What is Nigeria’s Notre-Dame?|Through the eyes of Ides OfuneIdes Ofune 23rd April 2019 0 COMMENTS
It’s no longer news that Notre-Dame of Paris, the Catholic Church was caught up in fire on 15th April, 2019. The fire destroyed the cathedral’s attic and most of the roof, violet-le-Duc’s 19th century spire and some of the rib vaulting. The Cathedral is one of the most recognised symbol of France. You can now understand why French Billionaires and companies are competing among themselves to give the highest donation for the rebuilding of the cathedral. On the day of the fire, you could also see the horror on the face of Parisians as the spire fell down due to the burning flames. To them, it was heart breaking. Some Parisians have described the feeling as loosing someone close to them.
While I wholeheartedly sympathise with France and Europe, I could not help but think about Nigeria. Even when I wanted to escape from the thought, it kept coming back. You see, in 2015, I was working on an educational project where we assess the literacy and numeracy skills of Nigerian children between the ages of 5 – 15. We were to assess children both in school and out of school. In preparing the assessments, teachers and educators alike were tasked to come up with a social studies question – any symbol/icon that represented Nigeria. The aim of this question was to test the social awareness of all children. It would also be an indicator of whether Nigerian children were aware of their social environment even without going to school. Lo and behold, we couldn’t come up with one single symbol that represented all parts of Nigeria except political figures – it was either the current president or past presidents. What this means is that only politics unites us as a country! We thought about Football as a sport but most iconic figures came from one region. We didn’t want to be accused of bias since the assessment was going to be a national assessment not a regional one. There were no National artistes, monuments, philosophers, Authors, Poets, buildings etc. that we could describe as truly “Nigerian”. Each one of them had a regional, religious or ethnic connotation.
Wow! Isn’t this dangerous? Even as I write this, I am trying to think of one personality I could say is truly national. Sadly, even the Nigerian president can’t be said to be national given his actions and antecedents. Is there a Nigerian symbol that if it goes up in flames today, everyone would be so gutted and become moved to save it the way France and Europe have done? Is there any symbol that is so personal to Nigerians that we want to protect at all cost? For me, it is deeply troubling because it shows that Nigeria is truly a geographical expression like many would say. We need to build the nation and I use the word “nation” deliberately. We need to come up with something aside politics that unites every Nigerian, that children in rural and hard to reach areas would be able to recognise and identify with. Something we can all defend without thinking of religion or ethnicity. We need something to call Nigeria’s own.
If you think there is one, I welcome your suggestion.
Feature image credit: the Guardian Nigeria
Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org