In Nigeria, What’s In a Name? -By Jide Omotinugbon

Filed under: National Issues |
Jide Omotinugbon

Jide Omotinugbon


An individual’s name is recognised for what he or she is renowned in doing. The Christian holy book, The Bible, contains so many names and yet, one can hardly mix up the personalities. Mention Peter and one’s mind immediately goes to that bold if bombastic and boisterous disciple; mention Joseph and before your mind goes to Jesus’ earthly father, you are already thinking of that guy with coats of many colours: the favorite son of the patriarch, Jacob. There are a whole lot of them in that book: men and women including Noah (oh, the Ark), Methuselah (the acclaimed oldest living guy), Jonah and the swallowing fish, Rahab whose last name was “the prostitute” and a whole lot of good and bad guys. And all these were in ancient times. Fast forward to the modern period. Michael Jordan (yes, you are right, the basketballer), our own JJ Okocha (of course, the footballer). How about Tunde Kelani? Classic Yoruba movies. Those are just random picks as they came to me.

Nigeria has never been lacking in such personalities. Sometime back, if you google facts about Nigeria, one of the most prominent things that came up was 419, the Nigerian code for advance fee fraud. Before then, however, there were a lot of names one would be proud to associate with. They were in existence before google and we read about them in books. Mention the great Zik and you remember the Nationalist. Mention Awolowo and free education is what you are thinking. Mention Tafawa Balewa and you remember his humility and the golden voice. Mention Sir Ahmadu Bello and you remember the groundnut pyramids in Kano. Who would forget Mallam Aminu Kano of the Talakawa fame? (Before Buhari, there was a Mallam Aminu Kano in reference to incorruptibility!) It is a pity that people like the great Zik are no more. People like Awolowo are scarce to come by. People like Balewa and the Sardauna are resting in the bosom of Allah. And one wonders what an Aminu Kano would make of the present day Nigeria in relation to remembering the downtrodden.

Following the above generation was the group the iconic Wole Soyinka called the ‘Wasted Generation’. But not all of them were a waste. They made footprints including Soyinka himself, the Achebes, the Fawehinmis, the Ken Saro Wiwas, the Bala Usmans, the Iyayis, the Ransome Kutis. If this group’s generation is said to be wasted, one wonders what name would be given to the present generation? One of the worst books I ever had was titled, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today – a compilation of the speeches made by a self-styled military president. A better title would have been: “For Our Today, We mortgaged Their Future!” The thrust of this piece is in relation to what our present leaders want to be renowned for. Take a pause from this piece and contemplate some names in the public domain and see what immediately comes to mind. For whatever achievement they have attained and in whatever position they have held or are currently holding, it is going to be overshadowed by their wealth accumulation, either legally acquired or otherwise. I know there are a few exceptions, but in reality try and come up with a few names and compare these with those of Zik and Soyinka referred to above.

Good names, one has been told are better than gold and silver. These days, gold and silver, we assume, can buy us good names! I always tell my kids they have a unique last name which they cannot mess up because with it everyone would know where they come from. And they have know this early enough. Whenever their white teachers squint while taking the class roll call, they, by instinct, they know it is their turn to make contributions to whatever topic is at hand.

For most people in Nigeria, the desire to hold public office is more about the power to accumulate wealth through the “sharing of the national cake.” No one seems to care about the baking. The only goose laying the golden egg must be milked dry and possibly killed. Their inner thoughts have always been: “Let those coming behind deal with it when their time comes.” No vision for tomorrow. It is about the now. Many of our leaders do not seem to care much about any legacy as long as their family members are “protected” through their lucre. In advanced societies, people fight for legacies so their names can be on the “Mount Rushmore” of, or the hall of fame in their respective professional callings. In Nigeria, we do not seem to equate holding positions with performance hence we confer national titles on some people whose names should belong to the yet-to-be created national hall of shame.

Jide Omotinugbon writes from Louisville, KY. USA and can be reached on [email protected]