This title is both the question and the answer as demonstrated by David when confronted by his brothers as to his interest in confronting Goliath’s existential threat to the Nation of Israel.
All of the Peoples of Africa, and in this case, Nigeria and Yoruba People in particular, have been facing such existential threats via the dispersal of the African Peoples from their God-given territories on the continent of Africa through Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, alongside voluntary and involuntary migrations out of the continent and its ultimate conclusion in colonial rule, all of which separated us from our God-given nature and turned us into that aspect of humanity being tossed to and fro by every wind of political economy foisted on us by those historical events, one of the consequences being the Balkanization of the Peoples of the continent into various countries, which saw the Yoruba being dissolved into different countries in West Africa (Nigeria, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia) and also within those countries (Yoruba in Kwara and Kogi States being denied as part of the Yoruba Nation) and sustained by the architecture of the post-colonial State till date.
Despite all these, many Yoruba Christians today tend to subscribe to such notions as Nigeria being a product of God’s creation; that none of the Nationalities were conscious of themselves as Nations before the arrival of European colonizers; that Christians are not for division but for unity.
These are not only contrary to Nigeria’s historical reality but are also against the Scripture which clearly shows that God did not create Nigeria, more so when we all know how Nigeria came into being as an amalgamation of different colonized entities. There is no dispute about this.
Unlike the colonizer’s countries whose names were derived from their ethno-lingual and historical experiences, thereby recognizing themselves as People, human beings, their African colonies were named, not after the Peoples inhabiting the geographical space and their ethno-lingual, historical experiences, but after those things we, as human beings created by God, are supposed to have dominion over; for example, rivers (Niger Area-Nigeria), or sea creatures (Shrimps-Cameroon); such that we are now identified by those things we are supposed to have dominion over, thus making us less than what God had intended for us. So, when we call ourselves Nigerians, our humanity is not inferred, hence our ethno-lingual, cultural and historical experiences played no part in the architecture of our governance.
The Scripture says: “Then God blessed them and God said to them: Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28) and “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, that pass through the paths of the seas (Psalm 8: 4-8).
Even if it is claimed that everything that happened or occurred under the sun is a creation of God, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes was conflicted by the “grief” from the pursuit of knowledge by wisdom, which, to all intents and purposes, reflected his inability to make the right choices in accordance with God’s purpose, and, coupled with his administration’s suppressive and exploitative attitude to the people of Israel, eventually led to the split after his son and successor also chose to establish his governance contrary to Godly advice.
Despite this, the Preacher admitted in Ecclesiastes 1: 13 that “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised”. This “burdensome task” is a must and therefore, to “search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven” implies that the work of creation is already finished we can only figure out what is done by man afterwards, and which, by implication, means Nigeria was not created by God but by man.
How then can Christians say this was a creation of God except that they have not embarked on the “burdensome task” hence do not “search out all that is done” because they do not want to be confronted with the reality of what Nigeria is, hence these Christians, following the footsteps of the Preacher, punted Nigeria’s creation away from man’s responsibility as a convenient way of remaining in and sustaining their comfort zone.
To “search out what is done” means the recognition of the Scriptural mandate for man’s dominion over all that was created and how this dominion is exercised, reflecting man’s Identity and which has led to deep involvement with and engagement in the development of the material world by Christians through the sciences, arts, philosophy, political economy etc., especially in what is now known as modern Europe and its impact on the rest of the world.
Our Identity and Citizenship
Yet, contradictions and conflicts within European Christianity, based on their different Interpretations of the Scripture, became the major factor in the coming into being of modern Europe, the architect of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonial subjugation. From Martin Luther’s translation ( then considered a rebellion) of the New Testament into German which laid the basis for the formalization of the German Language and subsequently German Nationhood and State formation to the opposition and conflict with the divine rights of Kings anchored by medieval Christianity to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended the religious, intra-Christian or Thirty Years War wars among European princes with different religious(Christian) inclinations and ultimately establishing the political and economic parameters of the emerging sovereign European states/countries.
The story of Nigeria, just like the rest of Africa, is based on the imposition of the dominant European Christian praxis on the various Nationalities that make up the country.
