Saying Yes to Nigeria [1]

nigeria

Each time I am sure that, in returning to Lagos, I have inadvertently wandered into a region of hell, something else emerges to give me hope. A reader, an orchestra, the friendship of some powerful swimmers against the tide.
– Teju Cole

Several years ago when I was in Nigeria, I wrote a collection of articles about my experiences since I had returned and received feedback from my editor.

“Please don’t be like all those sabi sabi oyibo Nigerians who come from abroad and tell us what’s wrong with our country; they won’t stay and solve problems only talk talk talk,” she said and handed my manuscript back to me.

“We know what’s wrong with Nigeria, we live it every day. We are looking for escape in comic relief. If you must tell us, satirize it, and make yourself one of us. Like this story here,” she collected the manuscript from me and leafed through it. “This one is good. This one,” she shook her head, “not good.”

I did not agree with her assessment regarding the articles she claimed were not good. They were reflections based on my experiences. Moreover, I couldn’t infuse humour or irony or both in every article, could I? Maybe I could, I am Nigerian after all.

I read Teju Cole’s book, Everyday is For the Thief, years ago. I recall feeling hectored by chapter after chapter about a Nigeria with little redemptive value. My patriotism reared its head. Could he not find many more events, which were ‘normal’ to write about? Of course, I recognized the narrator’s experiences. Some were mine too, but such truths in black and white were painful to swallow. Then I understood what my editor had been trying to tell me.

African writers in the Diaspora have been accused of writing poverty porn— stories of disease-ridden, war-torn, aid-dependent, poverty-rife, corruption-infested, and patriarchal Africa—to sell their books to audiences in the West. While these aren’t the only narratives of Africa, as far as Nigeria goes, some elements are inescapable; even in choice neighbourhoods, evidence of poverty rises to the nose from the open drains that surround electric fences.

Returning from years of living abroad, your brain functions in constant comparison mode, not only of currency and exchange rates but also of culture, infrastructure, organization, and leadership. Stories are everywhere. But, does a writer have an obligation to be an ambassador of hope if he finds none?

Recently, a friend and I were discussing relocating permanently to Nigeria.

Holding his British and Nigerian passport in each hand, he said, “Nigeria, nah.” Placing his British passport on top his Nigerian one, he said, “I can only do Nigeria in measured doses.”

Without shame, I realize that another five years outside Nigeria has almost made me one of those Nigerians. If I were to review, Everyday is For the Thief, today; I would not be too harsh.

Every time I return to Nigeria, it is not with joy; a certain coercion draws me to her. Nevertheless, I leave better for having stayed. My patriotism is sometimes shaky, needing comfort to support its grid. If I returned with resolve to build a better society, the fuel queues and sweltering heat are melting it away. Perhaps time will help me tell a different story.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Photo credit: http://www.inecnigeria.org/?page_id=373

 

 

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73 thoughts on “Saying Yes to Nigeria [1]

  1. Such a touching and very honest post thanks so much for sharing.Although Im not from Nigeria I understand this mix of feelings cause Im from Angola and currently living abroad as well.And everytime I go during the holidays it is quite hard for me to see how there is too much to develop and to work in order to improve our country but as long as there is hope I believe anything can happen.

    If you could have a look in my blog http://gravatar.com/debyonce

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. Love for country is a powerful drug. For example, I have known kids who are born in a foreign country, but yearn for the birth country of their parents. Do you have a complex relationship with your country?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To be honest, it’s not overly complex: I absolutely love it, I only wish more of us were appreciative of how good we have it over here in Canada. The older I get, the more I admire where I come from. This summer, I’ll be travelling across a good chunk of the country from the southeast over to the west coast. Can’t wait!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My love for Nigeria can only be compared to my love for Arsenal Fc, I just cannot tell who did the juju.
    I know I would be disappointed always and any hope I manage to build of an impending bliss of glory will be shattered and I will find myself sprawling in pain and regret but I still find myself back at their feet; two heinous ladies thatthat have my heart mangled in their fist.

