Help, My Baby Can’t Sleep!

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

He just turned one, a couple of months ago. I have been at pains trying to make him realise that where he was born and lives is called Nigeria, and that in his country, at this time, virtually every facility that requires government’s input to function appears to have either packed up or grossly under-performing. And no one cares! Government itself is on a long, if not permanent, recess. It now wants its tenure extended so it could faithfully supervise the nation’s total collapse, and then do the only thing it knows how to do best, play the patient and dutiful undertaker.

It is just impossible to make a single meaning out of this whole chaos. Once it is night, my little boy expects that there should be power supply because he can’t stand the oppressive heat. He would cry and cry and refuse to sleep. The darkness, I must agree with him, is suffocating and overwhelming. These conspire with the cruel heat to turn the night into a most excruciating and protracted agony. Almost every night, my wife and I would fold newspapers to fan the boy and, sometimes, his immediate elder sister, to help them get some sleep. Their most senior has already adjusted to the fact that she is in Nigeria, and that needless agonies like the one PHCN (from NEPA) mercilessly unleashes on Nigerians every night and day, under the watchful eyes of the present government, are the very stuff with which a true Nigerian is made.

Keeping awake to fan a child with folded newspapers almost every night is not a tea party. At some point you would think the boy is in deep sleep, but once you pause awhile to rest your hand or catch some sleep, he will scream and scream, and you would be forced to jump up, and resume your task. And sometimes, he will protest your brief neglect by refusing to keep quiet, and then you would have no other choice than to carry him up for sometime, pet him, before he would agree to be put down again, so you could continue to fan him. Of course, there is a huge reward for this arduous task. You will wake up weak and totally drained, and nursing a headache. And you must hurry the children off to school, while you and your wife rush down to your offices, to struggle for daily survival in this impossible country called Nigeria.

Some nights, I would quietly sneak out and escape to my study, where I usually kept a small camp foam, to catch some sleep. And my wife, God bless her, good lady – even when she discovers I had escaped, would not complain. But when the task becomes too much for her, she would either come to politely request that I come to relieve her, or call me on phone, when she had become too tired to walk down to where I was hiding to wake me. I would then come and relieve her a bit. Most of the time, my shift usually comes when dawn was approaching, and the atmosphere had become a bit cool for the boy to sleep off and let me sleep.

I have had to yell at my son a number of times: “Look, boy, here is not Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic or even Swaziland or Eritrea! Here is Nigeria, and your president is neither Mbeki or Kuffuor! So, you must learn to adjust yourself to the reality of the situation in the country where you have found yourself.”

I say these things or similar things to the same effect to the boy regularly. If at this age he is able to understand what I am saying, he is yet to demonstrate it. I don’t know what goes on in his mind, but it does seem that he is unable to understand how a human being, with brain in his skull, and with an army of garrulous “experts” around him, could manage a country, with abundant resources for a whole seven years, yet a very basic thing like uninterrupted power supply, which has since been taken for granted in even many very poor countries around us, would still remain a scarce commodity in Nigeria. Unlike any government before it, this government has gained billions of dollars in excess from crude oil sales. It has gained so much money, and had so much to spend that it had to indulge in needless jamborees like hosting of CHOGM, COJA and other needless money guzzlers, with all the controversies that attended them. Billions of dollars and pounds are pouring into the coffers of this government, yet there is virtually nothing on ground to show that anyone is thinking about the welfare of the citizenry. All we hear in abundance is empty, irritating and uninspiring talk-talk. It is easy and cheap to declare a lot of unverifiable “solid achievements” but why can’t we also see evidence of that much vaunted magic touch in the power sector, the sector that touches closely our very life, and whose failure is threatening our sanity?

