My Nigeria: five writers and artists reflect on the place they call home

1 year ago 118

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Author and journalist

When the bid travelling from Abuja to Kaduna rolled into the presumption astatine Jere that Thursday morning, nary of the passengers were definite if it was due to the fact that the faulty motor had breached down again. When the bid refused to determination astir an hr later, everyone was astir definite it was the engine. Until different bid travelling the other way rumbled by, pockmarked with holes and interaction damage. The rumours followed, jumping from manager to manager connected the lips of flitting characters who passed through, talking loudly capable for everyone other to hear.

There had been an onslaught connected the different train. Guns, immoderate said. A weaponry connected the tracks, others said. From the officials, lone silence. I and immoderate writers were travelling to the first Hausa planetary publication and arts festival successful Kaduna. None of america dared to spell by road. The roads beryllium to the bandits who kidnap radical for ransom. The 200km (120-mile) agelong of road linking Nigeria’s governmental capital, Abuja, to Kaduna, its subject capital, has been unsafe for travellers for years.

Hours passed. The vigor rose. So did our anxiousness and fears, rising until it was astir nauseating. Are we sitting ducks here, immoderate wondered? Will the bandits travel and herd america into the wood astatine gunpoint, request ransom for those of america who would survive, oregon conscionable sprout up the bid arsenic they person done to farmers and villagers successful Sokoto, and Kebbi, and Katsina and those different places?

While immoderate passengers prayed, others jumped disconnected and disappeared done the browning waist-length wilderness, heading into Jere municipality to find cars that would instrumentality them acold from this place. But if the bandits had blown up the tracks, wasn’t it due to the fact that they wanted to harvest the road?

As with immoderate gathering of Nigerians, radical debated authorities and nutrient prices, which person gone up by arsenic overmuch arsenic 500% successful immoderate instances. Also similar a gathering of Nigerians, we laughed astatine ourselves, for being frightened, stranded and helpless. Laughter makes the things choler cannot condone tolerable. Here, laughter is our saviour and our bane.

But fearfulness pervades everyplace now. People are taken adjacent from their homes. Like the two brothers successful Kaduna whose walls were breached and equipped men bundled them distant successful the night, successful the rain, leering astatine their mother’s tears. And erstwhile the ransom that was delivered fell abbreviated of the kidnapper’s demand, they changeable 1 member portion the different looked on.

On the train, hours passed and the vigor roseate with the sun.

This was my country. This train. These coaches filled with anxiousness and frightened people, caught halfway betwixt a imagination and a promise, waiting to beryllium led to a promised destination. A terrorised radical who person stubbornly refused to surrender their laughter.

But hours later, erstwhile the bid started to move, precise dilatory astatine first, heavier, it was successful the absorption we had come.

How bash you question obscurity and instrumentality with a fearfulness that weighs adjacent a bid down?

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Author and writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty

Noo Saro-Wiwa

Travel writer

As a achromatic person, the satellite judges maine based connected Nigeria’s authorities of affairs, and I volition ne'er consciousness astatine bid with my spot successful the satellite until Nigeria fulfils its potential.

I was past determination a fewer months earlier Covid hit, and I anticipation to instrumentality successful 2022. I usually spell to Lagos, Abuja and the Niger delta. Apart from Lagos, which is doing comparatively well, I don’t spot immense amounts of alteration for mean Nigerians, particularly successful places specified arsenic Port Harcourt, my location town.

Last clip I was determination I met highly skilled authorities technocrats (who truly ought to beryllium moving the country), positive hardworking, talented young people. Yet the ambitions of some groups are held backmost by unspeakable infrastructure, visionless superiors and a deficiency of authorities investment. They are not allowed to shine.

The Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation Innovation Hub supports tech innovators who are trying to bash large things successful Port Harcourt. For example, 1 radical is moving connected designing and operating mini electrical grids for agrarian communities. But they shouldn’t person to bash this. A functioning nationalist grid would unleash truthful overmuch pent-up entrepreneurship and grassroots civic organisation, which we’re bully at.

Nigeria has recovered a mode to beryllium astatine situation level for decades. Somehow our patchwork of 250 taste groups has stayed together, glued by a reliance connected lipid revenues. But that reliance volition beryllium our downfall if we don’t enactment accelerated to diversify our economy. Sixty years of complacent, rent-seeking governments person shirked this accidental and maintained dysfunction arsenic an instrumentality of enrichment. But arsenic the satellite tries to determination distant from carbon-based fuel, clip is moving retired for Nigeria: our colonisation is racing supra 200 million and onshore is getting scarce: nomadic herders are clashing violently with farmers; Islamist coercion has gripped the jobless younker successful the north; kidnappings crossed the state person go a money-making norm.

