Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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.

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.

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

Other reactions to the Reuben Abati article:
  1. Much Ado About An Article - Tosyn Bucknor
  2. Flogging A (Hopefully) Dead Horse - Media Nemesis

19 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

nneoma said...

just curious - are there other older Nigerians who feel the same way as Abati, since you mention that older Nigerians also call Nigeria by her pet name? I wonder whether all this hoopla over the name Naija, Nija, Naij, what-have-you is actually a generational divide or simply an Abati idiosyncrasy made into national news by virtue of his position...

culturesoup said...

Like you, i think Abati had some good points with which i agree but they are overshadowed by the rest of the piece. I just couldn't buy his argument about the use of Naija to refer to the country. I mean, there is a difference between textspeak and proper English. Using an abbreviation doesn't mean that you don't know the actual word.

IMO, Naija is just a name. Same as Nigeria actually. Though it is much older, it is still just a name. Every generation re-defines the national identity in some way
and i don't see what's so wrong with that.

I think Abati's article is an example of how Nigeria is failing to engage its youth and take advantage of their incredible energy. I thought the same thing when i saw the list of those on Dora Akunyili's rebranding panel. Yes our way of doing things is different from what the 'elders' like Abati are used to but if they could manage to suppress their outrage for a minute, they might actually see something good.

Thank God not all of them are of the same opinion.

Beauty said...

"an illustration of a national identity crisis amongst younger generations" is a reason the Twitter generation rules! Sorry Reuben Abati, this is what dinosaurs do, they go extinct.


@ nneoma: so good to see you around these parts. Just read your post re: MEND and amnesty. Can't fully express my thoughts on that issue just yet, but will...

Anyway, I wouldn't call Abati's attitude a mere idiosyncrasy. There are many who feel the way he does, even though some older folks also use the term "Naija". The term is yet to be widely accepted, spoken in more mature quarters in whispers...

I truly believe this is a reflection of a generational divide, a fear that these young people are stepping out of the boxes they should remain in. Just my two kobo, but I could be wrong. Hope you will come back and share more...

@ culturesoup: I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I should have asked you to write this post.

Ultimately, times change. The wise and elderly fade and the young "shall grow", shebi? The key, I feel is to engage the young not berate them. Carrots work better than sticks, or in the case of Naija, sugarcane would work better thank koboko.

@ Beauty: oh my, the dinosaur analogy. Make dem no say na me talk am oh!

But before we go there, Twitter isn't all good, in my humble opinion. I find it hard to have a meaningful conversation on the platform (though I try). As such I have relegated it to the exchange of useful information, quick silly messages and whatnot. I rather have a phone conversation with the ones who care for me the most, than figure out a quirky and short way to compress my thoughts. Much has been written about Twitter (and Web 2.0's) impact on communication and interaction and it is worth considering.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that some respectful conversation works better than the opposite. The concerns over the younger generation losing their connection to Nigerian culture are important and must be discussed.

Hope all is well.

Chukbyke.Okey,C. said...

You are just correct sister.
Our able Ruben fired wild this time or he is still to correct the target.
The youths are the furture and have the right or even the obligation to change the name of their country with good reasons.
I see the coining and use of the word NAIJA as one of the great unseen magics happening to the Nigerian youths in the area of patriotism.
Most people in communication & persuaion know that it easier to get closer to the youths and have better results when you use the word Naija rather than Nigeria. then the big question should be ..why is the drift? How long will the Name Nigeria last?

N.I.M.M.O said...

I think Nneoma is right. Reuben Abati, IMO, is one of those writers who present opinions as facts and ask people to accept same by virtue of the positions.

I think Banky W. has given a very apt response. At least from the point of view of the entertainment industry.

I think Abati missed the whole point. He was obviously too engrossed in his own wisdom that he missed the whole essence around him.

I think I'm going to write a post on this.


Thats how its spelt in Ibibio, Idoma,Ijaw, Hausa, Urhobo, Itsekiri, Yoruba, Igbo, Fufulde, Gwari, Edo, Efik and the thousand other languages and dialects within the geographical space called Nigeria.

You would wonder why a supposedly intelligent person like Abati just don't get it.

aloted said...

Mr Abati should go and chilax jare...

He had a FEW good points in his article but he was totally off point with a whole lot of things.

I loved Banky W's response. Our generation rocks!

Beauty said...

he asserts that young Nigerians are losing touch with what it means to be Nigerian Wink wink SOLOMONSYDELLE, perharps its time you did another big one on that topic. What does it mean to be Nigerian? Cash happy dancing "Brother Franklin", Inept and thieving Shehu Shagari or Superwoman Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? Perhaps a combination of all not forgetting to throw in a Niger-Delta militant or two.

We do not have a proper education system yet Reuben Abati and others expect something. Disrespectful youths might yet get us there. IMO, the Twfacemsn generation is here and now, theirs is the future. Remember, we ushered in the email era but just watch email disappear is how someone else puts it and like email, Nigeria will become irrelevant as our children embrace Cosmopolitanism.

Lost at The End said...

I agree with Funmi Iyanda that Naija is a term of endearment.

Anyway, it's not for nothing that they call our generation the Cheetah generation and Abati's generation the Hippo Generation.

Don't worry o. Express go leave dem.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, when my brother sent the link to me, my eyes strayed first to the part where he ran the Rooftop MC's down for "Ori mi n wu, e lagi mo" and I didn't bother reading the article after that. The man was obviously shooting blindly and personally, in spite of all the respect I have for him and his, I would rather not waste my precious brain cycles on such drivel.

