Don’t Stop at the Name: In Transit to a Nigeria That Will Never be the Same

Ayobami Adereti
4 min readJun 5, 2021

“Sometimes people confuse representation for what it represents. But they are not that physical thing — they don’t exist in the world that way. So if you see a woman walking down a road and she’s wearing African cloth, you might think — now there’s African-ness, true Africanity. But the cloth, those clothes, are not African-ness.” — Yinka Shonibare

In the spirit of review and revision, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) recently put forward a case for the reconsideration of the country’s title, a “foreign contraption”, in favor of a self-appointed appellation. Articulated by National Coordinator Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA built its stance in support of a name change on the stain of submission and exclusion of native voices in the original dubbing decision — describing the act akin to naming a child despite their absenteeism.

Albeit a valid argument, the Association’s call to action does the country a slight disservice in fixating solely on face value, particularly as the past year, punctuated by pandemic chaos and governmental corruption alike, has emphasized the need for a new vanguard. As explained by educator and activist Sonya Renee Taylor, the desire to disempower labels holds no weight unless followed by daily effort to “completely dismantle all of the fixtures, all of the systems, all [of] the structures and designs” that legitimize them. In effect, simply decrying leftover marks of colonialism does not make the status quo any less loyal to its imperialist roots. Rather, both Nigeria’s problems and its people are far more nuanced than an unapproved name assignment, and propositions of cosmetic change fail to address the country’s adoption of colonial mentality, state-sponsored suffering, and systemic imbalances of power maintained through tyranny.

Consequently, of a population topping 200 million, approximately 40% of Nigeria lives suspended in perpetual poverty, pocketing less than $1 USD daily despite the country’s sizable economy.¹ Conversely, the wealth exploited predominantly from oil wells exclusively lines the pockets of an elite minority, who find collateral in the eviscerated environments and neglected needs of rural communities. This model echoes the lasting effects of an imperialist grooming process, having long embedded economic dependence on and domination by the First World deep in Nigerian society. Reclaiming post-colonial identity would thus require introducing diversity to industry, redistributing resources equitably, and freeing the majority from imposed poverty.

Furthermore, though it holds the title of the world’s most populous Black nation, Nigeria’s expansion speaks softly of the strength found in numbers, and opts instead to shout the somber story of growth without governmental support. Under cover of virtue signaling, FLHE restricts the potential of comprehensive sex education to programs of abstinence only, silently permitting unsafe abortions as an increasingly popular primary method of controlling fertility.² At the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, young, uneducated, rural, and poor Nigerian women are especially vulnerable to abortion-related mortality and morbidity — a deadly derivative of a procedure nonetheless employed in 56% of the country’s unintended pregnancies.³ Reclaiming post-colonial identity would thus require the decriminalization of sexuality, widespread provision of safe reproductive and sexual health services, and multi-level empowerment of an expanding population of at-risk adolescents.⁴

Evidently, Nigeria’s strife can certainly be traced back to the birth of the nation, but emancipation must entail a more honest assessment of blame. A complete relinquishing of colonial mentality will require Nigeria to be entirely reworked, reimagined, and reframed. The disrespectful denial, cognitive dissonance, and continued pretense of the Nigerian elite cannot enter this new era. Words wield endless potential for empowerment, but the promise of change falls flat when only achieved nominally. The revolution will not be successful once aesthetics are revised, but must rather be organized and engrained institutionally.

Photographed by Bernard Matussiere

Image taken from photoseries @felakutiofficial on Instagram

In English, an Englishman would say demo-cracy, but if an African man wants to say it in broken, he will say demo-key-racy. I now thought of the word — I said demo-crazy; now I saw craziness…I could now let my people see that democracy is not really that word, that it’s really madness.

If it’s not crazy, why that in Africa, as time goes forward, things is getting worse?…Democracy, crazy demo, demonstration of craze. — Fela Kuti

[1] 2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria: Executive Summary. [online] Abuja, Nigeria: National Bureau of Statistics Nigeria, p.5. Available at: <http://file:///Users/ayoadereti/Downloads/2019%20POVERY%20AND%20INEQUALITY%20IN%20NIGERIA.pdf>

[2] Bell SO, Omoluabi E, OlaOlorun F, et alInequities in the incidence and safety of abortion in NigeriaBMJ Global Health 2020;5:e001814.

[3] Bell SO, Omoluabi E, OlaOlorun F, et alInequities in the incidence and safety of abortion in NigeriaBMJ Global Health 2020;5:e001814.

[4] Shiffman, J., Kunnuji, M., Shawar, Y.R. et al. International norms and the politics of sexuality education in Nigeria. Global Health 14, 63 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-018-0377-2

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Ayobami Adereti

Somewhere at the intersection of lending a hand and learning something new, on the aux curating the world’s greatest set through the spirit and “Add to Queue”