    I cannot say I hate Nigeria and I sometimes find it difficult to proclaim an undying live for my country because it’s hard but the irony of it all is Nigeria has a hold on Nigerians that is similar to the hold oxygen has on man.
    Run to another planet and you will peek at happenings at home. It’s a struggle we just have to enjoy to endure. Being Nigerian is no mean fit, it is just right there with the difficulty of being human.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PS: And I read Teju Cole’s Everyday for the thief earlier this year and couldn’t put it down. We all hate to admit he was right, I have friends who despise the book because it’s tastes like a travelogue but we all now the real reason

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha, we all know the real reason 🙂
        Teju Cole’s pill is bitter and difficult to swallow.. ouch!
        Perhaps we can start where we are to begin to get to where we want to be… far, far away from what Cole describes.

        Like

    2. Aw, I like this: two heinous ladies that have my heart mangled in their fist.
      It reminds me of a Dennis Brutus poem where he compares his love for South Africa to the love he has for a woman… He closes the first stanza with:
      “my land takes precedence of all my loves.”

      You know what they say, Naija for life! Lol. Your patroitism shines through.

      Like

  3. It makes me realize if I had been writing poverty porn about my own upbringing in Canada in a large family with poor parents. Anyway, doubtful since my love for Canada does sometimes seeps through (maybe it’s like a near waterfall at times).

    I even appreciate the map of Nigeria and its states. I had no idea. There’s much to learn. Sure we can go on the Internet but it does help to give a human, personal context with both good and bad.

    Like

    1. I hadn’t thought about poverty porn in the context you describe. Although I haven’t read all your writings, to me, there’s no poverty porn in them. The term is also used in relation to charity- raising funds by stirring the emotions of potential donors with harrowing photos of poverty, war, disease, etc.

      @map of Nigeria, you’re welcome. I thought that readers not familiar with Nigeria might get a sense of the country, especially Lagos, the commercial capital. Now, I’m really glad I included it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ” The term is also used in relation to charity- raising funds by stirring the emotions of potential donors with harrowing photos of poverty, war, disease, etc.” Poverty porn is more probably use on this extreme.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. When you live outside your native country for a while, you sometimes feel like an outsider. Perhaps this makes you “see” what others don’t.The lack of basic infrastructure bothers me as well as some aspects of the culture. I wonder is it any easier moving from a not-so-developed country to a developed one?

      Thanks Lani!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Timi,

    I respect your honesty, admitting the harsh truth about one’s country doesn’t discredit one’s patriotism in anyway. I am certain that a number of Nigerians in diaspora share your sentiments but are not as brave to tell it as it is.

    Personally, I have nothing against the brand of sabi sabi oyibo Nigerians that your editor complained about, but my grouse is with the brand of sabi sabi oyibo Nigerians that prefer to be deluded about the state of things in Nigeria. Those who petulantly scream “bias, prejudice,one-sided opinion” when they hear the unpretty truth, simply because the idea of patriotism is the only tie that binds them to their motherland.

    It’s easy for them to defensively insist that “Ah! things are not so bad in Nigeria” from a safe distance, while basking in the comfort of “The Abroad” where the electrical power never goes out, petrol is never scarce, roads aren’t adorned by potholes as deep as graves etc.

    When you are inside the furnace, you know exactly how hot it is. 😀

    These days, despite my strong faith that things will improve, I don’t have the strength to be a Nigerian, I feel drained. Things are difficult for the average man and the less-than average man is suffering.

    My mother says religion is what keeps us sane. Preachers excite us with encouraging messages of hope and we chant “It is well”.

    I enjoy reading the tongue-in-cheek criticism in a good satire, the sort that feels like a slap given with a smile. Still, the situation in Nigeria is not always funny to me.

    Have a nice weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your candid thoughts. Love for country is a strange phenomenon; its roots go deep, ‘hate’ in this case seems to be another kind of love. Patriotism is like a hydra-headed beast. As you say, “… admitting the harsh truth about one’s country doesn’t discredit one’s patriotism in anyway.”

      The reason why people leave Nigeria in the first place, may play a part in the way they feel about Nigeria while living abroad. Some hold ‘romantic’ notions of home, which quickly evaporates when they visit. Others visit for a short while and are given a grand welcome, shielded from the realities of the average man.

      I think we can all agree that Nigeria isn’t living up to our aspirations, and progress, where it exists, hasn’t funneled down enough. There’s the general question: what can we do about it and the very personal one: what can I do about it? It is the answer to the latter I was grappling with as I wrote this post.

      Ah, religion is our mother tongue!

      The Fuel Crisis that gripped the nation recently wasn’t funny. But I laughed at every joke on social media including the one circulating at Easter, where a man and woman arrived at the tomb late and an angel chided them for being too late for the resurrection event. With their 20-litre jerry cans in hand, they blamed their lateness on fuel queues! 😉

      Thanks Nedoux!

      Like

  5. “But, does a writer have an obligation to be an ambassador of hope if he finds none?” Best line of the piece! I admire your courage and you patriotism for going back to Nigeria. I must confess that I am quite fascinated by your country. There is much to admire and if you will excuse me for saying so, much to fear. When I lived in Philadelphia I dated a Nigerian woman. She told me of coming to Philadelphia when she was 13 years old. She said when she arrived in the middle of winter she deplaned in a thin dress and sandals and about froze to death! I had two university professors, both PHD’s, at Temple University who were Nigerian. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Country and it’s people. One reads the stories and hears the stories first hand and one senses some elements of danger and trouble. Good luck! Maybe we will meet someday on the streets of Lagos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve had dealings with Nigerians, who are good cultural ambassadors. That’s great. I hope I can feed your curiosity by sharing some of my reflections on Nigeria.

      I understand why you say, “… so much to fear.”
      In a sense, Nigeria seems worse from the outside. Here’s what I mean. After listening to the news, I would imagine that gun violence is extremely prevalent in America and be afraid of the streets. But this isn’t true … But, there is reason to feel afraid in Nigeria, all the same.

      Maybe we’ll meet at an event in Lagos, more likely, than the streets.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I look forward to reading your reflections on the Nigerian Experience. What you say is true, things look different from the outside. It would be a privilege and an honor indeed to meet you at an event in Lagos! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t know what to say really. I love Nigeria but it’s an exasperated kind of love. I love Nigeria because this identity is what I have in common with the people I love. And for their sake, and mine, I want Nigeria to be better.
    That said, I love Nigerian food. I get depressed when I travel and I have to eat foreign food. Give me rice and stew! I love the languages. I love the history.
    I believe we all make a difference. Yes, it’s daunting. But I’m eternally optimistic that if we all commit to doing the right thing, we’ll change this country. My friend, Amanda says we need more idealists, more fools in this country. I agree. Because clever satire and cynicism isn’t helping. Can we just be foolishly hopeful and act on that hope?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I admire your hopeful patriotism that refuses to cower to everything that would choke it out of you. I like how you recount the things you love about Nigeria. Isn’t that how we keep love alive?

      I think our rich diversity is one of our strengths, especially when we unite in spite of our differences. So I’d say all approaches welcome- foolish hope, wicked satire, brow-beating, intellectual discourse, pidgin jingles, etc, to move us to action.

      Eileen’s comment below resonates with yours about committing to change. She reminded me of the power of one and the ripple effect one can create. This makes our many issues less daunting to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Right now, “exasperated kind of love” accurately describes my sentiments about my dear country. It’s an “I love you but I don’t like you” type of romance. 😀

      Thankfully, there’s daily comedy to distract us. After reading the news about the Panama Papers, I said to myself “Ah! Naija no dey carry last” and I laughed. There was mostly anger in my laughter, but it was still laughter all the same.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Nigeria. A topic that elicits vitriolic debates from my “oyibo” Nigerian friends who have never had the “misfortune” of calling Nigeria home. They cannot fathom how people survive in such chaos. I remind them that they are people who are surviving and making the most of their experiences despite the disarray. The Lagosians for example. How do they do it?

    The reality in Nigeria is not just glum. There are positives in there somewhere. But like you rightly said, the bad tends to wipe off the good.

    PS.. you think the heat in Nigeria is bad. Wait till you’ve experienced the scalding heat of a Sydney summer day. It’s even worse in the outbacks where there are several bushfires in summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand why they “… cannot fathom how people survive in such chaos.” But then, the human spirit has a strong will to survive …

      Yes, the Nigerian narrative isn’t just gloom and doom, thank goodness!

      No, I wouldn’t want to experience the scalding heat of a Sydney summer day. I recall play at the Australian Open being stopped because of the heat. If I can’t stand the heat and humidity of Lagos, Sydney would do me in… but at least, there’ll be constant electricity and the air conditioners would be on full blast … I hope?