Social media shows our under-35s however the planetary northbound lives, and their patience is wearing thin, arsenic demonstrated by the protests against constabulary brutality successful 2020. The younker are getting restless. The state faces a immense colonisation detonation coupled with an economical implosion aboriginal this century. But the national authorities tin avert this by putting its radical archetypal and letting them unleash their potential. It’s not excessively precocious to commencement doing things differently.

One precise elemental denotation that it intends to interruption with the past would beryllium to exonerate my father, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who successful 1995 was falsely convicted of treason and judicially murdered arsenic a effect of his run for quality rights and biology justness successful the Niger delta. Clearing his sanction would beryllium a motion that the Nigerian authorities is prepared to heal the federation and determination it successful the close direction. Refusing to instrumentality specified a elemental measurement does not bode good for the remainder of the country. If it can’t honour the representation of a good, dormant man, what anticipation is determination for the living?

Noo Saro-Wiwa.
Travel writer Noo Saro-Wiwa. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian
  • Noo Saro-Wiwa is the writer of Looking for Transwonderland: Travels successful Nigeria (Granta)

Chika Unigwe

Author and academic

I was astatine a salon successful Atlanta precocious and a Nigerian creator started playing connected the radio. My American hairdresser knew the opus – arsenic did her colleagues – but they thought the creator was Jamaican. I said no, he’s Nigerian. They said however overmuch they loved his euphony and wow, Nigerian? They mentioned a fewer much singers and songs they liked and each time, I was arrogant to accidental “Nigerian too.” I whitethorn person made a gag astir the Nigerian prince but it fell flat.

Internet scams similar the “Nigerian prince” emails are nary longer what radical deliberation of erstwhile they perceive Nigeria, and the Nigerian arts country – music, lit and Nollywood – has a batch to bash with that. Our musicians are collaborating with stars crossed the globe, our fabrication is being published by mainstream commercialized publishers successful the west, winning planetary prizes and nary longer work arsenic anthropology, and our movies are streaming connected Netflix to an planetary audience. It’s casual for maine to speech astir Nigeria with fierce pridefulness overseas and I precise often do. I ever enactment Nigerian writers connected my courses astatine Georgia College. I nonstop retired recommendations for Nigerian euphony and films to caller friends who person small cognition of my country. Nigeria is my beloved erstwhile I americium distant from it.

However, erstwhile I visit, the fierceness of that pridefulness dissipates into thing acold and limp successful the look of the world that is Nigeria today. The past clip I was home, I could not permission the location without my begetter worrying. He wasn’t ever this anxious, his telephone by his broadside waiting for maine to telephone to archer him I got to Asaba safely, that I flew into Lagos safely, that I was harmless successful my edifice room. Thank God. Now I tin spell to bed. Well-meaning friends offered maine the services of drivers and information personnel. Offers I would person scoffed astatine successful the past earlier abductions became the norm. Almost everyone I cognize has a kidnapping story. A erstwhile classmate was bundled into a car with millions asked for her release. And past determination are the present ubiquitous chartless gunmen, the catch-all sanction for the bandits causing mayhem successful the south-east, killing with abandon. So, the fearfulness is not unwarranted.

Last week, connected a sheet connected identity, I was asked wherever I felt astir astatine home, having lived connected 3 continents. I said Nigeria without adjacent reasoning astir it. But aft I said it, I thought to myself that if location is wherever 1 feels safe, if “feeling astatine home” is synonymous with feeling comfortable, being astatine peace, past tin Nigeria inactive assertion to beryllium home?

Theresa Onuorah’s revived Egedege – acknowledgment to Larry Gaaga, Phyno and Flavour – is playing and making maine nostalgic. It was 1 of the soundtracks of my precise blessed childhood. I americium reminded of the Nigerian saying: monkey nary good but im mama similar americium (the monkey mightiness beryllium disfigured but his parent loves him). Nigeria whitethorn beryllium acold from cleanable but it is mine, and I emotion it.

Chika Unigwe
Nigerian writer and academic Chika Unigwe, who presently lives successful the US. Photograph: Colin McPherson/Corbis/Getty
  • Chika Unigwe is prof of originative penning astatine Georgia College, Atlanta. Her latest publication is Better Never than Late (Cassava Shorts). She contributed to Of This Our Country: Acclaimed Nigerian writers connected the home, individuality and civilization they know

Wale Lawal

Editor, The Republic magazine

Only 1 connection comes adjacent to describing Nigeria these days and that is “uncertain”. “Ineffable” whitethorn travel up excessively successful conversations – indeed, determination are nary words for the atrocities you mightiness person work astir successful Nigeria successful the past twelvemonth alone: hundreds of schoolchildren kidnapped; subject jets weaponry anti-terrorism squad “by mistake”; unarmed protesters shot by constabulary and soldiers portion singing the nationalist anthem; elected officials trapped successful the property of feudal lords, hoarding Covid-19 alleviation items.

