This article is about the country. For other uses, see Nigeria (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with the neighbouring country Niger.
|Federal Republic of Nigeria|
Motto: "Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress"
Location of Nigeria shown in dark green
9°4′N7°29′E / 9.067°N 7.483°E / 9.067; 7.483
6°27′N3°23′E / 6.450°N 3.383°E / 6.450; 3.383
|Religion||See Religion in Nigeria|
• Vice President
• Senate President
• House Speaker
• Chief Justice
|W. S. Nkanu Onnoghen|
• Upper house
• Lower house
|House of Representatives|
|Independence from the United Kingdom|
• Unification of Southern and Northern Nigeria
• Declared and recognised
|1 October 1960|
• Republic declared
|1 October 1963|
• Current constitution
|29 May 1999|
|923,768 km2 (356,669 sq mi) (32nd)|
• Water (%)
• 2016 estimate
• 2006 census
|197.2/km2 (510.7/sq mi) (71st)|
|GDP (PPP)||2018 estimate|
|$1.161 trillion (24th)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2018 estimate|
|$460.660 billion (27th)|
• Per capita
|Gini (2010)|| 43.0|
|HDI (2015)|| 0.514|
low · 152nd
|Currency||Naira (₦) (NGN)|
|Drives on the||right|
|ISO 3166 code||NG|
The Federal Republic of Nigeria ( listen), commonly referred to as Nigeria, is a federalrepublic in West Africa, bordering Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. It comprises 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, where the capital, Abuja is located. Nigeria is officially a democraticsecular country.
Nigeria has been home to a number of kingdoms and tribal states over the millennia. The modern state originated from British colonial rule beginning in the 19th century, and took its present territorial shape with the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914. The British set up administrative and legal structures whilst practising indirect rule through traditional chiefdoms. Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960. It experienced a civil war from 1967 to 1970. It thereafter alternated between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999, with the 2011 presidential election considered the first to be reasonably free and fair.
Nigeria is often referred to as the "Giant of Africa", owing to its large population and economy. With approximately 186 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria has the third-largest youth population in the world, after India and China, with more than 90 million of its population under age 18. The country is viewed as a multinational state as it is inhabited by over 500 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba; these ethnic groups speak over 500 different languages and are identified with a wide variety of cultures. The official language is English. Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Christians, who live mostly in the southern part of the country, and Muslims, who live mostly in the north. A minority of the population practise religions indigenous to Nigeria, such as those native to the Igbo and Yoruba ethnicities.
As of 2015[update], Nigeria is the world's 20th largest economy, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity respectively. It overtook South Africa to become Africa's largest economy in 2014. The 2013 debt-to-GDP ratio was 11 percent. Nigeria is considered to be an emerging market by the World Bank; it has been identified as a regional power on the African continent, a middle power in international affairs, and has also been identified as an emerging global power. Nigeria is a member of the MINT group of countries, which are widely seen as the globe's next "BRIC-like" economies. It is also listed among the "Next Eleven" economies set to become among the biggest in the world. Nigeria is a founding member of the African Union and a member of many other international organizations, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations and OPEC.
The name Nigeria was taken from the Niger River running through the country. This name was coined in the late 19th century by British journalist Flora Shaw, who later married Lord Lugard, a British colonial administrator. The origin of the name Niger, which originally applied only to the middle reaches of the Niger River, is uncertain. The word is likely an alteration of the Tuareg name egerew n-igerewen used by inhabitants along the middle reaches of the river around Timbuktu prior to 19th-century European colonialism.
Main articles: History of Nigeria and Timeline of Nigerian history
Early (500 BC – 1500)
Further information: History of Nigeria before 1500
The Nok civilisation of Northern Nigeria flourished between 500 BC and AD 200, producing life-sized terracotta figures that are some of the earliest known sculptures in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further north, the cities Kano and Katsina have a recorded history dating to around 999 AD. Hausa kingdoms and the Kanem-Bornu Empire prospered as trade posts between North and West Africa.
The Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people consolidated in the 10th century and continued until it lost its sovereignty to the British in 1911. Nri was ruled by the Eze Nri, and the city of Nri is considered to be the foundation of Igbo culture. Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umeuri clan. Members of the clan trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri. In West Africa, the oldest bronzes made using the lost-wax process were from Igbo Ukwu, a city under Nri influence.
The Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in southwestern Nigeria became prominent in the 12th and 14th centuries, respectively. The oldest signs of human settlement at Ife's current site date back to the 9th century, and its material culture includes terracotta and bronze figures.
Middle Ages (1500–1800)
Further information: History of Nigeria (1500–1800)
Oyo, at its territorial zenith in the late 17th to early 18th centuries, extended its influence from western Nigeria to modern-day Togo. The Edo's Benin Empire is located in southwestern Nigeria. Benin's power lasted between the 15th and 19th centuries. Their dominance reached as far as the city of Eko (an Edo name later changed to Lagos by the Portuguese) and further.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Usman dan Fodio directed a successful jihad and created and led the centralised Fulani Empire (also known as the Sokoto Caliphate). The territory controlled by the resultant state included much of modern-day northern and central Nigeria; it lasted until the 1903 break-up of the Empire into various European colonies.
For centuries, various peoples in modern-day Nigeria traded overland with traders from North Africa. Cities in the area became regional centres in a broad network of trade routes that spanned western, central and northern Africa. In the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to begin significant, direct trade with peoples of modern-day Nigeria, at the port they named Lagos and in Calabar. Europeans traded goods with peoples at the coast; coastal trade with Europeans also marked the beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade. The port of Calabar on the historical Bight of Biafra (now commonly referred to as the Bight of Bonny) become one of the largest slave trading posts in West Africa in the era of the transatlantic slave trade. Other major slaving ports in Nigeria were located in Badagry, Lagos on the Bight of Benin and on Bonny Island on the Bight of Biafra. The majority of those enslaved and taken to these ports were captured in raids and wars. Usually the captives were taken back to the conquerors' territory as forced labour; after time, they were sometimes acculturated and absorbed into the conquerors' society. A number of slave routes were established throughout Nigeria linking the hinterland areas with the major coastal ports. Some of the more prolific slave traders were linked with the Oyo Empire in the southwest, the Aro Confederacy in the southeast and the Sokoto Caliphate in the north.
Slavery also existed in the territories comprising modern-day Nigeria;. its scope was broadest towards the end of the 19th century. According to the Encyclopedia of African History, "It is estimated that by the 1890s the largest slave population of the world, about 2 million people, was concentrated in the territories of the Sokoto Caliphate. The use of slave labor was extensive, especially in agriculture."
A changing legal imperative (transatlantic slave trade outlawed by Britain in 1807) and economic imperative (a desire for political and social stability) led most European powers to support widespread cultivation of agricultural products, such as the palm, for use in European industry.
British Nigeria (1800–1960)
Main article: Colonial Nigeria
The slave trade was engaged in by European state and non-state actors such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and private companies, as well as various African states and non-state actors. With rising anti-slavery sentiment at home and changing economic realities, Great Britain outlawed the international slave trade in 1807. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Great Britain established the West Africa Squadron in an attempt to halt the international traffic in slaves. It stopped ships of other nations that were leaving the African coast with slaves; the seized slaves were taken to Freetown, a colony in West Africa originally established for the resettlement of freed slaves from Britain. Britain intervened in the Lagos Kingship power struggle by bombarding Lagos in 1851, deposing the slave trade friendly Oba Kosoko, helping to install the amenable Oba Akitoye, and signing the Treaty between Great Britain and Lagos on 1 January 1852. Britain annexed Lagos as a Crown Colony in August 1861 with the Lagos Treaty of Cession. British missionaries expanded their operations and travelled further inland. In 1864, Samuel Ajayi Crowther became the first African bishop of the Anglican Church.
In 1885, British claims to a West African sphere of influence received recognition from other European nations at the Berlin Conference. The following year, it chartered the Royal Niger Company under the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. In 1900 the company's territory came under the control of the British government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. On 1 January 1901, Nigeria became a British protectorate, and part of the British Empire, the foremost world power at the time. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the independent kingdoms of what would become Nigeria fought a number of conflicts against the British Empire's efforts to expand its territory. By war, the British conquered Benin in 1897, and, in the Anglo-Aro War (1901–1902), defeated other opponents. The restraint or conquest of these states opened up the Niger area to British rule.
