“None of us are free if one of us is chained” – Ray Charles (My World CD)
Why does Nigeria seem to have stalled along the “development” continuum given all the foreign aid it has received over generations and what each time, is professed as its best effort? Why are millions of Nigerians migrating to more “developed” parts of the world even when it means living as second class citizens or living in the underground world of illegal aliens? Why is Nigeria unable to hold its own? I do not believe that there is any one answer, but any one who lives and breathes in today’s world knows that something isn’t working and that the Nigeria’s problems – from polio to criminal activities- will continue to disperse to other parts of the world and become the problem of the entire world. A truly open-minded attempt to know Nigerians as they are might indeed be the beginning to understanding how to engage such a populous people.
Although Nigeria has only existed as a political unit since 1960, I am certain that many of Nigeria’s problems pre-existed the Atlantic slave trade and the pirate-like adventures of the white man. Human beings tend to be problem prone. The nature of the problem may vary. Any contact with outsiders is liable to bring change for good or for ill. Mary Slessor and her like helped bring an end to the death of twins whilst the Boers contributed apartheid to South Africa. White men were not the only ones who benefited from the domination of Africans via slave trade; some Africans, including some African kings, benefited from the trade that spilled their brothers’ blood. Wars and oppression everywhere are constant reminders that some people stand to benefit from the death and pain of others.
Nigeria is weighted down by numerous disturbing ancient customs permeated by magic and mysticism. Religious groups and social norms sanctify these destructive practices directly or indirectly. These unwritten agreements and secrets in Nigerian society continue to undermine its growth and development. Some of these somewhat open secrets are effectively and collaboratively hidden by Nigerians who are both afraid and ashamed to wash their dirty linen in public lest they be seen as traitors and flogged by the heavy hand of ancient traditional mystical practices. The forced immigrant brothers and sisters, upon stumbling on some of these secrets, are afraid and apprehensive that exposure of such darkness would reinforce stereotypes about Africans that they battle against in the New World. Westerners of non-African descent on the other hand, gain more fuel for their sultry tales of magical sun-baked Africa when they learn of the “other secrets of Africa”. And yet they remain baffled and confused by these strange people of color whose presence appears to be most admirable within the covers of a national geographic magazine whilst they periodically reflect habits and attitudes of anyone who has ever colonized them.
Alas! Who will tell the true stories of Nigeria and other African countries? Beyond that who will listen to the not-so-cute stories of real people and their real lives? More Nigerians are putting pen to paper than ever before, but the western world continues to thrive on con-artist tales, Western approved African literature and bland over-diluted stories about Nigerians and other Africans prepared and seasoned for non-African ears, while true life stories of a real people devoid of Americanism are ignored because they hold no appeal to commercial America. Perhaps it’s time we began to create a real industry for African writing.