Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I am a Nigerian, By Ose Oyamendan

Published:

I love weekends like this. You get to sit on the balcony of life and make a toast to one of the very best places on God’s earth. You may think it’s a million other places. For me, it would always be Nigeria. And, it’s not even because of that crap they drill into your head when you’re young that no matter where you go, home is best.

You gotta love Nigeria. The country has resources that is the envy of most nations. She has citizens that can Nigeria a global leader within a few years if our leaders would get out of their way.

But, it’s not always easy to be a Nigerian.

Sometimes when it’s bleak and dark, when the curse of leadership sweeps through the country like a foul, torrid stream, when foreigners raise eyebrows when they hear your name or when someone does something so bonehead you just wanna hide your face, your often wonder, “why am I a Nigerian?”

It’s why some Nigerians abroad try to bury their identity under strange accents that makes them sound like aliens. Problem is, it’s tough to bend a tongue that’s been hardened by pounded yam, eba or tuwo shinkafi.

You wanna know how tough it is to be a Nigerian sometimes. Travel with a Nigerian passport. At some airports, it’s like it’s a confirmation of guilt. The immigrations officers will adjust their glasses and preen over every word and letter.

Once, I was in a Middle Eastern country. My passport is one of those immigrations Officers respect so I glided through customs on my way in, had first class treatment all over the country and even talked a pretty traffic cop into swapping a ticket for dinner. Then, on my way out – the Nigerian in me got in my way.

It was a few months after the Christmas Day would-be bomber tried to blow a plane off the skies of Detroit. It was one of those awful Christmas when everything tasted sour because you know that senseless act would be like a body odor Nigerians carry for a long time. But, I didn’t expect it to affect me. I have a primo passport.

On this night, I was stuck like I was in a Lagos traffic on a rainy Friday. I asked to talk to the most senior supervisor. The lady came over with a frown that said, “mess with me and it’s jail for you”.  I asked what the matter was.  I even joked if I was being delayed because I was black. She didn’t find it funny and shot a bland “no” back at me.

She pointed to my place of birth on the passport. Ibadan. That was the problem. Being a Nigerian was the problem. One kid had made about two hundred million Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora suspects. Normally I would blow a fuse somewhere inside me. But, on this day, I was calm. Maybe because it was the proximity to the Holy land.

I stunned them by asking for a chair. I guess what you normally do is plead so you don’t miss your flight. I had no such worries. If they wanted to waste my time, I will help them by spreading the gospel of Nigeria.

“Let me tell you the truth about Nigeria,” I began. For almost half an hour, I regaled her with the tales about the land of my fathers and those who would descend from me. The check-in line was almost empty now so some other officers wondered over. I tell stories for a living so this was Eldorado. I figured since the Nigerian government won’t sell Nigeria to the world, Nigerians should.

I told them abut the patriots who fought for independence from the British. I told them about growing up on streets like theirs where we played street soccer like their kids and siblings did. I told them about a time we slept at night without locking the doors until the IMF came with some restructuring program that put our lives in a spin. I told them that Nigerians can squeeze water out of a rock out of industriousness. I told them about Nigerians who always have a smile for you, water to cool you thirst and such buoyancy we were named the happiest people on earth. I listed the names of some Nigerians achievers and they were shocked some of them were Nigerians.

A final call for my flight came through. The immigrations supervisor was worried that I’ll miss my flight because now someone was mangling my name on the airport speakers and telling everyone I need to run to the plane. But, I wasn’t done yet. They loaded me on a cart and I kept spinning my yarn to my small crowd of four as we rode to the departure gate.

At the walkway, my former adversary and new friend, the supervisor gave me a hug and asked, “so, why the problem with Nigeria?” I told her what I always believed. God blessed Nigeria with all the resources a nation needs to be great. To make it interesting, he gave us leaders too. But, it has gone beyond interesting and is now almost a curse.

I’m not too thrilled with the state of the nation. But, it’s what we have and it will get better or we’ll all die trying to make it better. And, if I have to do it all over again, I’ll still be born in that fancy, old hospital in Ibadan.

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