opinionBy Oliver Ihebinike
Lagos — In terms of landmass, population density, abundant human and natural resources, etc, Nigeria is the giant of Africa and the seat of the black world. But it would amount to an irony of fate, if this great country deviates from being the historical, cultural and political centre-piece of Africa as well, due to its continued adoption and retention of foreign name as baptized by a British woman.
As the political face of Africa was changing in the late 1950's and early 1960's, some African nations were granted independence by the European colonizers. That warranted drastic changes of foreign names by some African nation states, to remove the last vestiges of colonialism and cultural imperialism. Here is a catalogue of African nations that changed their foreign names to reflect the new national order and Africa-ness.
Gold Coast was changed to Ghana. Dahomey became Republic of Benin. Ethiopia, though never colonized, was formally called Abyssinia. Burkina Faso became a new name for Upper Volta. Northern and southern Rhodesia, derived from Sir Cecil Rhodes, became the present Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively.
Historically, Zaire was known for almost a century as the Congo (or the Belgian Congo). Malagasy Republic was also changed to Madagascar. This list goes on and on. These new names have direct philosophical bearings on the custom, culture and tradition of those nations.
In that connection, this is the right time for Nigeria to follow suite and equally change her foreign name to reflect the multi-ethnicity of our mother land and in consonance with African enculturation and indigenization policy.
Nigeria as a geographical entity was created in 1914 after the amalgamation of the Northern and the southern protectorates. The name Nigeria was derived from the word Niger and it was coined and baptized by a British woman, Florence Shaw, in 1898. Florence Shaw was a former mistress and later wife of Lord Lugard, the first Governor-General of Nigeria (1914 - 1919).
It is an abomination, shame and loss of national identity that a country as great as Nigeria was named by a foreign woman. In African culture and tradition and other cultures of the world, it is an aberration for a woman to name even new born babies, nay, human beings. In reality, I have never heard of a village, town, city or country elsewhere in the world, named by a woman. If Mungo Park, who discovered River Niger had named our country, Nigeria, that would have been more acceptable.
Though Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492, America was named after Americo Vespuch, as one of the founders. Liberia was adopted as a name by the American Government, after the liberated Afro-American slaves in 1847. Its capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe, the fifth American President (1817 - 1825).
This is never a matter of gender discrimination, male chauvinism or misogyny. But it is a cultural ancient landmark that has global embellishment. It goes beyond social, traditional, political or religious underpinning.
Let us pause for few minutes and just meditate over these facts. Queen Elizabeth ll, a woman, is the Monarch of England. English is an international language. About one fifth of world population speaks English. It is also the official medium of communication in all the Commonwealth of Nations member governments. But regrettably, from a linguistic point of view, English Language neither loves gender equality nor gives woman-folk any preferential treatment.
From an etymological perspective, the origin and formation of the under-mentioned words show that male-folk should be given pre-eminence in all affairs of things. These words include housemanship, forefather, manpower, workmanship, manoeuvre; mankind, manhandle, malefactor and malevolent. This list is inexhaustible, and the words are derived from the masculine gender.
At the risk of being labelled a superstitious writer or an unbeliever, I stand bold to make the following historical observations without reservation. Methinks, all the woes, crises, skirmishes and problems bedeviling this great country since pre-independent period, could be traceable to the fact that Nigeria was named by a woman. Woman, your name is "Woe to man". These woes include political violence, religious conflicts, social upheavals, educational crises and economic strangulation, among others.
Examples abound thus: Can you remember the Aba Woman Riot of 1929? There was the Kano Riot of 1953; the Census Crises of 1962/1963 and the General Elections ... imbroglio of 1993 (a.k.a. June 12, crisis).
The several fuel crises and NLC strikes in 2003 and 2004 respectively are very appropriate for mention here.
Again, the name Nigeria was derived from River Niger. It is on the basis of this nomenclatural coinage that the Ijaws also known as the Niger/Delta people presume that as the oil-based region of this nation, Nigeria belongs to them. Hence under the guise of environmental degradation and socio-economic deprivation, they unleash great havoc on this nation and the world community also suffers from its concomitant effects. Whenever they act locally, oil prices increase internationally. The Federal Government is now at the mercy of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). There are all sorts of socio-economic palliative measures packaged for the Niger Delta people by the Federal Government, while people from the other geographical zones are left to suffer at their own peril.
On the global scene, the major damage done to this great country is the similarity in name of Nigeria with that of Niger Republic. Whenever the citizens of Niger Republic (i.e. Nigeriens) commit crimes on international level, the world community mistakenly ascribes them to citizens of Nigeria (i.e. Nigerians). These paint Nigeria's image darker on global canvass as one of the worst world corrupt countries.
Because of the aforementioned reasons and others appertaining to, it is my conviction that the name "NIGERIA" should be changed, henceforth. Nigeria is a lopsided name and it has a mono-basic geographical identity, reflecting Niger only.
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation of about 250 tribes. A new name for our country must give all ethnic groups a sense of belonging. In this regard, I would advocate that the name Nigeria should be changed to The Republic of HAYOBOM. The significance of this new name HAYOBOM is manifold. It is a coinage from the three major ethnic groups and the minority ethnic groups. In that order, "HA" is coined from Hausa, "YO" carved from Yoruba and "BO" abridged from Ibo while "M" is a collective representation of all the minority ethnic groups. A citizen of HAYOBOM would be called HAYOBOMIAN. HAYOBOM has a philosophical impact on every Musa, Tunde, Okoro and Udoma of this nation. In essence, therefore, The Republic of HAYOBOM, is an African great country with multi-ethnic groups, rich peculiar cultural and traditional heritage and abundant human and natural resources. HAYOBOM is a song worth singing and I am proud to be a HAYOBOMIAN.
It is worthy of note that the post-independence leaders of this nation had the Wisdom of Solomon to remove some of the vestiges of colonialism and westernization from our soil. The Union Jack flag was replaced with the Nigerian flag. The British currencies-pounds and shillings-were replaced with Naira and kobo. The colonial National Anthem and National Pledge respectively were re-written with indigenous verses and renditions.
At this unprecedented era of reforms in all facets of national endeavours, it behoves President Olusegun Obasanjo and the members of the National Assembly to give a serious thought to this change of name by passing a bill for this purpose. At the end, their names would be written in gold in the annals of our national history.
Ihebinike is of Dinaks Projects Nig, Surulere, Lagos.