Unfavorable gods and Terrible Political Geography Hindering Nigeria Development – Tom Hebert

Posted by Timige, On 4 Apr, 2022 | Updated On 7 Apr, 2022 No Comments »

yoruba chick god ogun-2
Tom Hebert says if it was for the terrible political geography created by colonial power and the endemic corruption, Nigeria could now be another South Korea in the making

Is it possible for a nation to embrace all manner of modern (read Western) ways without losing its soul?

Well, the Japanese and the Vietnamese and the Koreans have learned best practices from the western world and improved upon many without sacrificing their own cultural heritage. Toyota, a victorious North Vietnam and Samsung, anyone?

Actually, I had earlier learned much of this sensibility from my Peace Corps experience in Nigeria. Early on, I was struck with the care that Nigerian taxi cab drivers gave their cars, mostly small four-door British-made Morris Minors.

Old Nigeria Taxi Cab

Back in the 1960s, Nigerian roads were most often bits of asphalt and gravel between large potholes that could swallow a cow. Yet the Morris Minors all looked new, with some of them having a couple hundred thousand miles on them — they were spotless. And when the driver got in, they started immediately, without a whimper, like “Let’s get going!” The drivers were like proper horsemen; their cars seem to intuit them. And like a good horse, the cars seemed to love to work.

But the lesson was driven home to me late one afternoon when I was taking a cab ride back to Ibadan. Somewhere out in the hinterland we were banging along through a village when suddenly the driver swerved to the right and smack, killed a chicken! He then mumbled something and touched an amulet hanging around his neck.

Tom Hebert at Calabar in 1964 sharing a taxi with friends

I asked him what had just happened. He explained that he had just made a blood sacrifice to the great god Ogun, the Yoruba tribe’s god of war and thus of iron, like his Morris Minor.

Indeed, I later learned that in the Yoruba religion Ogun is the traditional orisha or deity of hunters, blacksmiths and drivers.

At that moment, I knew for fact certain that there was no such thing as a “Western technological know-how” that the then-Third World (now “developing countries”) would have difficulty learning; that somehow their home cultures would necessarily hold them back; that if their better angels had the edge then former colonial nations could prosper.

If it wasn’t for the terrible political geography of a nation created in 1889 by a colonial power out of whole cloth and a map of the Niger River, and the endemic “Dash me, mista?” corruption of Nigeria, the country could now be another South Korea in the making.

And, in fact, with its population of 174 million and Gross National Product of $1 trillion, and despite swervy leadership, bureaucratic rigidity and a troubled judicial system Nigeria sometimes seems like a country ready to take off.

Here’s what my very own Central Intelligence Agency says:

“Nigeria has emerged as Africa’s largest economy but economic diversification and strong growth have not translated into a significant decline in poverty levels, however — over 62 percent of Nigeria’s 170 million people still live in extreme poverty. And despite its strong fundamentals, oil-rich Nigeria has been hobbled by inadequate power supply, lack of infrastructure, delays in the passage of legislative reforms, restrictive trade policies, an inconsistent regulatory environment, a slow and ineffective judicial system, unreliable dispute resolution mechanisms, insecurity, and pervasive corruption.”

There’s also vicious Boko Haram, which aims to establish an Islamic state at any cost. It “opposes any political or social activity associated with Western society, including voting, attending secular schools, and wearing shirts and trousers.”

And what about those Morris Minors?

Tom Hebert at University of Ibadan

Let’s just say that the 1963 event with the chicken blood sacrifice sent my mind in interesting new directions — making me more modest in my Americanism.

Tom Hebert is a writer and public policy consultant living on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Tom Hebert lived in Pendleton for many years. He died Feb. 8, 2022, at the age of 83

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