The year was 1914. British soldier and explorer of Africa, The Right Honorable Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, 1st Baron of Abinger in the County of Surrey, able colonial administrator whose present duty was to hold fort for His Majesty King George V, in the part of Africa known as the British Protectorate on the Niger River, sat at his desk in a most gloomy mood. He pulled at his long curvy, moustache, adjusted the collars of his well starched and ironed jacket as he affectionately fingered the button of his medal of honor.
Where was he going to start? The assignment at hand was completely new to him. In fact it was out rightly difficult, if not impossible. Lord Lugard deliberated on these thoughts as sweat drizzled down his forehead. His servant ran to him and wiped his brows with the immaculate white silk towel. Sensing that his master needed more, he ran to the back of the Victorian style house, filled the imported silver ware bowl with cool water from the dugout well and ran back to dab The Right Honorable’s face with a thick towel. If only all his subjects were like this his servant, Lugard pondered as he raised his head to let the strong black arms holding the towel to firmly massage his neck. He felt a bit more relaxed as he snapped his fingers. “Tan Sa!” the servant screamed as he saluted and hastily fled from the study, bulging stomach in front and over sized, over starched khaki shorts noisily tailing after. The problem with them is that sometimes they pretend they are with you, but you should hear the things they say when you are not there. Anyway, back to the issue at hand.
What was he to do? The natives in this part of His Majesty’s British occupied territories were giving him so much trouble. He had never had it so rough. Not in anywhere he had been assigned to as a colonial administrator. And he has been to quite a few places. As a representative of the British East African Company in 1890, he single handedly crushed the Ugandans, and secured British predominance of that area, bringing an end to all civil disturbances. He has always been a good soldier and was not afraid of blood. After he had proven himself in dealing with the natives in other parts of Africa, he was commissioned by the British government and sent to West Africa to raise a native force to protect the interest of Britain from the French, in the area known as Lagos and its surrounding hinterlands. He was an expert in raising natives to fight against themselves and to fight others – that was the highpoint of his career, he thought.
The case that bothered Lord Lugard now was different, radically different from the divide and rule, quench and kill, conquer and dominate approach that had worked for him all these years. This time he needed to unite. Yes, he needed to bring a bunch of crude natives together for the simple reason that it was going to be easier for the government of Britain to administer it as one colony. In that way, all the natural resource being taken from this part of the world will be easily tracked and traded. It will also going to cost the British government less in the form of human and material resources sent from the home country to administer the often unruly natives. What is more, more tax will be generated for the central government and there will be harmonization in the development of infrastructures such as railways and harbours, needed to transport the raw materials from the colonies to the mother country. It was a highly profitable, but very complex task.
Lord Lugard rose and went to where he kept his leather-bound manuscripts. He needed to consult with some of the colonial papers to know how his predecessors and contemporaries have handled the huge task of amalgamating large tracts of land filled with ignorant and often hostile pagans. As he reached to pull the Indian files from the top of the cabinet, he felt her fingers. No he actually smelled her first but did not want to turn. He wanted her to hold him from behind as he knew she would. If he had turned, that would have spoiled the moment. She held her neck and squeezed tight with those tiny little fingers of hers. What makes her think that she can ever make him scream half as much as he would often pretend to? Lord Lugard smiled wryly and looked at his wife. She was growing old and frail so quickly, all part of the stress of living in this part of the world.
“What is tearing out the heart of my beloved” she asked in her Irish tinged accent.
“My love, would that I was instructed by her majesty to conquer all of these territories all over again. I would have considered myself most favoured of The King, for that would have been a matter of iron and blood alone; but to unite these strong headed and stiff necked pagans and mohamedans. I suspect I am being set up for failure, my dear one.”
Flora smiled in her self assured way. Nothing ever seemed to bother her or make her feel incapable. Even when the uncivilized native women tugged at her wide brimmed hat or her long flowing gown during church service, she will just smile and try to say something in their language, making them bend double, screaming with laughter and baring their tobacco or whatever stained teeth, while clapping their hands in glee. That sight infuriated Lord Lugard.
“So what name does my beloved have for his new country”
The question seemed to come from nowhere.
“Did I hear you say name, my most adorable one?” Lugard could not make any connection between the problems he had to solve about organizing some ignorant bunch of natives and giving a name to the place.
“The Royal Niger Company Territories, of course,” he snorted. Is that not what this part of the British Protectorate on the Niger River has always been called?”
“There lies the genesis of your problems, my darling one” You cannot use such bogus, official title for the new mandate you have been given.” Give it a beautiful name, something classy and likable. A short easy to pronounce thing, very British and English, polished and interesting, and I promise you Great One, that all the other issues will gradually fall in place.” Flora was smiling sweetly as she talked. As if she had the answers to all his worries.
“With due respects my dear, I do not know what a name has to do with the herculean task of organizing these rebellious groups of people. I perceive that you trivialize my mandate.” Lord Lugard was getting upset. He had always respected his wife’s rare combination of brilliance and humor, but in this case she was taking things too lightly.”
