I have remarked several times in the past that Nigeria has had the misfortune of being stuck in an unnaturally prolonged infancy. Our country is like a baby trapped in an adult’s body. It hasn’t even been able to change its colonially inherited national flag, much less its ill-fitting, colonially given name.
It is like an adult that hasn’t learned to dress himself up, who can’t clean up his nasal discharges, who lacks the restraint and discretions that come with adulthood but who nonetheless attempts to do the things that everyday adults do.
Take Nigeria’s colonial national flag, for example. As I pointed out in an October 27, 2012 column, Nigeria has one of the world’s worst designed flags. It is unimaginative, aesthetically unpleasant, and sterile in imagery and symbolism. It is one of only few national flags I know that repeat one bland colour twice and that does not faithfully depict the culture, peculiarities, and history of the people it purports to typify.
Some people think this is a trivial issue. They say Nigeria is troubled by far graver existential concerns than the design of its national flag. But that’s like saying it’s trivial to obsess over whether an adult is clothed so long as he is struggling to act like other adults. If you don’t get the trivial but symbolically consequential things right, you miss the important stuff. It’s like building a structure without a foundation.
I have never been able to wrap my head around the justification for the repetition of green in our national colours.
You would think the colour was in danger of going out of circulation and needed to be captured and curated on a flag—or that the scores of colour types that could be worthy symbols of Nigeria’s everyday realities suddenly developed wings and took a flight from the earth.
Are colours the only symbolic representations that can be invoked to depict Nigeria’s culture, peculiarities, and history?
What about the awe-inspiring, time-honoured rivers that course through the length and breadth of Nigeria’s landscape; the rich, labyrinthine tapestry of the country’s history; its uniquely sumptuous culinary treats; its valiant pre-colonial empires and their extravagantly elegant royalty; its creative orthographic inventions such as Ajami in northern Nigeria and Nsibidi in southeastern Nigeria?
What about Nigeria’s rich ethnic and linguistic diversity? What about the creative genius of its art and craft and the fascinating meteorological diversities of its regions? And so on and so forth. Why is none of these captured representationally on the national flag?
It takes little or no imagination to design a flag with two mind-numbingly commonsensical colours. In fact, it takes a spectacular lack of imagination to design the kind of uninspired and uninspiring flag that Nigeria hoists. It fills me with enormous shame that we call that irredeemably nondescript esthetic embarrassment our national flag.
To be fair to the man who designed it, his original entry, according to the Wikipedia entry on the Flag of Nigeria, “had a red sun with streaming rays placed at the top of the white stripe.” But the British colonial judges, who chose his design as the best out of thousands of entries, removed the red sun.
Any wonder we’ve been enveloped by metaphorical and literal darkness since independence? What could be the judges’ motivation for foisting a bland, colorless (never mind that it has two colours!), and uninspiring flag on Nigeria?
But we have been “independent” from British colonial rule for 59 years now. Isn’t it about time we rethought the colours and design of our national flag? For one, it is a holdover from colonialism; it wasn’t a product of a post-independence effort. Since we managed to change our colonially inherited national anthem (which, sadly, is worse than its predecessor in content, cadence, and creativity) we can also change our national flag. It isn’t a sacred symbol, after all.
In any case, it’s customary for countries to redesign their national flags—if they have a reason to. Britain’s national flag, for instance, has been changed many times since 1603 when it was first designed.
And we have many good reasons to change ours. Nigeria is no longer the agricultural country it was when the flag was conceived and designed. The groundnut pyramids of the pre-independence and post-independence eras in northern Nigeria have evaporated into thin air. The cocoa farms in southwest Nigeria have been lost irretrievably. All over Nigeria, we have condemned ourselves to subsistence farming.
So agriculture—or whatever the green in our national flag represents—isn’t a faithful representation of who we are now. It’s doubly shameful that we have repeated that representation twice in our flag. If anything needs representing on our flag, it is a colour that signifies our dependence on oil. Of course, that, too, would be shortsighted since oil is a fleeting natural endowment.
And peace? Oh, please! Given the mindless, ever-present, fratricidal bloodshed that has been our lot since independence—and that seems to be deepening with every passing day—we should spare the world the horror of calling ourselves a peaceful nation.
I have also several articles on the need to change Nigeria’s name. But I know that’s not going to happen in my lifetime—if it will ever happen.
Honour for a Nigerian in Atlanta
It’s not very often, particularly in the last few years, that I’ve had a reason to be as proud of being a Nigerian as I was on September 28.
I was invited to a gala where Medshare, an Atlanta-based humanitarian organisation that “recovers surplus medical supplies and equipment from U.S. hospitals and manufacturers, and redistributes them to needy hospitals in developing countries,” gave its inaugural Bob Freeman Humanitarian Award to two people.
One of the two people is a Nigerian by the name of Mallam Ndagana Baba Alhaji. The other is Dr. Paul Farmer, a professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Chair of the Harvard Medical School, and UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Community-based Medicine.
Ndagana has dedicated his life, according to the citation of his award, to “working to provide medical supplies and equipment to under-served communities across the African diaspora.”
His medical humanitarianism started when he almost lost his life during a visit to Chicago many years ago. He found out that he needed a heart surgery that would cost half a million dollars (that is more than 180 million naira), which he didn’t have. The alternative was death. But the Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago performed the surgery for him for free and only told him “all you owe us is the commitment to this possibility for others.”
Ndagana took this request to heart and chose to be the conduit for the supply of medical equipment to communities that have no access to good healthcare. He has been doing this for more than a decade and earned the admiration of people who worked with him.
At the gala, it was clear that Ndagana is deeply beloved and respected by the folks at MedShare. Everyone called him by his middle name and thanked him for what he does. It’s clearly a product both of his consequential humanitarianism and his honesty and commitment.