Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dear Atilola, Nigerian in Nigeria...

Dear Atilola...

I have followed your progress as a writer and a spoken word artiste for a little while, and for which i commend your tenacious spirit and the applaudable progress you have made in pursuing your dreams. Against this premise, you should understand that this response should not be mis-construed as a call-to-arms, but rather an opinionated response to your post.

I understand from the tone of your words, that the underlying emotions that prompted this piece are real, and i respect that. However, you err on the side of speaking from a biased understanding of the NID. You pointed out the danger of a single story, so i will elucidiate the points you are missing and thereby inadvertently inciting undue animousity. Because in as much as you have not drawn any distinctions between a Nigerian residing in Nigeria, then you cannot correctly draw distinctions-saying one NID is more noble than another. Any Nigerian who has afterall applied for a citizenship of any country has equally given up some extent of hope for fatherland. And whether noble or not - be it Myne Whitman, or Chimamanda Ngozi adichie, you might as well put them all in the same boat and call all foreign kettles charcoal-black.

What would drive a person so desperate to vacate where his roots lie in search of an experience that he does not even know exist? Understandably, the motives of the myraids of nigerians putting in immigration applications are diverse, but beneath everything is the stark dissapointment in our system, and a search for tangible, plausible hope. The kind of hope that when deferred for decades makes the heart sick. Hope for security when i shut my eyes to sleep, hope for light to read a novel in quietness, hope for safety in simple journeys across homeland roads, hope for medical facilities to treat the wounds that spill over from the heart into the bloodstreams. When hope is not justified, the words that return from the lips have the tendency to incite hurt. Hurtful words such as ' I have given up hope for Nigeria'. But if a hurting child speaks foolishness, do you slap him right there, or seek to address the cause of his pain? NIN, or NID, our hurts and pains are the same. It is that root dissapointment which should be attended to.

You correctly pointed out that despite our professed nonchalance and dearth to fatherland, we cannot stop talking and lamenting. I say, leave us to our laments, however we choose to make them - they are borne out of our own experiences. I may be able to speak in the tongues of colored men and of angels; I may possess foreign signates that brand me as a citizen of another country, but everyday and in everywhere, I am still an outsider, a foreigner - that is our experience as NID. Have they told you that side of the story, or the hurt of racist experiences. A black man that is ostracised by black Americans. A decorated academic that is belittled to a ten second TV advert charity case. Comic relief charity raises funds for starving children in Africa - an identity to be proud of? Did they forget to mention that our Nigerian nature to fight carried on into our present abode, where we now fight to give credence to our opinions, and undo the stigma wrought to our names by my NIN brothers at home who have made internet fraud an occupation?

You ask for a solution instead of complaints. But i can only think of the friend who was shot in Lagos traffic recently, and the assailant walks away in broad daylight, and of another who was briefly at home and got caught up in a savage mobb's retribution, and the cousin who lost his mother to a malaria mis-diagnosis. You write about silencing this bitterness as another uncommon and unfortunate occurrence, but unfortunate and counting still are the bloods that are still crying out for justice whilst politicians are spewing lies and MOG are acquiring private jets. No country is without her problems, yes. And our plights are not unique to Nigeria - agreed. But even the countries with current problems have some form of steady development to boast of. As a Nigerian, I have little.

Songs of hope aside, Nigeria is indeed a profound puzzle. And admittedly, it is not in anybody's place to steal the way of hope that each Nigerian navigates to get through each day living with this identity of being African, being Nigerian...It is also not in anyone's place to seek to silence the frustrations of the one who cries his own tears from a distant land.

When NEPA cuts power in the peak of a game, the NIN curses the government in frustration. Similarly if i return home having used up my days waging unnecssary battles for the sake of my colored skin and accentuated communications, and wish to retire my evening into day- dreams of motherland, only to turn on the t.v to another senseless boko haram bombing, then leave me be to curse whomever i wish to curse. Just like Akeem, the cleaner (or sanitation executive as he has now been donned) in my office whom i often spend friday evenings chatting with. And oh how he laments - of the poverty in his family at home. But how by cleaning office furniture in a foreign land, shelving his pride, he can pay for his children's fees and seek to relocate them to a country where they can dream and own a hope. And yes, Akeem curses the government and the politicians. And everytime he rinses his anticeptic wipes tools of trade, he further washes his hands off the dream of home. Will you curse Akeem too? Instead i listen to him, encourage him, and wish him well. That is the kind of comradeship that i know among NIDs. We stick together, spur each other on and seek to rebuild the ruins of our childhood dreams albeit in another man's land. Let sleeping dogs lie. I may have dreams for a better Nigeria, and Mr Okunde who lives next door is savagely embittered about home. But we enjoy a sunday roast together and speak our native tongues together. Don't draw devisive lines for us.

The winter is hardly over, so I have to pay for heating, water, electricity, council tax, expensive monthly rents and buy a thicker winter coat. In the nights, I hug a cup of tea, look out the window and pray for my family at home. Hope is hard for the NIN. But i assure you that the NID knows the same bitterness. A bastard child who roams closer to home, and the other prodigal one who finds feet in distant land, is however still a bastard - both of whom are simply in search of a real place to call home. Hence, a more useful conversation would be for how to rebuild a lost heritage, instead of looking over imaginery fences and calling out names. Because whilst we used up useful time on this argument, another local government councillor has walked home with a bag full of un-earned money that should have been used to pay Akeem's kid's school fees.

As for the opinion that every NID is a pitiable white man's slave....hardly worth debating.

Yours sincerely