“Hello! Hello! Can you hear…?” Chidi shouted, but I could not hear him any more. We were passing a patch on the Third Mainland Bridge that usually had no service. It was a clearly accepted fact that certain portions of town are not covered by any of the two GSM networks. It did not matter that we here in Nigeria are paying extortionate rates for the use of these phone services. It did not matter how important the conversation with Chidi was to me.
We were just expected to understand that it was usual to ‘expect these things’. That it was ‘usual’ that the nation is now in absolute darkness due to the slow and painful death that NEP Plc has suffered. Very ‘usual’ that long fuel queues have returned nationally, complete with the re-emergence of ‘black market king-pins’, littering the streets with coloured varieties of fuel in assorted dimensions of kegs. And of course it was normal and ‘usual’ to expect that parents should be constantly frustrated by having to tend jobless teenagers sent home due to the strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union (ASU) of universities. After all this is Nigeria.
Usual. There are so many aspects of life that are taken as “usual” by most Nigerians that one wonders if we even want things to get better. Our collective complacency is a cancer that has eaten deep and has reached incurable proportions. We are at the brink of elections and the nation is in a deplorable state of devastation!
“Mm, na so we see am, oh!” That is the response everyone gives for what he or she cannot, nay will not change.
A forty-something year old woman, selling fruits at a bus stop on the side of a busy road. Her nursing toddler son crawls from underneath the tumbledown table where she had placed him. His nose is dripping with an elastic stretch of phlegm. She loosens the end of her wrapper and wipes his nose. Then places him back under the makeshift stall. As she attends to a buyer, he crawls off and is soon hit by an okada (the commercial motorcycle operators). Of course the okada driver speeds off as soon as it happens and the now bleeding toddler is left in the arms of the screaming mother. She rains abuses on the runaway driver as she cries her way to the General Hospital. Six hours and some bribe later, the doctor examines the child who came in as an emergency case. He is not badly hurt, just a few bruises. He will live.
“Mama Johnny, sorry oh. We hear wetin happen”. The neighbours commiserate with her. “Mm, na wa. Na so we see am…” she answers with a deep shrug.
A wife gets home to her home in Iyana Ipaja, and makes to prepare a special meal of white rice with fresh fish stew for her husband. It is their wedding anniversary! She has even bought a bottle of red wine, sent the children to their grand parents at Iju. Soon he comes in looking positively shattered…he has just been fired.
Later, they discuss what happened and what to do next. “So my dear, na so I see am oh! We will have to make do with my savings until I find something else”. And they hold each other closely as their tears mingle at the injustice and hopelessness of their case. She is thinking that the fresh fish she bought today would be the last such luxury in a long time. He is wishing he had come in earlier and stopped her from the wasteful expense she had made for their anniversary celebrations. The silent sobbing and rocking goes on until morning.
It does not matter that he has been fired because the company he worked for had lost a big deal because their NITEL phone was out of order. It did not matter that he had been at NITEL everyday for two weeks, bribing and cajoling and asking for help with their phone line. He was spending all his afternoons on the streets begging the NITEL technicians to fix the phone. He had bought them drinks, Gala, Food…all from his own pocket, but they kept telling him, “We go come tomorrow”. Now he had been fired.
After six years of hardship and hard work, Peter finally concludes his arrangements for a Green card. He is an American Citizen now! He decides to come back to see his mother who is now old and feeble. She has aged quickly because she has been left alone to deal with the in-laws who chose to dehumanise her at the death of her husband.
She did not have a minute to mourn her husband. He had died in her arms after eight years of tending him as one would tend a baby. He had suffered his second stroke in 1995 that left him paralysed from the neck down. He hung on for life, and she hung onto her prayers for a miraculous recovery for eight years. But one day, he just gave up the ghost. Then they set in. In-laws, that had already dismissed their brother, as dead, for eight long years.
