The Ya Before the Hoo

A few months ago, Nigerian newspapers were awash with ecstatic news about the latest government ‘initiative’ – Telemedicine. I squirmed in anger as I read the details in one newspaper after the other. Somehow, a Federal Government that cannot even competently run the Yamaha generator at the presidential clinic in Aso Rock is going to take Telemedicine and eHealth to our villages. Somehow, an unimaginative leadership that cannot run rural clinics, dispensaries, and General Hospitals – don’t even mention University Teaching Hospitals! – is going to abracadabra Nigeria into the one hundred percent electricity and internet-dependent world of Telemedicine and eHealth. This in a country where internet service is so frustratingly slow that the “YA” sometimes appears one hour before the “HOO” on your computer screen in those pre-Medieval cyber cafés. While waiting for the HOO to load and join its orphaned YA on your screen, sympathetic cyber café operators will even teach you how to pause the time counter and save some money. Clearly, some Mephistophelean government officials had dreamed up another brilliant way of looting public funds: nepotistic contracts for hundreds of thousands of tokunboh computers from places like Azerbaijan, mobilization fees, etc. Wild speculation? This is Nigeria. Let’s not kid ourselves that such scenarios are implausible.

Then it happened. Something snapped deep down in my soul. I’d had it. I held a quick dialogue with my finger and clicked my way hastily out of the Nigerian cyberworld. Shocked by the urgency of my clicks, I paused momentarily to consider that instinctive action, my scholarly mind activated. Why had I clicked so urgently out of eNigeria, as if my life depended on that hasty exit? Something as simple as a couple of clicks eventuated in an engaging evaluation of the complex politics of national identity, diasporic subjecthood, their points of imbrication and interpellative power. My action, I surmised, was not just a desperate extraction of my soul from Nigeria’s prodigious site of quotidian burlesque. It had to be more than an instinctive act of self-preservation. There had to be other things at work, other impulses and reflexes that could only be illuminated by a critical analysis of Nigeria’s vice-grip on my subjecthood.

Questions raced through my mind: how has an immanent idea of Nigeria been able to hold me in this vice-grip in some twelve years of academic errantry marked by extended sojourns in France, South Africa, the United States, and Canada? How and why have I remained in the prison-house of homeland and nation in the last twelve years? Could the usual faddish theories about diaspora, home, exile, deracination, and roots that we peddle in the cozy confines of academia explain my addiction to eNigeria? Isn’t there something masochistic – some inexplicable desire for self-inflicted pain and injury – in letting this addiction happen to me?

Masochism? Yes. Every trip to eNigeria, that centripetal space of virtual nation-being, entails a willing submission of the self to the pain inflicted by the contemplation of the Nigerian tragedy. Every compulsive-obsessive visit to eNigeria is a subjection of one’s soul to emotional terrorism. There is something masochistic about ritualizing an act whose consequences are as deleterious as they are predictable. The diasporic Nigerian who is incapable of starting his/her day without that obligatory trip to Nigeriaworld, SaharaReporters, PointblankNews, The Village Square, Nigeriamasterweb, and a host of other Nigerian news sites knows beforehand that the ritual will eventuate in pain, anguish, trauma, frustration, anger, and bitterness. On a good day, all the headlines are depressing. On a bad day, they are catastrophic.

I am one such Nigerian. I once wrote about the need for those who suffer from daily obsession with Nigeria to check their blood pressure regularly. For good reason. The predictable headlines inflict such wounds on the soul that only my friend, Odia Ofeimun, has been able to capture in this searing verse:

Some wounds cut so deep we forget

where the pain comes from; we itch

to run from congealed blood,

from lakes into rivers

Deltas into brimless sea

… we forget how to flow

It doesn’t matter the newspaper or magazine. The picture is always Conradianly dark, the headlines absolutely benumbing. The Nigerian media’s Nigeriana always fall uniformly into three broad rubrics: insecurity of life and property, total infrastructural collapse, stupid leaders. Welcome to Hobbes. May your short and brutish life be eventful. My mind drifted to Nigeria’s commentariat and I wondered how our best minds maintain their sanity. How do the likes of Edwin Madunagu, Odia Ofeimun, Reuben Abati, Okey Ndibe, Obi Nwakanma, and Moses Ochonu sustain their cerebral investment in project homeland? How do they resolve the ultimate Beckettian existential dilemma that Nigeria foists so brazenly on her sons and daughters at home and abroad? I am thinking here of the Samuel Beckett of the “I can’t go on, I will go on” fame. If I hurried so desperately out of eNigeria, had Beckett’s formula perhaps ceased being a dilemma for me? Had I perchance resolved things on the “I can’t go on” side of that equation?

