THE NIGERIAN DREAM
Koloama had no linking roads so the only means of transportation was by boat, unless of course you could afford a chopper. That day at the yenagoa boat station I was surprised to see many of the speedboats filling to capacity in just under thirty minutes. The president was visiting! No wonder! On an eventless day it took about half a day for a single speedboat to get its required take off passengers and sometimes due to a lack of new passengers the old passengers might just buy off the remaining seats to save time. That day was different, boats got filled as soon as drivers whistled for passengers.
The amount of uniformed men was something I couldn't help but notice. Military choppers hovered the sky, marine policemen patrolled the waters with their double engined speedboats, policemen on foot surveyed the perimeter and watched, especially those making it to the boats set for Koloama. That day was heaven for the speedboat drivers. People who pleaded for customers had suddenly turned rude on customers. Can you blame them? Most of the civilians were journalists and over ambiteous politicians who were eager to make their faces known to potential godfathers.
I took one of the healthier looking speedboat with a seemingly young and polite driver. I sat amidst two female journalists who later turned out to be Aisha, a dark girl with conspicuously brown eyes, and Nneka, a girl in her late twenties who could easily pass for Bianca Ojukwu. That day, the extrovert part of me managed to shadow the consistently dominant introvert part. After starting the introductions (which overlapped to the entire boat) I found myself churning out words in intervals of seconds. Everything was going smoothly, everyone was boosting his/her profile, polishing the greater true with a little white lie, everybody was somebody on that boat and in many criterias that was true. Problems surfaced when Aisha asked for a life jacket and the young driver scolded her with seriously tainted pidgin " o gel yhu wan drap? No ashk me for lifez zacket o. If yhu wan zacket comot for my boat go enter for polishe chip". Then I payed him the normal seven hundred naira but he rejected it asking for two thousand naira. When other passengers paid without protest I had no choice.
Anxieties reached their zeniths when the boat slid into the river and picked up speed. Enthusiasm gave way for fear, for most of them it was their first time on a river. The fear could almost strangle them as an endless gush of water appeared by the sides of the speedboat which made it seem the boat was disturbingly beneath the water surface. There was no fear in me, I am an ijaw man and the nun is, has, will always been my home. I was born by her shores in a little fishing village called Ikibiri. It was my duty to slow down accelerating hearts "Don't worry the river is more docile than it seems"
By the next two hours the excitement had retaken its place previously lost to fear. Aisha and Nneka were in high spirit and that set the tone for a very heated debate. Taking Nigeria in retrospect. Boko haram came first, fuel subsidy removal came second then the third was who rules nigeria come 2015?
Inasmuchas I enjoyed the arguement I regretted ever indulging in it soon afterwards (for it degenerated to a bitter confrontation) however, I was glad to have been exposed to a treasure trove of new and shocking discoveries. I found out that the hatred in our dividing lines was actualy stronger than what many people believed. The fulanis and the middle beltan tribes, the Igbos and the Hausas, Muslims and Christians. You might be too over positive to accept it but in a thorough statistics the hatred is there all thesame. I too nearly fell to the tempting and of course easy game of stereotyping and sentimental judgements, but then, things salvaged my sieged ideologies. Gimba kakanda and a host of other northern muslims stood guard in front of a church, christians formed human shields for worshipping moslems. Every religeon had its share of fanatics and extremists. But that was an idea Nneka quickly slammed, she wouldn't countenance the believe that it was best Nigeria remained united, that islam was truly peace. She gave instances of how even the bible and koran supported divorce in a failing union. I dished my points. I believe in a united Nigeria but no nation survives two civil wars. Aisha posited that my mentioning of civil war was an unnecessary inflammation of the perils of the Nigerian state. It was on fuel subsidy removal the talk began developing muscles. I tagged with Nneka in support of the removal while Aisha and a certain journalist whose name I have forgotten but with a western Nigerian accent allied in opposition. Personally, I believed the subsidy removal was a blessing to Nigeria. Am not talking about promised infrastructures or the manifestoes of the fabled Sure-P. Am talking of the protests! I had goose bumps watching hundreds of thousands of Nigerians protecting their rights at the expense of the comfort of their homes. Are these the Nigerians we knew? The unpatriotic Nigerians? The facebook group: Nationwide anti-fuel subsidy removal strategies and protests couldn't stop amazing me, the protests and common anger united this nation in a way not previously known. There is always a limit at which tolerance breaks, there is always a time when that dog you beat will lose control of emotions and othordox manners, a certain boilling point when even the faint hearted becomes a god. The arguemet went on with neither side succombing. I took a somewhat middle role, emphasizing how glad I was that Nigerians were beginning to put national interest ahead of personal interest. I could feel it, I said, change was coming now or soon, whether or not labour peters out. And that change was one which neednt begin from aso rock. That change should begin from the ghettos of Ajegunle, from the Gwadalada and Swali, from the mountain villages and dersert settlements to the ocean towns of the south. A soceital change, one which has to emerge from the crust, from the very soul of the robbed commoner. In achieving that change a certain faith is required, a faith akin to the popular Nigerian optimism ( one day e go beta, God dey). A faith that needs individualism and cynicism discarded. Nneka especially didn't seem to understand my own defination of faith as I succinctly put it. Faith meant seeing ahead of apparent misfortunes, believing that this floundering ship isn't sinking untill we get there, it meant a believe that neither the bombs of boko haram nor the rifles of MEND can tear our map to shreds.