      Like

  8. My advice… stay abroad and make the changes from there (if that is possible).
    I think most Nigerians, myself included, – home and abroad- are guilty of sharing only the ugly side of our national life and leaving out the minute beautiful part.
    I think it is high time we balanced the equation.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “…stay abroad and make the changes from there,” sounds like an attractive proposition. Some would argue that to understand and appreciate the change needed one would need to live in the country.

      I hope that I can be a part of balancing the equation. I’m thinking of reblogging some of my earlier posts about Nigeria, which may still be relevant today. I think these posts are ‘balanced’ posts. I may be wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi Ebele,

      There was a hint of “something” in both of your comments that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

      I am as Nigerian as being Nigerian could possibly get, my national pride is very strong. My unwavering belief that change will occur as a process and not an event is deeply founded in a faith that is tested daily by the harsh realities. Still, I hold on to my faith because Nigeria is the only country that I have.

      After reading your comment, I struggled to list FIVE of the minute beautiful part. I strained my mind till I got a migraine, as I was determined to focus only on the minute beautiful part with substance. Parts that are not just my own truth but the collective truth of everyone, from the man picking trash out of garbage dump to the man that can afford not to. Nothing came to mind.

      Do try to forgive my inability to produce poetic, flowery prose about the minute beautiful part, it is not as if I do not celebrate the minute beautiful part that you speak of, perhaps my mind is blank because I’ve been so distracted with worrying about where to buy petrol without spending six hours on a static queue.

      Sweetheart, that one is sincere enough to highlight the not-so-good parts doesn’t mean that they do not acknowledge the good parts. Both parts do not have to appear on the same blackboard just because one feels obliged to administer a spoonful of sugar to make the bitter pill go down easier.

      Sadly, for some of us, it is more convenient to get defensive when faced with the stark raw truth. Ah! even national pride has its downsides. XD

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dear, I am not in any way saying they must exist side by side on same page, but I have discovered that there is good to be found in the trash. It alleviates the pains to read, see or hear that good once in a while.
        If the good cannot be found in our government, look in your neighbourhood.
        I am currently in a village in the east and within the sufferings and poverty, there is still happiness.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I get what your editor was saying. Nigeria is not the easiest place and there is always someone highlighting the bad parts. The thing is, we have to write about it, we have to say the truth. Adding satire to make it lighter does help. As a Nigerian who grew up in the diaspora, I was part of the people who looked down on Nigerian music and wasn’t interested much in the culture. Being in Nigeria for the past two years made me have appreciation for Nigeria and now my love for Nigeria is strong. Despite the knockbacks and the negatives, Nigerians always have a strong resolve to power through and not be broken which is amazing. There is truly something magical about Nigeria that will draw you back wherever you are.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Indeed resilience seems to be the Nigerian’s strong point. But you know what they say about strengths: your strength can also become your weakness.

      I’m encouraged to hear that living in Nigeria brought about a positive shift in attitude for you. It’s very easy to become jaded and forget about the ‘magic’ of Nigeria.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I satirize the Nigerian reality all the time, and while this not-on-the-nose approach is easier for the average Nigerian to chew and swallow, it isn’t necessarily what is needed to bring about a much needed deep introspection. I’ve noticed most Nigerians just laugh and say “ahhhh, Naija” in response to my articles and short stories but very few ever get the underlying meaning. Nigerians need a straight up, thrice a day dosage of reality in it’s most lurid colors. It’s this failure to confront our issues head on with a rational mindset that’s one of the biggest problems facing our country today.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We have a huge audience in Nigeria. This means that we can use various means to reach different people. Some will respond to the straight up approach; others to satire. I’m glad to hear that you are reaching audiences in your own way. I’m sure there are others too. Together, with our different approaches, we may inspire the polity to think and provoke movement. It appears to be a slow frustrating process, and I really feel you.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Such a great point, TImi. Writers of color in the States who come from an impoverished background also face this issue. How do you tell the story accurately, but without falling into “poverty porn” or without sugarcoating the issues? So hard to have a balance. Yet you’re able to achieve that balance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’m encouraged to hear that you feel I’m able to achieve that balance.

