Nigeria is currently knee deep in its electoral season, and as a Nigerian-American, I have kept a healthy distance from it all. How can anyone indulge in the idea that we’re supposed to elect a president who will continue to allow terrorists to not only destroy whole villages, but also employ girls who are barely in their teens as suicide bombers?
#BringBackOurGirls was one of the anthems of 2014, and as a writer, I felt the need to bring a perspective to the issue for those who were holding out hope that the missing girls would return. One piece in particular was received with disbelief that I had so little faith in my country’s ability to successfully return the girls to their grief-stricken families. I don’t feel vindicated knowing that I was accurate in my assessment. This is the searing reality for citizens of a country that live each day with feverish uncertainty.
When my parents’ generation returned home after completing their higher education abroad — they surveyed the offerings of the homeland and collectively decided that their kids would be better off escaping their awaiting fate. For us, there was no pressure to come back home in a bid to apply the knowledge and exposure we had gained. We witnessed the exploitation of our parents at the hands of an erratically fractured system — overrun with bribery, corruption and senseless military coups that did nothing more than establish fear and instability.
Nigeria in the eighties was a disparate collage of uniformed henchmen who were on a mission that had very little to do with being worthy heads of state. Even if you were too young to vote, you still received a first-class education courtesy of the shameless parade of injustice that filtered through the mayhem. It was evident that I would eventually head out to greener pastures at the opportune time. My siblings and I left the States when I was eight years old, and that was enough to keep me yearning for more, especially after having internalized the wonders of Star Wars, Oreo cookies and Captain Crunch.
The promise of my departure was how I bore the horrid maze that paralyzed my native land during my adolescence as my curious mind, too young for the graphic overview but also too captivated to submit to censorship, developed an inquiring spirit. I also had the verbal tutelage of my parents whose spirited debates with friends and relatives fueled my exploratory phase and armed me with the knowledge to answer my own questions
They tried to shield me from the danger around us. But there was no way to hide everything. When Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa who co-founded the weekly news magazine, Newswatch — the first of its kind to initiate an investigative platform geared towards empowering its readers with undiluted facts about the government — was murdered in his home after opening a package that turned out to be a bomb, I was petrified and numb with resignation. It was 1986, and at the age of thirteen, I convinced myself that I would never live in Nigeria as an adult pursuing a career in journalism.
The administration that wiped out Giwa for daring to do his job was under General Ibrahim Babangida, who ruled the nation with an iron fist from 1985–1993 and ushered in the era of extremes when it came to body counts and economic dilapidation. Those were turbulent times and it was hard to imagine that it could get any worse. But his successor, General Sani Abacha proved to be the Lion King who guarded his kingdom of unrighteousness with blunt force. His reign was a vile orchestra filled with litanies of societal repulsion. Anyone or anything that prevented his administration from operating like a renegade mafia was extinguished with immediacy.
Ken Saro-Wiwa, a famed Nigerian writer and environmental activist, was a vocal advocate on behalf of his village, Ogoniland, a region in the Niger Delta that had been destroyed due to the consequences of petroleum waste dumping that had taken its toll on the land after lengthy years of exposure. Saro-Wiwa tirelessly brought attention to the issue by targeting companies like the Royal Dutch Shell for their practices. He also blasted Abacha’s administration for not taking the necessary steps to regulate foreign companies that were engaged in illegal pollution.
He paid the ultimate price for his public intolerance, and his crusade came to an end when he was tragically executed in 1995. But it’s worthy to note that his vision took twenty years to come to fruition as it was just announced that Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to fork out about $83.5m in damages to the fishing community from where he hailed. This gives those of us who respected his mission even more reason to recall and celebrate his legacy.
The year Ken Saro-Wiwa died, I was ending my college education and fully aware that another brilliant compatriot had been forcibly silenced. I felt even more determined to distance myself from the realization that I was Nigerian. I over indulged in the privilege of being American, and downplayed any connection to my country. Tragically, almost twenty years later I still feel exactly the way I did back then.
Nigerians love to brag about the progress that has been made economically and while that might be a valid sentiment, it pales in comparison to the realization that we’re still unable to fully grasp the extent of the corrosion resulting from a parade of dysfunctional administrations. We’re in the midst of election season, and yet militants who can’t be defeated because the present political power doesn’t have the resources needed to equip their embattled military, are massively decimating innocent lives on a daily basis.
The race between President Goodluck Jonathan, and his opponent Mohammadu Buhari, who previously ruled Nigeria for two years before being toppled in 1985, is producing an array of promises from each candidate that will never come to fruition. Jonathan may possess a winning smile and a more temperate disposition than his counterparts, but he’s a meek leader who is invested in keeping his dignity intact by seeking another term. But the despicable antics of Boko Haram that has resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Nigerians will be the imagery of his legacy. Buhari wants to be his tribe’s “savior” by rescuing Northern Nigeria from the neverending nightmare but in the process he will create an even greater divide which could possibly lead to another civil war.
We’re doomed. And I am forlorn and aghast that any reasonable human being could fathom that the outcome of an ill-conceived election could possibly re-assemble what is irretrievably broken. Nigerian-Americans, including my friends who share my background have bipolar tendencies when it comes to adequately processing what can only be classified as “normalized chaos.” As our nation cowers in defeat at the hands of terrorists, most of the population is looking forward to February 14.
This is the day that is supposedly going to change the grips of fate.
It will not happen.
President Goodluck Jonathan will stay in power and, as always, more Nigerians will die due to the life threatening process of voting. People like me who are helpless will continue to writhe in agony as we witness the plight of the ones who weren’t lucky enough to find a way out.
Sign up for Culture Club’s Newsletter.