There is hardly a family in an Osun town, Ejigbo that has no family members in Togo. In fact, that is a statement of mere mathematical accuracy, the better way to put it is that virtually all Ejigbo people are also Togolese, for a fact. They have these large buses that take them to and from Togo daily and Togo is just second home to them. If you go to a state like Akwa Ibom also, you see communities that find the language of border between Nigeria and Cameroon an amusement or an irritation, depending on how you express it. Moving further north from Akwa Ibom, you have the Adamawa mountains that provides a natural barrier such that from historical periods, peoples in that region have been separated from those deeper in the East – which later came to be known as Cameroon and that is why you dont have border issues in those parts. But when you get to Borno, it’s a different issue. Many Chadians are also from Maiduguri and many Borno people are Chadians and as far as they are concerned, that’s just your problem, lol!.
In the north, all that area that came to be known by the names of Nigeria, Niger, Mali, even Mauritania and so forth were and as a matter of family ties and the soul, merely the same entity. You need to understand that many people in Nguru, Katsina and all those border towns are from Niger northwards. A lot of people from Shaki, Ogbomosho, Oyo, Ilorin – the northern fringes of Yorubaland used to have close ties to Mali, for example. Do you realise that the aboriginal Yoruba word for Islam is Esin- Imale or |Imole|, a derivation from Esin-Mali, translated The Religion of Mali? Till date, Yoruba shares words, music and fashion with Mali. I was impressed one day sitting with a leader from the north and he explained to me how Nigerians travel as far as Sudan to buy cattle for slaughter here. Sudan!
It is unfortunate that terrorism and testy intertribal relationships has poisoned our waters and strung up our nerves in Nigeria. It is now creating an impervious membrane between us and what should be genuine enlightenment and education about the expanse and extent of our identity, history and reach. We should all try to be less emotional about it but seek genuine understanding of the situation so we can have conversations, not fabricate conspiracies.
Our intellectuals should also reach out and not allow politics to cover the land with darkness. You may fight over politics (we always will,though we hope it will be decent fights) but please don’t do so at the expense of our rich interrelationships, which are tools for peace and international harmony. We are not an island and Mr Lugard’s Nigeria did not create us. Oyo Empire extended to Ghana and people from Kano had been studying in premedieval universities in Timbuktu and Morocco before Magna Carta and Ghenghis Khan! If you examine the US-Canada borders, you will find homes straddling the lines too, and in some, the bedrooms are in Canada and the living room is in the United States!
So, coming around to the issue of railway to the Sahel, let’s look for what shapes the debate in terms of economics and regional benefits. Is it in any way like the West African highway and rail system connecting Lagos to Senegal through Cotonou, Lome, Accra, etc and of which Nigeria is completing its own part? Is the Nigerian government actually building up to our border with Niger or we are building deep into the neighboring country at our own costs? If we are building into Niger, of course it cannot be for ligniappe, so what are the terms? The government needn’t allow conspiracies to ferment before speaking in clear terms as a steward to the people.
It doesn’t sound intellectually stimulating or honest when you talk as if a rail line northwards from Kano is inappropriate without providing a cogent, multifaceted argument please. Try to listen to the people from that place, perhaps you might learn that it is one of their keenest needs.
Credit: John Ogunlela