THERE WAS A COUNTRY
An Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.
The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe, through the transatlantic slave trade, to the Berlin Conference of 1885. That controversial gathering of the world’s leading European powers precipitated what we now call the scramble for Africa, which created new boundaries that did violence in Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension-prone modern states. It took place without African consultation or representation, to say the least.
Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria, like a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party. It was one of the most populous regions on the African Continent, with over 250 ethnics groups and distinct languages. The northern part of the country was the seat of several ancient kingdoms, such as the Kanem-Bornu which Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his jihadists absorbed into the Muslim Fulani Empire. The Middle Belt of Nigeria was the locus of the glorious Nok kingdom and its world-renowned terra-cotta sculptures. The southern protectorate was home to some of the region’s most sophisticated civilizations. In the west, the Oyo and Ife kingdoms once strode majestically, and in the Midwest the incomparable Benin Kingdom elevated artistic distinction to a new level. Across the Niger River in the East, the Calabar and the Nri Kingdoms flourished. If the Berlin Conference sealed her fate, then the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern protectorates inextricably complicated Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims, and Christians alike were held together by a delicate, some say artificial, lattice.’