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The second distortion of Bala's message is more serious. His critics suggest that he argues that the Urhobos or the Igbos and Yorubas had no history in the sense of being non-existent before colonialism. This particular falsehood is laughable because the claim itself is an epitome of insipidity. Dr. Usman never suggested that colonialists "created" Urhobos or Yorubas or Hausa-Fulanis the way Muslims and Christians for instance believe God created Adam. One is therefore amused at the extent some critics went to dig up any mention of words like "sobo" (meaning Urhobo) and "Yoruba" before colonialism. Certainly there were human beings called Yoruba or Hausa who spoke those languages before colonialism. The point is not this but that the existence of the Yoruba or the Hausa or the Urhobo as a cohesive ethnic group was the product of colonial intervention in the territories they inhabited which became known as Nigeria.

By Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

On 17th April 2001, Dr Yusufu Bala Usman, firebrand northern intellectual, presented a paper in Kano entitled "Ignorance, Knowledge and Democratic Politics in Nigeria". The paper was posted on various Internet web-sites and published in several national dailies and weeklies including The Guardian. Possibly because the writer had focussed his criticism on the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Guardian, Dr. G. G. Darah, the newspaper almost gloatingly published several rejoinders attacking Bala Usman's position and personality, often going far beyond the immediate issues raised in his paper.

It is not my intention to respond to all the critics of Bala Usman nor even put up a defence of his premises. What interests me here is the rejoinder to Usman written by Professor Peter Ekeh, by far the most prominent intellectual among the critics, entitled "THE MISCHIEF OF HISTORY: Bala Usman's unmaking of Nigerian History". I aim to achieve three things in this write up.

In the first instance, I intend to show that Peter Ekeh (whom I select as representative of the whole group of critics) deliberately distorted the brilliant points made by Bala Usman. He chose to construct a caricature of what I will call the "Usmanian thesis" and then attack his own fabrication.

In the second instance, and this is the core of the paper, I will establish that the point made by Bala Usman which is that the "Urhobo nation", the "Igbo nation", the Yoruba "race", the "Hausa-Fulani" etc as national groups were a product of colonialism was exactly the point made by Professor Ekeh two decades ago. This was in his paper, "Colonialism and Social Structure" which was an inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Ibadan on Thursday 5th June, 1980 on the occasion of his becoming a Professor of Political Science. I will quote freely from his critique of Usman in "the Mischief of History" and his position in "Colonialism and Social Structure" to expose the intellectual dishonesty of our academics and the moral bankruptcy of so called "erudite scholars". Peter Ekeh has committed intellectual suicide.

In the third instance, I will proffer an explanation for the perplexing volte-face of Peter Ekeh. In brief I will show that the development is a sad reflection of the "tribalization" of a hitherto towering intellect.

The first point in our discourse is to make a distinction between what Bala Usman said and what his critics attribute to him. It is clear to all objective readers that although in the paper under consideration Bala Usman made an example of G. G. Darah and the Urhobo nation, this was a specific case of a general pattern of misrepresentation of Nigerian history encompassing all groups. To quote him: "It is the Yoruba race, the Ijaw nation, the Igbo nation, the Hausa-Fulani nation etc who are said to be the original building blocks which are said to have agreed to come together to form Nigeria". It is this myth which Bala Usman challenges, a myth promoted by "racist and fascist" ethnic and religious organizations, which claim that "Nigeria is made up of ethnic, regional and religious groups which are monolithic and all those who belong to them have a common interest…." It is therefore patently untrue and mischievous for Professor Ekeh to claim as he did in his rejoinder that to Bala the Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri had history but "the rest of us had no history before the British arrived". Bala Usman's grouse is not with one ethnic group or another but with fascist and undemocratic elements who divide Nigerian people on the grounds of a contingent, socially constructed ethnic and religious consciousness which camouflages fundamental distortions and conflicting interests within these so-called homogeneous groups. In his other publication, "The misrepresentation of Nigeria" (which Professor Ekeh liberally quoted from), Dr Usman had given examples from Hausaland, Yorubaland and Igboland to show that groups like Arewa Consultative Forum, Afenifere or Ohanaeze, which claim to represent some identity groups with a coherent and monolithic existence prior to colonialism are frauds. "Arewa", "Yoruba" and "Igbo" as understood in present-day Nigeria, are products of colonialism. More on this later.

The second distortion of Bala's message is more serious. His critics suggest that he argues that the Urhobos or the Igbos and Yorubas had no history in the sense of being non-existent before colonialism. This particular falsehood is laughable because the claim itself is an epitome of insipidity. Dr. Usman never suggested that colonialists "created" Urhobos or Yorubas or Hausa-Fulanis the way Muslims and Christians for instance believe God created Adam. One is therefore amused at the extent some critics went to dig up any mention of words like "sobo" (meaning Urhobo) and "Yoruba" before colonialism. Certainly there were human beings called Yoruba or Hausa who spoke those languages before colonialism. The point is not this but that the existence of the Yoruba or the Hausa or the Urhobo as a cohesive ethnic group was the product of colonial intervention in the territories they inhabited which became known as Nigeria.

Let me now move to the second point of discourse which, as I said, is the main point of this write up. The point made by Bala Usman, for which Peter Ekeh castigated him as a man undertaking a "campaign aimed at undermining the autonomy of the history of Nigerian ethnic nationalities" through "intellectual mischief making" and the use of a "defective methodology of history", is exactly the one made by Professor Ekeh in his University of Ibadan lecture in 1980. Peter Ekeh is adamant that Bala Usman has exaggerated the role of colonialism in the formation of Nigerian nationalities. Bala is said to belong to the "Trevor - Roper school of history" which strives to invent the "illusion that all pre-imperial times were also pre-historical". To make his point that Bala is nothing but an imperialist historian recruited by Abuja in its "struggles against the Nigerian Nation (sic)", Professor Ekeh makes the following bold assertion: "The ethnic composition of the Western Niger Delta has not changed since the Portuguese made their first voyage….. more than five centuries ago".

Now let us go back to Professor Ekeh's paper 'Colonialism and Social Structure' and see what he had to say. Ekeh's inaugural lecture, to quote him, "questions the tenets of the most illustrious and consolidated body of scholarship in this land, the Ibadan school of history". The school's laudable effort to counteract the "imperialist motivated" misrepresentation of Africa had sadly led to "the conscious and deliberate running down of the significance of colonialism in Africa". Ekeh summarizes his disagreement with the Ibadan school thus: "It sees colonialism as an episode and not, as I argue, an epoch".

Permit me to further quote the learned Professor speaking in 1980:

"With the benefit of hindsight and of time-distance from the colonial situation, future social historians will clearly see that the colonial period is unmatched in our history in the growth and development of institutions, constructs and social processes. In their model forms they constitute what I refer to as social structures."

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