‘Knowledge is power’ this is a saying that I have heard all through my life. As a native Nigerian from the Eastern part whose mother tongue is riddled with figures of speech, I am yet to come across a more universally applicable proverbial adage. Foucault must have heard this same proverb somewhere or some other version of it at least; he theorizes that knowledge is and has always been a tool of power. From the days of colonial masters when ‘explorers’ would visit potential colonies to gather information about the people, to this day when such exploration and colonization has taken on much more subtle means, adapting to the world’s current socio-economic clime.
I have always been a Nigerian. My features are Nigerian, and my accent is Nigerian and my parents are Nigerians as are their parents. My passport is Nigerian, and it is green and within its pages it declares for whoever cares to listen that I am a Nigerian. The point I’m trying to make is that I have no reason to believe otherwise, that I am not Nigerian I mean. I have lived in Nigeria all my life and whenever the National anthem has been sung I have murmured along in solidarity. I am also Igbo, a tribe from the western part of Nigeria. I am Igbo because the gods of my forefathers paid homage to the great Amadioha. My parents are Igbo and so are their parents and those before them also. It has always been so, I suppose. I remember being in my final year of secondary school and sitting in a classed titled ‘government’ taught by my favorite teacher Mr. Gowon and he went off into one of his glorious rants fuelled by knowledge and poverty, this time he spoke about Biafra and of genocide. I remember not caring, as I waited patiently for him to signal the end of the class.
Many years later and it marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy that stands as a defining moment in the history of my people as all around me the stirrings of even greater defining moments are starting to send off their first sparks. Nigeria is currently in the worst economic crisis that she has faced in a long time even as we continue to make more money than we have ever made, Boko haram continues to terrorize the northern parts of the state leaving most places desolate, the rest of the country continue to ignore the fact that we are officially a war torn country as everyday life continues to plod on ahead, and the sky all but seems to be falling on our heads. I think about myself as a Nigerian in a country that only fifty years ago labelled my kind ‘the rebels’ and I realize that I am a Biafran. Biafra as a nation is not so much a physical space as the events of war would have you believe as it is a state of existence for a people who have historically been relegated to the background of affairs in a country that clings desperately to an illusion of unity that the British had shackled them to. Independence came from the British, but the damage had already been done.
Biafra is my border, even though there is no physical place as of yet called Biafra. Biafra is in knowing that even though I am Nigerian I am Igbo also and sometimes the threads get tangled up, it is in the stereotypes they make about those ‘greedy igbo people’, it is in knowing that your family in the north of the country could have to flee from neighbors of decades at any moment, it is in the way that nobody has ever said these things out loud but yet we all think them as though it is encoded into the very fabric of our ‘igboness’. I think about myself outside of Nigeria and suddenly the question of my tribe falls away and once again I am shoved unceremoniously under the umbrella of Nigeria yet again. The man at desk 8 in immigration upon arrival at Heathrow airport cares naught for all the years of political and cultural complexities that surround my identity. The question of where you are from can only be answered with Nigeria and thus it is decided! I am Nigerian! Yet again another border.
Over the past few months there has been a lot of media coverage surrounding a large exodus of migrants from all parts of the third world to Europe. This is what I think most about when I think of ‘borderlessness. A lot of attention has been given to Libya in particular who due to its geographical location is a mandatory calling port for anyone wishing to sneak into ‘The West’. It is not news anymore that the state of Libya is in itself a state of turmoil; what this means for the migrants is that they end up journeying into conditions that are far worse than what they had escaped. Searching through news articles about this crisis and what I find most intriguing is the way thousands of individuals are all grouped into ‘migrants’. It almost appears to me that the media representation of the migrants has effectively created a border such that it creates a subconscious veil of detachment. Whichever way you look at the issue it all comes down to an issue of ‘US’ versus ‘THEM”
When I think about migrants I think about large disembodied bodies of people; not individuals who are fleeing deplorable conditions, human beings for whom life has become so unbearable in their own mother land that they would risk death and prosecution and rejection. They are merely masses of ignorant people who decide to take on these perilous journeys that defies all logic and common sense. What resonates for me with this scenario is the work of Edward Said on Orientalism. I think that what we have is a side-effect of the rest of the world being defined through the eyes of the west. Such that the west has become of symbol of ‘better’, so it makes sense that these scores of people whose entire cultures and histories have been butchered and transmuted into such grotesqueries that they are left unrecognizable would seek out this ‘mythical’ west with it’s perfect democracy and economy. When I think about migrants I realize that they are me, the same borders separate us all.