Was There A Country? By Chido Onumah

Chido Onumah
Chido Onumah

Two compatriots have commented publicly on the title of my book, “Time to Reclaim Nigeria”. At the public presentation of the book in Abuja on December 15, 2011, the special guest, Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, in his presentation, “In Search of True Federalism”, noted: “This mission to reclaim Nigeria however is a little bit problematic. To attempt to reclaim something suggests that it was in your possession ab initio.

Beginning from the forceful amalgamation in 1914, the despotism of colonial rule leading to independence in 1960, the hegemonic conspiracy of post independence military dictatorship, civilian interregnum of 1979 to 1983, the return of the military and the new era of civil rule in 1999, Nigeria has hardly ever belonged to Nigerians. To attempt to reclaim what you never had therefore is a misnomer.”
In a five-part review of the same book, eminent columnist, Edwin Madunagu, had this to say: “To reclaim, as I understand it, is to take back.  I am aware that this ideological slogan, together with Occupy Nigeria, is now popular with radical patriots, democrats and human rights activists in Nigeria.  But I doubt if the Nigerian masses had, at any time since Nigeria was created in 1914 and especially since independence in 1960, owned Nigeria”.

I agree with the two positions above that the Nigerian masses have hardly owned the country. But there is also another side of this debate about reclaiming Nigeria, which is whether we actually have a country in the true sense of the word. That is what I intend to address in this essay. My preliminary comments about this poser is that nominally there is a country called Nigeria. That is, Nigeria meets the internationally recognized definition of a country. It has “internationally recognized boundaries, has a government, has external recognition”, etc.

The Chambers Combined Dictionary and Thesaurus defines a country as “the land of any of the nations of the world”. Going by this definition, a country presupposes a nation. The same dictionary defines a nation as “the people living in, belonging to, and together forming, a single state”. Wikipedia, the online dictionary gives a more elaborate definition of a nation as “a tightly-knit group of people which share a common culture. Nations are culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience”.

From the preceding definition, it is clear that Nigeria is not a nation. It is also not a nation-state as some people erroneously argue. When Nigeria was created in 1914, it was not a union of the different “nations” that made up the geo-political space that came to be known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, but a merger of three regions (the northern and southern provinces and Lagos Colony) that had been under colonial administration for many years. In essence, the country was not created on the basis of the distinct “ethnic nationalities” in Nigeria.    

What this tells us is that we needed to build a nation out of the contraption that was created in 1914. Nigeria in 1914 was like an “arrangee” marriage. Such marriages are not meant to work beyond the financial and other benefits that necessitated the union. If on the other hand, the spouses find out that they “love” each other and actually have something in common, they can build a purposeful and lasting relationship. The survival of such unions can’t be taken for granted. Those involved have to make conscious efforts to make the marriage work for it to survive.

This is exactly the position Nigeria has found itself almost a century after its creation. Beyond the fact that, to some extent, the different groups in Nigeria share a common historical experience, there has not been any conscious effort to develop a common ethos, if not a common culture, language, or national institution. This phenomenon is aptly captured by Maduabuchi Dukor, Professor of Philosophy at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka in his contribution to the Sovereign National Conference debate.

“The concept of Nigeria since 1914 amalgamation of the north and south has phenomenologically waned socially, politically and economically,” Dukor notes. “Social, religious, and ethnic conflicts constitute a life style; the political pond is characterized by the interplay of the forces of disunity  where the end justifies the means; and the fiscal and economic policies of successive governments are theoretically and practically against the poor (about 75 per cent of Nigerian population).” Essentially, what we have witnessed since that forced marriage in 1914 is an exacerbation of the fault lines in Nigeria. It led to a military coup barely six years after independence, and a civil war followed soon after. It worsened when crude oil, because of the ease of the return on its investment, took over as the only source of income for the Nigerian state.   

Today, the politics of oil looks certain to rip the country apart. State governments, and sundry groups across the country are at each other’s jugular over who should get what or who controls what. But it shouldn’t be so and hasn’t always been so. Agreed that the politics of oil is fundamental to the current crisis, but we will be mistaken to think that it is the only issue that threatens the survival of Nigeria because even before the commercial exploitation of oil, the country could not be said to be united any more than it is today.

Over the years, bad leadership and the attendant impoverishment of the Nigerian masses has served to devalue what it ought to mean to be Nigerian. The belief of Nigerians in their country has waned considerably, not minding the occasional bout of nationalism, as for example, when the country won the gold medal in football at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, or recently when South Africa kicked us in the gut by deporting over 100 of our citizens for allegedly possessing fake immunization papers.

