Identity- Proudly Nigerian?

This will be the last post on this Identity issue. When you come to think of it, it is really not complicated, you know this search for a community to fit into and for people who understand you. I suppose as human beings, we are constantly searching for companionship and I do recognise it’s importance. I’m in my Halcyon days now and I worry that I’ll lose this care-free happiness soon. But I try not to think too much and instead live my life as best as I can. I am going to stress that validation will only come from within. As someone who is unique or different, I believe it is necessary to accept who you are first before you can truly enjoy life. My only wish is that other ‘different’ people can find this blog, read it and identify with it.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that I actually care what people think, I want to know what is on people’s mind, why the make certain decisions and act in certain ways (I know I should have studied psychology…then again I should have also studied anthropology, history and theology). The difference is that now I accept people’s opinions and don’t suffer trying to change them, most of the time. I love a good debate and when I do, I want people to respect my opinions too. Usually when I get into debates, I have to actively hold myself back to make sure that I do not judge the people I’m debating with or force them to change their opinions. I like the ‘live and let live’ mantra and I respect that not everybody on Earth will agree with my opinions. And that’s really OK. Side note: I’ve noticed that individuality is not encouraged in Nigerian society and I really wonder what we can do to change this.

On to the main point of this post, I realised a few weeks ago that I’ve never identified as ‘proudly Nigerian’. I’ll say now that it doesn’t really matter what I choose to identify as. The thing with me is that I think a lot, it may be one of my flaws. I never let things rest. Now I call myself ‘eccentricyoruba’ before I called myself ‘lafemmeafricaine’ (The African woman). ‘Eccentricyoruba’ defines me really simply, I’m eccentric and I’m Yoruba, more information will be discovered later n__n. There was never a stage in my life where I used Nigerian to define myself. And me being me meant I questioned myself because I question everything. In conclusion (because I really didn’t spend too much time thinking about it) I decided that I’m not a proud Nigerian. This gives me encouragement in a very odd way. When I realised that I’m not proudly Nigerian, I think ‘why’ then I make a list of all the things that can be changed and I wonder if I can make any sort of change. I don’t know what my life will bring but I feel I can make a change. By the way, that’s what my real name means ‘Someone that will be exalted’ so I hope to leave a legacy behind me. I’m very ambitious trying to live out my name.

Nigeria has improved because that is what they keep on telling us and I’ve also seen and felt myself every time I returned to Abuja things looked better. I understand that we should be hopeful. However I have a feeling that some people are using this ‘proudly Nigerian’ thing to slack off and say that Nigeria is good so they don’t have to anything to help improve it. I see room for improvement though, I’m not entirely happy with the treatment of women in Nigerian society and I’m also not happy with the (colonial) mentality of some Nigerians. I’ll give an example, my aunt’s husband and I got into this ‘debate’. He kept on proclaiming that he was proudly Yoruba and that more people speak Yoruba than Japanese because Japanese is only spoken in Japan while Yoruba is spoken in other countries, including Brazil. Using this logic, I was supposed to drop Japanese fast because it didn’t make sense to learn it anymore. He then picked up on the Yoruba in Brazil and kept on going on about how proud he was blah blah blah. I didn’t know about Yoruba in Brazil then, so naturally I researched on it. I then discovered that in the Bahia region of Brazil, descendants of Yoruba slaves still practice Yoruba religion. I also discovered Yerba Buena (pictured below), a Latin American band and I could swear listening to some of their songs that they were singing in Yoruba*. It turns out that indeed they were. So it’s a great thing that Yorubas in South America have held on to their culture but should we Yoruba in Nigeria really be proud of this? The first question we should ask is this; ‘How did the Yoruba get there in the first place?’. No, they did not land in Brazil from the moon, their ancestors were slaves. And we really should stop kidding ourselves that most slaves were stolen. No there weren’t, we sold our own brethren into slavery. I used to believe that the Yoruba never practiced slavery that was before I learnt about Madam Tinubu who was a ‘trader in slaves, palm oil and guns’ and was the power behind the throne in both Lagos and Abeokuta** in the 1800s and other people like her. I feel that pride has to come from something meaningful you know. My aunt’s husband mentioning the Yoruba in Brazil refused to acknowledge the reason Yoruba are there in the first place and made it seem as if there was a tribe found in Brazil that spoke the Yoruba language.

Usually when I have asked Nigerians what makes them proud, they usually quote the rising Nigerian hip hop musicians and Nollywood. I don’t think those two are sufficient enough, I’ll truly be happy if I met a Nigerian who said they were proud because of our history or because of their ethnic heritage and what not. I will like to see that more often. Most importantly I’ll like to see a time when individuality will be accepted. I have mentioned that I believe in the power of education and one of things I will like to see is history taught in every Nigerian classroom from primary to junior secondary school. A people must know their past to know where they are going. I remember once hearing a girl complain that we were learning African history, she wanted to learn American history because it was ‘more interesting’ this girl also claimed to be proudly Nigerian. I was very disturbed by her placing of American history above African history when it is not our history. And I’ll choose African history anytime of the day because it is truly interesting and fascinating. Whether we are talking about ancient Egpyt or Abyssinia (Ethiopia) or Benin Kingdom, we’ve got it made. I’m not saying there is anything wrong in being proudly Nigerian once again it is the reason behind it that matters.

