(By Odohofreh Enobong Ita)
“Home? This is what my Nigeria means to me. I was born here and I have never travelled beyond her borders. And in living and growing up here, the meaning of this place to me evolves and multiplies. I feel free to live here. I am a legitimate part of this country by all standards and that everlasting freedom is deeply savoured by me. Crises abound, but they do not chase me away; they only reinforce my ideas of how each of us, in our interactions with our society, can make a difference; either good or bad.“
A FEW days ago, I came across a travel blog, where an African-American was telling his experience of his first time in Nigeria. To him, Nigeria was a place to reunite with his black ancestral root. He said it was the first time he did not feel judged by the colour of his skin. The first time people didn’t cross the street to avoid him at night. The first time he, as a black, really felt free.
Freedom? Nigeria defines that word in a whole new way for me. My Nigeria is different. Very much different from what outsiders believe it to be. It is certainly not just a conflict-ridden, poverty-stricken, crime-infested place that foreign news channels depict it to be. Yes, it is all that, but a lot more to me, because I do not look at her through the eyes of a Cable News Network (CNN) reporter, or an estranged Nigerian child living in Diaspora, or even with the eyes of a foreigner coming here for the first time, or not coming at all because he or she believes he or she could never bear a place like this. When I chat with my friends who dream of living abroad for the rest of their lives, they are always surprised when I tell them that I don’t mind staying in Nigeria. I could travel to all the lands of my dreams but I will always want to come back home.
Home? This is what my Nigeria means to me. I was born here and I have never travelled beyond her borders. And in living and growing up here, the meaning of this place to me evolves and multiplies. I feel free to live here. I am a legitimate part of this country by all standards and that everlasting freedom is deeply savoured by me. Crises abound, but they do not chase me away; they only reinforce my ideas of how each of us, in our interactions with our society, can make a difference; either good or bad.
Bad things happen in Nigeria. Bad things happen to her, too. But in all my years of living here, I have seen as she always bears these misfortunes without breaking. In 2001, the New Scientist magazine listed Nigerians as the happiest people on earth. Interesting, right? Whoever compiled that list must have seen how resilient we are. It seems it is a miracle that we don’t get depressed by all the crimes and sufferings we experience. In fact, suicide in Nigeria is considered quite odd and people wonder why a person would take his life prematurely when you would still die anyway. Someone said this buoyancy we have may be because we’ve seen it all. I guess when you’ve had so many bad experiences, nothing breaks you anymore. So, this resilience rubs off on me. And each time I picture Nigeria in the global picture, her resilience is one thing that readily comes to mind. I’m happy that my country is not depressed. To me, Nigeria means strength. Then again, a more recent survey carried out by Forbes magazine placed Nigeria as the 20th saddest place to live in on earth. I haven’t lived in any other place, so I wouldn’t dare to refute that point. But I must say that such a turn of events is saddening and if true, it means that the fire of hope that we had for our country is burning low. Where is the fuel?
Fuelling my love for this country is also the vibrant cultural heritage we have which is expressed in our everyday lives. We don’t have to put on a special occasion before you see us colourfully dressed in our beloved Nigerian clothes. The markets, the streets, even schools and offices are brightened by people going about their business with clothes made from Nigerian textiles. Which Nigerian woman doesn’t have a beautiful colourful adire dress sitting in her wardrobe? Even our foods have colourful and spicy tastes. It’s like I’m being reminded everyday that I am alive. And that yields a vibrant feel to my life.
Life here isn’t perfect. In as much as I am speaking with so much pride about my country, I realise we are so far behind on development, civilisation, patriotism, and many other items on quite a long list. But I have decided to hate the sin, and not the sinner. This means that while I do the things I can to make Nigeria better, no matter how little they seem now, I still love this broken country of mine. I believe it is the love that will always make me to drop the wrappers of my sweets or biscuits in a waste bin, or keep it in my purse until I get home where I can properly dispose of it as I have been directed by the instructions, which always say “Keep Nigeria clean.” So while my mates laugh at my obedience in the midst of so much dirt and trash littered around, I understand that loving isn’t always easy. And it doesn’t always make sense to love. Especially loving a place like Nigeria.
Nigeria is many things to me. And in every place I look, I see a new part of what Nigeria means to me. I keep looking, because I’m not afraid or disappointed or angry that I’m a part of this beautiful dysfunctional country and she, a part of me. Hence, I look with eyes that realize that no matter what happens in my life, in Nigeria, in the world; the interwoven relationship between me and Nigeria will remain forever.
• Ita, is a 500 level Law Student of Igbinedion University, Okada.
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