In 1914, the British formally united the Niger area as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria. Administratively, Nigeria remained divided into the Northern and Southern Protectorates and Lagos Colony. Inhabitants of the southern region sustained more interaction, economic and cultural, with the British and other Europeans owing to the coastal economy.
Christian missions established Western educational institutions in the Protectorates. Under Britain's policy of indirect rule and validation of Islamic tradition, the Crown did not encourage the operation of Christian missions in the northern, Islamic part of the country. Some children of the southern elite went to Great Britain to pursue higher education. By independence in 1960, regional differences in modern educational access were marked. The legacy, though less pronounced, continues to the present day. Imbalances between North and South were expressed in Nigeria's political life as well. For instance, northern Nigeria did not outlaw slavery until 1936 whilst in other parts of Nigeria slavery was abolished soon after colonialism.
Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative and increasingly federal basis. By the middle of the 20th century, a great wave for independence was sweeping across Africa. Nigeria achieved independence in 1960.
Independent Federation and First Republic (1960–1966)
The Federation of Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom on 1 October 1960, while retaining the British monarch, Elizabeth II, as nominal head of state and Queen of Nigeria. Nigeria's government was a coalition of conservative parties: the Nigerian People's Congress (NPC), a party dominated by Northerners and those of the Islamic faith, and the Igbo and Christian-dominated National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe. Azikiwe replaced the colonial governor-general in November 1960. The opposition comprised the comparatively liberal Action Group (AG), which was largely dominated by the Yoruba and led by Obafemi Awolowo. The cultural and political differences between Nigeria's dominant ethnic groups – the Hausa ('Northerners'), Igbo ('Easterners') and Yoruba ('Westerners') – were sharp.
An imbalance was created in the polity by the result of the 1961 plebiscite. Southern Cameroon opted to join the Republic of Cameroon while Northern Cameroons chose to remain in Nigeria. The northern part of the country was now far larger than the southern part. In 1963, the nation established a Federal Republic, with Azikiwe as its first president. When elections were held in 1965, the Nigerian National Democratic Party came to power in Nigeria's Western Region.
Civil war (1967–1970)
Main article: Nigerian Civil War
The disquilibrium and perceived corruption of the electoral and political process led, in 1966, to back-to-back military coups. The first coup was in January 1966 and was led by Igbo soldiers under Majors Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. The coup plotters succeeded in murdering Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello of the Northern Region and Premier Ladoke Akintola of the Western Region. But, the coup plotters struggled to form a central government. President Nwafor Orizu handed over government control to the Army, then under the command of another Igbo officer, General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi.
Later, the counter-coup of 1966, supported primarily by Northern military officers, facilitated the rise of Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon to head of state. Tension rose between North and South; Igbos in Northern cities suffered persecution and many fled to the Eastern Region.
In May 1967, the Eastern Region declared independence as a state called the Republic of Biafra, under the leadership of Lt. Colonel Emeka Ojukwu. The Nigerian Civil War began as the official Nigerian government side (predominated by soldiers from the North and West) attacked Biafra (Southeastern) on 6 July 1967 at Garkem. The 30-month war, with a long siege of Biafra and its isolation from trade and supplies, ended in January 1970. Estimates of the number of dead in the former Eastern Region are between 1 and 3 million people, from warfare, disease, and starvation, during the 30-month civil war.
France, Egypt, the Soviet Union, Britain, Israel, and others were deeply involved in the civil war behind the scenes. Britain and the Soviet Union were the main military backers of the Nigerian government while France and others aided the Biafrans. Nigeria used Egyptian pilots for their air force.
Military juntas (1970–1999)
Main article: Nigerian military juntas of 1966–1979 and 1983–1998
During the oil boom of the 1970s, Nigeria joined OPEC and the huge oil revenues it was generating enriched the economy. Despite these revenues, the military government did little to improve the standard of living of the population, help small and medium businesses, or invest in infrastructure. As oil revenues fueled the rise of federal subsidies to states, the federal government became the centre of political struggle and the threshold of power in the country. As oil production and revenue rose, the Nigerian government became increasingly dependent on oil revenues and on international commodity markets for budgetary and economic concerns. It did not develop alternate revenue sources in the economy for economic stability. That spelled doom to federalism in Nigeria.