“Not to offend you, my Heart,” Flora persisted, “but think of the Scriptures. Did it not admonish that you cannot put new wine in old wineskin, for then it will burst.”
The Holy Book. That got The Imperial Administrator’s attention. He loved the things of the Lord and believed that indeed it was the divine directive of the Most High unto the English to civilize the rest of humanity, especially of the barbarous African tribes. Flora Shaw was a Sunday School Teacher, she knew the good book much more than him by every standard.
“You remember Abram? God had to change his name to Abraham so he could fulfill his divine mandate. And Sarai to Sarah, both of them, ever before they manifested their calling. Call this place something nice first, and you can at least think clearly enough to strategize and know how to start your administrative duties. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.”
She made sense. She always does, that daughter of a Crimean war veteran and granddaughter of the famous colonial governor of Mauritius, George Shaw. In her own rights, a successful journalist, in fact, the only female reporter to cover the Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels. Flora believed in colonialism and imperialism with all her might – she had once written that it was the only solution to bring employment to the less privileged among the British people. Regarding South Africa, she wrote that “What English supremacy demands is …increased white population.” She viewed the African people as uncivilized, and therefore, inferior to Europeans, stating that the African’s role lies solely in assisting as a servant and worker to advance European’s economic goals. In short, Lord Lugard knew he could not have married a much better partner as an imperial administrator himself.
“And what name might my Fair Lady suggest we re-brand The Royal Niger Company Territories with? I would think Central Sudan. Is that not what the geographers and travelers call it.” Lugard’s voice conveyed his pleasure.
“I know those map carriers and travelers would rather call this area by that name, but is not that area closer to the Nile basin also known as Sudan? My love, I have been thinking of this for a long, long time, almost twenty years. In fact, the very first time I came by this part of the world, I knew it was only a question of time before His Majesty would rather merge the territories together for easy governance”
“Interesting, then. The whole idea of an amalgamation took me by surprise. ” Lugard muttered, still angry and even resentful for being asked to unite rather than conquer as before.
“I would say “Nigeria” my dear” Just say it and feel how it rolls off your tongue
“Nigeria” Lugard said with his brows slightly raised.
“There you go! Quintessential British, classic English. Nothing like it, even the uncivilized natives will be proud of that name” exclaimed Flora as her blue eyes gleamed with delight and she clasped her hands, shaking them as she always did when excited.
“Come here, you sweet little beauty” Lugard drew Flora close to his chest and dug his head into her rich chestnut colored hair.
Fast forward to 2010, almost 100 years later. Lord Lugard and his wife had long gone to join the other deceased imperialists, wherever they might be resting. The natives are now a little bit more civilized. They have imbibed the ways and manners of the imperial masters; driving cars, dressing like the Europeans, singing like the Europeans and what is more, you should listen to them as they speak in queen English. Indeed most of them can never be heard speaking in their backward, tongue twisting languages and dialects. They chastise their children to speak only English.
Indeed the natives like the name Nigeria, just as Dame Flora Shaw, bless her soul, rightly predicted. Even the current wife of the president shares the same title “Dame” with the deceased first lady of Nigeria. No, the natives did not wear oversized and over starched khakis to serve their masters as before. But in the blazing heat, they wore suits and tie to work and called their civil service the White Man’s Work in their various dialects; Oru oyibo in Igbo, Osise Ijoba in Yoruba, but that is for the few who cared to speak the language.
Everything is going as expected, except for some still rebellious natives, the uncivilized lot who would rather still go by their archaic and arcane grammar. They have corrupted the beautiful name “Nigeria” filled with Her Imperial awesomeness, to a worthless, Africanized version known as “Naija.” You should see as their bloated lips hang open, then twist to the left, then to the right as they pronounce “Naija,” so uncultured, so uncivilized. The sound of it is just so out of the jungle. Nothing close to what the Queen would be proud of. But those are the rebellious few. The stand of the government is still very much along the lines of the imperial wishes. The Minister of communications has issued a decree – pardon me – a declaration or warning of some sort. All of the uncivilized folks must be brought under the rule of her Imperial Majesty, I beg your pardon once more, the demands of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. She has declared the word “Naija” to be offensive to the civilized ear, “we have to stop the word because… if we don’t put a stop to its usage now, it will continue to project us wrongly.” She warns.
Yes, it will continue to project the people now inhabiting The Royal Niger Company Territories as rebellious, ready to fight for their land, their rights and their humanity, not like Lord Lugard’s servants, dressed in Khaki and running helter skelter to please his White masters. The people must not be permitted to use their language or dialect as part of the national vocabulary. It is barbaric, unsophisticated, vulgar, uncultured, coarse, and rough-edged, to say the least. The people must be thought to shape their lips, straighten it out, suck it in if possible, to be as thin as the Brits, and in a little sweet voice with the correct intonations and properly acceptable English syntax pronounce “Nigeria,” so that they can remain in the good books of their present, sorry, former colonial masters. Long live Naija!
Written in response to the Nigerian Information Minister’s call that the term ‘Naija’ be erased from the country’s vocabulary. First published by www.pambazuka.org September 2010.