By Sunny Awhefeada,
The harsh and disparaging title of this essay was uttered by a sixteen year-old girl, fresh out of secondary school. It was her response to her mother’s correction on a family whatsapp platform that the name of a country should be spelt with an initial capital letter. After thanking her mother for the correction, the lass fired the salvo, “Is Nigeria worth calling a country?”
The worried mother then realized that the daughter’s scripting of Nigeria as “nigeria” was a deliberate act of negation and revolt against a country that has anguished her generation. What followed the girl’s query was an attempt by the parents to talk her out of her grievances against Nigeria.
The parents were shocked to discover that the girl was not alone. She spoke the mind of her siblings. Father and mother discovered in the ensuing conversation between parents and children that they held inveterate grudges against Nigeria. They chuckled and abjured patriotism. Their thoughts and eyes are trained on Europe and America. To them, Nigeria was not the place to be.
Growing up and up till about ten years ago, not many young people wanted to leave Nigeria. Leaving secondary school, many of us sat for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board examination and secured admission into universities.
At the university, we looked forward to graduating and working in Nigeria. Despite the hostile and abrasive reality of military dictatorship, many of us were hopeful that “everything good will come”. The lure of “japa” was then largely a Benin phenomenon which was prevalent among those who didn’t get into universities.
And as students of the University of Benin, only an inconsequential few thought of leaving the country. During the early years of return to civil rule, although characterized by many oddities, our young people still hoped that good times were around the corner.
Unfortunately, that hope was ruptured and in the last eight years the idea of leaving Nigeria became running away from Nigeria not just to Europe or America, but to anywhere, just anywhere.
Our youths are fleeing and they are doing so in droves. The number of reference letters my colleagues and I write every week for our former students seeking greener pastures abroad indicate that our best and brightest have lost confidence in Nigeria and are leaving in search of what they consider to be better places.
Beyond our former students are other professionals, young and middle aged, family men and women, who are also fleeing Nigeria. We prefer to use the term relocating, but they are actually fleeing and escaping.
They see neither hope nor a future in Nigeria. Many years ago, there was the tendency to scoff at those who left and describe them as exiles who could not live and compete in Nigeria. Today, those people are deemed to have been foresighted and fled long before the Nigerian house caught fire.
Nigeria has gravely wronged her citizens, especially the downtrodden who have been condemned to multi-dimensional poverty. If the objective of government is the security and welfare of the citizens, it has not been so in Nigeria in the last fifteen years. Government caters only for those in government at the expense of the citizens.
My generation and the ones before it knew what it meant to have a government, despite the many failures of the many regimes under which we grew up. But this has not been in the last fifteen years. No doubt, things were rugged in our younger days, but we were hopeful knowing and trusting that there was a tomorrow to look forward to.
If we were hungry, we knew there would be food. Our homes, farms, markets, streets and roads were safe. We went to school, learnt and returned to our safe homes.
Our public libraries catered for us beyond the school walls. We had doctors and nurses who attended to our health needs.
Our roads were good and we had something close to regular electricity. When Lawrence Anini terrorized Benin, he was caught and his menace ended. We looked forward to the future. It was the inspiration that powered us in the struggle against military dictatorship.
The sixteen year-old girl and her contemporaries had not the least of the foregoing experience. The Nigerian narrative gets worse with each passing generation. The generation under focus was born into turmoil with a kind of trauma that is worse than what was experienced with the Nigerian Civil War.
The girl’s generation was born into a frazzled landscape and where their parents are struggling against odds that defy solutions.
They are seeing their parents sinking into agony and helplessness as they toil to make ends meet. Then from across the country, aided by digital media, they heard echoes and saw images of young people like them killed during the ENDSARS protests of October 2020.
It was at that point that that generation and the one before it snapped and jettisoned Nigeria, first psychologically and now physically. The generation has disowned Nigeria.
Their grudge against Nigeria is legion. Besides, the state orchestrated killings that greeted the ENDSARS protests, the present generation now think that the nation holds no reprieve.
The easy access to information occasioned by ICT daily inundates members of this generation with the cruel oddities buffeting Nigeria daily if not hourly. This is made worse by the harsh economic climate that has driven the poor beyond the worst margins of poverty. This generation abjured Nigeria because they knew what happened in the last general elections.
Many of them saw the outcomes of the elections at all levels as not only a betrayal, but a robbery of their investment in hope. They resorted to “all eyes on the judiciary”, but the judiciary merely confirmed that it was an ass and no longer the hope of the common man. They recall the incidents at Buni Yadi, Chibok and Dapchi and they feel a sense of dread and gloom.
Troubled by poverty, diminishing opportunities and looming anarchy, they woke up on 29 May this year to hear of an unanticipated astronomical increase in the price of petrol. That incident jolted the nation and the citizens are yet to recover.
Life is now being lived in deficit. These children now spend three days travelling from Warri to Lagos, whereas their parents did that journey in four hours. Their social studies book taught them that Nigeria is the world’s sixth largest producer of crude oil, yet petrol remains unaffordable. Electricity supply, good schools and health facilities have become motifs in folktales. These children are now daily hounded and robbed by security agents who dehumanize them.
They hear of officials of examination bodies making false and indicting reports against their schools because the latter didn’t offer bribes.
They hear of judges receiving fat bribes to confirm Niyi Osundare’s “My Lord, tell me where to keep your bribe”.
All around them are hopelessness and indices of state failure. They hear of lawmakers buying expensive land cruisers for themselves while millions of citizens have no food to eat and are dropping out of school. Those who graduated from universities endlessly roam the streets without jobs.
The young girl had ventilated her feelings and rejection of Nigeria. But the parents gave her lessons in patriotism never minding how dire the situation has become. Every nation passes through rough patches.
Nation building has never been a hundred-meter dash. It is always an ongoing project. And citizens engage the project with deliberateness insisting on how they want to be governed. Countries do not become great or better when the citizens flee from her. Nigerians must rethink options and fleeing must not be one of them. We must affirm that NIGERIA IS WORTH CALLING A COUNTRY