Nengi Josef Ilagha Writes Queen Elizabeth II on Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary
Posted by Michael Chima on September 6th, 2010
As Nigeria prepares to celebrate her Golden Jubilee anniversary on October 1, 2010, the London-based Nigerian poet, journalist and broadcaster, Nengi Josef Ilagha, forwards a Royal Mail to Queen Elizabeth II, the constitutional monarch of England who will be marking her Diamond Jubilee anniversary on the throne in 2012. In twelve gutsy, friendly, sober and soul-searching epistles, the author takes the Queen on a revealing ride into the corrupt character and unwholesome habits of a nation on the verge of rebirth, and invites her to push for the restoration of the values that make England a stable and prosperous model.
Told through the perceptive lenses of a poet with a knack for refreshing imagery, the book is an incisive and harrowing testament on the state of the most populous African country, fifty years into its life as a nation, laying bare its shameful inadequacies, and underscoring its hopeful impact on world affairs. Delivered in a lucid, winsome and personable style which dollies in from time to time to undertake a dramatic exposition of the British colonial mentor and life in London, Royal Mail is inspired by Her Majesty's efficient postal delivery service.
The book promptly finds its place beside Chinua Achebe's popular 1983 commentary, The Trouble With Nigeria, with the added advantage that it extends its critical antenna to England and finds the colonizer culpable of the political rot in present-day Nigeria, no thanks to the divide-and-rule ethic enthroned by the British under Lord Frederick Lugard's pioneering tenure as Governor-General of the West African nation. The following is the opening epistle from Royal Mail, published by Treasure Books, Nigeria.
The men who succeed are the efficient few
- Herbert N. Casson
YOUR ROYAL MAJESTY, I am glad to make your acquaintance. I am led by none other than the hand of God to address this humble epistle to you. I have no doubt that your efficient mail delivery service will bring these words before your eyes in the fullness of time. As you will soon come to understand, I have quite a lot to say to you, and I will say it as the pages flip by, so help me God.
Allow me to begin by congratulating you on your fifty-eighth anniversary in office. That is quite a long time to serve your land and people as Queen. You have been monarch of England for as long as Ron and Don, the world's most famous conjoined twins have been together, bound by flesh from day to day, minute after minute. I happen to have seen them for the first time on BBC 4 television on the night of March 4, 2010, and it got me thinking. They were born one year after you ascended the throne at Sandringham.
By all accounts, you will be marking your Diamond Jubilee in 2012. I find myself suitably equipped and qualified, therefore, to address you in the twelve epistles that make up this small loaf of bread, even as you come to understand that two of my sons go by the names of Diamond and Jubilee. But let me not get ahead of my story. Let me take one letter at a time, one word at a time, one line at a time, one paragraph at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at a time.
You have been at the head of government for so long, witness to the policies and programmes of Prime Ministers as varied in temperament and carriage as Anthony Eden was from Gordon Brown. Not too long ago, I saw pictures of Winston Churchill, Eden's predecessor, upon the satellite clouds, delivering excerpts of his famous speeches in the finest manner of a war-time hero. Quote. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I frequently search mine. Unquote.
Your Majesty, do you mind taking a look at your speech to Nigeria on October 1, 1960? Remind yourself of the things you said to the new nation, the promises you failed to keep. I say this advisedly, because I have before me your speech to the Commonwealth delivered on May 8, 2010.
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I share your sentiments, Your Majesty. I look forward to your next speech, the one you will address to the President and good people of Nigeria on their Golden Jubilee anniversary, the one that will pronounce restoration to a long-suffering nation. Suffice it to say, for now, that Nigeria is not some space station beyond this planet. It is a country you once ruled with pride and honour. By virtue of modern communication devices, we can still be reached by phone, in spite of frustrations with the network. But anyone you call up in our beleaguered country will assure you that conditions of living could have been better than they are today. Take it from me.
