Sometimes, I absolutely hate being a world away from home. It feels like a burden on the heart. Your phone rings in the middle of the night and your heart jumps. Your turn on the television on a sleepless night and you close your eyes and mute the volume when news about Nigeria scrolls through.
This is not a good way to live. Not when your country seems to have become a place where lives are worthless. Not when people in one part of the country feel the government has abandoned them. Not when the national security adviser blames the very government that should be protecting the people for the war against the people.
The multiple bombings of This Day offices and the Sunday morning massacre at Bayero University in Kano have become a gruesome way of life in Nigeria. When I was growing up in the 1980s in Ibadan, some people routinely went to bed with their doors cracked open. Sometimes in church on Sundays, some folks didn’t even lock their cars.
It was a time when the country was going somewhere fast, a time when the people felt like a part of the government because the leaders gave them a sense of belonging. It was a time when Nigeria was the country of the dreams of our forefathers. It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t what it is today. Back then, there was hope. These days, talk of hope may get you a ride to an asylum.
When the news of the carnage in Nigeria filtered into your mail box, you look at it like some poor movie idea. Who tries to kill journalists? Who takes explosives into the house of knowledge? Newspapers are the conscience of the nation. Universities are the fields of hope. Without newspapers and universities, a nation may well be dead.
But, then – this is Nigeria. Often, the more you look, the blurrier the national picture looks. Sometimes, it’s tough to gauge how alive the country is. This is a country crippled by an economic mess, prompting the president to ask Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to leave her World Bank desk and come head an economic rescue mission.
Then, a few months later, that same government backs a hopeless mission to make Okonjo-Iweala the head of the World Bank. A head scratcher no doubt. Makes you wonder – is there something the government knows that the people don’t know? Is it time to start lobbying for dual citizenship of Benin Republic? If the savior of your economy is bailing on you, you have no hope.
The attack on This Day and Bayero University hit close to home for me. I was once a professional journalist in Nigeria. Some of those people at This Day are my friends and brothers. When senselessness like these happens, you find yourself glued to your phone – calling and texting, hoping you get that call and text that confirms you won’t be referring to your sisters and brothers in past tense.
Back in those days when Nigeria actually had something called security, my ambition to be a journalist was born. When I was trying to get into a university to study mass communications, only three or four universities offered the program. Lagos which everyone wanted to go to. Nsukka which was a great school but a second choice to most people. Then, there was Bayero which to most people down south sounded like somewhere at the farthest end of the Sahara dessert.
I got into the University of Lagos. But I’ve always loved Bayero University. It always had a romantic fascination for me, that girl you could have dated and always wondered how it would have turned out. Now, that’s all gone. When I think of Bayero now, I think of the Sunday morning massacre.
And, you know who brought the news to the nation? Journalists. The same journalists that the lovers of hate tried to bomb out of existence.
Journalism used to make my heart dance like a maiden at her wedding. I loved the thrill of chasing a story. I loved the magic of piecing words on a sheet of paper and watching them flow like poetry. I love the camaraderie of brothers and sisters of the written word. I loved the smell of the printing press at dawn.
I loved being called the conscience of the nation.
Journalists are lights of the society. Without them, we’re not only blind. We’re dead. There is so much suffering in the country, so many people without hope, so many people have grievances the length of the river Niger, so many people wondering if tomorrow is worth waiting for. Without journalists, we will never know about these people and issues.
When I read about the bombings, my heart stopped dancing. A sliver of gloom coursed through me. It makes me wonder who will save Nigeria. I wonder if there are leaders who still care about Nigerians in non-election years? I wonder when my friend tells me he’s making a quick trip to the north, if I would every see him again.