I was worried, very worried for me. There is a permanent struggle going on for your soul between Nigeria and the country of your diasporic domicile. So long as Nigeria retains the upper hand in that struggle, your foreign passport remains nothing more than a bureaucratic convenience that allows you to travel unmolested and to avoid the humiliation of dealing with the permanently rude and condescending high school dropouts who run the visa sections of Western embassies in Nigeria.. You attach absolutely no emotion to that foreign passport largely because Nigeria, despite its monumental failures, is an extremely jealous lover that cannot share your heart and soul with any other country. If your host country gains the upper hand, your soul begins the long journey to becoming American, Canadian, British, Australian, South African, and the like. Losing interest in home news is usually a good indication of the commencement of that journey of national delinking. Here, there is no Goree, no Cape Coast. The door of no return is located in your mind.

In my search for answers, my mind strayed into enemy territory – numbers! Since my elementary school days, I have religiously avoided anything that looks, feels, and quacks like numbers: arithmetic, mathematics, additional mathematics, calculus, statistics, and the like. Half way through High School, I even declared Lacombes – the famous arithmetic textbook in use all over Nigeria – a mortal enemy. Yet, North American ethos would not respect my hatred of numbers. I am advised to “do the math”, literally and metaphorically, in every situation. Suspecting that my sudden lassitude and the consequent desire to rid myself of my addiction to eNigeria had something to do with numbers, I confronted a good friend of mine who majors in statistics with what he thought was a curious question: if one spends a minimum of two hours a day reading Nigerian newspapers online and, say, another hour ventilating one’s bitterness and disappointment in those routine Naija discussions around you, how many minutes and hours of your life would Nigeria and its wahala have gobbled up in twelve years?

He fished out his calculator and his answer was frightening. I won’t tell you, do your own math! What was shocking and insufferable was not how many hours of my life Nigeria consumed in twelve years. The scary part was who consumed those hours. Given the fact that Nigerian news is less about issues and vision and more about the brain-dead actions/inactions and buffoonery of our leaders and government officials, it didn’t take long for me to surmise that Sani Abacha had more than his fair share of those minutes and hours in the 1990s. Names like Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Lamidi Adedibu, Chris Uba, Andy Uba, Tony Anenih, Iyabo Obasanjo, Patricia Etteh, Ibrahim Mantu, Sam Edem, Bode George, Bukola Saraki, James Ibori, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Ayo Fayose, Joshua Dariye, Liyel Imoke, Lucky Igbinedion, Orji Uzor Kalu, Abubakar Audu, Sani Ahmed Yerima, Maurice Iwu, Olusegun Agagu, Christopher Alao Akala, Ojo Maduekwe, Vincent Ogbulafor, Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke, and Umar Yar’Adua. How many minutes and hours of my life have these individuals – and so many more like them – collectively atrophied in the last twelve years? You recall the hours of your life spent reading and analyzing the daily shenanigans of these people. The frightening reality dawns on you that that’s all you really read when you read eNigeria. That’s all there is to read! You recall the thousands of hours spent deploying your intellectual talents in doomed attempts to explain and understand how these characters and their ilk happened to Nigeria.

You know that Nigeria is Sisyphus in the hands of this parasitic and unimaginative cartel that has recycled and reproduced itself so brilliantly since independence. Every time you think that Nigeria has begun to wriggle out of their hands, it rolls right back and lands with a heavier thud: endless beginnings of the process of crawling out of Hades. Given this fact, you begin to wonder how you could have allowed, say, an Abacha, a Babangida or an Ibori to consume even a second of your valuable time. Does a character like Ibori deserve the time you spend reading about him in eNigeria? If a certified thief like Ibori now controls the President and travels with a diplomatic passport given illegally to him by Yar’Adua, in what way do the two of them deserve the two precious hours of your life you are going to waste reading about them today? Suddenly the answer comes to you in a flash: your addiction to or obsession with eNigeria is neither about stupid leaders nor the Federal state that has held that country hostage since independence. Your love affair is with Nigeria. It is undying, unimpeachable. And you need all the Beckett you can have to sustain that amorous relationship: I can’t go on, I will go on!

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