Be the change and celebrate those who are
Maybe it’s the social media feeds I follow but lately I have been reading more stories about Borno in international media outlets. Newspapers from New York and London to Paris and Brazil have published photographs and stories that cast Borno in a new light, illuminating spaces of hope and highlighting corners where people are slowly trying to reclaim their lives and their dignity in the midst of the realities of famine, IDPs, and lingering security threats. It has been fascinating to observe the slow but sure re-narration of Borno. Whether it is intentional or not there is a certain rebranding of the state occurring that is helping to alter the perspective of outsiders, and to widen the imagination of those who previously could only link Borno to war and terror.
After a recent article in the UK Guardian on the resurgence of the nightlife and clubbing in Borno, the rising Nigerian-Ghanaian musician, Mr. Eazi paid a visit to Maiduguri and continued to help raise the profile of the state. I am sure there are multiple people and hands behind these efforts but the ones behind the exposure that’s caught my attention are creatives, photographers and writers (like Fati Abubakar and Eromo Egbejule) who are using their gifts to tell new stories about this part of northeastern Nigeria. It is a good reminder of the power of storytelling and that there are multiples ways to narrate circumstances and shift perspectives.
Watching this happen in Borno, how individuals are taking it upon themselves to change what they can about a place they love has made me wonder what it could look like to do a similar thing on a national level in Nigeria. But first I suppose we have to have a sense of loving Nigeria.
Like all Nigerians, I know about the recent “Change Begins with Me” campaign, an initiative with a primary aim to foster discipline and patriotism in Nigerians. We’ve been charged to reflect on this initiative as the responsibility of both the government and the citizenry, and on economic and social levels. And I have read numerous responses to and prescriptions for the campaign that amongst many things, insist that the government be the shining light and example and then, we the people will follow suit. All very well.
But perhaps instead of waiting for officials to take the lead we, as everyday Nigerians with varying levels of social, cultural and economic influence have to find creative ways to start living into the change we hope for, and to start sharing those stories on a grander scale. Of course on a national level we look to our leaders to implement the changes that can only be done by leaders in their positions. But in addition to that, the impetus is on us to continue (or for some, to start) changing the narrative ourselves of what it means to be Nigerian and what Nigeria has to offer. This might mean we have to first rekindle a new love for ourselves and for the country despite how we may feel the nation has failed us, and despite which part of the country we come from. No doubt these are trying times.
The recession has led to loss of jobs, increased crime and acts of desperation, (this morning even as I write this, a phone call comes in that a relative’s driver stole her car this morning) low morale, greater hunger, and those who have the option are even considering leaving the country for greener pastures and employment. It is not the easiest of times to feel proud of Nigeria or of our recent history. But with the current state of things we don’t have time for pointing fingers or for waiting on imaginary heroes and pie-in-the-sky, ever-forthcoming policies.
The beautiful thing is that I believe change has already begun in pockets of communities around the country. There are individual Nigerians who every day take it in their stride to try and represent professionally and personally the type of Nigeria they want to call home. It would be a breath of fresh air these days to hear about these everyday Nigerians in between the ongoing stories we read of cases of corruption, accused officials, or who’s tossed one more stone in the endless round of the blame game.
Aren’t there also good stories to tell about Nigeria here and abroad? Wouldn’t it do some good for national morale to hear about those persisting despite the current trials, and who are working to encourage others in their communities to persevere in their entrepreneurial efforts and their dreams of succeeding in Nigeria? Who are the Nigerians that make us proud to be Nigerians? What businesses are doing work to instill hope and belief in the idea of actually developing infrastructure?
It would be a breath of fresh air these days to celebrate innovative businesses that are taking the initiative to create solutions for the plethora of problems our nation faces on a daily basis (instead of learning that city officials do nothing while local vibrant, income-generating SMEs are bulldozed down as was the case in Abuja and Lagos several weeks ago). One would be surprised of the positive ripple effect that can come from:
1) each of us finding just one creative way to live into the change we desire for our country
2) learning to openly and publicly appreciate our own everyday people, and
3) finding things about our country of which to be proud despite the tremendous challenges we are currently facing as a nation.
There is no harm in trying. But there is so much at stake if we don’t.