I’ll like to conclude by saying that in my opinion it is better when we get pride from our history as opposed to Nollywood. Most important, I stress that self-esteem has to come from within. These two points are connected, the love and acceptance coming from within and from history. When I learnt Yoruba history I was shocked to say the least, I didn’t know when I had sub-consciously accepted that Africa didn’t have a history. Though I had studied history in secondary school I had still somehow accepted that European history was more valid that African history. I knew almost everything about European history yet I didn’t know my own. Now I know better, learning history made me a proud Yoruba, yes there are some things that I’m not so proud of e.g. slavery however my history helped with my identity. Yoruba history turned out to be something I could claim as my own because I’m part of the ethnic group with the Orishas and complex divination system. It is not much but it means the world to me. Similarly in accepting myself, I had to look inside not outside. In other words, I had to stop caring what people thought about me and I had to stop allowing myself to be labelled by other people. I hope all the eccentric ~insert ethnic group~, eccentric ~insert nationality~ and eccentric Africans out there hold their heads high and are proud.

*The song is ‘La Candela’ you can listen to that and others at Yerba Buena’s website

**’Madame Tinubu’ 1960. In Eminent Nigerians of the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge

***Last picture: The Happy Eccentric by Carmen Cilliers

**** You can read the previous ‘Identity’ posts here and here.


  1. Another great post! I really completely agree with your sentiments. I do think that sometimes the superficial stuff like Nollywood and African hip hop take precedence over true history. I am proud to be African as I think we are a continent of resilience. I am also proud to be Kenyan because we have a culture of protecting everything from our people to our wildlife to our environment. There is no friendlier place in all my travels (South Africa is a close second). I am even proud to be English (No I don’t have a passport). Quite often I have been ‘insulted’ because I ‘think English’. While I think my thoughts and ideals were shaped when I was younger, I do think that England was a place when I could express any of these thoughts. I learned to become more fluid and ‘tolerant’ as the English would say. So for me England is a place of opportunity and the greatest virtue is freedom of speech and tolerance. One of my friends who actually has a British passport, always moans about how terrible and classless England is. She always says Nigeria is the best nation. Yet she has been to University at NO fee because of the British passport, she has travelled visa free because of the British passport, her parents have eeked out a living in England (council house/debt etc) because of the British passport. How is it that the same nation which gives you so many benefits is so terrible that you won’t leave?In short, we do need to be proud for the right reasons!

  2. I co-sign on everything on this post, including Yerba Buena :)It’s funny how Nigerians are “proud” of Nigerian hip-hop and Nollywood, when in comparison with their American counterparts, they’re painfully substandard. And there really aren’t enough artists in Nigeria who are NOT trying to be a clone of your typical American commercial artist. I can count the ones who aren’t on one hand: Asha, Femi Kuti… ??? Can’t even get up to 5. I would have counted Nneka, and Keziah Jones, but they are Nigerians in diaspora, and I’ve found that diasporic Nigerians and Nigerians who stay in Nigeria have vastly different world views a lot of the time.

  3. @Jc, thanks a lot! i agree with you we need to be proud for the right reasons. self-pride is necessary and you seem to have found it in all your identities. tres cool! please i don’t understand people who complain when they have privilege such as people with British passports, they should come and queue with me when i go for my American visa interview next month. @mellowyel, i’ll first state that i don’t really enjoy hip hop in the first place (unless it has a positive message, that applies to all music) and i think we are getting a lot of the negative aspects of hip hop such as the video girls. oh you should listen to Tony Allen (i think that’s his name). he’s Afrobeat too and Antibalas though they are American based. and i agree with you regarding the Nigerians in diaspora thing though sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. Especially here in the UK.

  4. SA,Wow there is so much to pack an unpack here. I guess the thing that comes to mind the most though is our understanding of slavery is very skewed. It was a very complex system (doesn't make it right) that existed in many different forms before what I would probably call the harshest (Atlantic slave trade) and so when I think about slavery whether it be Africans selling African or Arabs buying and selling them I keep this in perspective. It certainly is no consellation prize to think that your quality of life was certainly better as a slave in Arab or African society than it would have been as one in Jamaica or the US. But we can't all brandish things with the same brush. Being a slave in a society where you could actually become part of the family or ruler of the community (exceptions not the rule I know) was a hell of a lot better when you were categorically considered 3/5 of a person at best. My understanding has been as far as Africans trading other Africans 1. They understood that people never returned, but they didn't really know what Atlantic slaver was like. Because in the entire conceptualization of slavery was very different. 2. People were not trading people who they thought of as brothers and sisters, they were trading other tribes, nations/communities not considered part of them. It is true that a lot of slaves were captured, how else would have large numbers of the people from the African interior sent to the Americas. I guess I am biased in that I discovered African popular culture as a young adult (which I guess I still am) and I was amazed that AFricans had more to offer than Angelique Kidjo, Fella Kuti and Yousuf N'Dour. It's not that I don't admire and respect these artists, but I think their popularity in the Western world kgives a skewed view of what it means to be an African growing up in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa today. You are right about the history part though, there is so much I simply did not learn from primary/secondary school— Being an avid reader I did discover things like Joseph Cinque and the Amistad mutiny and events like those helped evolve my perspective. I would say, there need to be quality Nollwood films that actual tackle social problems and political/economic history. It seems to me at least, that the tools that are available should be used rather than casting them aside…. I don't know it's like the commodification of Hip-hop or mainstream American entertainment systsems… OMG this post was so long…. I'm sorry.

