By Sunny Awhefeada
Nigeria held great promise for my generation in our childhood, and I must add that it still holds same for me despite our present ordeal! While growing up, Nigeria was the ideal place to be born and be brought up. Although we were born just after the Civil War, we grew up not knowing that a war was fought.
The victims of the war put the tragic experience behind them and got sucked in by the ideal and idea of Nigerianism. We grew up in different places all over the country and we cared less where we came from. I am Urhobo, but was born in Kaduna. We relocated to Ibadan when I was about six years old. I still recall memories of Kaduna and I cannot forget that we lived in Tudun Wada and that although from a Christian family, I attended the neighbourhood Koranic school where I was taught to read and write rudimentary Arabic.
Among my friends in Kaduna were boys and girls from different places in Nigeria as their names indicated. Lawandi, Iyorchia, Tunde, Chinedu, Ibiba, Tobore, Wenyimi, were some of the names I still can recall despite time and absence. I recall the journey by train from Kaduna to Ibadan. We set out on a cold harmattan morning from the railway station in Kaduna. The rhythm of “Lokoja too far” which resonated as the millipede legs of the train ground against the rail remains part of my imperishable memory.
My memories of Ibadan are more concrete than those of Kaduna. Ibadan was a vast playground and, the gamboling boys that we were, we tramped what we thought was Ibadan without knowing that it was just a fraction of the city of “running splash and gold” as the immortal lines of J. P. Clark put it. We played far and wide. Again, my friends came from all over Nigeria. We attended public schools and I think they were the best then and our teachers were very good.
Our parents spoke well of the hospitals and the health workers put in their best to save lives. We had electricity and it was so regular that we took it for granted that it would be constant like day and night. Water flowed from the tap in many compounds in Ibadan. We ate well as food was everywhere. And the roads were good. Things happened on time and life was good. One of the songs we sang every morning during assembly at the IMG Practising School, Oke-Ado, was a romanticisation of Nigeria. Just before the age of ten, I was sent home, home being the old Bendel State.
Evwreni, just after Ughelli, became my new location and it was to be so for ten years! Evwreni was a contrast to Kaduna and Ibadan. Evwreni was rural and somnolent in character. Ibadan and Kaduna were urbanities and rambunctious. But Evwreni had a healing hand that nurtured. Every week, the Bendel State Library Board van drove into the community and we borrowed books to read and return at its next coming. Life was coordinated. But these ended in 1984!
The above perspective might be misleading to cast the Nigeria of yore as a perfect state. No! It was far from being a perfect state. No state is ever perfect. Nigeria has had a chequered sojourn since that glorious morning on 1st October 1960 when it became an independent nation. Just two years into independence, cracks ruptured the wall of the Nigerian house via the crisis in the Western region. One of the nation’s founding fathers and undoubtedly the most intellectually endowed, Obafemi Awolowo, had to be jailed in 1963 for treasonable felony. What followed was the fire that torched the Nigerian house in January 1966 when the soldiers seized power.
That action sparked an unquenchable conflagration that razed and ravaged parts of Nigeria for 30 months through the Civil War of 1967-1970. Other historical hiccups followed after the War. The coup of 1975 and its bloody follow-up of February 1976 also count among the thorns that bruised Nigeria. Other coups, real and phantom, were to follow.
There was the June 12 crisis which drove the nation to the brink. Other historical catastrophes that indicated that Nigeria was not a perfect state abound before the eventual return to civil rule in 1999.
Yes, Nigeria is a potentially great nation, probably the most endowed by Providence in the universe. Unfortunately, we have not enjoyed sustained responsible leadership. If between 1960 and 1999, Nigeria survived its imperfections, it was because the human spirit is elastic and can to a large extent endure perfect imperfections. What made us romanticize the Nigeria of my childhood was the perfect imperfection that engendered bliss in spite of obvious shortcomings.
However, as the years rolled by, the leadership crisis degenerated to the extent that leaders became dealers and bruised the soul of Nigeria. Now that elastic and resilient human spirit is anguished and is in revolt. Our leaders who metamorphosed into dealers simply destroyed the humanity in people.
Many years of abrasive, insensitive and corrupt leadership have brought us to our knees. The things that made life worth living in my childhood are all gone. Instead of the infectious romanticism that fired what we thought of Nigeria, the emotions of fear, anger and pessimism have become the order of the day. The killings, abductions, the destruction of communities which we now describe as insecurity actually amount to war. And it is no longer limited to a section of the country.
Nigeria is failing by the day. The economy is almost non-existence just as there is ennui in governance. The nation’s debt profile is staggering, our currency is valueless and poverty has become endemic. There are neither good schools nor good hospitals. Electricity is fast become an item confined to yesterday. Our roads have become craters. The journey from Warri to Benin which used to be forty-five or fifty minutes now takes six hours. Two colleagues spent sixteen hours travelling from Ibadan to Warri, a journey that was once four hours! There are strikes in every sector of public life.
Secessionist embers fanned by inequity and injustice is assuming a higher decibel. Nigeria needs to embark on a new dialogue of reconciliation. Government is getting it all wrong issuing threats and deploying force in the South-East when what is needed is conciliatory engagement. Many people have lost faith and hope in Nigeria. Besides those agitating to opt out of the Federation, are the millions of youths waiting to flee into exile. This brood sees no future in Nigeria. I had a long conversation with a friend who left Nigeria eighteen years ago. As usual, the dialogue was a litany of woes. All the same I argued and told him that Nigeria was still the place for us to live in since this was where we were born. He called my name, paused and asked “is this land of our birth?”. My response was in the affirmative, “yes, this is the land of our birth”.
Let us not flee. No matter what, let us join hands with as many as who still believe in Nigeria and not just pull her, but bring her back. Exile can never be home. Europe, America, South Africa and Ghana can never be Nigeria and home to Nigerians!