Reuben Abati recently criticized younger Nigerians for their shortening of the nation's name from Nigeria, to Naija or Nija, calling it an illustration of a national identity crisis amongst younger generations. While one can understand the discomfort certain more mature segments of Nigerian society might have with regard to this reality, the fact that younger Nigerians are changing Nigeria, its norms and indeed the very name of the nation is not necessarily something to demonize. The time should be taken to understand this change, as it might not be as negative as some believe. Hence, people like Abati should reconsider their views and realize that this transformation in the name younger Nigerians use to refer to their country is actually a good thing that can be beneficial over the long run. The generational divide does not have to be wide.
For all intents and purposes, Nigeria is an artificial construct. It is a nation consisting of over 250 different tribal groups. Like in many other African countries, various tribal groups were pitted against each other by European colonialists in an effort to 'divide and conquer'. This manipulation created tribal tensions and suspicions that still exist on some level and affect many national decisions. Presently, Nigeria has a population of approximately 140 million, with thousands, if not millions living abroad. The main religious practices are Islam, Christianity and traditional beliefs wherein ancestral beings and deities are worshiped. The name comes from one of two crucial rivers that flows through the country, the River Niger.
At one point, a large section of what is now considered Nigeria was nothing more than a money producing zone for European corporate interests called the "Royal Niger Company Territory". The name, 'Nigeria' was picked to replace "Royal Niger Company Territory" on the suggestion of Flora Shaw, in an effort to brand the location and make it immediately identifiable and separate from other neighboring European colonies. Although the peoples and land mass that makes up Nigeria today is a nation like any other, working to overcome deficiencies and celebrating its successes, Nigeria's origins had little to do with nationhood but economic interests.
NIGERIA BY WHATEVER NAME
In this day and age, Nigerians young and old (yes, older Nigerians use the term as well), have taken to referring to Nigeria as Naija or Nija. Whatever the reason for this shortening of the national name, it appears that this has upset Abati. In his article, "A Nation's Identity Crisis", he asserts that young Nigerians are losing touch with what it means to be Nigerian. He analyzes many pop artists and their products, concluding that they "try to imitate Western hip pop stars". (This writer must confess that she believes that conclusion is the case for many Nigerian artists, but that is a discussion for another day and well respected crooner Banky W. provided a more than adequate response). He goes on to criticize the 'remixing' of the nation's national anthem, the singing of which, he believes should be "solemn" and "rendered in an unchanging format" not transformed into dance music. (Again, this writer agrees that the rendition of any nation's anthem should be treated with respect and reverence, but can't help but wonder what Abati thinks of the joyous religious-athletic stylings of Brother Franklin at a Nigerian church in Texas).
What Abati neglects to consider is that the penetration of "Naija" into the country's lexicon is an expression of national pride that should not be belittled or berated, but acknowledged and capitalized upon. When most Nigerians use the term "Naija" it reflects patriotism not a mere bastardization of 'Nigeria' or the shenanigans of the silly, to-be-looked-down-upon Nigerian youth as some, like Abati, would like to believe. It is a term which brings young Nigerians together, regardless of tribe, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and social hierarchy. That is exactly why brands like Etisalat have tapped into it - because it creates a common, easily identifiable thread that runs through the fabric of what is Nigeria. Or 'Naija' if you prefer to refer to it as such.
OWNERSHIP OF A NATION
Young Nigerians should be encouraged to take ownership of their country, not discouraged. The term "Naija" can be seen as example of such ownership. Considering that the term "Nigeria" was created by a British woman, who despite her many accomplishments probably never would have been an individual Nigerians of the past, present or future could identify with, begs the question why Nigerians have not decided to actually name their own country almost 50 years post independence. It appears that since the political elite and older generations of Nigerians have chosen to not do this, younger Nigerians have forced the issue and thus, created an unease in a country where the young are expected to not express their ideas, and be subject and unquestioning, out of respect, to their elders. However, the use of "Naija" as a symbol of national ownership amongst the youth should not be considered as a threat, but rather an opportunity to further include the young in the civic framework of the nation and empower them in preparation for when they will be in positions of national responsibility and leadership. That way, they might not repeat the many crippling and self-defeating mistakes of some of those who have come before them. While on the topic of national ownership, this writer advocates a review of the national flag. While the significance of the green-white-green motif is understandable, it could do with a face-lift.
The term "Naija" is not an attempt by young Nigerians to turn their back on the incredible culture and history of the nation. It is a celebration of what is, was and will be Nigeria as seen by the eyes of the very people upon whom the nation's future depends - the younger generation. For Abati and others to dismiss this expression of national ownerhsip as disrespectful is naive and in fact, dangerous for Nigeria. That is because Nigeria need to truly incorporate the young into the civic fabric needed to achieve the yet to be accomplished dreams that Abati's and the generation before him had for Nigeria. Young Nigerians, like Abati said, are indeed "a generation in a hurry". They are in a hurry to satisfy the expectations of their fore-mothers and fore-fathers that lie heavy on their shoulders. Expectations they cannot and will not ignore. Rather than demonize them for finding a way to balance expectations, national ownership and pride in a way that is comfortable and familiar to them, Nigeria should pay closer attention and work collectively, instead of creating unnecessary divisions, to create the nation all citizens dream of.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Much Ado Over A Nickname
- I think Nigeria Needs A Revolution
- The Nigerian Psyche
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis
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