I know we have another anthem now but that I can’t help but remember the first line of the old one when writing this piece. Why the sudden wave of patriotism? Well, its October 1st and that means its Independence Day… (Nigeria’s that is!) and as I sit down and reflect what that means to us as a people, different emotions flood though my soul… bitter-sweet emotions…. joy, sadness, regret, longing, love, pain, laughter, tears…that’s what Nigeria does to you… like an exasperating yet exquisite lover, it is capable of making you feel these emotions. A land of extremes…there is no middle ground with Nigeria. You either love it or hate it. Why, pray tell, does it evoke such emotions, the un-initiated might ask? (Un-initiated being those that haven’t had the ‘privilege’ of visiting Nigeria or knowing its people). Well, Nigeria is a country made up of a special breed of people… bold, brash, funny, devious, industrious, ingenious …name it, we are it. It is only in Nigeria that you wake up at 5am to go to work, close and get back home by 10pm( due to traffic jam), go out to groove and still be able to get up at 5am to repeat the same ritual working everyday of the week ! It is only in Nigeria where you are at home chilling with friends and NEPA strikes (as in the power goes off) and without missing a beat, you as well as the whole neighbourhood put on your standby generator and continue the conversation as if nothing happened! That, for the average Nigerian is nothing but a slight break in transmission! Only in Nigeria that humour is used as a panacea to mask the pain and stress of everyday living…. where conversation, radio jingles and music compete for audience with car horns, generators and the Muslim call to prayer. Where okadas (commercial taxi motorbikes) wheeze along the road in droves, like annoying flies and people stretched as far as the eye can see, compete for space on the road with motorists and bus drivers alike; where the latter drive as if they are on a death wish, determined to run you off the road and you hurl invectives at each other, each giving as good as he gets! Where the local ‘Mama Put’ (road side foodseller) sells delicious rice and stew or amala and ewedu right beside the latest Chinese restaurant/fast food joint in town….and chic looking women and flashy looking men in the latest designer duds, stroll down the street beside fruit sellers and vendors, hawking their wares. The latest jeeps, SUVs and BMWs vie for space with wheelbarrows and tricycles. This is indeed is a land of extremes. Hardly anything works, so people say, yet you find some of the most talented people coming out of its bowels….Successful international model, Oluchi Onweagba, World renown singing sensations Tuface, D’Banj to name a few. They say there is no formal film industry in the country yet the people have been able to create a film format where they shoot a movie in 7 days and release it straight to DVD the following week and in the process, create a multi-million dollar industry second only to Bollywood, setting a format for Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and the rest to emulate. So successful has this industry become that Oprah Winfrey, the legendary talk show host recently selected one of its top actresses, Genevieve Nnaji as one of the World’s most famous people! No mean feat if you consider that where we started from. I once had the opportunity to drive from Lagos to Abuja in the Middle Belt section of the country and was able to see the beauty of the land pass by… the thick rainforests of the West gave way to the rolling hills of the Middle Belt … so much arable land, wild fruit trees, unattended fields, wild bananas and plantain, bush meat and no one to harness it. Every kind of precious mineral is said to be found in Nigeria; Columbite, Gold, Iron-ore, Lead-Zinc, Limestone, Coal, Emerald, Aquamarine, Ruby, Sapphire, Granite, Marble, coal, bitumen, natural gas, and the almighty Oil yet there is so much poverty and hunger. That’s what irks me about the land and makes we wonder why we are yet to get ‘it’ together… whatever it means. That’s why I laud the efforts of people like Dora Akunyili, Pat Utomi, Tara Fela-Durotoye, Bella Naija, Obi Asika, Agbani Darego, Oluchi Onweagba, T.Y Bello, Asa, Tuface, Genevieve Nnaji, Amaka Igwe, Emem Isong, and numerous other trail blazers in my generation (with the exception of the first two!) who were, in the midst of insurmountable odds, able to make something work out of nothing. As my country marks its 49th Independence Anniversary, I hope as old adage goes that a ‘fool (in its forties) will (not) be a fool forever! I hope that my country me, I included, will rise up to the challenge and fulfill this thing they call ‘potential’ that continues to elude us…. I hope that, like this generation of Americans, we too shall be alive to see our own ‘Obama’ and that we might leave a Nigeria that our children and our children’s children will be proud to inherit. Happy Independence, everyone!
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