I believe in One Nigeria. I know, you’re going to start asking me why – with herdsman running rampage, and Oba saying ‘jump in lagoon’, and Arewa Youth giving till October 1, and Evans and co waiting for me at home; with corruption, dysfunction and discriminatory cut-off marks, bombings in the South and shootings in the North; with President promising to work according to vote, bad schools, no-light, poor hospitals, bad roads; with Dino waxing new hits every day, newspaper trials and no convictions; with billions stashed in Ikoyi apartment – what can I say? It’s home.
For one, I like the smell of suya… And that early morning drive out of Jos this time of the year, with the fog like lingerie faintly masking the topography of beauty. I tell you, I grew up here, you know, born in that maelstrom that is Mushin, drinking in the sights from Ore to Asaba, those sleepy journeys when we stopped at Benin to stretch young legs. I’ve crossed the Niger back and forth, each time letting it carry my imagination out to the Atlantic, where I am told the water stretches as far as the eye can see. How is this possible? Matched in magnificence only by that road twisting round and round on its way to heaven, for that is what it’s like at Obudu, at Gembu, where men can stretch and touch the dangling beards of gods. I ask you, have you seen the desert? Or that silent savannah that sheaths the thin road between Potiskum and Maiduguri in melancholy, have you seen it? As it is in the South, so is it in the North, a sight that leaves you slack-jawed in awe; this too is Nigeria.
So, yes, a northerner has called me ‘nyamiri’ before. But for each one, I will show you two who have called me ‘friend’. And, yes, a westerner has called me ‘omo ibo’ before. But for each one, I will show you two who have called me ‘brother’. And, yes, an easterner has called you ‘animal’ before, but I am here, not alone, not willing to judge you for the actions of people who did not confer with you before they acted. To me, you are not the re-incarnation of Ahmadu Bello, or the continuation of a 19th century jihad. To me, you are Salisu, the same Salisu I strolled with from Boys Hostel to Lecture Hall One, telling stories, sharing jokes, looking ahead to what the future might be. Ramalan, the same one I teased endlessly for your hopeless crush on Amina. To me, you are Duzu Mustapha, whose death I still mourn, because a good man is a good man in whatever tribe, tongue or religion. Do you understand? That you are not the second coming of Awolowo? Not to me. Or the return leg of a grudge match? No. You are Tunde Okeowo, best friend, the same one I jumped molues with at Race Course, exploring the contours of growing up, together. And that for every recording of two people talking xenophobia, there are hundreds of conversations, up and down the country, about tolerance that no one ever records and sends around on whatsapp. Do you understand? That I am not Zik. Or Ojukwu. That I am not even my own father, Uche! And this urge to inherit the fights of our ancestors is the greatest abdication of responsibility possible. For they lived their lives. Shall we not live ours?
So, call me what you will, but Nigeria is my mother. She is responsible for it all – my tendency to beat traffic lights and straddle two lanes when I drive, to jump queues and interrogate public officials for alternative means of sorting out minor infractions, yes? But, I tell you, if I make you laugh as well, yes, if I make you laugh out loud and shake your head in wonder, if I amaze you with this ability to constantly pull light out of darkness, to combat recession with a heady mixture of kokoma and gyration, to climb out of any pit you throw me into, and instantly become recognizable anywhere I go, it is also because of this, that I was shaped by her contradictions and forged in the fierce furnace of her womb, so that somewhere on my soul, burned into its very essence, is a stamp no adversity or hate-filled speech will ever erase… And it reads, simply: ‘MADE IN NIGERIA
Oduduwa Hall. Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife