By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
There is need for an urgent name-change for our dear country Nigeria.
Countries are known to do baptism, as in change of name, to bring good fortune to the long-suffering land.
There used to be a country called Gold Coast that was then neither here nor there until it changed its name to Ghana.
Another country formerly known and addressed as Upper Volta was in the middle of nowhere until the revolutionary Thomas Sankara changed the name to Burkina Faso, and “the land of upright people” was born.
My cry for an urgent change of name for Nigeria came about when I learnt that our beloved country signed that it could forego its sovereignty if it failed to pay some of the monies it had borrowed from China!
Now that is not the way to go. Nigeria needs to change its name to Unoka to know how to survive the onslaught of the creditors.
Who does not know of Unoka out there?
Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, used to be the greatest money borrower in the whole wide world as recreated by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart.
Unoka did not lose his “sovereignty” as an icon of money borrowing in his lifetime and did not pay his creditors until death supervened – yet the heavens did not fall.
Why then should Nigeria do bingo with her sovereignty when like Unoka it can amass more debts without paying back?
If the country’s name is changed to Unoka, I am totally sure that no creditor worth his name would come troubling our country for debt repayment.
Ask all the creditors who tried to get their monies back from the original Unoka, the master flutist in Things Fall Apart!
Let me quote extensively from Things Fall Apart to teach Nigeria to learn from Unoka on how to treat creditors without losing sovereignty.
Here is Unoka at work with his creditor, Okoye, in the very first chapter of Things Fall Apart: “Okoye was a great talker and he spoke for a long time, skirting round the subject and then hitting it finally. In short, he was asking Unoka to return the two hundred cowries he had borrowed from him more than two years before. As soon as Unoka understood what his friend was driving at, he burst out laughing. He laughed loud and long and his voice rang out clear as the ogene, and tears stood in his eyes. His visitor was amazed, and sat speechless. At the end, Unoka was able to give an answer between fresh outbursts of mirth.
“’Look at that wall,’ he said, pointing at the far wall of his hut, which was rubbed with red earth so that it shone. ‘Look at those lines of chalk;’ and Okoye saw groups of short perpendicular lines drawn in chalk. There were five groups, and the smallest group had ten lines. Unoka had a sense of the dramatic and so he allowed a pause, in which he took a pinch of snuff and sneezed noisily, and then he continued: ‘Each group there represents a debt to someone, and each stroke is one hundred cowries. You see, I owe that man a thousand cowries. But he has not come to wake me up in the morning for it. I shall pay you, but not today. Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them. I shall pay my big debts first.’ And he took another pinch of snuff, as if that was paying the big debts first. Okoye rolled his goatskin and departed.”
I know that the super patriots of Nigeria will attack me violently for likening Nigeria to Unoka who died of the vile swelling stomach disease and was left to waste away onto death in the Evil Forest.
But which forest can be more evil than the wild land that now borrows its pension funds, thereby eating up its own future?
I am actually in a no-win situation because Unoka has his supporters who argue that he was an accomplished musician and artiste misunderstood by society unlike big-for-nothing Nigeria indulging in the woeful squandering of riches.
This way, Unoka in death may be scandalized that Nigeria deigns to borrow his name!
There is even an Amos Tutuola angle to this debtor-creditor story.
There was once one borrower, not unlike Unoka, who never ever paid his debts. Then his creditor hired a debt collector who never ever failed to collect owed money. Instead of paying up the debtor killed himself. Afraid of being seen as a failure, the debt collector also killed himself so that he would collect the debt in the other world. The watching people, not wanting to miss out on the action, all killed themselves so that they will see the end in the world beyond.
Before we get to the point of all of us killing ourselves over borrowing from the future, Nigeria’s name must be changed to Unoka – and let the flute play on!
– Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, poet, journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos