MAY NIGERIA NEVER HAPPEN TO YOU


By Akin Ojumu

Slowly, but surely, the realization is starting to dawn on me that I could never again live in Nigeria. You may not realize how chilling, bitter, and hard it is for me to admit that.

Throughout the nearly 25 years I have been a FORPART – a term me and my High School friends coined to disparage and denigrate all diasporan Nigerians – I had always thought my sojourn as a stranger in a foreign land was a temporary thing.

Certainly, the time I have spent away from home has in no small measure diluted my Nigerianism. There are several societal nuances that I’m no longer familiar with. I have certainly gotten less and less tolerant of the typical Naija mindset. And the way our people like to do their own thing – the fatalistic, it shall be well, laissez faire approach to life – now rubs me the wrong way. I guess, living almost half of your life in America would do that to anyone.

Despite all of that, I still considered Nigeria my home and had always felt a thrill run up and down my spine whenever a trip to Nigeria was coming up. In all the 25 years I’ve been away from Naija, I had always looked at my foreign citizenship strictly and purely on a transactional basis. I became an American citizen because it was the economic right thing to do and not because my loyalty to the place where I was born and bred had waned. Switching my green passport for a blue one was for the convenience American citizenship afforded and not evidence of unfaithfulness to Nigeria or a full-throated renunciation of my Nigerian citizenship.

Every time my fellow FORPARTs told me they’d never again had anything to do with Nigeria, I always responded with the words of that old song by Tunji Oyelana and Wole Soyinka:

I love my country I no go lie
Na inside am I go live and die,
I know my country I no go lie
Na him and me go yap till I die

You’d be demonstrably wrong if you thought I was being disingenuous singing this song. There was nothing coy, cliched, cynical or farcical about it. I genuinely meant it, and truly believed it. Ever since I’ve been away, the long arc of my life has been bending towards Nigeria. Unlike other FORPARTs whose retirement plans revolved around the places of their sojourn, Nigeria continued to feature prominently in my own plans for retirement. The thought of living my sunset years anywhere else other than the shores of my fatherland was an idea I had never ever contemplated. It was a foregone conclusion that I was returning to Nigeria when the rat race was all said and done.

Agonizingly, though, the error of such thinking is beginning to penetrate my conscious mind. The terrifying security situation in Nigeria is a wake-up call, a reality check from which I’m emerging with a clarity of mind on my erstwhile foolish Nigeria-centric single mindedness. My own personal experience during the last couple of visits back home has validated the concerns my fellow FORPARTs had voiced all along, that human lives have no value in our motherland.

Now, my stubborn romantic fantasization with Nigeria was neither informed by some clueless naïveté nor wishful thinking. The reason I remained devoted to my motherland and my plans for the future revolved around the place of my birth was not a suspension of disbelief. I wasn’t blind to the chronic poor leadership and the protracted poor governance, and I was very much aware of the endemic chaos and prevalent confusion. 

Trust me, I’m not oblivious to the fact that Nigeria is a graveyard of dreams and sepulcher of aspirations. Don't think I don’t know that in Nigeria the best and the brightest are slaves to the worst and dullest. I need no reminder that it’s a place that denigrates excellence and celebrates mediocrity. That the content of man’s character matters less in Nigeria than the state of his origin is not news to me at all.

You see, my love for Nigeria is visceral and primaeval. It’s the only place on earth where I truly feel at home and never have to be self-conscious about what I wear or how I sound. A quarter of a century living away from home hasn’t changed my affinity for my nativity. But now, however, I must confront a sad reality. As much as I love my country, I’d have to accept the fact that Nigeria is a failing state not conducive for living.

For all the warmth and fondness I feel for my people, I’m not ready to sacrifice myself and allow Nigeria to happen to me. If you thought it is an easy thing for a grown man to admit his father's house is inhabitable, you are sorely mistaken. Getting to this point has been one of the most painful things to ever happen to me.

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