Majority of Nigerians do not feel an equal possession of the space called Nigeria. The structure of Nigeria is so lopsided such that injustice, be it political, economic, or social, has become the rule rather than the exception. Statesmen are in short supply whether we are talking about those who managed the country immediately after the civil war or those who have ruled the country as military or civilian presidents. That explains why Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abaubakar, two ex-rulers of Nigeria, have become regional champions, spearheading a regional dialogue when they ought to be in the forefront of a national dialogue to save Nigeria. It appears the only dialogue they want to have is a monologue.
To be continued.

Onumah, author of Time to Reclaim Nigeria, writes from Abuja.

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Excellent....Nothing else to

Excellent....Nothing else to add!


why do we chorusing Nigeria and its amalgamation by the British as the problem when the problem is with the indisciplined and selfish people that reside in that geographical entity. according to Ogoo Okonkwo, we are the "whitemans burden"! we are tired of the incessant referral to what happened during the British time in Nigeria. is that we are just incapable of any initiative as black people? can't we help ourselves?

some mother do have them

Your comments just depicts that your are naturally a fool,even in the rank of the worst fools on earth you are the worst,give your insight and not rubbish.Anyway no gain advising you will remain an unrepentant fool and wasteful imbecile.


Lets get it straight, Awolowo was the leader of his tribe, not and never a national leader. He led them and led them well. Anything for the yorubas he was there but please he doesnt belong to the national leadership. He was also an igboman's nemesis. I dont think he was ever comfortable of igbos strives and acheivement so anything to derail them or slow them down, he would. This is not trying to get one on him, but a fact of history.

@ Frankly_speaking: Nigeria a country for a few, not to majority

@ Frankly_speaking,
Nigeria is not a country for the majority but it is for you and your minority group, because military leaders used state creation to mutilate Nigeria's original progressive administrative structures and falsely assigned majority status to your minority section. Same military leaders imposed a worst form of unitary system of government on Nigeria in order to enhance your sect's grip on Nigeria's body politics. So who is surprised that you are ready to die for Nigeria's unity? You are daring others to leave Nigeria if they wish. That is lip talk from you. I bet you never meant it, or you think those people can leave and then let you have a boosted opportunity to scoop more oil revenues from the creeks of the Nigerdelta? Poor judgement by you. The greedy political class you are complaining about can only be dethroned through political reforms, but you and your lot have been using your false majority to undermine political reforms. Fool!


I do have a lot of respect for you opinions on this blog too.Well what you must understand is that coming from the east,Nigerian Unity has been an enigma due to obvious reasons,Nigerians from the SS and SE are peharps the most sceptical and realistic about the colonial contraption called Nigeria.Awolowo was a good leader and achieved a lot for his region,but Awo was also clearly not a beliver in a unitary state,I dont blame him for this inclination,I blame him for not fighting to have true federalism,he capitulated when he had the opportunity to act during Aburi and Biafra,he chose to sit on the fence and assist genocide.So Awo was a great leader for his region but not for the Igbo,he used starvation as a weapon of war, and siezed our bank assets as finance minister.

Still on "Wikipedia"

To my Nigerian based friends, writers, opinion leaders, and researchers etc., "Wikipedia" is not a research tool. You don't cite it, you don't reference it in your work.

@ osita DIOKA on Awo as a Yoruba Champion

Osita, I always respect your opinion, but this time, I beg to disagree with your take on Awo for obvious reasons.

1)Awo was never a President of Nigeria. He was the Premier of old Western Region.

2)Chief Anthony Enahoro, who moved the motion for self-government in 1953, was a member of Action Group(AG). Thus, left for Awo & AG a lot would have happened in our country before 1960 and beyond.

3)When it became obvious to Awo that Balewa & NPC were not ready for self-government, he concentrated on developing his region.

4)My village - Ewohimi-Ishan-Midwest (a non-Yoruba Tribe),had about 13 Elementary Schools, 2 Modern Schools, and a Grammar School when I was growing up, all built during Awo & AG. Thus, were Awo to be in charge of the whole country, the same would have happened nationwide. And there would not have been a boko haram today.


You see, the difference between Nigeria and Biafra was that Nigeria was a marriage of convenience where the parties involved filed divorce papers even before marriage and swore never to work togther. Whereas Biafra was formed out of LOVE. PURE LOVE and determination. That is why Biafra acheived in 3years (even though under seige) what Nigeria can never acheive!!!. Biafra refined its petrol, built war tanks, Plane, vehicles, Ogbunikwe, Ojukwu buckets and other great scientific acheivements like processing of cassava leaves for consumption. SUCH IS ACCOMPLISHED IF THERE IS LOVE AND COMMON GOAL. AND THAT IS WHAT ELICITES ENVY AND JEALOSY FROM PEOPLE. WAIT TO SEE THOSE ENVIES POUR OUT HERE SOON IN RESPONSE!!!