What confounds is not conscionable the absurdity of these failures, but however we are expected to see them “normal” successful the aforesaid state wherever different satellite person oregon billion-dollar startup could look arsenic we speak.

Given the size and complexity of Nigeria, our being a “giant” oregon “too large to fail” depending connected whether 1 sees the solid oregon its emptiness, ineffable” whitethorn connection the committedness of (finally!) defining our situation. But uncertain” triumphs. Not slightest due to the fact that uncertainty is simply a overmuch older, acold much resilient Nigerian condition.

Wale Lawal
Nigerian writer Wale Lawal, exertion of The Republic magazine. Photograph: Handout

Historically, the question of Nigeria has not been astir its size arsenic overmuch arsenic its direction. In the 1960s, we declared our independency to a satellite that could lone wonderment what would go of our puzzle of much than 250 taste groups.

A civilian warfare and much than fractional a period later, not overmuch has changed. It was, aft all, nether a akin ambiance of intrigue and optimism that the incumbent All Progressives Congress came into power, each portion fielding a statesmanlike campaigner who had erstwhile ruled Nigeria arsenic a subject caput of state. (Nigerians volition bash thing for a consciousness of direction.) A acquainted bitterness, the privation of foresight that rapidly followed our optimism connected leaving the British empire, is present what connects america arsenic we trudge done the last bends successful the wood of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

Times are hard and hardening. It’s similar being successful the 80s again,” radical say: Buhari is president; our speech complaint against the dollar (not GDP) is however we measurement our system and is plummeting; radical are emigrating en masse. This time, though, determination is nary structural accommodation argumentation oregon proximity to the assemblage epoch to instrumentality the blame.

The occupation would look to beryllium america and the precise enactment we choose. But nary 1 situation accidental it. Not adjacent erstwhile we person a ravenous pandemic to contend with, a calamity that has proved present to beryllium not lone biologic and socio-economic but besides statistical.

After years of our governments overlooking section healthcare and playing authorities with our numbers, it is hard to accidental conscionable however severely we’ve been deed by the virus. It is intolerable not to beryllium haunted by the anticipation that determination are galore whose deaths cannot beryllium counted because, contempt being “Africa’s largest economy”, we simply bash not person the means. Our astir reliable sources tell us we person recorded less than 3,000 Covid-related deaths. This successful a state we assertion has a colonisation of much than 200 million. If we are laughing it is due to the fact that we mightiness outcry otherwise.

In Nigeria, each procreation yet makes the aforesaid discovery: cipher knows wherever we’re going. Not our priests, our policymakers, our experts nor their numbers tin archer us. It is reckless, but we person made uncertainty the axis of our lives. 2023, the twelvemonth of our adjacent statesmanlike election, is the existent entity of our anticipation: “Will the aged antheral spell quietly?”, “Will determination beryllium different civilian war?”, “Will Nigeria inactive adjacent beryllium by then?” radical ask.

In the past twelvemonth alone, we’ve seen conscionable however easy decades of advancement tin beryllium erased. Maybe there’s anticipation connected the different broadside of 2023, but a batch tin inactive alteration earlier then. Who knows?

Umar Turaki

Writer and film-maker

I’ve ever been an optimistic person. And it’s casual to find origin for optimism connected the streets of Nigeria. In the vibrant creator civilization that continues to propel rising stars of each creation signifier – music, film, fashion, literature, theatre – into the planetary limelight. In innovators and entrepreneurs uncovering solutions for mundane problems successful tech and finance. In each micro concern that is lubricated by sweat and laughter and sustained by musculus and mettle. In the regular Nigerian who is forced to play the relation of their ain government, time aft day, until their currency runs retired oregon until world catches up. It utilized to beryllium easy.

But acheronian clouds person gathered, possibly the darkest successful my lifetime. Many older radical accidental the darkest successful the past of the country. And it’s becoming progressively hard to beryllium optimistic, to absorption connected the agleam spots. With an unprecedented insurgency that continues to summation crushed and is met with bureaucratic corruption and sheer deficiency of governmental will. With increasing agitation for secession from aggrieved corners of the country. With a soundless genocide (that isn’t truthful silent) unfolding crossed the land, carried retired by mysterious attackers who vanish into bladed aerial but permission down the grounds of dormant bodies and destroyed homes.

I americium acrophobic of the questions. How agelong tin we proceed to get distant with doing the aforesaid things and expecting antithetic results? Is it imaginable for the luck of an full federation to tally out? We person been to galore brinks and back, tin religion and anticipation bring america backmost from this one? These unfolding times are a long, endless infinitesimal successful which I americium holding my breath, waiting for thing to hit, for thing to land, for thing to give.

Nigerian writer   and film-maker Umar Turaki.
Nigerian writer and film-maker Umar Turaki. Photograph: Handout
  • Umar Turaki’s debut novel, Such A Beautiful Thing to Behold, volition beryllium published by Little A successful May 2022