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Welcome to Around the World, Here at Home. I’m Jennifer Davidson. This month, we’re looking at a country that’s about twice the area of California, and that has mountains, tropical rainforests, and enormous cities. Its courts are a blend of English Common law, traditional law, and in some parts, Islamic sharia. It’s where women have an average of five children each, and where a huge chunk of oil is exported to the US each year: Nigeria, by far the most populous country in Africa. I sat down with Dr. Bukola Oyeniyi, who just joined Missouri State University as a history professor.
Oyeniyi calls where he grew up a “small town,” even though it’s population has several hundred thousand people. That’s because, he says, he’s comparing it to major cities in Nigeria. He said growing up there, he had an idyllic childhood.
“Everybody’s free. You don’t have to fear for anything,” Oyeniyi said.
Besides school, his days were filled with playing football, or soccer as it’s known in the US.
“I have wounds. I have had reasons to quarrel with my mother for saying, ‘No, you cannot play football.’ I’d say, ‘No, I have to,’” Oyeniyi said.
“What we normally do is, any open space – just any open space, we constructed little goal posts with, sometimes, our sandals,” Oyeniye said.
He and his friends even played soccer in the middle of the road. Once, he forgot his brand new sandal on the soccer field. When he got home, his mother was not impressed.
“My mother told me, ‘Tomorrow, you are going to school with your bare feet.’ I couldn’t believe it. And she carried it out. I can never forget it. And since then, if we are playing football, I will sling my sandal on my neck,” Oyeniyi said.
The political system in Nigeria is a presidential democracy. To the outside world, Oyeniyi says Nigerian politics looks chaotic. But Nigerians understand it and are accustomed to their system, he said.
“The one peculiar thing about politics and governance in Nigeria is that governance is about ethnicity. It’s about religion. For instance, in Nigeria, a Christian president must necessarily have a Muslim vice-president. And when you have a president coming from the northern part of the country, the vice president must come from the southern part. We even have it enshrined in our Constitution,” he said.
That is a system imposed on Nigeria from the former British colonial system, he said.
He says there are many lasting impacts from colonialization.
“[Britain] capitalized on existing differences by separating people more, and on the other hand, creating another layer of differences,” Oyeniyi said.
For example, he said, even though the southern part of the country was filled with architects, lawyers, and Ph.D.s who were spreading the movement for independence. The British, he said, saw them as a threat, and ensured that power was not given to the southern Nigerian elites, but rather to the more uneducated northern Nigerians.
“So where you have semi-illiterates, they produce the highest number of legislators. So what you have in the Nigerian National Assembly is that when the elites from southern Nigeria are saying, ‘Let’s move the country forward to this place, to this level,’ you find another set of people—[those] with the highest number [of lawmakers]-- now saying, ‘No, you have to respect our differences.’ So, you cannot have, under that situation, a common cause,” Oyeniyi said.
This is a direct result of the British-imposed plan, he said.
“I look forward to the day when we have [at MSU] an African Studies Day. I look forward to, not just a department of history, but to an African Studies Center. If I achieve that and I died the next day, I would have died content,” Oyeniyi said.
Again, that was MSU history professor Bukola Oyeniyi, who moved to the United States three weeks ago. This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU. I’m Jennifer Davidson.