Where I live, perhaps, without knowing it, or meaning to, my neighbours have become my worst tormentors. The man in the next compound by the right, had purchased some comfort for his family, which has turned out to be our most harrowing pain all night. His joy, therefore, has become my family’s torment. Despite the wall separating the two compounds, his generator which he leaves on all night roars like an angry and wild monster. When it is screaming and raging, sleep becomes just impossible. The thing knows how to hammer its noise on your head and pierce through your eardrums. Incidentally, our bedroom and the children’s room are backing his compound. While we battle with the oppressive heat, the generator would roar and roar angrily all night, piercing the eardrums, and compounding the agony and torment already unleashed by hot, airless weather. Sometimes, even when NEPA/PHCN temporarily forgets its brief as the nation’s licensed, official “Agent of Darkness” and restores the light to the neighourhood, the angry monster would still continue to roar with an even greater persistence and loudness, which poses considerable threat to the nervous system. I remember that, in the past, I used to open my windows to shout towards the house: “There is Light! There is light!! Off this thing!!!” Unfortunately, my voice gets swallowed in the din and bedlam being faithfully generated by the monster. Sometimes, it works, and my voice pierces through, and wakes up somebody, and the monster is shut up. Then, we would have some reprieve to reclaim our sanity seriously assaulted by the monster next door. And there is always no time even to do this, because, by the time this reprieve comes, it is usually morning already, and we have to prepare to rush off to work.

It is not only this neighbour that has a noisy generator. The fellows living in the two other compounds that surround mine all have their own. There is virtually no place to hide. Even when we close the windows to reduce the noise, it makes no difference. The whole thing is akin to a warfront. America versus Iraq! Each is striving to out-shout the other. In fact, I don’t even want to think about the thick, black, killer fumes they all emit into he atmosphere. All I am bothered for now is the noise pollution. I have once asked a doctor the danger we face living under such a barrage of deafening, piercing noise, and what he told me that day really made me afraid, but do I have an option?

How long shall we endure this extended nightmare in a country somebody claims to be ruling? I have my own generator, a little toy from China. It only hums mournfully at my balcony and disturbs no one’s sleep. Even the days when I am able to fuel it and put it on, the noise from my neighbours’ monsters destroys whatever respite my family would get as a result of the modest power my toy is able to supply. And as I write now, there is no plan by the government known to Nigerians to address this excruciating situation created by total power failure.

As President Olusegun Obasanjo pursues his blind ambition to become a life president, what I hear everywhere is that the man needs to continue in office because h

e is doing a good job. I have no strength to waste to contest that. All I can do is to offer this heartfelt prayer for all those peddling that heresy. Now, my prayer for anyone who has ever opened his or her mouth to applaud the “wonderful achievements” of the Abuja regime, either sincerely or with dissembling lips is this: One: May all your children do to you and all you have worked for what the Abuja regime is doing to Nigeria. Two: If you are an employer of labour, may your workers manage all your investments exactly with the same mind and attitude the Abuja regime is managing Nigeria and its resources. And finally, may anyone you encounter in this life treat you the way the Abuja junta is treating Nigerians.

Let a resounding AMEN ring out from all Nigerians. And make no mistakes about it, these prayers must be answered. I suppose this would make all of those involved happy, because, the “good things” this government is doing will soon be replicated in their lives, homes and circumstances, in answer to this prayer.

For me, I sincerely believe that God will intervene in Nigeria and deliver us from the daily agony that living in Nigeria has become for many families. Somebody should please show me the “great achievements” recorded by the present government because I am still looking for them. I am looking for the good roads to drive on. I want efficient and decent train and bus systems which will make it unnecessary for me to own a car. I want security of lives and property. I am yearning for a day when a Nigerian will walk to a public tap, get clean water and drink confidently. I want to see better schools and functional hospitals, good enough that the president, his aides and families can patronise them. The list could continue. I am waiting for a day when I would not go to work with crumpled clothes because I couldn’t iron them the brief moment there was power supply in two days.

This government has done at least one clear thing. It has created two distinct classes of Nigerians. There are those who are insulated from the agonies Nigerians lament about daily. At least, the Minister of Power and Steel, I am sure, must have a giant, noiseless generator in his house and office, and so, whether his ministry functions or not, he does not get to experience the torment of constant power failure. Ditto for the president and his garrulous and underachieving Economic Solomons. I have also heard that generator merchants are piling irresistible pressures to ensure that power remains epileptic so they could remain in business. In all these, dear reader, do we count at all? Would the yearning and cry of my little baby to get some sleep tonight reach the ear of Mr. President?

Does he care?

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