  5. Interesting post. I always thought of myself as a proud Nigerian. I guess because I am proud of my family history (well, some of it). But I've not really linked it to the country per se. I will say I am proud because it's the only place I've been where I feel like I'm home.I've always had a hard time getting my parents to proactively give us history lessons. I only did one year of school in Nigeria so I don't know what they teach now but when I do my own research and then ask the 'rents about it, I get some information. But I don't get the sense that Nigerians of my parents generation are extremely proud of their history.

  6. gazelledusahara, i totally lost this comment but thank goodness, i can reply now. i like your sentiments on the slavery issue so ditto! and your totally welcome to leave long comment here. i loved reading what you had to say!puregoldlady, when it comes to history i believe most Africans have to discover their histories on their own. i know certainly in the case of Nigeria, this is an issue. and gazelle has brought in another West African point of view. i believe in my case, i find it difficult to be proudly Nigerian because my Nigerian experiences haven't been exactly blissful. i am proud of my family history though!

  7. This is a really great post. One of the saddest things about the situation of the Yorùbá language in Nigeria is the willful neglect by the nominal Yorùbá (Nigerian) elite of doing anything substantial or tangible related to the Yorùbá language. Obviously there are lots of things to be proud of, when it comes to Yorùbá and African history, but it is imperative that Yorùbá, like Japanese or any other language must be modernized and given a new lease of life by succeeding generations. To clarify, I am not talking about the pre and post-colonial attempts (at close to) wholesale westernization. I am simply referring to investing in research and development that makes it easy to use Yorùbá like any other language in 2010 for basic things like typing e-mails, sending text messages in Yorùbá orthography via cell phones, conducting and documenting scientific research with Yorùbá text, or enabling blind people to use Braille to read books written with Yorùbá text, etc. In view of the harsh conditions of Trans-Atlantic slavery and the dehumanizing segregation & stigmatization that followed it, I find the survival of Yorùbá language and culture in Brazil, Cuba and other places outside the Yorùbá homeland in Togo, Benin Republic and Nigeria, very intriguing. This is what it makes it even more exciting when Cuban music bands like Yorùbá Andabo are recognized with the Grammy award for their brand of Yorùbá music. Imagine for a minute if Bishop Ajayi Crowther (the 19th century Missionary and former slave who reduced Yorùbá to writing) was alive today in this age of instantaneous global internet communication and smart mini-computerized mobile cell phones? My guess is that the good Bishop would probably be making us very proud, by modernizing the Yorùbá language with cutting edge modern technology in the most innovative ways that we can only begin to imagine. Ironically I recently read an Academic article on the prospect of the death of Yorùbá language which basically concluded that rate of illiteracy in Nigeria will most likely keep Yorùbá alive, going forward. It sounds crazy, but if you think about it, most members of the nominal Yorùbá Nigerian elite can only speak a Creolized version of (broken) Yorùbá, conveniently sprinkled with English verbs and nouns in every mixed English-Yorùbá sentence. Many of this elite rarely read any form of Yorùbá literature, talk less of writing in Yorùbá on a regular basis. However the same nominal Yorùbá Nigerian elite does not hesitate to engage in crude ethnic chest beating and instigate ethnic chauvinism to promote their narrow and selfish political interests.Thanks!

  8. @Yorùbá Gbòde, thank you so much for your comment. it was thought-provoking! you've raised a valid point, for example i can understand Yoruba and i can speak it but i so cannot read or even write Yoruba, i find it too difficult. one good thing however is that i discovered an iPod application that installed Yoruba into iPods so that you could write and send messages in Yoruba. it's really worrying though that apparently in the next century 90% of our languages would have died. i'm also very interested in Yoruba in the diaspora. i actually admire those Cubans and Brazilians because it seems as though they are they ones who are going to maintain our culture for us. "However the same nominal Yorùbá Nigerian elite does not hesitate to engage in crude ethnic chest beating and instigate ethnic chauvinism to promote their narrow and selfish political interests."this is soo true! i've had so many arguments with people who think like this. though i might indeed be among them as i only speak broken Yoruba. i cannot even understand Yoruba proverbs and sayings. i've been trying to watch Yoruba movies in an effort to understand Yoruba more.

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