Last week at the Gold Lecture in honour of fiery nationalist Herbert Macaulay, an irony pervaded the hall at the Lagos Country Club. Both his names were English, but no one stood for the indigene better than the foreign-named nationalist. The guest lecturer, Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, who gave us a riveting snapshot biography of the icon, asked that the Glover Memorial Hall be renamed after Macaulay.
As the emcee, I said it was time to decolonise our streets. Glover, as Fafowora related, bombarded his way into Lagos. I said to rename the hall after Macaulay was a counter-warfare to earn us a victory and last laugh. But the same applies to Port Harcourt named after the colonial lord Harcourt. That city should be renamed, just as we should rename Lagos. Lagos can easily be called Eko. That is the real indigene fight.
H.L. Mencken, the American writer, noted that American towns were named for “more humour than poetry.” Ours were not named for either. The foreign-named ones came as tyranny.
In the days of Fashola, it was “Eko o ni baje o.” Now, under Ambode, it is “Itesiwaju Eko lo jewa logun.” I don’t see Lagos mentioned. In the hearts of the people, it is all Eko. The use of Eko obviates the Edo consciousness. Same should apply to Badagry. We have streets like Queens Drive, Bourdillon, etc. They pay homage to a time of colonial thraldom. I understand Carter Bridge because it came from friendship, not imposition.
Lekki came from Lequi, a white man, who saw that place as a prison to lock up our people. The re-spelling of the name is an act of rebellion because we have corrupted it to own. Awo was locked up there.
As we mark 50 years of Biafra, we forget that Biafra is not an Igbo word. It is a cartographic statement in a foreign tongue. It comes from the Bight of Biafra that represents not only exits, but also entrances. A bight is a curved coastline. The Bight of Biafra abuts on the Gulf of Guinea. The agitators have not claimed rhetoric independence from Biafra. Perhaps that is why the Biafran cause is still a difficult idea to articulate and accomplish.
Nigeria’s name is rooted in River Niger, which is named for us by foreigners who said they discovered it before the farmers, fishermen, ferrymen and traders who thrived for centuries before Mongo Park was born.
We need to rediscover ourselves as a people. One way is to call ourselves by our names.