I miss Nigeria. Don’t even start. Don’t ask me what is there to miss about the Nigeria of today. There will always be a lot to miss about Nigeria because there is no other country like Naija, as we fondly call it. If you have lived in another country for more than a week, this fact would easily resonate with you. And I have – for at least ten years.
However, what one person misses about Naija is usually not the same as what the other misses although in line with the mixed nature of the country itself, these ‘missings’ often mix. I love the hospitable nature of the average Nigerian; the your-pikin-na-my-pikin neigbourliness, the rich variety of edibles, and the life-must-go-on stoicism of the hoi polloi (what the legendary musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti preferred to call “suffering and smiling”). At a time, some ‘amebo’ researchers said Nigerians were the happiest people on earth. True or not, depression is not a very common commodity among Nigerians. This special breed of homo-sapiens always believes that ‘tomorrow go better’ (tomorrow will be better).
The vibrant nature of debates, whether inside transit buses or at soccer viewing centres, elbow – bending joints or point-and-kill rendezvous is something that I’m yet to encounter in any commensurate measure in the 15 or so countries that I have traversed. The way Nigerians readily proffer opinions on issues truly amazes me. Sometimes I wonder whether we actually need a national assembly, except for the purpose of approving budgets, padded or not; as every Nigerian can debate, argue, propose, lobby, endorse, curse, criticize, hail, wail, rationalize, blame, threaten, throw chairs, trade blows, etc, when it comes to matters of national importance.
Of late, it appears that the social media has become more vibrant than the National Assembly when it comes to debating issues affecting our dear country. The difference perhaps would be whereas members of parliament, including the seat-warmers, cheer leaders, sleep-mongers and blow-throwers receive mind blowing sums of money as salaries and allowances, the busy-body members of the social media spend sleepless nights debating with no farthing for their efforts. When they do sleep at all, the debate continues even in their sleep. Incidentally, how I became a passive partaker in this esoteric exercise is what this piece is actually about.
It was in Piccadilly. No, not Piccadilly Square in Westminster, London. Piccadilly is this entertainment centre along the Lekki-Ajah expressway in Lagos, Nigeria where my brother Austin and I used to cool off on our way home from work after navigating the hectic bumper-to-bumper evening traffic. He introduced me to the place at his own risk so he always picked the bills for the nicely barbecued, steaming hot ‘point-and-kill’ fresh fish and ‘asun’ delicacies with the accompanying lubricants on offer there. Eish, I miss Piccadilly! But that is another matter.
On this occasion, I was there alone, seated next to a table with a group of four guys and four ladies. An EPL match was showing on the huge flat screen TV that adorned the space. But these guys were not interested in the match. They didn’t even seem interested in the combination of fish, suya, asun and sundry bottled liquids that crowded their table. Only the ladies were engrossed in exploring the secrets in the spiced bellies of the sightless fish gazing from the oval platters.
I didn’t need to listen too hard to know that they were discussing, nay, debating politics. Neither was it difficult to know that they were on opposite sides of the political divide.
“By the way, you keep shouting ‘CHANGE, CHANGE’, what exactly has changed in the life of the Nigerian common man in the past one year?”
It was a question meant for one of the occupants of the table by the one who seemed to be the eldest in the group and obviously the one with the sharpest tongue. Before the addressee could respond, the man, who from what he was wearing was definitely not a ‘common man’, went on:
“Yes, the government is trying in the fight against corruption but what else?” he queried, throwing his hands violently apart as he did so. I thought of shifting my chair away a little to avoid a stray backhand slap if that was how he would keep gesticulating in the course of their debate.
“What about the war against terrorism and insurgency?” the other man replied.
“Which terrorism? Oh, you mean the rescue of one Chibok girl in one year? And what about the Niger Delta Avengers and Fulani herdsmen wreaking havoc in unprecedented proportions?” The first man countered sardonically.
“Keep wailing. I know you will never see anything good in this government,” his opponent submitted.
“Am I a magician or a wizard? How am I supposed to see what is not there to see? Okay, you tell me, how much was a mudu (bowl) of rice, gari, beans and semovita, or a loaf of bread, or a gallon of kerosene before APC took over and how much now? How much was electricity tariff? How much was a litre of petrol? How much was taxi fare or even okada (motorbike) fare before and now? How much was the naira to the dollar and how much now? How many barrels of crude were produced per day and how many today? How many megawatts of electricity then and now? How many youths have been employed or empowered? How many workers that have not been retrenched have received salary increase? How many civil servants survive through the month on their ridiculous salaries without buying food on credit? How many such workers do not owe school fees in their children’s schools? How many investors and how many international airlines have quit our clime because of unfavourable economic climate? How many innocent lives have been wasted by trigger-happy agents of state and demonic nomadic marauders? How many culprits have been apprehended and/or prosecuted for these heinous crimes? How many court orders have been flouted by the custodians of our constitution? How many funds-draining jets were in the presidential fleet and how many now? How much exactly has been fully recovered from looters and what is the guarantee that the loot is not being re-looted behind the president’s back one way or the other?”
Silence. But the elderly man was not done yet. He proceeded to buttress his point with a proverb.
“In my place, it is said that if you slap a child on the back and claim to have killed a tse-tse fly that was sucking his blood, he would label you a wicked man unless you showed him the dead tse-tse fly. So why should we even believe that any loot has been recovered from some people that have no identity?”
This time, even the ladies gave the fish heads they had reserved for final onslaught a break.
“Abeg, help me ask am!” one of the ladies with a bottle of Smirnoff dangling between her lips and the table interjected.
“Who invited your mouth into the matter?” The man at whom the questions were fired asked.
“If you ask me, na who I go ask?” another lady who had resumed digging into the roasted cold blooded vertebrate victims on the platter asked without looking up.
“Answer my questions and leave the ladies alone!” the interrogator took charge again, now visibly agitated.
“Don’t mind him joor, next he’s going to tell us that the previous administration ‘dabarued’ the economy before the ruling party took over,” a guy seated next to the Smirnoff lady quipped.
“But was that not the reason the last administration was voted out? And how is a patient helped if his doctor is always complaining about the previous doctor’s unethical conduct and incompetence while his own prescriptions are only making the patient worse?” the prime questioner sneered, finding renewed vigour in the supportive statement of the last intervener.
“More questions than answers,” the fourth guy said, smiling wickedly.
The clearly harassed man on the other side would not however be silenced.
“Keep on wailing, wailing wailers!” he shouted as if for everyone in Piccadilly to hear.
“Exactly! That is the standard response the clueless hailers have to every question concerning the impact of this government,” the Interrogator-in-Chief blurted out. Then he got up and shouted, “Waiter, bring our bill and let me gerrout of here!”
As he did so, he swung his arm in my direction and I saw some twinkling stars as the hand clutching his heavy bunch of keys landed on the left side of my face. The impact of the punch woke me up from my dream with a real longing for Piccadilly and with hope that by the grace of God, Naija go better.
(From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays & Poems by Tony Ekata)