by Cheta Nwanze
The story below just arrived in my email. It was sent by a nice young man, whom I met yesterday.
Back in the day I was one of those pundits who’d sit down in my air-conditioned office and insult the government. It was almost a hobby. I’d find fault with what they did right, criticise what they did wrong, and of course, pass the fault to them when I could not find my car keys.
Then one day I said to myself, “Kema, you should get more involved. Play your own part. Do your own bit, and allow posterity to judge the leaders.”
So one rainy Sunday morning, I packed my bags, and set off to my village. I was going to play my own part in educating the next generation. I was going to volunteer my time to teach the students. I intended to initiate awards and basic scholarships, stock their local libraries and spearhead community engagement.
It all sounded so exciting, and I could not imagine anything that could possibly stand in my way.
“I will make my village regain its sense of pride,” I said to myself.
Throughout the entire journey, I couldn’t sleep because of the excitement surging through my being. I just couldn’t wait to arrive and hit the ground running.
Upon arrival, I could not allow the traditional family welcome take up my precious time. One of my elderly aunts had already started offering to prepare a local delicacy to celebrate my homecoming, but that was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted to start working.
Unknown relatives were trooping into the compound, with everyone claiming to have known me from my mother’s womb, but this guy just wanted to work.
I managed to sneak out of the compound and call a few youths that same day. I asked questions, and basically did a fact-finding session, from which I learned that before anyone could embark on a community project in the village, the council of elders must first be consulted. I enquired about their meeting days and was told that they would be meeting in the next few days. This was a slight setback, but I used those days to visit the village primary school, and consult with the headmaster to discuss our implementation strategy.
The elders’ meeting day finally arrived, and I showed up as a proud son of the soil, in my traditional attire. To my mind, I knew the meeting would be a walkover, and I knew it would end with the elders heaping praises on me, for being a true son of the soil.
However, no sooner did I start talking than my hopes crashed like the naira. They all took turns to nod their heads in disapproval as I spoke, and before I made my points clear, they started murmuring and chuckling repeatedly among themselves.
When I was done addressing the meeting, a nice middle-aged man called me aside and asked, “Why didn’t you speak Igbo throughout? And why didn’t you bring ‘something’ for the elders?”
I was shocked, because it seemed as though they were uninterested in all what I was saying. Bringing ‘something’ along with me, and communicating in a language of their choice were far more important issues than the minor and unimportant issues of scholarships, awards, library resuscitation and community involvement, which I brought with me.
I could not hide my shock, but, being the optimist that I am, I asked if they would rather sacrifice all these gifts on the altar of technicalities. But my protests did not even put a dent in their stance, as they gathered in little clusters and paid very little attention to what I was saying.
I left the meeting a bit confused and demoralised, because I really didn’t know what I had done wrong. It was only a while later that I gained clarity and a bit of closure on the whole encounter. You simply cannot force your gifts on an uninterested recipient. No matter how highly you think of your gifts, they can only be valuable to the receiver, when they meet his expectations. The people didn’t want more books. All they wanted was more food, some respect, and perhaps, money.
I guess that is why the people of Ekiti State voted former governor, Kayode Fayemi, out from office — they said he was speaking too much English, and they wanted someone who would come and visit them in the market square. I guess that is why we could replace an Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, with a mid-level banker. I guess that is why we have the crop of leaders we have in the National Assembly and Government houses — that is what the people want. The people don’t want to read — they just want money. They don’t want you to build libraries for them — just share rice for each house, and they’d be fine.
The psyche of my people has been raped and abused. My people have been reduced to the level where they worship anyone who will offer them the basics of life. They celebrate the commissioning of boreholes, and stand in unending queues for politicians to hand them a thousand naira note. They would do away with a reformer, and in his stead, elect a jester. The politicians who would revive the education system are there, and so are the ones who would revive our failing local economies. However, we practice a democracy — a system where the voice of the uninformed villager is as loud as that of the progressive thinker. Sadly, the battered and uninformed ones far outnumber the rest of us, so they raise their voices and say “release Barabas and crucify Jesus.”
The story you just read, is the story of so many in Nigeria. It is a story of dislocated people, who are eased out of participating in politics, because they are not from their host communities, but also excluded from participating in politics in ‘their villages’ because they can no longer fit in. It is my story.
I was born in Benin. I was brought up in Benin. I can trace my roots to Asaba, to Nteje, to Idah, tentatively to Ankpa.
However, I live in Lagos. I pay my taxes in Lagos. Where, really, do I come from? Is it from the place where I spent the first 18 years of my life? Is it from the place whence my ancestors lived? Or is it where I spend at least 180 days a year?
This is one of the many questions we have to ask. The other issue that Kema’s story raised, the issue of how our people have been so bastardised that they no longer know what is good for them, is one that will be addressed again, in due course.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija