In recent years, I think I am one of those diasporan Nigerian writers who have tried to maintain an optimistic outlook on Nigeria despite our weak institutions and disappointing political class. This radical shift from my once avowed anti-government posture has cost me many a friendship. This has also reflected in some of my writings as I refused to accept that our country Nigeria is a failed state on the brink of collapse. I have as a result been called names by many who have occasionally through private emails advised me to open my eyes to the reality around me.
Despite a near – death experience in 2007 in the hands of armed robbers in Abuja who abducted and later dumped me in a bush on the way to the Abuja airport leaving me naked with my ankles and hands tied with strings, and blood gushing out from my skull which had been cracked open with the butt of a gun, I still continued to believe that mine was an isolated case which could have happened to anybody. One year after this incident, I relocated back home hoping to be part of the solution to our many challenges. It was my thinking at the time that Nigeria belongs to all of us; that one can make a better contribution from the inside rather than from his keyboard in the comfort of his home in the west surrounded by loved ones including family and friends.
Coming home for me was easy as I had the blessing of my wife Uche who shared in my Nigerian dream. My coming back home has also encouraged a lot of my friends who have either relocated after me or are about to relocate. Perhaps, you are among those getting your things ready to board the next available flight to Nigeria, I dare say my dear friends: I am sorry to disappoint you but I do not bring good news today.
Since I came home, I have had the opportunity through my previous and current employers to travel around Nigeria; I have interacted with various Nigerians discussing Nigeria, their plans, dreams and hopes. I follow the news daily through the media but must admit that I haven’t been encouraged one bit, not with the poverty and despair engulfing our people. I fail to see where our country Nigeria is heading to. But for a few bright chaps here and there doing their bit, and a few good men in government including Governor Fashola of Lagos state, I can not see anything to make me believe that we are on the right track as a nation.
I am beginning to feel guilty that I may have been ‘misleading’ my friends and compatriots living abroad who have severally sought my advice. Perhaps what I should have been telling them is to tarry a while still. This is because Nigeria is no country for weak hearts, picture the movie – No Country for Old Men. It does not matter what the good intentioned Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa (Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora) may be telling you, trying to convince you to come back home, you better look carefully before you leap. There is a lot more to Nigeria than meets the eye.
As I write this, I am holed up in my hotel room in Onitsha, Anambra state where I will be spending a couple of weeks on a company project. I have been here now for some days and to call the town a city of the damned will be making an understatement. Perhaps it is the whole Onitsha thing that has finally gotten to me, the self-imposed 7 P.M curfew, the chaos, the bad roads, the traffic, the filth and the fear of armed robbers and kidnappers. It is as if this is the lawless Wild West all over again without any form of government but for the mobile policemen stationed at various points in the city whose only preoccupation is to collect the sum of 20 Naira from every passing mini-bus driver. Acting Police IG Onovo should please note that the only brave thing about these guys are the brazen way they collect the money in broad day light, as if they are telling passersby that, “Yes, we run things around here”.
Who would have thought that this is what Onitsha, the home town of the late Rt.Hon Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Owelle of Onitsha and Nigeria’s first civilian President will turn into? A reference point for failed cities. Definitely, with all the potentials that Onitsha and its several million business men and women have shown, the surrounding River Niger and its Eastern gateway status, one wouldn’t be wrong to argue that another way could have been possible for Onitsha but unfortunately as in all things, the widely travelled road of poor planning and lack of vision was taken, when with a bit of care, Onitsha could easily have been another Lagos. Whatever happened to the Oba Airport project? And what happened to all the money that was raised in the 80s towards building ‘the people’s airport’? Anyway, who needs it again when Asaba airport will soon be ready?
Last Saturday, not able to take it anymore, I escaped to neighbouring Asaba for the night just like other Onitsha residents do every weekend. Asaba is a fairly new capital city separated from Onitsha by the Niger Bridge. The difference between the two cities is just like night and day. On that Saturday evening as we drove through the Niger Bridge, I looked back to behold a city fading in its glory, enveloped both by the darkness caused by PHCN and the dark evil forces holding it from leaping into a glorious bright future and I wished I wasn’t coming back. In contrast, Asaba beckoned and welcomed us, the street lights shone just as the moon light showed promises of a breaking modern city. This is a contrasting tale of two neighbouring cities, one dead despite its rich tradition and commercial status, the other alive from its huge oil revenue and investments in infrastructure.
They say everyman has his breaking point, perhaps I have reached mine. Earlier today, I ‘sneaked’ to my home town in Njikoka Local Government Area, a 25 – minutes drive away. It was such an uncomfortable feeling as I avoided meeting and greeting anybody, what with all that is going on around here; armed robbers, kidnappers, ‘home front’ or juju evil men, all lurking in the shadows to kill, maim or destroy. On my way back to Onitsha, I said to myself that this can not be life. Where then in Nigeria can one call home?
My angst wasn’t helped by the news story in the Vanguard newspaper about the 22 people that were crushed to death by a lorry driver along the Benin – Sagamu expressway. These innocent Nigerians had been travelling with a luxury bus before they were waylaid by armed robbers who then forced all the passengers to lie face down in the middle of the express road, just as the robbers were searching and ransacking their belongings, the speeding lorry driver arrived on the scene and crushed the 22 to death. What a way to die. Still, the Boko Haram incident plus the continuing stories of the hundreds who have lost their lives completed a miserable day for me.
I ask again, is coming home worth it afterall? I really don’t know anymore.