When therefore, a Yoruba Christian says the Yoruba had no consciousness of itself as a Nation before the advent of the colonial forces, it goes against the Scripture as well as the grain of Yoruba history. What stands a Nation out from just a group, is the commonality of expectations expressed through cultural, political and economic prisms for which Yorubaland is very much in tandem: from the Obaship, to the Cosmogony and more importantly, the major cause of the Yoruba Civil Wars, which was the attempt to wage a “war to end all wars” in Yorubaland and which ultimately pitted Yoruba Unitarists against the Yoruba Federalists. There would not have been such an internal conflict if there was no sense of Yoruba Nationhood, which was again demonstrated at the Peace Treaty to end the wars.
That European Christians ended their internal wars with the emergence of sovereign states largely according to their Interpretation preferences but denied same for Africa, and in this instance, the Yoruba, can only show that the Truth of the Scripture was absent in their intervention in the Yoruba Civil wars; otherwise, just as it was in Westphalia, the emergence of a Yoruba Sovereign State would have been pursued in accordance with the Yoruba Peace Treaty, more so when all ingredients of Sovereign Statehood exist, instead of the Pax Britannica which ensured British Sovereignty over Yorubaland hence the formal British political and economic control of the land.
The expression “European Interpretation” is deliberately used to contextualize our experience with Christianity; for what accompanied colonialism to Africa was the by-product of the contest and conflict within Christianity in Europe, even after the establishment of the sovereign states, where persecutions of Christians by Official Christianity led to massive flight of persecuted European Christians to other lands, especially North America, prominent among which were the Anabaptists, the Huguenots, the English Puritans, Quakers, etc.
These Christian persecutors of other Christians in Europe ended up with their “civilizing mission” in Africa; this is the Christianity Africa has had to deal with and the context within which the Peoples of Nigeria became engaged with European Interpretation of Christianity which accompanied colonial rule and which Christian purveyors of the “God created Nigeria” mantra do not want to “search out by wisdom”.
The Scripture was emphatic on God as the God of Nations; from God’s promise to Abram, Genesis 12:2 “I will make you a great nation”; similarly at Pentecost, Acts 2:5-12 “devout men from every nation under heaven ..heard them speak in his own Language” and Revelation 7:9, where a “great multitude ..of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues…”; all of which show that it is in the Nations and through the Nations that the truth presented in the Scripture, will manifest, hence it is written,” His Glory will fill all the earth” (Numbers 14:21) and where His Grace that brings salvation has appeared to all men(Titus 2:11).
These enabled early Yoruba Christians to embark on the “burdensome task” without being afraid of their conclusions.
Although we may be more familiar with the contributions of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, other Yoruba Christians encouraged and actively participated in bringing forth a Yoruba/African Nationalist Consciousness which eventually influenced the anti-Colonial movements of the time. Notable among these were Pastor Mojola Agbebi, whose presentation at the First Universal Races Congress which held at the University of London from July 26-29, 1911 was included in “Papers on Interracial problems” published by “The Crisis Magazine– a record of the darker races”, and whose Editor was W.E.B DuBois.
Along with James Johnson and Herbert Macaulay, he founded the Lagos Auxiliary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society to promote the social and political demands of the Peoples of Nigeria.
On his part, Reverend Ladejo Stone opposed the antics of Colonial Christianity, broke with it and established the First African Church in West Africa such that the growth of this African Church and its branches led Africans in other denominations to establish their own African-oriented churches, so much so that Ladejo Stone’s reconciliation with his former mission did not neutralize the Nationalist Church membership who retained their conviction about the emancipation of African Christians from Colonial Christianity.
In the present era, Yoruba Christians like Rev Ayo Ladigbolu and retired Bishop Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi had immersed themselves in the pursuit of Yoruba Autonomy, through their various contributions within the many political formations involved in the quest, notably NADECO, Yoruba Parapo, Yoruba Council of Elders; with Bishop Gbonigi serving as the chairman of the Yoruba Committee which produced the Draft Yoruba Constitution.
Having said all these, it must be noted that Nigeria had been in a constant state of Identity Crisis since the advent of anti-colonial quest, with the Yoruba being in the forefront of advocating a Federal System anchored on the Lingual and cultural imperatives of the Peoples, which eventually led to the 1960 Federal Constitution that ushered in Nigeria’s Independence, against the tide of the colonial homogenizing mission pursued, politically, by the attempt to subdue the Western Region by both the North and the East, and militarily, by the intervention of the military in January and July of 1966, which interventions, through neutralization of the Regions, aimed at securing Nigeria in the military’s, and therefore colonialism’s image.(To be continued)