Beginning in 1979, Nigerians participated in a return to democracy when Olusegun Obasanjo transferred power to the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari. The Shagari government became viewed as corrupt by virtually all sectors of Nigerian society. In 1983 the inspectors of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) began to notice "the slow poisoning of the waters of this country."[self-published source?] The military coup of Muhammadu Buhari shortly after the regime's re-election in 1984 was generally viewed as a positive development. Buhari promised major reforms, but his government fared little better than its predecessor. His regime was overthrown by another military coup in 1985.
The new head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, declared himself president and commander in chief of the armed forces and of the ruling Supreme Military Council. He set 1990 as the official deadline for a return to democratic governance. Babangida's tenure was marked by a flurry of political activity: he instituted the International Monetary Fund's Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) to aid in the repayment of the country's crushing international debt. At the time most federal revenue was dedicated to servicing that debt. He enrolled Nigeria in the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which aggravated religious tensions in the country.
Babangida survived an abortive coup, then postponed a promised return to democracy to 1992. Free and fair elections were finally held on 12 June 1993, the first since the military coup of 1983, with a presidential victory for Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, who gained some 58% of the votes, defeating Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention. However, Babangida annulled the elections, leading to massive civilian protests that effectively shut down the country for weeks. Babangida finally kept his promise to relinquish office to a civilian government, but not before appointing Ernest Shonekan head of an interim government. Babangida's regime has been considered the most corrupt, and responsible for creating a culture of corruption in Nigeria.
In late 1993 Shonekan's caretaker regime was overwhelmed by the military coup of General Sani Abacha, who used military force on a wide scale to suppress the continuing civilian unrest. He shifted money to offshore accounts in western European banks and defeated coup plots by bribing army generals. In 1995 the government hanged environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa on trumped-up charges in the deaths of four Ogoni elders. Lawsuits under the American Alien Tort Statute against Royal Dutch Shell and Brian Anderson, the head of Shell's Nigerian operation, settled out of court with Shell continuing to deny liability.
Several hundred million dollars in accounts traced to Abacha were discovered in 1999. The regime came to an end in 1998, when the dictator died in the villa. His successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, adopted a new constitution on 5 May 1999, which provided for multiparty elections. On 29 May 1999 Abubakar transferred power to the winner of the elections, Obasanjo, who had since retired from the military.
Nigeria regained democracy in 1999 when it elected Olusegun Obasanjo, the former military head of state, as the new President of Nigeria. This ended almost 33 years of military rule (from 1966 until 1999), excluding the short-lived second republic (between 1979 and 1983) by military dictators who seized power in coups d'état and counter-coups during the Nigerian military juntas of 1966–1979 and 1983–1998. Although the elections that brought Obasanjo to power in 1999 and again in 2003 were condemned as unfree and unfair, Nigeria has shown marked improvements in attempts to tackle government corruption and to hasten development.
Ethnic violence for control over the oil-producing Niger Delta region and inadequate infrastructures are some of the issues in the country. Umaru Yar'Adua of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) came into power in the general election of 2007. The international community has been observing Nigerian elections to encourage a free and fair process, and condemned this one as being severely flawed.
Yar'Adua died on 5 May 2010. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as Yar'Adua's replacement on 6 May 2010, becoming Nigeria's 14th Head of State, while his vice-president, Namadi Sambo, an architect and former Kaduna State governor, was chosen on 18 May 2010, by the National Assembly. His confirmation followed President Jonathan's nomination of Sambo to that position.
Goodluck Jonathan served as Nigeria's president until 16 April 2011, when a new presidential election in Nigeria was conducted. Jonathan of the PDP was declared the winner on 19 April 2011, having won the election with a total of 22,495,187 of the 39,469,484 votes cast, to stand ahead of Muhammadu Buhari from the main opposition party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which won 12,214,853 of the total votes cast. The international media reported the elections as having run smoothly with relatively little violence or voter fraud, in contrast to previous elections.
In the March 2015 election, Muhammadu Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan by roughly 2 million votes. Observers generally praised the election as being fair. Jonathan was generally praised for conceding defeat and limiting the risk of unrest.