By and by, it should strike you as a sign that Sir Anthony Eden was the first Prime Minister under your watch. I shall have a lot to say about Eden, the parcel of land upon which the first man and woman were moulded from the mud of the earth. Of course, as a fervent Christian, I take my bearings from the Bible. Now we dwell in the present, listening to the rhetoric of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, to say nothing of the Miliband Brothers. I am a witness to history in the making. I abide with you. I can only say it is your portion to have been so blessed, so revered, so adored for over five decades of your life in prosperity and opulence.
I have no doubt that you have questions of your own bubbling within you right now, questions you wish to direct at me. Verily, verily, I will be only too glad to give ear and hearken, to say nothing of answering them as the days unfold, but I suppose you will let me exhaust myself on the subjects I have set out to address in this long epistle to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of England. Even so, I cannot proceed without running the full course of the pleasantries which I must not fail to offer, from my meek and gentle self to every member of the Royal Family, acting on behalf of the President and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
How are you today? How is the Queen Mother? How is Prince Phillip? How is Prince Charles? How is Prince William? And how is Prince Harry? O, how is Princess Anne, the one you sent to represent you at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos on October 1, 1960? How did you find Nigeria on your maiden visit in the first week of December, 2003? What gift do you have in mind for the country you once colonized, as it marks its Golden Jubilee? These questions popped up in my mind in that particular order on February 6, 2010, when I read in the internet rather belatedly that you were marking your anniversary in Sandrigham. It was remiss of me not to have put my thoughts on paper at the time and date in question, on account of the poor weather. As the saying goes, however, better late than never. I have never been at home with the cold, and I will tell you why. I am a child of the sun, that's why. At any rate, I have no doubt that your family is in good health and excellent spirits.
Your Majesty, I will do well not to hold back what I have to say to you. If I have rambled round and about the subject up to this point, put it down to a royal habit I acquired since I became king. That last bit of information, indeed, should give you a fair idea as to how I summoned the audacity to extend a few words of hope in conversation with Your Imperial Majesty, as Nigeria marks her Golden Jubilee. Do allow me to whisper this detail in your ear, if you don't mind coming a little closer. I am His Royal Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha, Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe Kingdom. I am also the author of twelve books spanning the full calendar, from January through December, as you may have noticed from the Pope Pen Library that prefaces this book. Glad to meet you.
Time does fly, Your Majesty. Don't you find it amazing that you have ruled Britain for all of fifty-eight years, that in a couple of years you will be marking your Diamond Jubilee? Isn't God wonderful to have kept you through the storm of eleven Prime Ministers? Before David Cameron showed up, I was wondering who would be your Twelfth Prime Minister. Now we know that you are overseeing the first coalition government since 1945. May God give you the fortitude and grace to undertake the assignment to the glory of his name.
Lest I forget, let me promptly invite you to my coronation ceremony in the selfsame critical year of transition which marks your Diamond Jubilee. I shall be formally ascending the throne in that capital year, 2012, as King of Eden, better known as Nembe in modern geography. I have no doubt that your entire entourage will be on hand to demonstrate to our land and people what the imperial ceremonies are like, and should be, even in a former colony such as Nigeria. Do bring along your beefeaters, your buffeters, your bagpipes, your puppeteers, your horses, your Metropolitan police and your Imperial Guard of Honour.
Come and stage a carnival as colourful, as grand, as magnificent, as brilliant, as vintage as the one I just witnessed at Nothinghill. Come with your trumpets, come with your bugles. Come and stage a lavish party in Nigeria, beginning from Bayelsa. Come to the Glory Of All Lands. You must come and set a new standard, or at least, revive the memory of our people as to what it means to be part of the British Commonwealth. What is more, I believe you will do well to send word to your worthy counterparts in Spain, Denmark, Jordan and such other countries where the monarchy is still respected as a timeless institution, to grace the coronation ceremony of Pope Pen The First.
There we are! The proverbial cat is out of the bag, out of the proverbial bin, in spite of all the efforts of the Mary Bales of this wicked world. My friends call me Mingi Nengi XII, the Lion King of Nembe. So now you know why I am so conscious of the year 2012. What are your earnest plans for your Diamond Jubilee celebration in 2012? I want to be a part of it all. Well, now we have our bearings right, let us get down to brass tacks, so to speak. But let it not be that I am being presumptuous. It is possible that you cannot quite place Nembe on the map of British history, so I will go so far as to help you.
