In Nigeria, once lies and historical myths take roots, they are almost always impossible to uproot. But the stubborn persistence of lies is no reason to give up on correcting them. Find below 8 oft-repeated lies with the most staying power in Nigeria.
1. That Wole Soyinka had a third class degree. After it emerged that Dino Melaye earned a Third Class degree from Ahmadu Bello University, scores of social media commentators dredged up the old lie that even Professor Wole Soyinka had a Third Class degree from the University of Ibadan. There are two lies in this claim. The first lie is that Soyinka got a Third Class degree. No, he actually got an Upper Second Class honors degree. The second lie is that he graduated from the University of Ibadan. He graduated from the University of Leeds in the UK.
Professor Soyinka did NOT get a Third Class from the University of Ibadan.
He started his undergraduate studies at the then University College, Ibadan, but transferred to the University of Leeds after only two years at Ibadan. He spent another two years at Leeds to earn his BA in English Literature. Soyinka and his classmates at the University College Ibadan have repeatedly denied that he graduated from Ibadan and that he earned a Third Class degree. But the lies have taken firm roots and are now impossible to uproot.
2. That the American government predicted Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015. That’s a big fat lie. It’s true that a few private US think factories predicted that given the potentially contentious outcome of the 2015 election, there was reason to expect that Nigeria could be consumed by fratricidal in-fighting that could dissolve the union.
The most widely shared view on this was contained in a project by two Air War College students. Students in the school were given various world scenarios that could impact crude oil delivery to the US. They were then required to come up with strategies to get around this. One of the scenarios was the break-up of Nigeria. In other words, Nigerians created a “fact” out of a fictional, hypothetical college project.
3. That America calls itself “god’s own country.” As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, America’s motto isn’t “God’s own country.” It is “In God we trust.” “God’s own country” is an old American English expression for one’s place of birth— or for a beautiful, forested rural area. The “country” in the expression refers to “rural area,” not a territory occupied by a nation.
It was usual in the past for rural, wooded small towns in America to welcome visitors with the inscription “Welcome to God’s own country” on their signposts, which in modern English would be “welcome to our beautiful small town.” Some small towns in Texas (and elsewhere in the South) still have those signs. Perhaps, that’s what caused Nigerians to assume that America’s motto is “God’s own country.”
4. That Sokoto calls itself “born to rule.” At no point in history has Sokoto ever called itself “born to rule.” As I pointed out in my January 10, 2015 column titled “The Stubborn, Undying ‘Born to Rule’ Falsehood in Nigeria’s Political Discourse,” “Sokoto State’s official license-plate catchphrase from the beginning was and still is ‘Cibiyar daular usmaniyya,’ which is Hausa for the nucleus or the navel of the Usman Danfodio caliphate. The English version of the slogan has been rendered as ‘Seat of the Caliphate,’ which I think is a great idiomatic translation.”
5. That Usman Danfodiyo brought Islam to Nigeria. No, he didn’t. The presence of Islam in Nigeria, as I pointed out in my March 22, 2014 column titled “Nigeria’s Curricular Institutionalization of Mass Amnesia,” preceded the Usman Danfodio jihad by several centuries. What Danfodio did was to reform Islam where it already existed. And this happened only in the 19th century. The earliest record of Islamic presence in northern Nigeria (in the ancient Kanem- Borno Empire to be specific) dates back to the 9th century, that is, just two centuries away from the birth of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.
In Hausaland, Islam had been widespread since at least the 13th century, and in Borgu, Nupe land, Yoruba land, etc from about the 14th century. Islam came to West Africa primarily through the trans-Saharan trade, which lasted from about the 8th century to the 16th century. The trade saw Arab traders travel from Arabia through North Africa to parts of West Africa in search of gold, salt, and human labor.
6. That money from the North funded oil exploration in the South. Professor Ango Abdullahi actually repeated this lie recently. He said this, ironically, while exhorting Emir Sanusi II to “go and read history.” The truth is that not a dime of northern Nigeria’s money contributed to oil exploration in the Niger Delta.
When oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in 1956, Shell bore the financial burden for the exploration. Other Euro-American oil companies later joined in oil exploration. It wasn’t until 1973 that the Nigerian federal government acquired 30 percent shares in oil companies. By 1973, Northern Nigeria had ceased to exist; it had been divided into states.
In any case, colonial records show that the biggest motivation for amalgamating northern and southern Nigeria was because northern Nigeria wasn’t financially self-sustaining and the British Imperial Government said it would never subsidize colonial administration anywhere in Africa. So Lord Lugard amalgamated the two regions and used the surplus from the south to sustain the north. It’s illogical to say that a region that wasn’t financially self-sustaining financed oil exploration in the Niger Delta.
7. That northern Christians resisted Danfodio’s attempt to convert them to Islam. This is a fusion of distinct historical memories. Usman Danfodio’s jihad did not seek to convert non-Muslims to Islam. If it did, Zuru would be religiously indistinguishable from Sokoto or Gwandu, given their geographic closeness. Danfodio only sought to “purify” Islam where it already existed, and used non-Muslim areas as a source for slaves. Since Islam forbids the enslavement of fellow Muslims, it wasn’t in the interest on the jihadists for surrounding non-Muslim areas to be converted to Islam. That would stop the source of cheap slave labor.
So it would make more sense for northern Christians (who weren’t Christians at the time) to say their ancestors resisted slave raids. It’s also true that they resisted Ahmadu Bello’s subtle and overt campaigns to Islamize them in the 1960s.
8. That Donald Trump insulted Nigerians and Africans.
Trump said so many terrible things about several people, and isn’t beyond saying terrible things about Nigerians and Africans, but he simply didn’t say anything about Nigerians or Africans. Not once during his presidential campaign. All the Nigerian- and African-bashing quotes attributed to him are hoaxes.
Notes From Atlanta
Top 8 Popular National Lies that Won’t Die in Nigeria