Government and politics
Main article: Politics of Nigeria
Nigeria is a federalrepublicmodelled after the United States, with executive power exercised by the President. It is influenced by the Westminster System model in the composition and management of the upper and lower houses of the bicameral legislature. The president presides as both head of state and head of the federal government; the leader is elected by popular vote to a maximum of two 4-year terms. In the 28 March 2015 presidential election, General Muhammadu Buhari emerged victorious to become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, defeating then-incumbent Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
The president's power is checked by a Senate and a House of Representatives, which are combined in a bicameral body called the National Assembly. The Senate is a 109-seat body with three members from each state and one from the capital region of Abuja; members are elected by popular vote to four-year terms. The House contains 360 seats, with the number of seats per state is determined by population.
Ethnocentrism, tribalism, religious persecution, and prebendalism have affected Nigerian politics both prior and subsequent to independence in 1960. Kin-selective altruism has made its way into Nigerian politics, resulting in tribalist efforts to concentrate Federal power to a particular region of their interests. Nationalism has also led to active secessionist movements such as MASSOB, Nationalist movements such as Oodua Peoples Congress, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and a civil war. Nigeria's three largest ethnic groups (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) have maintained historical preeminence in Nigerian politics; competition amongst these three groups has fuelled corruption and graft.
Because of the above issues, Nigeria's political parties are pan-national and secular in character (though this does not preclude the continuing preeminence of the dominant ethnicities). The two major political parties are the People's Democratic Party of Nigeria and the All Progressives Congress. About twenty minor opposition parties are registered.
The then-president, Olusegun Obasanjo, acknowledged fraud and other electoral "lapses" but said the result reflected opinion polls. In a national television address in 2007, he added that if Nigerians did not like the victory of his handpicked successor, they would have an opportunity to vote again in four years.
In the Nigerian general election, 2015, the victorious All Progressives Congress has 225 House seats and 60 in the Senate while the defeated People's Democratic Party of Nigeria became the opposition with 125 seats in the House and 49 in the Senate.
As in many other African societies, prebendalism and high rates of corruption continue to constitute major challenges to Nigeria. All major parties have practised vote-rigging and other means of coercion to remain competitive. In 1983, the policy institute at Kuru concluded that only the 1959 and 1979 elections to that time were conducted with minimal vote-rigging. In 2012, Nigeria was estimated to have lost over $400 billion to corruption since independence.
Main article: Law of Nigeria
There are three distinct systems of law in Nigeria:
- Common law, derived from its British colonial past, and a development of its own after independence;
- Customary law, derived from indigenous traditional norms and practice, including the dispute resolution meetings of pre-colonial Yorubaland secret societies and the Ẹ̀kpẹ̀ and Ọ̀kọ́ńkọ̀ of Igboland and Ibibioland;
- Sharia law, used only in the predominantly Muslim northern states of the country. It is an Islamic legal system that had been used long before the colonial administration. In late 1999, Zamfara emphasised its use, with eleven other northern states following suit. These states are Kano, Katsina, Niger, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe, and Kebbi.
The country has a judicial branch, the highest court of which is the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Main article: Foreign relations of Nigeria
Upon gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria made African unity the centrepiece of its foreign policy and played a leading role in the fight against the apartheid government in South Africa. One notable exception to the African focus was Nigeria's close relationship developed with Israel throughout the 1960s. The latter nation sponsored and oversaw the construction of Nigeria's parliament buildings.
Nigeria's foreign policy was tested in the 1970s after the country emerged united from its own civil war. It supported movements against white minority governments in the Southern Africa sub-region. Nigeria backed the African National Congress (ANC) by taking a committed tough line with regard to the South African government and their military actions in southern Africa. Nigeria was also a founding member of the Organisation for African Unity (now the African Union
‘Oh, you are beautiful.’ The security official tilts her head and breaks into a broad smile, a toothpick caught in the side of her mouth. The loose ends of her cornrows peek out from the back of her navy beret. The cotton of her light blue button-down is taut against her stomach. She is leaning casually against the X-ray machine as my items pass through on the conveyor belt. The line of people is filling up behind me, their groans and sighs increasing as the voice over the intercom announces yet another delay.
