Nigeria: A Faceless Territory

By Glory Ayara

The rudimentary of a state is: ‘a nation or territory considered as an organised political community under one government’. The word I want to take from this definition is ‘considered’. One of the definitions of considered is believed — so we can rephrase the definition of a state as ‘a territory believed to be an organized……’ From this definition, one thing can be drawn and almost agreed upon, i.e., a state stems from an ‘idea/belief’ – one that is generally respected and enforced in reality. I understand that this might be confusing but bear with me.

Firstly, when we look at the word ‘territory’ and strip it off complications, it is ‘an area of land’. If this was what made up a state, anyone can create borders around a zone/area and call it their state. Yet, we see that this does not happen, or even if it does, we consider the act as mad. But why is this so? After all, it essentially forms a territory. This is where the difference comes in i.e., the ‘idea’ of the area as a ‘state’ is only held by the persons/people calling it so and not necessarily anyone else, hence the reaction.

Now, how is it that the idea of a ‘state’ has developed to what it is today? what makes it so different and special as opposed to other ideas. I mean, we see some people ready to die for their state these days. I submit that this is because this ‘idea’, has now become linked with ‘identity’. Take for example, a child who is born in Nigeria, this child may not appreciate it or understand it, but wherever he goes, being Nigerian, is etched into his identity. We see this linkage of ideas and identity even in religion and political orientation (I don’t plan to necessarily go into this).

As I type this, I hear myself asking, how does this identity develop, where does it come from? I return to the definition of a state. We see there that it goes on to make mention of an ‘organized political community’. In my opinion, I believe that it is the beliefs/ideas/thoughts of the ‘community’ that gives the simple idea of a state the power to become an identity. Let me give an example. 

We understand that living/or being born in America automatically bestows freedom on an individual, but why is this so? Is it because the bordered zone says so? I think not. Instead, I believe that it comes from the community of the territory. Hence, it is the community that confers what it means to be American. Of course, when identity of this sort operates in its extremities, we get unfortunately, organizations like the Nazi’s. Regardless, a healthy dose is necessary to put a reign on issues like civil wars, as well as foster economic growth.

If we try to transplant this understanding to Nigeria, we hit a roadblock. Other than being an ‘idea’, what identity is granted to us as Nigerians that makes us part of this ‘organized community’? I recognize that there are multiple communities in Nigeria, nevertheless, this doesn’t mean a ‘political community’ can’t develop. A group of people may be divided on a matter, but remain united on another. 

As I think through this, my mind finds it difficult to compute. Other than bestowing on us suffering, hunger, and frustration, the country almost has nothing else to give us to put that tag of sameness —- the kind of tag that makes one willing to bear arms in its name. Infact, it seems that the three aforementioned issues are the only things that bring us together as evident in the #EndSars protest. But to say that these unfortunates are our identity is a difficult reality to accept. 

Some people will argue that their identity as Nigerian is linked to ancestral ties, but let’s not forget only a group of people are caught up within the ties, not everyone in Nigeria. This is one of the reasons why we see that most issues of division tend to be connected to either tribal ties or religious ties. Hence, these individuals essentially identify with their tribes or religion but not necessarily with the state ‘Nigeria’.

The lack of an identity with Nigeria is key to understanding the ‘japa’ phenomenon experienced so rampantly. Anyone and everyone is willing to leave, not just because of suffering, but because we do not identify with the country, we have little to no linkage with it, and the only one that appears to develop is insulting/inhumane to say the least. Recently, I asked a Ghanaian friend whether she would like to remain in the UK and get a job, her response was simple: ‘Godforbid, for what kwa? Glory I love my country’. Love for something as abstract as a state doesn’t just develop from a vacuum, a strong sense of belonging must exist for it to have that force of nature.

I know I have gone through quite a lot of dense and confusing discussion right now, but I want you, the reader, to think and ask yourself: ‘what is my identity as a Nigerian other than being born/living here?’ I know there are some things to grab onto, like culture, music and what-not, but has this been enough to bestow on you an identity with a rather simplistic idea?

I am writing this because it is evident that Nigeria is experiencing an identity crisis, hence the petitions and calls for the change of name to UAR (United African/Alkebulan Republic). It is extremely common for identity crisis to spiral into existential crisis, which by nature tends to be more challenging. Further, growth tends to follow the inquisitive questioning of ‘Who am I?’, without it, it is easy for confusion to set in and stall the process. Just imagine a relationship where the question of ‘what are we?’ is left unanswered. If we all partake in the exercise of asking ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be Nigerian?’ It will be relatively easier for us to develop, though slowly, a unified sense of what it is.

But now, left to me, I do not know.

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