There was a country, By Ose Oyamendan

Ose Oyamendan

I haven’t read Chinua Achebe’s “There Was A Country”. You see I’m so old now the only way I keep young is by imitating the young folks. They don’t read anymore so I don’t either. If it’s not gossip, it’s not news. I will do what they would have done if Achebe’s book was encyclopedic gossip – wait until I can read it on my phone.

I just love the barbs being thrown across regional lines because of the book. It reminds me of this southern joke about the problem of Nigeria being the north so if the country splits, the south would be better and more prosperous.

They often forget that without the north, the south would probably starve or spend a bulk of its GDP importing more food. Since Nigerians have inter-married across regional lines for decades, it would be fun driving by the visa lines in both countries during the holidays seasons.

I know before reading Achebe’s book that I will not like it. I grew up in the part of Ibadan where Obafemi Awolowo was a god. As a kid in 1979, we couldn’t wait till nighttime so we can see Awolowo flashing his famous victory sign from the moon. It was better than dinner.

One day, Awolowo had a campaign event at Liberty Road. Everyone in the neighborhood was excited the great man was going to take the ten-minute drive over, especially since this was campaign season – the season a smart man would take over from the pot-bellied Egba man.

Us kids hung on the balconies waiting for Awolowo to take off for the moon from the stadium. But the man drove away which was a big bummer. We got over it because we figured he had a great spacecraft at home that didn’t fit into the Liberty Stadium parking lot. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the moon came out and Awolowo was there flashing the victory sign.

I remember asking how he could fly from Oke-Bola to the moon faster that it would have taken us to drive down to his house in Oke-Bola. I was told Awolowo can do anything he sets his mind to. I believed it. I believed and I believed that it was his destiny to trounce Shehu Shagari, Nnanmdi Azikiwe and Adisa Akinloye. I didn’t even know Akinloye wasn’t running for anything. It was bad enough that an Ibadan man was at the enemy’s table.

Achebe is right though. There was indeed a country. A country that millions died fighting to keep together. A country that millions danced and shed tears of joy at independence because they all felt the future was rosy. A country that the world expected to be one the greatest on earth. A country that was Nigeria.

You look everywhere now and you don’t even see a shadow of that country. It looked like it has disappeared in a fog of corruption and mismanagement. The leaders seem to be set on fighting for who can destroy the nation best. And every time the National Assembly shows some teeth, some spokesman from Mount Aso comes out spewing bile.

There was a country that once took care of its neighbors. Now there is a country where flood is ravaging the country, some of it out of mistakes that would have been fixed with a dam and bilateral talks. Worse, the president’s handlers must have thought that bodies floating in the flood were swimmers and rightly that Governor Wada of Kogi state was a court jester with his bulletproof vest. The president, being the homeboy he is, finally realized those were not pools when his state got buried in the ravaging flood.

There was a country where the youth couldn’t wait to go on the National Youth Service program so they can discover other parts of Nigeria. Now, we have a country where those kids are slaughtered in parts of the country for not being indigenes. There is now a country where terrorists kill people and the government looks on like a punch-drunk boxer in the middle of the ring.

There was a country that was going to lead Africa into the 21st century, a country where African countries waited on the leadership of Nigeria. Now, there is a country where once minnows like Benin Republic, Togo and others routinely dare Nigeria. It’s worse sometimes because the Nigerian leadership doesn’t even realized it’s been dissed until the foreign countries announce it in the newspapers.

There was indeed a country once destined for greatness. A country that many hoped at independence would be on par with today’s South Korea. But, it’s a dream derailed. The only thing left seems to be the unbending will of the people to survive and thrive. Sometimes, it’s for good. At other times, it lands them on the opposite side of the law.

What you can’t ignore is the fact that there was once a country called Nigeria. And, this is not it. You would have wished that instead of the barbs thrown at Achebe and his book, people would have talked more about that country called Nigeria. And, how it got lost on the way to the future.

Ose Oyamendan, a filmmaker, lives in Los Angeles. He writes a weekly column for PREMIUM TIMES

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