Sometimes, you have to work hard at loving the old guys – the men who lived in the good old days. You see, according to the laws of life, it’s supposed to get better for the younger ones. The old folks are supposed to get jealous of you and I don’t mean of your violent video games.
But, these days when you talk to the old folks, you realize you live in an urban jungle, that your so-called life may as well be lived in an open prison. I look at my boys sometimes and I wonder if they know that life used to be dandier in my days and way better in my father’s days.
I remember when it was time to go to the University. I had my mind set on going to the University of Lagos to study mass communication. But, there was a little snag. I wasn’t smart enough. The smart kids came from my catchment area so I had to make way for kids less smart than me because they were lucky to be born in areas considered not too smart or whatever the federal character thing is supposed to rectify.
When UNILAG got too tough to get into, I had only one, second choice – the University of Maiduguri. The north had always held a fascination for me. The farther north I went while in secondary school, the more at home I felt. I was young and innocent and the old folks loved that. They will invite you into their homes and feed you. Sometimes, they couldn’t even understand your language but the smile on their faces conveyed the pride that they were taking care of someone else’s child and helping raise the future leaders of their dear Nigeria.
Now, that same part of the country is a killing field. The same reason I loved to go up there would probably have me killed today. In a better world, that place would be Disneyland now, a place I want to go and go, again and again. But, life does not follow the normal course in Nigeria.
Life moves in reverse in Nigeria. And, the sad thing is the people up there are still the same. They are loving, love life and love visitors. But, they are hostages to life – a life no one ever dreamt possible, a life that they now seem condemned to.
I have a friend who comes from those parts and her heart bleeds every time she remembers home. We had tea a few months ago in London and she shocked me with her feelings about the killing fields of her region. She believes the government has forgotten them; that it seems the government has folded its arms and allowed bullets and bombs to serve as a population control measure.
Whichever way you look at it, my friend may have been exaggerating but the unnatural hand of hot pellets has truly diminished the population. And, you can blame Goodluck Jonathan all you want for not providing a security blanket over the region. But, you gotta be dumb not to take a hard look at the leaders in the region.
It seems leaders of the troubled region feel the more lawless it is, the more they can present themselves as alternate rulers. You wonder if their wish is to rule over an urban cemetery. In the past, the leaders would have gotten together and found a solution to the problem. They would have sacrificed their egos and pride so the people may live, so Nigeria will survive. But, this is today – no one that should care seems to care enough.
And, it’s not just the north or the Niger Delta, You try traveling to Nigeria today and people look at you like you’ve just signed a death wish. You tell your friends that you’re going to Nigeria and they encourage you to take out a larger life insurance policy and buy some bulletproof vests. The embassy sends you e-mails that make you questions your sanity for going home.
You tell everyone you’re Nigerian and you’re proud of it and you’re proud to go home and, they call you a fatalist living in fantasyland. Then, you tell them of the Nigeria of yesterday, when the community raised the child, when it was strange to have power failure, when the road were so good you could leave Lagos at noon and tell your parents in Ibadan you’ll be home in time for lunch, when there was something caked Nigeria Airways with a worthy fleet, when you could travel on the rail from Kaduna to Lagos in under twenty four hours and you’ll be well fed and encounter dozens of cultures and thousands of waving strangers on the way.
You tell people of the Nigeria of yesterday and they think you’ve invented a fantasy. Then you read the papers and you wonder if you’ve lost your mind. You wonder if the people whose job it is to keep Nigeria and Nigerians safe even care anymore or if they’re simply waiting for us to die of bullets or hunger.
And, that makes you ask before we all die: why? What exactly did Nigerians do wrong to deserve today’s Nigeria? And, you try to find a place in your soul for the one question you will ask God when you meet him in the great beyond – why did you give us such a great country and great people but then you gave us a puzzle of a leadership.
POST SCRIPT: No matter how many words or lines you write, you can never say a proper goodbye to the master, Chinua Achebe. But, we’re all thankful to you for enriching our lives, for flying the country’s flag high, for giving a voice to our cultures and for reminding us all that, in deed, there was a country. Adieu, old sage, I bet they’re all sitting around the fireplace in heaven and listening to some of the best stories ever told.
Ose Oyamendan is a Hollywood-based, Nigerian filmmaker. You can follow him on his new twitter page at @iam_ose.