It should be a source of shame to us all that some 50 years after the first Africans took overall charge of Nigeria, the supremacy of English as the sole 'national language' remains unchallenged. In fact, through all that time, the nearest any organised campaign that bestrides different ethnicities has come to questioning the hegemony established by this foreign language has been when ones have fought to replace English with Arabic.
The effect this situation has on the collective (and individual) self-esteem deserves some emphasis because, from the moment you start teaching African children that in other to be considered as being "educated" or "enlightened" persons, they first have to master the languages of species that look nothing like themselves, you have planted (within the person that each child will become) the seeds for low self-esteem and, maybe even self-hatred.
And while this low self-regard may not always manifest in ways that are immediately identifiable, it often becomes apparent when such people attempt, during conversation, to distinguish between what is good (i.e. progressive) and what is bad (i.e. regressive).
At such times, since most of the colloquialisms and symbologies that are used were originally manufactured by non-Africans to serve specific binary/dualist perspectives about existence (perspectives where contrasting colours, shades, temperatures, shapes, and even cardinal points are used to represent good/evil, up/down, life/death, heaven/hell, angel/demon, etc.) these Africans, while attempting to describe all that is negative in this world (and beyond), will use significant phrases and words that were originally manufactured as descriptors for ones who look just like them.
For example, when some people talk about "fetish" symbols, it need not be doubted that that they are speaking of African indigenous practices. It can also be safely assumed that it has never crossed their minds that the practice of venerating crosses, a black rock, quarans, bibles, and 'holy' water also falls under the description of worshipping "fetish" symbols.
While using certain denigrative words and phrases (and the perspectives they uphold) may not always have an obvious effect on the everyday life of an individual person, the part they play in reinforcing the larger negative self-image that makes it impossible to visualise the collective in a positive manner should not be underestimated.
There is no greater glue that can hold a people together as language can. However, while a shared language between humans that have a common phenotype can facilitate the erasure of other differences, the imposition upon (or embrace by) one set of humans of a language that originates from another set that is distinguished by phenotype is always likely to serve as an everlasting reminder of a loss of identity (and the implied inferiority that comes with the loss).
Having said all the above, I will now suggest a solution : The first obstacle to be overcome by those who wish to promote one indigenous language to the status of national language will be the fear of those who do not belong to the ethnic group from which this prospective common language originated about being marginalised or dominated.
Therefore, if will be useful if, as a part of preparing the groundwork for the change, leaders point out that from the days of British imperialism until this current day, Nigeria having English as a 'national' language did not automatically translate into every community been overun with domineering Englishmen. Therefore, there is no logical reason to expect that asking us all to replace the European language with an African language will automatically translate into domination of all spaces by those who were born into that language.
It should also be pointed out that while English as a 'national' language has not brought any notable benefits to the collective, neither has it prevented cliques from specific ethnic groups seizing and misusing power in areas that are outside their home regions. However, if we all spoke and understood one African language as fluently as we presently do one European language, chances are that the ones indigenous to that language may actually be the first to lose an exclusive identity within the Nigerian geographical space - a process that may then be replicated across other parts of the emerging nation.
In other words, adopting one language may in fact be a way of subsuming one ethnic group into the mass and, may therefore be seen (in the long run) as a great sacrifice made in the cause of building true national unity by members of that group.
Of all languages that are indigenous to the geographical space, the most suited for status as lingua franca would be one from the central part where different ethnicities abutt each other - e.g. Idoma, Igala, etc.
There are several practical considerations behind this reccomendation and the first is that it is important that a language be chosen from a part of the country whose indigenes are exclusive to Nigeria and, who will not be easily portrayed as seekers after hegemony by those who will oppose the move (some through principles and others because they will see it as an opportunity to excercebate tensions).
While of all the so-called big 3 languages, Igbo would have been ideal (since it is the only one whose homeland lies entirely within the borders of Nigeria), its choice as Nigeria's national language could very well be used by bigots and misguided triumphalists as a tool for provoking civil discontentment and chaos.
Financially, this move will benefit the economy as it will create a new industry where books and other media for education and mass communication are translated from different languages into the national language. And since materials that will require such translations are newly published regularly, this industry will be a sustainable one.
Its existence should also serve to calm the fears of those who think that by stepping away from English, Nigerians will be cut off from the rest of the world. Here again, it might be useful to point out how over a century of having English as a 'national' language has brought the Nigerian collective little to no benefits.
And after a given time-period has elapsed, the most highly paid levels of the civil service (as well as political offices that entail involvement in the formulation of policies that affect the entire country) should be unattainable to those who are not fluent in reading, writing, and speaking at least 3 Nigerian languages (one of which will of course be the national language).
The suggestions presented here are made not as a justification for the continued existence of Nigeria as it presently exists but, as an ongoing effort to show to show that it is possible to have something of a similar size in that geographical space (if that is the will of the populace) that is better organised for the purpose of enabling citizens to live fulfilled lives.
I have addressed here the subject of national self-image and one of the tools of communication that can be used to enhance it. Other specific matters that deserve continued contemplation are the education system - form and purpose - from first lessons to the last and, the organisation of the internal markets.