Koloama turned out to be a little clearing on an island, located almost at the point the river nun empties itself into the atlantic. From the distance its magnificience could be likened to a Van Ghors masterpiece. The coconut and banana trees swhirling to the rhthym of the winds, the silver waves crashing against the golden beach, then to add the finishing touch: a bronze sun against a cloudlessly blue sky, romancing the island with mild rays. A classic picture, one that belonged to a museum.
When we touched down on Koloama mainland the beauties seemed to take a slight fade. Our view was now graced with mud huts, partly completed brick houses, yam barns, baskets of fishes, canoes under construction. The villagers weren't used to such huge croweds, I could tell, and now that the president was in town little Koloama could almost overheat and explode. The villages stared at us excitedly with a tinge of resentment( were we not the politicians and oil company workers that have ruined their land?) They stared at us the way I might stare at the queen or the pope.
I became friends with one of the villagers, a dark tall boy named Tari who couldn't have been more than twenty, it was he who showed me round the village and also ran the commentary. He told me how much the village had changed after the explosion. There was no drinking water as the rivers had been contaminated, the only source of good water according to him was a five hour canoe trip to a neighbouring village. Fish which used to be in surplus was now the rarest thing to find. The pollution killed millions of fishes, a fact made concrete as he took me to the beach to witness with my eyes an infite number of silver fishes floating everywhere. The few crops were not spared, especially the ones close to the water, they all whithered and died. "The hunger is coming" Tari frequently told me. And, seeing how much hunger was evident already I couldn't help but imagine if the apparent hunger could get any worse
Tari showed me a little girl of about five, his younger sister Ebi, as he introduced her. The child was bare with only a little treadbare pant. She had a colour most remarkeable, a shiny coffee black and white darting eyes. It wasn't untill I got closer to Ebi that I began to notice the sores and terrible rashes on her skin, and it was just about the same time I noticed that other children, including teenage Tari had the infection too. " Its the contamination from the water we bath" Tari's simple answer " some children have already died of the illness" he added
"What illness?" I asked. He didn't know the name. I stood, feeling the energy drain out of me, watching little Ebi as her envious eyes followed a stray dog as it helped itself with a childs faeces. Tari spent the next half hour or so telling me just how much he would want to be a medical doctor and how seriously Ebi was aiming to be a musician even at her age. Amidst the ghoulish realities of Koloama there was still a source of motivation, a dictatorship of hope and a complete surrender to the Creator. Nothing could break those people down, nothing could stop their music, nothing could alter their dreams. They made sanctuaries out of their minds. They listened keenly as the dignitaries made their speech, they knew politicians words were not to be taken seriously and yet they cheered and clapped. So happy, a happiness not borne of ignorance but born of religeon, a happiness so pure and true(no wonder Nigerians were named the happiest people on earth) what seperates a Nigerian and Utopia is only about a small time.
My return trip with those young journalists was more of reflection than conversation, a sober reflection. Nneka was angrier but spoke minimally. Aisha had a faint cloud of guilt in her, a mood that blended perfectly with her reserved nature, she averted her piercing eyes when ever I steadied on them. The yoruba guy was indifferent. When the inevitable conversation managed to impose itself on us, it was always on trivial issues like koloama's picturesque perfection and Enenche Akogwu or Adichies latest work. Nothing political, nothing religeous, nothing ethnic. Everyone of us was just confined in a state of guilt and sadness and bizzare imaginations.
The hunger is coming. He had said. With those sores, the frequently empty stomach, the surrounding waters that held no fortress of hope little Ebi believed in a dream. A dream that is no more than a mental fiction without faith. A dream more romantic in glaring impossibilities; and that was the beauty, that was the fascination and uniqueness of the Nigerian dream.