Nigeria: From The Outside Looking In

by Sola Osofisan

In the last few weeks, I have received from family and friends in Nigeria several emails and phone calls attempting to vividly paint for my distant eyes the drama that daily unravel the folds of my country. If you live like me in the Diaspora, you probably did too. The interpreters of Sharia in the North found another scapegoat in Safiya. Bola Ige was assassinated. The Ikeja Cantonment exploded, sending many people to an untimely death. The Police went on strike. Ethnic conflicts flared afresh, claiming more lives…

At some point, it sounded like a movie. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading messages sent secretly from the war front…surreptitious phone calls at night to havens far away. I brought my feeling to the attention of one of those friends who also happens to be a respected director of movies and television shows. What did he say? “Leave our exciting hair-raising lifestyle alone o”.

These are sad times indeed. We walk tortuous paths, friends, convoluted tracks that hide dangers around every bend. I don’t think Nigeria has ever been closer to disintegration as it is today. Even when the Military employed fear and torment to create some semblance of order while they committed their repeated rape of our dear country, the despondence and hopelessness didn’t seem to be this heightened. Just when you think things are getting better at home and there is a new sense of direction, the saboteurs and masters of confusion play a new hand.

Once, up on the famed Olumo Rocks in Abeokuta, I looked down at the world around me, watching the cars and people and trees and houses… It was an unusual point of view that allowed me to temporarily distance myself from all that was before me. It is a similar view I get from here as the immigrant observing the country I left behind.

From here – the outside – looking at my dear country, I see a nation at war. Nigeria has been at war since 1966 when the first Military insurgence into power occurred. This war has waned and waxed depending on the locale, ethnic group or period, but it has remained consistent. We currently have diseases, despotic rulers, hunger, joblessness, poverty, mass displacements, frustrations. Aimlessness is a national malaise and distrust is in our bones. And you think we’re not at war?

In a time of war, the refugees get on a high ground in other to see as far as possible, so that they will know from what direction the next danger is coming and which way to run. From this mountain called the Diaspora, we see a war ravaged landscape. We see a place that kills her brightest: Ken Saro-Wiwa, Dele Giwa, Abiola… How many times have they tried to assassinate Wole Soyinka and Gani Fawehinmi? How many of the faceless have died unacknowledged? Elephants fight daily in Nigeria and the grass, understandably, seek safety where they can. Our leaders sit high up on their thrones, secure in their towers, watching the havoc they have unleashed.

When war erupts in any country, a refugee situation arises. Nigeria is at war with Nigerians. Our leaders are daily killing our people spiritually, physically, mentally… Many are just plain dead already. An emotionally exhausted people seek refugee status elsewhere where there is no war. The much-needed stability required to attract foreign investment has escaped into the dark night. All the gains of Obasanjo’s global gallivanting may have been swept away by recent events.

Outsiders look at Nigeria and they see a huge market waiting to be explored, a huge mouth waiting to be breastfed for fat returns. They are tempted to quickly sink money in and get in on the ground floor. They hesitate, however, because they suspect the size that makes us attractive to them may be an illusion, a temporary reflection in a mirror soon to be fragmented by the clamor for secession, the ceaseless deployment of military might to quell civil unrests, the unending talk that bring forth little action…

They run elsewhere with their money!

I look at Nigeria from out here and I want to explode in the ears of infuriating columnists who hurl bricks at Nigerians in the Diaspora for reasons far beyond their lay comprehension. They contend we should have remained in Nigeria. They accuse us of betrayal, sabotage. Yet, Nigeria has pauperized all my friends who are still at home. They are being frustrated daily like a people without ideas or the motivation to see such ideas fly.

All the hoopla that our “best” brains are outside…That is nothing but an insult to all the intelligent people in Nigeria today. What is Nigeria doing with the great minds still left in Nigeria? Are they not being killed? Are their ideas not being ignored or corrupted by the all-pervasive sickness that flourish in our political environment? The leadership at home has to find a focus, a direction, the type that will imbue those at home with the confidence to want to remain – and tempt the ones abroad to return or be convinced they have a chance back there. It isn’t about providing basic amenities or creating jobs and a secure society overnight. It’s about being seen to be genuinely working towards the long-term improvement of the system, the elevation of the status of the man on the streets. That’s all it takes. If you can’t convince the ones currently at home to cease seeking for the first opportunity to bail out, how will you assure the ones outside they stand a chance of survival if they return?

If you need to cast aspersions on someone for the state Nigeria is in today, blame the thieves in embroidered babanriga, the prissy-eyed rodents in starched uniforms who pilfer a people’s future, the praise-singers and hangers-on who wallow in and swallow huge gobs of contracts in the midst of our confusion, the external forces and media that want us to remain lost in the night of the jungle, unable to find our way back home.

Nigerians in the Diaspora can be accused of cowardice of course. You may call us deserters who bailed a sinking ship, but that’s an argument for another day. The fact is this ship – like the Titanic – had no business sinking in the first instance. Focus on the bringers of pain! The blind leading the sighted! The clowns passing Nigeria from hand to hand like a worn out baton in a never-ending relay race. These pseudo actors are so self-engrossed they have forgotten there is an audience that should be taken along, after all, interactivity is a key element of African Theatre. Questions are asked and the audience responds, expressing opinions that often spontaneously influence the direction and outcome of the drama. Not in Nigeria. The actors in this theatre of power are deaf like stones.

So, what is the magic that Nigerians in the Diaspora possess and Nigerians at home do not? A conducive environment, you quickly say, that permits them to fully explore their potentials to the fullest. Wonderful. Why would you want us to run back home then? You want us to come and join the stifled crowd at home? You don’t think it makes sense for some of us to be capable of doing things that the clowns garroting Nigeria currently prevent us from doing? Is that why you want us to come home? The day Nigeria ends the war, Nigerians abroad, like all refugees (acknowledged or not) will begin to return home. It is that simple.

Most Nigerians in the Diaspora hunger for home. They long for home because it is the fate of the immigrant to always hunger for a country far away, keeping an eye on the roads that lead back there… We long for the Sunday gathering in church, the occasional faces at the latest baby naming ceremony, the sashay of hips at the next Owambe party, the simple reality of walking a street without sticking out like a sore thumb.

The telecommunication Networks of the world can hardly satiate our yearning for information about our place of origin. Oh, you think we forget Nigeria once we’re out here? Ask for the visitation statistics from the webmasters of the key Nigerian newspapers online and it will amaze you the bulk of their readership that come from outside Africa. Still, when we do manage to scavenge bits and pieces together to make a relative whole, what we find are stories that curdle the blood. We see a nation tottering on the precipice, balanced between greatness and utter ruin. And we watch as it were a movie, as it acts like the accursed, opting for disaster again and again. We watch.

The painful part is that it doesn’t matter where you are. As long as you’re one of the faceless, Nigeria makes you a watcher, a bystander, never a significant player in the unfolding events of your personal fate. We’re all victims, at home or abroad – and until we make enough noise to deafen the few who hold our collective destiny in their hands, and shine enough light to blind those making it seem impossible for all the ethnic groups to live as one, it cannot be well with our dear country.

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pamela hurst November 3, 2007 - 10:00 am

your coment is so true

Bennie Onyero-Droese October 11, 2006 - 3:48 pm

Not too long ago, I spoke to an old friend of mine whom I had not seen or heard from in many years. After the initial catch up chit-chat, he asked "so when are you coming home?" My response? "never say never!" As much as I too, long to visit home again, the risks associated with such travel are not worth the reward to me at the moment.

Btw, you can't please all the people all the time.



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