This week’s African Britishness is delving into history and looks into my love for Nigeria and Britain – one that transcends race, culture, and politics – and show us the good and bad side of both countries.
Britain colonised Nigeria in 1901, and Nigeria gained her independence in 1960. During the colonial period, Britain introduced the church of England. Although Christianity had been introduced to parts of Nigeria as early as the 15th Century, it did not take off till the 1960s.
The missionaries calmly marched through animism and other faiths in the towns and villages to stamp Jesus into their hearts. At independence, Nigeria could not even be regarded as a nation; it was united in 1967 after the Biafran War.
Britain was an adept and smooth operator. She looked at the rules and structure of each area of the county – South, North, West, and East – and decided to introduce two types of control: Direct and Indirect Rule.
British Direct and Indirect Rule in Nigeria and the Challenge of Living in Britain
The direct rule meant that the North of Nigeria which had a Caliphate system was mostly left intact. Even the Midwest like the Benin kingdom was the same. The East and West of Nigeria with their multiple Chiefs & tribes required direct rule. Chinua Achebe expressed this clearly in his novel “Things Fall Apart”.
I am a product of the West and the Midwest of Nigeria. My mother was a princess of a small town in the hinterland of Ondo State while my father came from the Midwest.
I was born in Britain, whisked back to Nigeria as a child and was there till my young adulthood when I then came back to live in Britain. Living in Britain was very tough. I aspired to be a writer, was raising a family, working and serving a community and it was hard, yet I persisted.
Now, let’s discuss why I love Nigeria and Britain.
My Love for Nigeria
I love Nigeria for her rich culture that she has with or without colonialism. Nigerians created their version of the English language, absorbed the British culture and transformed it. They also gained notoriety for taking shortcuts to financial success. Consequently, it has allowed the greatness of this country to be overlooked.
I do not want to boast, but in countries around the world, Nigerians have created a home and moved on to be successful. My children were born and bred in Britain but have a strong sense of being Nigerian.
Canny Britain gave Nigeria her independence but ensured she set a foundation of appointing weak, greedy leaders to secure her control, for Nigeria possesses the black gold (oil) wanted for energy and power around the world. Irrespective of her leaders and atrocities that they have committed and are still committing, I love the country, its culture, its people.
I am maddened at the chaos, robbery, kidnapping, corruption, lack of consistency but admire her citizens for their many ways of survival. Everyone including the hawkers on the street is a businessman or businesswoman. That is why NGOs are now providing support at the grass root level.
The Canny Nature of Britain and My Love for her
I love Britain even though this country plundered Nigeria for its oil, its arts and gifted her with corrupt politicians. Britain is brilliant. She is shrewd at doing the work behind the scene and stepping back to watch destruction take place.
For instance, Britain imported opium to China in the 1800s, and millions of Chinese got addicted to the substance. She is the mother of Australia and America and the Commonwealth. I should hate Britain for what she did to my ancestors especially running the slave trade for over 300 years. Yet, I do not.
Moreover, my father who lived in Britain for close to 2 decades was always full of admiration. He used to say the English man will shake your right hand and stab you in the back with his left (Trust me, this is not my quotation). When I decided to come back to settle in Britain, he cautioned me and then put pressure on me to complete a further degree.
He was afraid that I would end up downtrodden and a statistic, for there are lots of statistics in Britain although many have gone on to improve their lives or businesses– the cleaner, unseen and unheard, the cook, care worker, plumber, decorator, African food seller, name it. There are plenty around.
Britain as a Space for Creation of Reality
My decision to become a writer gave my father anxiety, and he made me promise to complete my studies, which I did. After giving it four years and producing a literary fiction (still in my drawers), I decided to call it a day and would not write for the following ten years.
Real life does not give you room to suspend reality. And yet fact feeds on fantasy. Look at the success of Hollywood.
But as long as it took, Britain gave me room to create. For in plundering other countries, it created an oasis of peace for its citizens. It is a capitalist country with an established class system that survived revolution & religious unrest.
The consequence of Transcending Class in Britain
In Britain, if you know your place and do not aspire to try and move class beyond the upper middle class, then you’re fine. If you transcend class and marry into Aristocracy, then be prepared to be reminded in subtle ways every moment of your life. If you transcend both class and race, then be ready to live through the contained wrath of half of the nation (just guessing).
I have a big personality and a sharp pen. Britain nurtured me but also gave me some hard knocks. I could not have grown without the body of writers, literature and the peacefulness in which I existed. That’s why I love Nigeria and Britain
My Appreciation for both Nigeria and Britain despite their Ugly side
Both countries fed me in different ways, and I am thankful for this. Therefore, I hope you now understand my love/hate for both countries. They are a part of me, and I celebrate both. I love both Nigeria and Britain.
Nevertheless, there is a lot in my generation who have spent their whole lives in Britain dreaming of home and building their dream. It reminds me of the Great Gatsby who had everything in terms of wealth, except marrying upper class, Daisy.
Some went back ‘home’ and realised that it was all a dream, and in fact, Britain, with all its hidden and overt intolerance, was truly home.