Independence Day (not the movie)

I wrote this post with Chiro Ogbo, one of my best friends from secondary school. He is currently in South Africa, at the African Leadership Academy. We hope it leads you, wherever you are, to think about what you celebrate as holidays.

For most Nigerians, Independence Day is a huge thing. I mean, who doesn’t love watching thousands of little children marching across squares and stadiums all over the country (thank you split-screen technology), or having a good reason to dress up as the flag (there is never a good idea to dress up as any flag), or sitting down the day after to crack open our sides at the President’s address (which I can’t say has ever been perfectly error-free), or just being able to curl up in your bed and not have to move a muscle all the livelong day? I went to a Nigerian boarding school, and Independence Day always had its own special slate of events. So we know what it meant to be dolled up and to wear huge plastic smiles and hear people go on about hope and freedom and the future of our democracy.

But there is one question that has tugged at my mind every single year since I was old enough to understand what we were celebrating. Actually, it was more like a thought.

We are living a grandiose, gut-wrenching, grotesque gambit.

Now before you go off the deep end about my excessive alliteration, let’s take each of these jaw-dropping adjectives one step at a time.

Grandiose.

In our country, we have senators who can drive a new luxury car to do government “business” every single day, get declared “wanted” for “arms dealing” by the police, and goes with an escort to a wedding by selfsame police the very same day.

We have a legislature willing to divert millions of naira into spending on cars for every single member of the houses-money that should have gone into putting roofs on school buildings or drugs in hospitals or asphalt on potholed roads. And by counting the number of empty seats in senate meetings, many of those cars never even make it to the House complex.

We have governors whose idea of “governing” is throwing money out of their chauffeur-driven, air-conditioned cars, and do it real smoothly by closing the show with breaking their legs in order to gain “sympathy” for the people.

We have elected officials who feel that it is necessary for entire sections of their cities to be shut down simply because their wives want to go and do some “household shopping” or their children are going to school. And they must take with them convoys of at least twenty cars-maybe even a bit more. For who doesn’t take a thirty-car convoy (with sirens on top) every morning for their daily commute?

And of course, we all want to live like them. We dance with them when they spray money at weddings. We turn our pockets inside out to attend their owanbes, pressuring our tailors to make that george that you know is much too complicated or too expensive.

Gut-wrenching.

The fact that every single “election” in our “nascent democracy” (the euphemism of choice amongst our political elite-ensure that you ask your physician about it before you use it) is populated by dinosaurs (next year’s presidential frontrunners are just young and sprightly enough to have grandchildren) who lead our country into the same messes like a dog returning to its own vomit, while managing to surround themselves with lovable crooks who ensure they find the time to feed their own before leaving the common people with scraps-I know that is a lot of thoughts in one subject-that-could-be-a-sentence-but-isn’t-quite-one-yet-is worrisome, at best.

That there are schools in which one can only hope and pray that the teachers can come in today (why hasn’t the government paid their salaries yet, one can only wonder) or if the students will (getting your butt sore sitting on the floor for an entire school day every school day isn’t exactly what would drive you out of bed in the morning); that there are hospitals in which there are people with every kind of sickness, disease, and ailment (some of them two by two) which they know they will go back home with every single day until death do them part because there are medical workers out striking (seriously, government, how lousy can you possibly get) and the contractors forgot to supply the drugs we needed for next week; that the majority of roadways are simply death-traps for men; that there are snakes that eat money (they (the mysterious ‘they’ that seems to the recipient of all the blame) actually said, ‘A spiritual snake swallowed the money.’ Wait, let’s just pause. Swallowed money? I’m sure even the serpent in the garden of Eden didn’t have such an appetite. And I’m not saying the story isn’t possible, because sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. But all I’m saying is that if I was a spiritual snake looking for money, I’ll have looked for a currency where three hundred of it doesn’t buy just a loaf of bread)-if that doesn’t make your insides squirm and retch inside, I don’t know what will.

Grotesque.

A judicial system that cannot be trusted to the point that it is better for you to be burned to death with tires for crimes which you did not commit — at least it’s faster. An airport that has no fire engines or ambulances as planes come crashing out of the sky. Tens of thousands of people forced out of their homes, drifting, with nowhere to go as bloodthirsty madmen hold sway.

And trapped in this cesspool of desperation-are we.

We, the people.

I love Nigeria. There is no other country in which I would rather have been a boy or a young man. But true love does not gloss over. As much as we celebrate, we must be willing to criticize what we celebrate and see if we can really give ourselves something better to celebrate.

So as you lay out your best green-white-greens, drive out into miles of traffic to get to your local public square, or raise your throaty voices to encourage our compatriots to rise and serve our country’s call, think about it. Is it really a happy Independence Day?

David is an aspiring writer, activist, journalist, diplomat, and Foreign Minister. He currently attends St. John’s College, an oasis of ideas in the middle of the New Mexico Desert. He graduated from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja last summer. He loves to read, write, speak, and travel. He runs an African blog dedicated to the youth of the continent, Itakuroso. Read more of his work at www. itakuroso.com.