How Nigerian are you?
It is only natural that you think your body is yours to do with as you wish. Dear Nigerian woman, it is not. Your body belongs to everybody else.” With these words, Atoke opens +234: An Awkward Guide to being Nigerian (Ink Fontaine, Canada; 2017), setting the tone it would adopt throughout. Describing herself as a feminist, Atoke guides the reader through a collection of essays that explores and asks what it means to be Nigerian, the heart and soul of Nigerians and the quirks and nuances that make one a Nigerian. Employing humour, sarcasm, wit, reminisces and flashbacks, she tackles several topics, including those regarded as taboo, sad, happy and everyday events and happenings of Nigerians, both home and abroad.
Atoke’s book is reminiscent of (Peter Pan) Peter Enahoro’s How to be a Nigerian, written back in the 1960s.
A book on Nigeria and its people would be interesting anyway you look at it, negative or positive and this book attempts to capture our experiences, challenges and the things that make us tick as a people. As you read this collection of essays that takes you into the mind of the average Nigerian, you will be amused, perturbed and wish you could change some of the negative values that have become non-living citizens of the country. More importantly, everyone can see himself or herself aptly represented in the book.
Divided into four main parts and several chapters, the first part, ‘The green that so easily besets us’ deals with several core issues that beset Nigerians such as the decision to move abroad for greener pastures, the challenges that come with being a woman in Nigeria, non-payment of salaries, the craze to have babies abroad, the culture of ‘dashing’ money, RSVPing a party invite, the Nigerian foster system, inconducive university education, lack of clean water and the insane desire to always recreate Nigeria abroad – the ineptitude, loudness, culture bias and the general lackadaisical attitude to even the simplest things. Challenging the systems and mindset that promotes these, Atoke attempts to point out the cognitive dissonance of the ills that beset us, even when not in our natural habitat, Nigeria.
In the second part, the writer delves into ‘Bonds of Adhesion,’ and asks readers to identify themselves, tackles culture biases, the fear of juju; love, the Nigerian parents way and religion. ‘Shades of Being Human,’ the third part, explores her personal feminism, feminism in Nigeria, the decision to have kids or not and having kids simply as an insurance factor for old age. The final part, ‘Gliding across a Rainbow,’ explores love and friendship, homosexuality, particularly the fear and stigma surrounding it in Nigeria, death and the fear and stigma surrounding disability. The book ends with chapter eight, where the writer talks about the factors that can make Nigeria great again.
She writes, “Every year, on the 1st of October, Nigerians celebrate independence from its colonial masters. We deck out in any variant of green-white-green we can find and shout on (sic) the rooftops about how proud we are to be Nigerian.”
Noting that the love for Nigeria appears to be waning with each passing year, Atoke says last year was “almost a sorrow-fest.” She lists several factors that make it difficult to love the country, including the dearth of the spirit of excellence, refusal to acknowledge that citizens are indeed suffering, loss of human dignity, and dirtiness and lack of community spirit.
While tasking Nigerians to imbibe a communal spirit and be more kind and loving, she says, “You don’t need corrupt Nigerian senators to be kind; we don’t need long hours of fasting and praying to show simple kindness. The government has failed us since 1960, but if we clean up the pool, we’re one step closer towards freeing ourselves from the algae of bad governance. It starts with you and me.”
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