‘Thank you,’ I say to the official. I assume she is looking for a weekend blessing, a few hundred naira to make the morning’s efforts worth something. I am travelling back to Abuja from a work trip to Lagos and, already, two airport officials have asked me for ‘something for the weekend’.
‘Are you mixed?’ she asks, still smiling. She looks sincere.
‘Where are you from?’ Her tone is curious and teasing. There is no accusation, no questioning of my right. But still, my back stiffens instinctively. I prepare my armour.
‘Imo.’ I step up as the passenger ahead of me moves. I am rehearsed in this routine and anticipate her next question.
‘Both your parents are Nigerian?’ Her voice is a pitcher of disbelief pouring over my black tote and gold sandals coming off the conveyor. I busy myself looping my thin animal-print leather belt through my black cigarette trousers.
‘Yes,’ I force a smile back, barely looking at her. I am used to this question. I am not used to how it makes me feel.
Her smile breaks into a laugh as she tilts her head back before gazing at me more intently. ‘I na asu Igbo?’
‘No.’ I do not speak my own language. I pick up my tote and walk away before she can call me oyibo.
‘Oyibo.’ It means ‘white man’. I read somewhere once it means ‘no skin’. When I first came back to the country months ago, it was harder, this being called foreigner, this being called white. I had just left the United States, a country determined to beat into such people as me that I am anything but white, that I am anything but welcome. I do not want this naming. Not in my own country. Not anywhere. I am brown like them, my people. But no one says: ‘Welcome home.’ In airports, hotels and supermarkets they say: ‘Where are you from?’ And when I answer, they shake their heads in refusal.
‘It is not possible.’
‘You are not Nigerian.’
‘It is a lie.’
‘Your own yellow is different.’
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It is a new day. I have to renew my Nigerian passport. I have asked my aunt for a contact at the immigration office so it doesn’t take me a million hours to do a simple task. Yahaya, the driver, slows down as we near the entrance, and then brings the car to a complete stop. There is a young man in a light brown uniform with a rifle slung loosely across his shoulder inspecting the car directly in front. He waves that driver through the gate, and motions for us to move forward. I glance down at my office ID card in my hand making sure it is the right face up and that my Igbo name is clearly visible. It is one small way of letting him know that I am Nigerian. I catch his eye from the backseat as he saunters over to my open window, rests his arm casually on the car and bends to peer in at me. He is flirting. Every smile in this place is textured. I am learning to feel out the lines, to read curves like braille.
‘Madam, you are welcome.’
‘Thank you. I have an appointment.’
‘To see who, Madam?’ His eyes smooth over my body like someone icing a cake. I clutch my ID tag tighter and lift my hand slightly to make it more visible.
‘Mrs Anyanwu.’ On the drive over, I had practised saying the immigration official’s name out loud to Yahaya over and over, until I got the pronunciation right, until my American accent didn’t betray me.
It does not matter that I have come back. In his eyes, I am different. I am American. I might as well have no skin
He nods his head slowly and glances towards the driver: ‘Brawse, open the boot.’ He snakes away from my window to inspect the boot, his wet smile dripping on my blouse. The car shakes when he slams the trunk shut, and then he is up at Yahaya’s window. ‘Na oyibo?’
‘No be full o. Na half.’ I am sitting in the backseat as they negotiate my identity between them.
‘Oya, make you drop am for main building then go park for side.’ He waves us forward, nodding at me in the backseat.
As soon as the car moves I speak: ‘Yahaya, why did you tell that man I was half oyibo?’
‘Aunty, is it not so? You are not like us now?’ He means to say I am not fully Nigerian. I was not raised here. I do not even speak the language of the people I am trying to claim. It does not matter that both my parents are from the East. It does not matter that I have come back. In his eyes, I am different. To Yahaya, my driver born in Kogi state – who has lived in northern Nigeria his entire life, and is fluent in his native Igala, in the regional Hausa and in the Queen’s English – I am American. I might as well have no skin.
We are driving back to my office. We stop at Berger junction. I gaze out the window past the sludge of stalled green taxis and the cluster of people standing haphazardly along the side roads. I catch myself wondering how I came to live here, in this home that is not yet my home. Five months have passed since my returning. I am worn. When my people deny me, I no longer labour with insistence. I shrug my shoulders. I shape my lips into plastic lines. I do not argue with them to claim me. I had not thought about not fitting in. I had thought only of a home.
