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In spite of naysayers, Nigeria has evolved into less of a geographical expression since Awolowo’s statement. North, south, east and west, our lifestyles are more similar than it was in 1960. We now interact more, and the fact that you can read this anywhere you are shows that indeed we have the tools to bridge the geographical divides more than they could have ever dreamed of in 1814 Italy.


Thanks to the erudite Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. The man ‘too know book’. He was the one who pointed attention to the fact that the statement that ‘Nigeria is a mere geographical expression’ was not original to his grandfather-in-law, the great Obafemi Awolowo, but that the statement was made ‘two centuries earlier’ by one Prince Klemens Von Metternich, and that the statement was originally made about Italy. Of course many of those who have since based their thoughts on the unworkability of Nigeria citing Awolowo did not take cognisance of the observation of Osinbajo, which was contained in one of his recent speeches. But I did. For as Alvin Toffler had observed, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot LEARN, UNLEARN and RELEARN”. So I’m definitely still learning, unlearning and relearning.

So I went in search of the name Klemens Von Metternich. I found out the man was a very influential German in the early to mid 1800s, serving as foreign minister to the Austrian Empire. Some accounts said he wrote the above famous statement about Italy in 1814, while some claim it was in 1847. The issue now is, why did he make that statement about Italy? What does the term ‘geographical expression’ mean?

So I went in further search of his meaning. According to historians.org:

“… until Italy became a single undivided nation in 1870… some of the separate states on the peninsula and its neighboring islands of Sicily and Sardinia were comparatively sizable. The largest was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies whose capital was Naples. Others took in hardly more than a city and a little surrounding territory… They had differing laws, traditions, and constitutional systems. Some were monarchies and some republics. In the middle of the peninsula the Papal States, governed by the popes in Rome, added still another political and cultural pattern to the Italian kaleidoscope. It was only when Rome was captured in 1870 and made the capital of the nation that the final unity of Italy was achieved.”

So there you have it. Let us look at the elements which made the statesman Metternich write what he did as a statement of fact on Italy, circa 1814. First was that some component parts of Italy were larger than others. Then they had different constitutions and different forms of government. However, the capture of Rome in 1870 immediately made every constituent part conform to the ethos of nationhood.

I believe that the first lesson here is that nation-building is a gradual process. Till date, Sicilians are a tad different from the average Italian. Being in the south, their people are a bit more sun-tanned and, of course, per capita income in that part of Italy is lower than what obtains in the north and places like Rome and Milan. But somehow, they have come to terms with the need to continue building their nation, minimising dissent and ensuring that when cause arises for disaffection, such are better discussed in intellectual atmospheres where concessions can be extracted and everybody moves on rapidly. This is not to say that the state of Italy does not have its problems today.

…I believe every nation starts out as a geographical expression. The Americans especially know this, that is why they speak of having a ‘more perfect union’. Look at Canada. Some part are French, some are English. Yet they make great progress and our people would give an arm and a leg to live there.


Come to think of it, Italy has a steady stream of Africans trooping in after wading through the Sahara Desert and crossing the tempestuous Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. Many perish in the desert and waters, and Nigerians are a large chunk of those people. This ‘geographical expression’ has moved on from what it used to be to a first world nation, where they know better than to kill those who are emigrating, however illegally. They help to rescue thousands every year and give them temporary shelter and food. In Italy today, Africans cut a sorry picture. Many Nigerian girls are presently in the bushes of Italy with a mattress in tow, ready to make a few Euros from the sex trade. Yet Italy was a geographical expression.

I believe our problem today – and I refer largely to the new generation commentariat who have the power of social media – is the fact that we are largely dogmatic. What is dogma? Dogma means thinking other people’s thoughts. It means not having a mind of one’s own. It means repeating what we hear without trying to subject such thoughts to some level of scrutiny. Religious people are usually dogmatic. And we are very religious. That means we hardly see anything wrong in repeating Awolowo’s statement of the early 1960s without scrutinising where it came from. Most people think he invented that statement, and that it was specific to Nigeria and Nigeria alone. Thankfully, his grandson-in-law, our acting president, is intellectual enough to find out the how, and he has pointed me, at least, in the direction of the truth.

Was Nigeria ever a geographical expression? Certainly. Is she still one? Yes, in many respects. But so is every country on earth. Let us look at the USA. There are the Amish people in some parts of the south, who till today are governed by their own views on life. They believe the world will soon end and that every modern gimmick of mankind is evil. They marry more than one wife and don’t use phones, cars and all that. The Americans don’t demonise them; they just allow them to live in peace. Some Mormons are also like that. There are Latino communities in the south who have their own distinct cultures, and up north in places like Alaska are Eskimos (Inuits, Yupiks etc), whose lives are totally different from the modern ‘civilised’ American. Everybody is subject to the American law and constitution, but on a micro level, people act and think differently.

So, the moment Rome fell, it was easy to unite Italy around a single constitution. Awolowo was right that Nigeria was a geographical expression in the time he wrote, and even up till now, because from north to south, east to west, there are significant differences in culture and belief systems. There are parts of Nigeria wherethe monarchy is still strong. There are parts where there are no monarchies at all and people are fiercely republican. There are parts where religion wields a strong influence on people’s lives and parts where that is less so. But I believe what we had on ground, even as at 1960, is not as disparate and dissimilar in comparison to what existed in Italy in 1814.

To add to my claims is the fact that today, in 2017, there are global rules and regulations, and institutions such as the United Nations, whose aim is to bring everyone up to speed and ensure conformity with globalisation. This means that we have all gravitated toward democracy despite its flaws. In spite of naysayers, Nigeria has evolved into less of a geographical expression since Awolowo’s statement. North, south, east and west, our lifestyles are more similar than it was in 1960. We now interact more, and the fact that you can read this anywhere you are shows that indeed we have the tools to bridge the geographical divides more than they could have ever dreamed of in 1814 Italy.

So I believe every nation starts out as a geographical expression. The Americans especially know this, that is why they speak of having a ‘more perfect union’. Look at Canada. Some part are French, some are English. Yet they make great progress and our people would give an arm and a leg to live there. I believe we had better spend every waking moment making this ‘a more perfect union’, like the Americans advise.

‘Tope Fasua, an Economist, author, blogger and entrepreneur, can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.