At first it was like a joke. They accused her of killing their brother. And since she had none of her children to defend her from their wrath, she suffered. They humiliated her in every meaning of the word. They abused her spirit. They destroyed everything that ever made her smile. They crippled her financially and raped her mentally. After they sent her away, she spent another 3 years trying to recover from the assault. Then started a new life, living out of her elder brother’s house until he was able to get her a new home.
Peter arrived Lagos on a Wednesday. He wanted to surprise her, so he had not informed her of his intended trip. However his uncle, his mother’s brother, knowing her state, knew that the excitement would be too much for her. The day he told her, her life changed. Suddenly the smile was back. The joy knew no bounds. It was like someone who had been given a second chance at life.
As her brother held her at the funeral, he knew that she would not survive this one. People were also commiserating with them, “This country, sef! Can we not just have some peace?” There were also cries of “But wetin man fit do? Na so we see am”. Peter had been killed in an accident on his way home. The car had swerved to avoid a crater in the middle of the road and swerved off into the bush. Onlookers say the car somersaulted about five times. Everyone in the car was killed.
As Joseph watched his wife on the operating table that morning, he was distraught. Not because this was their first child after seven years of marriage. Not because she was having a caesarean section because some complications had set in as the labour had progressed. Not even because the nurses had warned him that he should pray that there is no power seizure since their generator was not working.
It had all started when they decided to give their lives to Christ. Like everyone else who had come to the realisation that man has varied limitations, they had come to God with their problems. She, because she was tired of the problems that her mother-in-law was giving her about her ‘barrenness’. And he, because he wondered just how long he could go on before his wife found out about his impotence.
The doctors had told him years ago that he would never be able to father a child. He had been devastated and had promised himself that he would never marry so that no woman would have to put up with his handicap. But that was before he met Amaka, and realised that he had to have her for keeps. Then his meddlesome mother got involved and soon Amaka became more than preoccupied with the idea of having a child. That was how they got into this mess.
It was really complicated. They had met this pastor of their church who decided to pray for them. At first the prayers were for both of them, then soon it had moved to just Amaka. The pastor now began to insist on long stretches of days of ‘prayer’. When Joseph protested, he was met with the wrath of both the pastor and his wife. Regularly Amaka would take off for series of days. Then she came back saying that they had been ‘cured’. They began to try again to conceive. Soon, Amaka announced that her period was late. And now…
He confided to a friend who had asked him to confront the pastor. “Clearly, the man is doing more than just prayers for your wife!” he had snorted. Timidly, Joseph replies, “Everybody has their own problems. Maybe this is my cross. Abi, wetin man fit do?” He knew he was still impotent. The doctors had confirmed very recently that his fears were founded. The miracle was not quite what he had prayed for.
We hate ourselves. We are constantly denying ourselves every bit of dignity. As individuals, as smaller communities and as a nation. Ours is a nation full of cowards whose best show of resistance is at best mediocre. What ever happened to the great people of the Mali empire, the Bornu empire, Oduduwa’s gallant soldiers, the strong men of Biafra? What became of the seed of Queen Amina? When did we lose the spirit of saying ‘enough is enough’?
We are teaching and rearing posterity to believe that we cannot be that great nation anymore. Our children think that Nigeria means a place where things do not work. Our neighbouring countries scoff at how quickly we have turned from the big brother to the big shell. We run off to Ghana to shop, to spend our holidays, to rest. We have forgotten the days when we chased the Ghanaians back to their country for being parasites in our time of plenty. We have forgotten when the pound sterling exchanged as ‘one for one’.
The same beat has started again. Discordant notes being played by fat-bellied politicians. Cacophonous drumbeats by a frenzied group of impassioned embezzlers. Jarring sounds of empty promises by our new breed, old breed politicians. Dissonant choruses of assurances by empty vessels, for a better Nigeria. Like they know what that means. Shall we dance again? Shall we join in the wild dance steps that lead us back to where we will be raped again? A baby never put her fingers back in the fire that burnt her. If we will not reason like adults, then maybe we should reason like children.
“Na so we see am”??? May we never hear ourselves sing that chorus again.