1914: It was a new country. Ogbonna felt it. But he did not know how to convey this sensing to his fellow Igbo people, to his fellow Africans; because he could not really explain, with words and in concepts, what he so clearly perceived – this was a new country. There was something in the air.
He saw it in the Colonial Officer’s gait. It was the bearing, comportment and carriage of someone who was striding expectantly, imperiously, across new found land. The man’s eyes glittered shrewdly, tempered by surprise and wonder, intensified by ambition and greed, crowned by the realization that this was a jewel, this moment, this place, this new country he and his kind had created and finally pieced together. His mind swept over the large vast area stretching from the desert edges up North to the Atlantic down South, and he still could not believe how easy it had been to play all these tribal nations against each other, using some to subjugate others and others to infiltrate some; and never once had they thought of uniting. A man of greed knows how to manipulate the greed in others. His thin lips bore a faint smile.
Watching him, Ogbonna had the impression of observing a farmer who threw udara seeds into a field and, when it was time to reap, found not udara trees but fields of gold swimming before his bewildered eyes, behind which in his mind the realization dawned that that soft dark red soil had been no ordinary field of activity, this was a fertile land of opportunity. He had created a state of limitless possibilities. And while he stood and admired his work, shrewdly trying to figure out in his mind how to retain his hold on it and what to do with it now and in the future, it burned in Ogbonna’s mind, watching him, that this land, this field of possibility, was his own country. It was not the old clan or ancient tribe in which he lived, from which he hailed, and which was itself trapped within the borders of this new entity, henceforth a part of it. Nay, it was something else. Another place within the same space. Another state of being. A different nation. A new country had been built on his native land.
In this new country, new laws would govern, new thinking would hold greater validity. The old would stay and continue to struggle to stand its ground; but over and above everything, master of all, would be – already was – a new reality, a new game, and a new way to play the game if you wanted to get to the top. This new country was not going away, this new order was here to stay. The magical mix of heterogeneous parts had reacted with itself under the catalyst of a ruthless clever chaperoning, and had disappeared into and yielded an improbable, vibrant, new whole. A strange and powerful virgin. Daughter of improbability, mother of possibility. Familiar yet different. A whole new thing. A new, strange, country called Nigeria.
It is a frustrating thing to feel all these things within you but have no words with which to express them, and nobody with whom to further develop these thoughts. They did not come gradually upon him, but rushed in in one flash of clarity the very first time he saw the Colonial Officer in his village. He just knew. This old ground I am standing on, everything, is new territory. We have not just been conquered – reversing that would have been easy. No, our very world has changed. Something of deep monumental significance has taken place, something irreversible.
We cannot reverse it – but if we are clever and united, industrious and fortunate, we might take control of it. It will never take us again back to where we were, but we can take it away from those who made it, and we can take it in a direction of our own choosing. Because something new has arisen on Igbo soil and, as he had heard, on many other African peoples’ soils far away too, but no African has any control over it. We are all powerless subjects of our own Kingdom.
And there the two men stood, staring into the distance. One contemplating how to subjugate this land forever. The other plotting how to get it back.
That was the moment Ogbonna made the decision, at first instinctively, intuitively, and then consciously, deliberately, clearly, to move away from his old life, from the old order. It was a movement of that intuition which had always been an active part of his inner consciousness. This was the way forward. The way out of the past, for the past had been a world of its own… something else entirely. In order to arrive safely into the future, he had to get into the heart of the system that had broken their heart.
And from that moment he began to strive and to struggle, reluctantly yet resolutely, to move away from his world and move into the Colonial Officer’s world. He would take as much of his past along with him as he could smuggle aboard the ship of change. He would serve the system, learn the system, master the system, would disappear deep into the heart of the Colonial Master’s system and re-emerge a completely new, different person, a Nigerian. He would build a foundation for the future repossession of his home, and he would become the grandfather and great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather of you and me.
– – – – –
2019: Nigeria is on the brink of another round of elections, and they still have not thought of uniting, still have not made a serious attempt at forging true unity, nor at fairly and equitably sharing power. Individual sections or power cliques still want to conquer, control and subjugate all the rest. And Greed remains their Master.
The Colonial Master’s descendants still bear a faint smile on their haughty lips.
– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.