Fifty-eight years is a long time indeed, Your Majesty. So much has happened. So much more is happening, even as we speak. You may have forgotten certain matters that called for your urgent attention in times past. You may at present be preoccupied with A Journey, the memoirs of Tony Blair. I have my copy in hand as well. I will read it on the Tube, from Golders Green to Finchley, from Finchley to Baker Street, from Baker Street right through to Aldgate. Up and down the Jubilee Line, I will read from Stanmore to Stratford and back, my all-day travel card in my pocket, like a typical City Boy. But let me not digress.
As I was saying, Your Majesty, certain incidents may have become mere figments from the past, as if they never happened. Certain faces may have become blurred in memory. Certain names and dates may escape you from time to time in the course of conversation. I don't blame you. After all, none of my royal predecessors kept you in remembrance of our abiding relationship as colonizer and colonized, certainly not the last Mingi of Nembe. I do hope that the language you left behind in my country will avail me with the right and proper words to express myself to the fullest, and to extend the great expectations that my subjects back home want you to consider, without let, without hindrance.
From time to time, I shall consult Daniel Ogiriki Ockiya, the reverend gentleman who extensively documented the historic Nembe-British War of 1895 in The History of Nembe, and E.J. Alagoa, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Port Harcourt, author of The Small Brave City-State. The credentials of these noble sons of the soil lie in the fact that they had the presence of mind to record the events of the day as faithfully as they could manage. They deserve trophies from Her Majesty The Queen, as much as many gallant Nigerians who have contributed to the grandeur of England in no small way.
As Nigeria turns fifty, Your Majesty, it is tempting to undertake a comparison of the country you once colonized and check it for critical differences with yours, from the time Britain annexed our parcel of land after the partitioning of Africa in 1884, right up to 1960 when we returned the Union Jack to you through Princess Anne of Kent, right up to the present — and to see just how far we have come as a nation. I shall promptly fall for this temptation. The internet is my witness. I shall consult it for facts. I shall also do well to conduct a cursory parade of your queenly parks, your royal gardens, your busy highways, your underground network of rails and its workaday population, in order to put in fair perspective the disparities between Lagos and London, between Brass and Brighton, between Nembe and Nottingham.
I want to hail Nigeria, Your Majesty. But I find it hard to do so. I want to hail the profound ideals expressed in the inaugural national anthem composed by Flora Shaw, Lord Lugard's companion, who first gave us the name Nigeria in an article published in The Times of London on January 8, 1897. Nigeria is not quite the same country you granted political independence in 1960. Take it from me. In the words of one of your famous political theorists, Thomas Hobbes, life in present-day Nigeria is “short, nasty and brutish.” I will tell you why. I am obliged, indeed, to bring you abreast with developments in my beloved country, with particular emphasis on the state of my domain. But if the matters I bring before you in the intervening pages sound confusing, if this epistolary journey upon which we have embarked, qualifies as a mosaic of sentiments trussed up together, without form or order, don't blame me too much. Put it down to the chaotic temper of my country, the haphazard scheme of existence under which we have laboured, these past fifty years.
Even so, I assure you that our nation is on the verge of rebirth. Good luck has come to Nigeria. There is an inevitable tectonic shift in the political order. I invite you to push for the restoration of the values that make England such a prosperous and stable example, that we might take our cues afresh. I have no doubt that you will give me your fullest attention. I will do well not to bore you, but if I do so at all, put it down to my second-hand acquaintance with the Queen's English.
I will do well to be reasonable. I will do well to uphold the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I pledge not to insult your royal intelligence. I promise to remain faithful to the picture I have studied of my country since I was born into it on December 18, 1963. I am, Your Majesty, a full-grown child of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the best sense of the expression. I will do well to grip my country, literally by the scruff of the neck, and yank it for faith.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, no one can take that divine right away from me.
By His Majesty Nengi Josef Ilagha
Mingi XII, Amanyanabo of Nembe
Bayelsa State, Nigeria.