After all, in the words of Vaclav Havel, “hope is a state of mind, not of the world”.
“Everyone’s ashamed of the youth, cause the truth look strange; And for me its reversed. We left them a world that’s cursed. And it hurts”. – TuPac (Ghetto Gospel)
When I read Pat Utomi’s piece a while ago about the generation that left town, I wonder if he wasn’t being a little too harsh on himself and his generation. Now I am convinced he probably was. Let’s face it their generation really had no inspiration to stay – even from the escape zone literature should represent for oppressed peoples.
For some reason, the most widely acclaimed political works of fiction and non-fiction from that period in time when the men in khakis held sway seemed to me unnaturally dominated by tragedies and tragic comedies. Esteemed Nigerian writer after esteemed Nigerian writer piled on, as if in a competition to make us weep for Nigeria. Unknown to them, the effect was probably worse. They must have made the generation that left despair for it.
I remember reading Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe, one of the highlight works of the 80’s, when I was still in secondary school almost two decades after it was published. At first I was excited, maybe too hopeful that the novel would be a personally politically relevant text, perhaps in the same sense as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged would later become for me. Unfortunately, Ikem’s tragic murder left me gutted and with a very bad taste in my mouth when it came to Achebe’s work. Going forward, Achebe’s penchant for lifeless tragedy was the only thing I saw in and came to expect from his work. The trouble is he wasn’t the only one. There are countless similar examples of tragic literature from that era that must have emotionally crushed a people already physically wearied by crushing army jackboots.
Now don’t get me wrong. Truth is important and I am grateful that the voices of that generation didn’t go ‘Abatiesque’ on us; assuring us all is well when the hut is clearly ablaze. But I must wonder if our literature’s obsession with truth was so absolute it ignored the need for hope. After all, in the words of Vaclav Havel, “hope is a state of mind, not of the world”.
My fear is we might be repeating the same mistakes that led us to the generation that left.
Indeed, there are millions of young people living, outside the country, children of the generation that left, that are gradually metamorphosing into the generation that stayed away. They sit in foreign classes miles away where all the data maps out a Nigeria full of opportunity and potential, but sooner or later they face the reality of Nigeria’s chaos and run back to the safety of sanity. They wish they could help but they wonder if it might not just be better to stay away. As my friend celebrating her newly acquired Canadian work permit morosely told me last week “I’ld love to go back (home) but life is too short to live in a country that does not work”.
Now I am not going to pretend I know how to turn around this tide, being myself a victim of the shift to “staying away”. However, I have always wondered how much it would help if Nigerian literature could give our political class a solid work of inspirational political fiction, like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. It might eventually be the basis upon which young Nigerians can hinge their hopes for a new political reality. Hopefully, it will have a John Galt or Ferdinand Vanek style character that symbolizes our collective struggle against bad and big government – and a plot that presents a clear but realistic ideological path to political redemption.
Who knows? It might be just what is needed to save a generation that left from blooming into the generation that stayed away.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.