After graduating with a BA degree in African Studies and History from Columbia University in New York, I was awarded a Marshall Scholarship to study in the UK. I came to Cambridge after completing an MA in African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. I knew that I wanted to do a PhD eventually, and my time at Cambridge allowed me to refine and develop my ideas in a supportive and structured environment. While at Cambridge I researched and wrote on the history of boxing in colonial Nigeria, attended seminars in anthropology and literature, and undertook a translation project of Adam Shafi Adam’s Swahili text, Kasri ya Mwinyi Fuad. My MPhil dissertation examined a dimension of Nigerian cultural history through the lens of contemporary theories of gender and sexuality. This approach did not fit neatly within history or in gender studies, but it was well-suited to the interdisciplinary nature of the MPhil programme. I came to Cambridge primarily for its faculty; they are respected, deeply involved in their students’ work, and they represent a wide range geographic and disciplinary perspectives. They also make the Centre a convivial place to work, and the MPhil students follow their lead in this regard. My own interests lie firmly in the past, but Cambridge’s MPhil programme exposed me to ways of thinking about Africa that are oriented towards the present. When I am asked about the contemporary questions that lead on from my historical work – from international development to Boko Haram – I can draw upon this literature.
After finishing at Cambridge I returned to New York and Columbia University to take up a scholarship for a PhD in history. My broad interests are in the history of Nigerian citizenship – both as a formal legal category and as an abstraction of how people understood their membership in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. British administrative practices, imperial constructions of subjectivity, and the political contests of the First Republic all fed into debates on Nigerian citizenship and nationality in the 1960s. My study will look at these debates at a particularly contentious moment – that of the Biafra War of 1967-1970. The war revealed the ways in which different regions and legal statuses had been sutured together to form a national identity. The reintegration of Biafra after the war forced the state to articulate the content of Nigerian citizenship, and compelled individuals to situate themselves in relation to it. Bureaucrats, judges, and those tasked with conscripting soldiers and settling refugees were all faced with the difficult task of determining what constituted Nigerian nationality, and how it could be recognized. Although I am no longer in Cambridge, this research project is very much informed by ideas and people that I encountered there.
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