer engineering. During his interview at a local university where he applied to lecture, his interviewers, colleagues/lecturers/professors were disgusted that he chose to return to Nigeria. They blatantly asked him 'What are you doing here?'.

    Isn't it sad?

    I was watching a documentary on Al Jazeera the other day about illegal fishing off the coast of Africa (can't remember the country). A white journalist was investigating the issue and you could clearly see the Africans falling over themselves trying to give the impression that they were on top of things. Yet, if it was a African investigative journalist they wouldn't have given them the light of day. So its not just Nigerians, Africans have a complex where the white man is concerned. The bottom line is we can't seem to get over ethnno religious loyalties/seeking immediate gratification and seeing the bigger picture.