This is an excellent article that touches on the core issues affecting the fragmentation of Ngr. To be sure, this article needs to be a series of books running to volumes to cover all the issues but for my part I know we are at a precarious juncture with the Nigerian experiment. It is not an accident or fluke that we have had such appalling leadership, they were hand picked by our colonizers mostly from those who profitted from the slave trade. Think about it, if you can sell your own people, imagine what you would do to its resources. I know, I am rambling but right not we need a cleansing of some kind or an admission from the rullng class that they have made an abject mess of things and apologise publicly and irrevocable; folowed bu attonement. At this point, I think spilling blood will not save us; it will only doom us. Long live Nigeria.

Only a fool supports a fool

Only a fool supports a fool. How someone so intelligent can be quoting from Wikipedia on a serious matter or article and expect people to agree with him is beyond me. If Nigeria is not a country enough for some tribe of idiots they are allow to live! When true Nigerians say Nigeria is not a country, they mean that it has always being the political class against the rest of us and nothing else. Let the idiots who are also the main criminals, dodgy business men, money ritual imbeciles live Nigeria and form another country if they want. They always think they are better than the rest of Nigerians yet they cannot stay put in their own domain without going to the north and the southwest in order to "make it". Idiots. Let them go, they are free to!


The late Nnamdi Azikiwe,a real nationalist whose actions lived up to the dreams of a united Nigeria was cajoled and threated like a moron by his counterparts from other regions who mistook his zeal for Nigeria for foolishness.Zik was born in Zungeru and lived in many parts of Nigeria,he was fluent in Yoruba,Hausa and Igbo,his children had Yoruba names and he is known to have won an election in Lagos,he vigorously fought for one Nigeria and defected duing the war thereby betraying his own people.Zik's counterparts concentrated on thier regions,they hardly cared about Nigeria rather Awolowo was a Yoruba champion while the Sarduana was the Hausa-Fulani messiah.Our leaders were not honest to themselves from the start and it has continued till date,the only addition is massive corruption and embezzlement.The commoner has never owned Nigeria,because of the dishonest foundation layed by our leaders.

Chido, there never was a country

There never was and there is still no country called Nigeria in the true sense of it. This explains why there really is nothing for anyone to die fighting to save. That is why the "Occupy" movement in Nigeria could not act with any coherence. The Fuel subsidy removal standdown could not last. Nothing meaningful can be done until we address the fundermental issue of the existence and treu essence of "Nigeria".

I disagree with you that

I disagree with you that Nigeria is not a Nation based on what the online dictionary Wikipedia says, based on this definition countries like Ghana South Africa and Rwanda are not Nations but we have not heard that.
Nigerians are a united people but the divisions we are witnessing now is brought about by greed of the Politicians, elites Journalist and people like this Author who have the wherewithal to post articles on the various media.
A Nigerian living in Overseas definitely will be scared of coming home especially if he reads articles from such media that promote us in a bad light.
So as Nigeria media men please promote us by telling good stories about us and highlighting things like corruption.

19 states in north, 17 in south ensure that Nigeria is north's

The Military represented the Sokoto Caliphate when they turned northern Nigeria to 19 states and created a paltry 17 states in three southern regions. Thus today, the overwhelming over representation of north in every political gathering of Nigeria, including the legislative houses, automatically gives the caliphate the command post of Nigeria. The military further supervised and imposed on Nigeria a constitution it ensured shall be difficult to amend. Today, no meaningful amendment can be made on the 1999 constitution regarding the restructuring of the lopsided political structure of the country unless the caliphate wants it. To do its bid any time, the Caliphate can always incorporate most parts of the Middle belt when it matters. Through its recent demands, caliphate foot soldiers are now blackmailing every group in the south, including the oil producing states to refrain from asking for political reforms. Nigeria hardly existed in the minds of southerners, talk less reclaiming it.

Politics of the Belly at Abuja

This is a good one. I noticed that Mr Onumah tried to avoid being rhetorical by his factual synthesis of Nigeria's history. It has become frustrating to talk or write about Nigeria's problems because the men at Abuja don't care. All of them are busy chasing money through politics for their generations unborn while Nigeria disintegrates.


V good article. Arranged marriage with no love

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