- Doug

Anonymous said...

i can't believe this subject is still making d rounds!!!!!! One man, quite respected in d country, made his opinions known. Nearly everyone can agree, without making it dis propaganda dat it is becoming, dat DRA was myopic in his assessment. Shouldn't it just end @ that???? Or is everyone hoping to get dear DRA to retract his publicatons? if daz d ... Read Moreaim of these discussions going on, then i'd understand y it's still lingering. if so, y not just call d man out & have a sit-down with him on national television, so this matter can enter once n 4 all. It's not like a law has been issued in effect of d things he said, anyways. So, WTH

- FFF (on Facebook)


@ FFF: Hey babe, not sure if you checked what I wrote but my purpose was to focus on the issues I find interesting. Particularly as certain readers have been requesting a discussion at the blog. I am not focused on what others have so eloquently re-hashed - Nigerian music et al.

To me, the idea is to provoke a conversation with readers about what I consider to be a generational divide. Whether Abati will react via response or retraction is unnecessary. Considering what the hinted distaste for internet folks and bloggers, I highly doubt the guy cares to discuss this issue further.

That being said, I suggest you relax. It is fair for you to not want to participate in the discussion. But, just as you have a right to ignore what you choose to ignore (and I take no offense), so also do others have a right to discuss what they deem fit.... Read More

Hope all is well with you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Abi oh. God pls help me 2 turn a blind eye everytime i see this issue brought up.

maybe d reason y am pissed dat d topic is still being discussed is cos i see it as not making any effect n d real issues we have n Nigeria. Wot does it matter 2 a young man looking 4 a job & is being constantly rejected n interviews, if d country is called 'Nigeria' ... Read Moreor 'Naija'. After all, he will not write naija n his application letters? How does it change d price of crayfish n d market if musicians r as 'African' & have meaningful lyrics as Onyeka Onwenu. Does shortening our words & sentences improve d NEPA situation or d bad roads? If DRA had raised issues dat contributed to national welfare, den maybe i'd change n d discussion & enjoy it. But d man was attacking things dat really doesn't matter shit 2 d overall well-being of d citizenry, y on earth should he or his opinions be given any more audience dan it has already received??

daz my take sha. but, i will do as u've said sha & shut up my mouth

- FFF (from Facebook)

Anonymous said...

i do understand wot point u were making oh, although truth b told, being a job-searching member of d society, who paid taxes (wen i was employed), endures mosquitoes bites n d midst of sleep @ night, gets dirty water splashed on me wen a car speeds past a pothole full of germ-infested water, believe me am not patriotic 2wards any name, be it 'Naija... Read More' or 'Nigeria'. Maybe Nigerians living abroad, driven by nostalgia maybe, will feel strings pulled n dir heart from names. Not me, who has to live daily with d realities of being Nigerian.

okay okay, solo. This is the last am saying on this matter, i promise.

- FFF (from Facebook)


@ FFF: Thank you for taking the time to share the reasons with your frustration. I can definitely understand where you are coming from. Nothing wrong in thinking more attention should be paid to more crucial issues.

That being said, please humor me on something because I think your approach/thinking and mine are a lot more similar than you think.

I would posit that the issues you raise - lack of electricity, job search/unemployment, bad roads - are due to the same attitude I raise with regard to the generational divide. that whole looking down on others thingy. Only thing is that in this case, although certain governors are trying their best, those at the very top of the leadership ladder are dismissive of ordinary people and their needs. Consequently, the needs of the people are ignored and considered inconsequential in comparison to the needs of their (Big Men) pockets.

I concede that some of us in the diaspora have the luxury of worrying over/discussing these issues versus an individual on the grind in Naija having to get through everyday without the basics (e.g. safe roads, electricity, jobs). However, I implore you to remember that as for me (and I can't speak for others), I try to engage in these conversations because I believe that they are a necessary part of getting Nigeria to where it needs to be, not for me, ... Read More but for those who don't have the luxury of addressing these issues. So, abeg, make you no vex. If na vex way you wan vex, make you vex well, well with the people at the top wey dey chop our money and opportunities dey go. At the end of the day, we can't forget who the victims ultimately are.

As always, your honest and frank opinions are always refreshing and appreciated.

Naughty Eyes said...

Nice piece SSD as always. Though I wrote about this topic then (thanks for adding my link!) honestly, I got tired of people bashing Mr. Abati's character rather than point out his errors and prove him otherwise like Banky did.
Anyway, I tend to lean favourably towards most of the points FFF raised here most especially since I belong to the group of disgruntled youths she so aptly described.
My view? Mr. Abati stepped out of line a couple of times and made grievious errors in his wide-sweeping assumptions but if we read between the lines, there were certain very valid points raised there. What we needed to have to done (and continuously do) was/is to prove him and his generation wrong.
However on a sad final note, seeing all the noise and drivel that accompanied Mr. Abati's piece, maybe he was mostly right after all...

Akin said...

Hello SolomonS,

I find myself placing another comment on this Dr. Abati diatribe.

A list of all musicians past and present with a recognition that he no longer finds relevance in contemporary events and then extrapolating that into a National Identity Crisis.

I think it is unfortunate that anyone would consider Dr. Abati's views representative of any generation especially mine - we are age mates, more or less.

Reading through comments placed in the various places this article has elicited discussion the one clear issue with Dr. Abati is despite his erudite mind, he does appear to find ways of allowing his bias to becloud objective discourse.

There are probably 4 good and different topics he could have written on but in the end we have a jumble sale rather than a clothes shop.

We have accorded him too much recognition but worst of all been cajoled into a generational divide debate which it never was.

Note: This is a bit generational, I do sometimes find it difficult to read some comments written in pseudo-Niglish/pidgin English, I suppose I am out of sorts regarding those views.

Akin said...

Hello SolomonS,

I do apologise, in my excitement which is usually, I hope, curtailed ;) I forgot to close my previous comments politely.



Lagosin30 said...

Na oldschool dey worry Abati.

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