Nigeria: Far away from Yola, and not close to Daura

December 11, 2018 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Prince Charles Dickson



One does not eat “I almost” in a stew (What one missed narrowly, one cannot enjoy at all)



Some 11 years ago, I wrote asking ‘what is a name’ and I asked us ‘what Nigerian meant to us’. Again I find it appropriate in view of our present circumstances to revisit that essay and again ask us some pertinent questions.


It is equally an admonishment to us as citizenry, and to those that have the privilege of leading us. The quicker we define, or rather redefine who we are, the better.


My name is Prince Charles Dickson; each time I introduce myself most people move their heads trying to see a Caucasian, other times I am greeted with the question, where do you come from amongst many other identity questions. Names…I have yet to see anybody who does not have one, the English language calls it a noun. Everyone and everything has one, from the very popular to those that are virtual unknown.


Most people have a vague idea what their name means, but few give them much more thought. The study of names is called onomastics, it is a Greek word that sounds like (Onome, a Niger Delta name)…ÉÕÉÀÉÕÉ Éø (onoma), which means, ‘name’. It is a field that touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, sociology, philology and much more.


Questions onomasticians try to answer about given names include:


* What they mean – their etymology or origin;


* How they affect the people, their cultures;


* Why names are chosen.



Etymology is the study of the origins of words. The etymology of a word is its linguistic history. The word etymology comes to us from the Ancient Greek Language. It is composed of two parts: the Greek word etymon, which means “the true sense of a word”, combined with the Greek element logia, which means “doctrine, study”. Combining these two parts gives us “the study of the true sense of words”.


So my first question will be ‘what is the etymology of the word Nigeria?’ While we ponder on that, the name Nigeria first appeared in print in The Times in 1897 and was suggested by the paper’s colonial editor Flora Shaw who would later marry Fredrick Lugard, the first Governor General of the Amalgamated Nigeria. The name comes from a combination of the words “Niger” (the country’s longest river) and “Area”. Its adjective form is Nigerian.


In writing this essay I spoke to a number of historians and Nigerians but no one could give me a satisfactory explanation or definition; in one word no one could give me the etymology of the name Nigeria. The common thread was that the name was given to us by Flora Shaw, it means Niger Area and I asked how many of us would name our kids Abuja, Lagos or Kaduna Area because they were born close to those places without as much as knowing the origin of the names.


What is in a name, why is it that the Jonahs, Daniels, Ibrahims, Mohammeds, and Isas, in our political landscape have not behaved to name. Someone show me a stealing or corrupt government official and I will tell you the history, the origin, anthropology and philosophy of the name whether Muslim, Christian or Pagan and the question then is why are they crooks? Do they respect the values that their names stand for, and talking about values, what value does the name Nigeria stand for?


Is it because we do not know the meaning of Nigeria or could it be because we do not know the origin of the name that we have attached a phenomenon to it called the Nigerian myth or the Nigerian factor? I looked online and did a search on nation, names and their meanings, this via a random sampling and my findings were noteworthy. When I entered the name ‘Nigeria’, the laughable shock was how close I got; I saw the name Nkiru, an Igbo name and could not but shake my head.


I dare say at this point that as Nigeria has no meaning, can we not start to give it an etymology, after all what we want as Nigerians are simple; a Nigeria that is as good as its promise. We need a Nigeria that is a definition of principles, of idealism, of character, not birthplace, creed, ethnic group or tribe. This lack of origin is one that has led to a weakness of attitude, which translates to weakness of character.


Our name Nigeria has left a sour taste in the mouth, we have become fanatical, we cannot change our mind, we cannot change the subject, so we are still grappling with the same problems, only the styles that change and new terminologies developed; but the ideology be it corruption or ethnicity it remains largely the same. So our culture has been shaped by the Nigerian factor, one that we have been forced to develop for lack of direction, for lack of a beginning. So as a nation we have continued with a culture of indifference.


When we do not know the meaning of our name, we do not know why it was chosen, our case can then only be likened to getting a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. Telling our leaders who are Nigerians to tell the truth is like un-Nigerianizing them, they lie about everything, they are loved for what they are not, they speak of changing Nigeria, but they are not changing. For lack of an origin, we do not know the why of Nigeria, we have leaders that have integrity without knowledge, thus they are weak and rather useless. The other lot possesses knowledge without integrity and this equally portends danger and a dreadful end.


We say ‘great nation’, yet the likes of South Africa loom over us, Ghana takes better strides than us, and smaller nations develop swagger-like steps in electricity, good governance, sports and many areas that cower over us.


Great people, we still live in the shadow of the Woles, Achebes, Okochas, our production line of quality people seems to be neither here nor there as millions remain jobless, millions graduate, baked in some form and milled into a nation that lacks a strong definition other than an imagined resilience.


Do we appreciate Nigeria, if we do not, we do not deserve it, we want the Nigeria of our dreams, with this and that, with leadership made in heaven but we have refused to go back and ask patiently what is Nigeria, who is Nigeria, what makes Nigeria?


To our leaders, the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good. For us, the ordinary Nigerians, we cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once. We cannot start to give new meaning to this structure called Nigeria, we have to change it from a Niger area of corruption, an area of lawlessness, an area of bad leadership to an area of hope, an area of godly expectation, an area where all and sundry are treated fair and square. In contemporary Nigeria we have continued to exhibit that we have neither history nor heritage apart from all the scattering of cultures from Odua to Arewa, Biafra to South-South.


I end with this encounter: a politician was charged with profanity for calling an opponent a bastard; the politician retorted, “When I call him s.o.b I am not using profanity. I am only referring to the circumstances of his birth.” What is the circumstance of the birth of Nigeria, can anything be done to bring destiny and fate to conjure up some good for us all?


Today all the talk is about Atiku and Buhari, APC and PDP, yet we forget that these are not new dudes; no one catches a fish in anger. That Nigeria has gone wrong, should we also go wrong with Nigeria, can we not help Nigeria take a new meaning. Animals do not hate and we are supposed to be better than animals, yet we live in hate. In looking for a nation, Nigeria still remains far away from Yola, and not close to Daura, for how long–only time will tell.






Prince Charles Dickson

Currently Prince Charles, is based out of Jos, Plateau State, and conducts field research and investigations in the Middle Belt Region of Nigeria with an extensive reach out to the entire North and other parts. Prince Charles worked on projects for UN Women, Search for Common Ground, and International Crisis Group, among others. He is an alumnus of the University of Jos and the prestigious Humanitarian Academy at Harvard and Knight Center For Journalism, University of Texas at Austin. A doctoral candidate of Georgetown University

Born in Lagos State (South West Nigeria), Prince Charles is proud of his Nigerian roots. He is a Henry Luce Fellow, Ford Foundation grantee and is proficient in English, French, Yoruba Ibo and Hausa. Married with two boys, and a few dogs and birds.

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