My Nigeria, my dream
I grew up in a Nigeria which I took for granted – took for granted in terms of its continued existence as one indivisible whole and the need to develop it as a body corporate, where, ‘though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand’ and ‘where truth and justice reign’ and we lustily, faithfully prayed God Almighty to ‘help us build a nation where no man is oppressed’ and so ‘with peace and plenty Nigeria may be blessed. The National Anthem of the era assured us of a Nigeria that we could look up to and believe in and sacrifice for, and if need be die for.
The post office worked and we sent and received monies through the post office. Banks kept our monies safe though it took hours for cheques to clear. There was a mobile library in Bendel State and we borrowed books for two weeks and returned same during the next visit to the town. Teachers in primary and secondary schools were icons and they bought cars and taught us with uncommon commitment.
I grew up in a Nigeria where the military administrations made us distrust the politicians in parliamentary democracy because they were patently corrupt. They took ten percent bribes and made life unbearable. So we trusted the soldiers who shot their way into the corridors of power. But the trust cost us decades of contradictory ironies! Now, we know better!
The Nigeria we grew up in made us celebrate October 1 as Independence Day and we all trooped to the stadium from school to salute the unity of the country which the power of the green-white-green symbolized. Why did we believe so much in Nigeria? Was it because we were young and naïve? Were we born into an optimistic Nigeria where we had role models we could look up to for moral guidance? When the 1966/67 conflict snowballed into a war between Biafran forces and the Nigerian side, why did we, without a thought take sides with the federal government, we from the Niger Delta whose natural resources were exploited and used to prosecute the war? There must have been something about Nigeria that was worth keeping, worth celebrating and worth fighting for. So at sixty years of age, and Nigeria at fifty-nine, I ask myself, does that spirit still exist in me or in fellow Nigerians? Why did Chinua Achebe write ‘There was a country’ before he danced into the night of life? Was it because he felt things had fallen apart?
‘A man is a sum of his memories’, Ernest Hemingway once wrote. I am a sum of my memories of Nigeria, the Nigeria I grew up in and the Nigeria that gradually faded my hopes; that gradually whittled down the level of optimism which I carried aloft in my heart as I encountered different institutions and persons; as I had different experiences and histories. My mind recalls events from my memory that are sweet but I see smelly stuff all over the place. So, I am forced to ask, to interrogate myself “if there arises another insurrection as in the 1967 experience will the national will be present, can a national cohesive will be summoned to confront it as federal side in 1967 to 1970? I have my doubts. The justice across the board which we prayed for is virtually absent. The differences in our ‘tribes and tongues’ are emphasized daily as we regress into ethnic cocoons. Let this be call therefore to the spirit of yesterday; let this be a call to beat our chest and proclaim the return to the values that held us together. It is, it will be a long journey; but not an impossible one. It is needed. We must save our- selves from the gathering clouds and create a world where we shall not need to enter our house through another man’s door.
• Eghagha is a Professor of English at the University of Lagos and Editorial Board member of The Guardian
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