‘It is your birthright.’ She says it firmly, staring at me over her wine glass. My Ghanaian friend, she was born and raised, like me, in another man’s land. I am visiting her home in New York City. I have left Nigeria again, my sixth time in nine months. She tells me: ‘To be Nigerian is your birthright. No one can tell you what it means to be Nigerian. You get to discover that on your own.’ Her version is trimmed with indignant hope.
Back in Abuja, I sit outside at the one café where the coffee is strong and costs less than $3. I have made a new friend over the past two weeks, Jamal.
‘You don’t want to settle here permanently do you?’ Jamal slouches in the wicker chair, a cigarette hanging loosely from his right hand. His great-grandfather came to Nigeria in the 1920s from Lebanon. Jamal was born and raised in Kano. He knows more of this country, it seems, than I ever will. I shrug. ‘Not sure. Let me just get through this first year.’
‘Have you spent much time in Lebanon?’ I ask.
‘I lived there for one year. But that was enough. They are like here, you know, just want to take from you. Once I learned that, I just came back.’
‘So you don’t have any allegiance there?’
‘What is Nigerian? Who is Nigerian? There is no such thing’
‘I used to, you know.’ He sits up and puts out his cigarette in the ceramic bowl on the table between us. ‘I used to have such a strong allegiance, like very, very strong. But then I went and saw how they treated me because I had just come. I didn’t need that shit.’ He waves his arm dismissively in the air: ‘Fuck that. I left.’
I say nothing. I marvel slightly at the ease by which he can throw away his Lebanese identity. The uniformed gateman walks past us just beyond the patio. Jamal calls out and says something to him in Hausa. The man stops, faces Jamal respectfully and replies. When they are finished I ask: ‘So you consider yourself fully Nigerian?’
‘What is Nigerian?’ He looks at me squarely and laughs. He reclines back in his chair. ‘Who is Nigerian? There is no such thing. He does not think I am Nigerian.’ He lifts his head slightly in the direction the gateman has taken. I understand. It took me less than a month to recognise that people here identify you by your ethnicity first.
My friend Bayo emails me from Washington. He left Nigeria when he was a baby and came back to visit only 30-odd years later. He has his own work. He writes to me: ‘I know I’ve told you that this leaving America, this moving back, it’s a massive leap of faith. I respect you for it, but you’ve never told me why you’ve decided to move to Nigeria now.’
I do not respond right away. I do not know yet how to arrange my words for an answer. A month passes. I write to Bayo:
I didn’t tell you because how could it be enough to say that the earth there was fragile and cracking, and I was falling through gravel and soil, and slipping between those spaces that separate continents. Or even to say simply that I was lost. In America I felt home less. If I make it two words it sounds less offensive to apply it to myself, I who am rich by global standards. Remember how global means beyond America? AFROPOLITAN. I don’t like that word they use to describe us. It is a weak and leaky word that lets the challenge and the trial drip out from what is a much more complicated thing. There is little chic about being from two countries, both of which struggle to claim you.
I can write this way to Bayo. He knows what it means to straddle narratives. He knows that leaving home and coming home are full of unstitchings. I started leaving the US in fragments, through small undoings that came with each trip away over the course of two years. Each time, I stepped out of the country and remembered that there were other ways to live and to be seen in the world. And when I had finally come undone, I left because I could no longer stay there without sinking into a thickening mire of anger towards a system of deep and increasingly blatant racial injustice. I left because my bent towards creative writing was straightening into a rigid pole of polemic op-eds. I left because I was tired of the false narrative of Whiteness.
My heart twists still. It is purple-blue bruised and ugly – what is happening back home, in the US
I am here now, in this other country, the place that should be my home, trying to see kinsmen in strangers. I am here wondering if it is possible for someone like me to call just one place home, if it is necessary or vital? I am here wondering if I can really just get up and leave the US, the place of my birth, because I’m exhausted by the race problem? I try to settle in, oceans away from the country where a white teenage boy once asked his pastor if it was okay with God that my then (white) boyfriend was dating me, a black girl.
