Odia Ofeimun is many things to many people. He is a world-renowned poet who has won many awards. He is also a writer who has written tonnes and tonnes of articles on Literature & Politics. He is also an authority on Nigerian History. At some point in his career, he worked with late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as his Private Secretary, which further gave him an insight into the politics of Nigeria, from a privileged perspective.
Recently, Odia Ofeimum spoke to City People and he revealed that the mess we see in Nigeria today is the result of the failure of leadership. He revealed that at the core of our problem as a nation is the inability of our successive leaders to take great advantage of our diversity and turn it into good use.
Part of the challenge of leadership is, how do you ensure among so many different people, all claiming a different God or a different ideology, you have equality, that means exactly what it is from one ethnic group, to another. There is nothing wrong in having people of different ethnic groups, forming a country. Afterall there is no reason why all of us must worship the same God. But in everyday performance of citizenship, we must have common acess to Law, Education, Economic welfare. For instance there is nothing stopping every child born in Nigeria having access to Education. This is possible in economic terms irrespective of what formality, religion or language you belong to, there will be a basis for a conversation, not just communication, but a proper conversation and one that cannot be side-stepped in the process of discussing the future. At the moment, we deliberately side-step movement towards the future, in other to discuss, pre-existing situations, pre-history, mythologies of our past, when all we just need to do is to ask a simple civic question: what is his due? And how can he get it? One of the most disastrous positions in the Nigerian Constitution for instance, is the one that says “only those who have acquired education up to a certain level can vote and can be voted for, otherwise, you can vote but you cannot be voted for”.
Any country that allows such a law to exist in the law books, is a country of slaves, because there is no way a child who is not being given education will be a citizen, if you cannot vote. You have not given that child education and you are not making arrangements for him to. How can that person ever become an ethical civic human being. It is not possible. What that means therefore is that, you must first have all citizens with common acess to culture, and welfare. It used to be argued before that acess to Culture can be described only in terms of access to a European language, but we now know that you can have acess to one language and you can still have access to other languages if you studied Astro Physics in Hausa, Edo, Efik and Kanuri, and you were given a project, to build some scientific project. It doesn’t matter which language or word, you use, in the way Germans and Chinese can come to Nigeria, and make Common and Similar performances, inspite of the difference in their languages. All Nigerians can do the same.
What I am saying is that it is possible therefore to educate every child, up to the point where, they can perform scientific feats, that can take them to the moon or any planet. The truth is that we are not backward because of the languages we speak. We are just backward because of our lack of organisation. And the lack of organisation comes from accepting the divisions that have filed, first, along language and then these days, along Religious lines. Otherwise, it is actually possible in a period of 3 years, to wipe out illiteracy from Nigeria, using all the languages available, and therefore moving towards a nationalisation of the English Language, which we can no longer escape anyway. Even if you made Hausa, the lingua franca in the North, Yoruba, the lingua franca in Yorubaland, you are likely always for the next 50 years to use the English Language in the sciences, and so we do need consistently, if only for the purpose of speed of acceleration
you need English, in other to prepare for serious industrialisation.
And you could choose to go the Korean way and not use the English Language. But if you have to fight over the many languages we have as to which one should be the governing language, in my view, you can escape that route, and simply take the language that is the fastest for you. The fact that we have adopted one language for the purpose of going to school, does not mean that we cannot continue to use our indigenous languages for whatever purposes, we want. Therefore, you can say that it is the Virtual nihilism created by those who are afraid of other people’s languages that has made it difficult for them to develop their own indigenous languages. What I mean by that is, if you don’t want the Yoruba to use their own languages and you regard them as ethnic champions for that reason, when are you going to develop your own language? The Igbo had that problem for a very long time, because if all of them had agreed, to develop their own indigenous languages, that is to say, we would be able to translate all the knowledge in the English Language, into your indigenous languages and all the knowledges in your indigenous languages into the English Language. You will equalise the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised, and create a basis for competition, across, wherever English is.
If you are persistent and diligent there is no reason why within a period of 10 years, from 2020, we won’t be able to build a country that can compete with any other. Luckily for us, so many Nigerians have been educated in English Language, enough to start a revolution in any area of the sciences.
We have interacted with other industrialised countries, at a rate that, if you were looking for the best in any of those areas, there are already Nigerians. The only reason we cannot make use of them is because the ethnic re-division of Nigeria that the British imposed has made it impossible for Nigerians to have conversations. We can only have fisticuffs. Wherever we are. I believe that today, if we are talking about Nigeria, frankly we are not always talking about one country. Yet, the nature of interaction, that we have had in the last 60 years is such that even if you broke Nigeria into, no matter how many countries you please, the fractions that will continue to behave the way.