      Perhaps writers from these kinds of backgrounds can answer the question: what kind of story would I love to read about my state, country, etc, as a starting point.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. The truth about Nigeria is a difficult pill to swallow and only a small population is able to take it and keep its sanity intact. The majority however, are driven by hope. In who or what doesn’t matter, but it is the motivation for getting up and fighting to survive. If we lose our hope, then we lose the chance of seeing (and grabbing) little opportunities for a better future.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a firm believer in hope but it’s in thing to have hope and quite another to refuse to acknowledge reality. And, trust me, it’s more of a refusal to acknowledge reality that I see around me everyday more than I see hope.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Writing helps me sort out my feelings sometimes. I was ‘shocked’ to discover my love for my country was not as unconditional as I would have liked. What will it take for me to get there? A quality decision maybe?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At least you have a shaky patriotism to speak of. Most Nigerians living in Nigeria have none whatsoever and are Nigerians only by mouth and passport. Very few, if any of us, think beyond our individual selves, our families and our tribal and religious affiliations. Nigeria always comes last, but we would never admit it to others, choosing to engage in online mudslinging matches with citizens of other countries to prove our “patriotism” while doing exactly nothing to make the actual Nigeria a better place. Pathetic, if you ask me.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Perhaps I am naive, but I’d like to think that the Nigerians who engage in mudslinging matches online, have a shaky patriotism too.

          It can be a challenge to think beyond survival… but we should …

          Liked by 1 person

  13. Hmmmmmm decions are the birth place of change, decision is the first step to achieving stuff, I blive we can if only we decide to.

    Thank you. I say yes to Nigeria

    Liked by 1 person

    1. People like you have the will and perhaps passion to work for change. I am feeling disillusioned. It can seem as though after all these years, Nigeria has made little progress- no light; no fuel. But yes, big buildings springing up everywhere.

      Like

  14. Right now, no matter the situation anywhere, humanity seems to take one step forward, then slide backward two. About all we can manage to change, and only with grace, is ourselves.But when we manage that we raise the level of the whole, however imperceptibly.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Eileen your comment has birthed hope in me. Thank you!

      I was looking at the ‘big mess’ wondering where to begin and therefore feeling overwhelmed. But if I start with me, I can create a ripple effect. I had forgotten about the power of one! Thanks again.

      Like

  15. If it’s any consolation, those of us who have to deal with Nigeria everyday are on a constant search for hope– even if it means finally getting to leave these shores.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. The way things are going, Time will need a great deal of hope and optimism before it can tell a different story. Daily, it looks like brother Teju was hectored for nothing when he said, “Nigeria is fucked.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I may be wrong, but perhaps Teju Cole was hectored for saying, “Nigeria is ——,” because the implication for the individual living in Nigeria is, “I am ——!” Not an easy bone to chew.

      Years ago, I wrote:

      It is true that the Nigerian landscape offers many reasons for sober contemplation, but within the dim picture, I found moments of patriotic pride, quiet amusement, and downright hilarity. Glimpses of our heydays managed to peek through ominous clouds, an indication that lost causes can be found.

      It is early days still. Perhaps I can return to frame of mind I was in when I wrote the above. Eileen’s comment has given me a pointer:

      Right now, no matter the situation anywhere, humanity seems to take one step forward, then slide backward two. About all we can manage to change, and only with grace, is ourselves.But when we manage that we raise the level of the whole, however imperceptibly.

      Thanks Ife!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Jill.

      Living as an ‘exile’ (I use the term loosely), in a foreign country, the heart longs for home and the imagination supplies romantic notions of home. On returning, it doesn’t take long for one to remember all the reasons they left! Perhaps that’s why my friend can only do Nigeria in measured doses.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Nigerians live in tragic despondency. I interfaced with a government hospital this week and I realised how down the rot this nation is… I also realised, I had until now lived in splendid isolation – having gone for weeks without keeping up with the news or what’s obtainable in the nation.
    Seriously, there’s hardly any degree of patriotism that this palpable despair wouldn’t wear off with constant contact.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It would seem that it is easier to love Nigeria from afar. I salute all ‘the powerful swimmers against the tide.’

      Is it possible to live in splendid isolation from the tragic despondency in Nigeria? I’ve observed that it is! It may take wealth or a singular detachment or both.

      Like

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