I listen and watch what is happening to this place that birthed me, this self-proclaimed home of the free and land of the brave. I watch what happens to others who look like me, who are also born there. Who call the US their home. Eric Garner, the father in New York, choked to death by police. Michael Brown, the student in Ferguson, shot to death by police. Tamir Rice, the child playing in the park in Cleveland, shot and killed by police. I watch the tension rise like smoke from a forest fire, thick and suffocating and billowing black. I thought it would be different watching from the outside, no longer living there. But my heart twists still. My mouth dries up. My stomach plunges like I’ve swallowed rocks by mistake, the way flies get in where the air is rancid. It is purple-blue bruised, swelling and ugly – what is happening back home, in the US.
Transnational. Afropolitan. Multicultural. Global citizen. Third Culture Kid. There is always a name that fits like a copied dress from a bad tailor. I was an African in the diaspora, a US citizen with more than one allegiance. Here, I am a returnee. I have come back only to discover a different way to not belong. An unprecedented sadness that fans wild like flora in a sea of constant becoming. That is what I did not expect. When you are raised away from your home country, your native home (what do you call it?), and you decide to move back as an adult, there is no real preparation for the emotional shock of feeling out of place in the space that is supposed to be yours. There is no warning of the mourning that will seep. It cannot be undone.
There is part of my identity as a Nigerian, as an Igbo girl that can never be reclaimed. It is the part that comes with regular childhood visits to my father’s village, with being taught Igbo at the same time I was learning English, with days in the kitchen as a young girl watching my mother and aunts and older cousins chop up okra for my favourite soup. I will tell others about this, about the unexpected grief, about the mourning, others who want to come back but who have never really been. I will say: ‘Expect to grieve because you will come to understand how much was lost when they took you towards what they thought was a better life.’
I land in another airport. The large letters spell out words I pronounce poorly: Akanu Ibiam International. This is Enugu. This is the East. Igboland. I stare at everything. Nostalgia surprises me. I have not known this city, here where my mother traipsed off to elementary school, where she went from a girl to a woman, where her marriage began. Something in me splits open and the amber dust, the hills and their narrow roads, the banana leaves spilling over high walls, they bleed into my spirit and flow through me like a prayer.
On my own, I do not have all the pieces to tell the story, my own story. That is what I have discovered mostly. I have dug in my heels and broken earth in other countries, without any significant ties to this country and to the region where my parents and grandparents were raised, where they learned how to make sense of the world. Nigeria is the place that grew the people that made me. Sacred ground. Here, where there is so little to rely on, no healthcare, no steady electricity, no trustworthy security, and no government that seems to care for its people. I ask myself quietly, can this be sacred ground?
How do you confess aloud that you come from a place that unstitches you?
‘You children need to understand Igbo.’ That is what I wish they had said to me growing up, the people that made me. I wish my parents had spoken that language, their language, to us. I wish that when I said my own name it sounded like it came from the soil where my mother was planted. I have not grasped what it means to have been sown, to grow from a patch of earth that receives you as its own.
At night, when it feels more difficult to understand why I am here, why I felt pulled back to a place I’ve never known, I recite the things for which I am grateful. I assure myself that I do not have to understand it all to stay. I just need more days and months to acclimatise. I trust my gut, that coming was the right decision, even with the pain, the type that is still so hard to speak of and to admit. How do you confess aloud that you come from a place that unstitches you?
‘Mgbe onye tete bu ututu ya.’ Ngozi, my new friend sends me a text in Igbo. We have discovered we are from the very same village on our paternal side. She vows to ask her father if we are related. She believes we must be. I read her text, the one she assumes I will understand. I text her back and ask her to translate. She calls me instead, laughing.
‘Are you serious?’ she says. I am serious. I want to tell her to stop laughing. But I laugh with her.
‘Just tell me what it means.’
‘When you wake up, that is your morning.’ She continues: ‘You know Igbo is full of proverbs, right? It’s how we say it is never too late to do your own work, or achieve what you have to achieve. Everybody’s timing is different.’
My stomach responds before the tears fall. It is exactly what I needed to hear. But that is not why I am crying.
It is the first time that God has spoken to me in Igbo.
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is a writer, speaker and strategic communications consultant. She is an award-winning author of four non-fiction books, and is currently working on her first book of fiction. Born in New York City, she lives in Abuja, Nigeria.