They may never have heard of Twitter, or the term ‘Occupy Nigeria’, but they, like me and the multitude of social-media-active persons I know, all share in the nagging sense of victimhood that Nigeria confers on us all.
Last Friday afternoon I left Lagos to travel to Ife, to speak at TEDxIfe. Having missed the two vehicles sent to pick speakers from Lagos (due to other commitments), I had to drive the 200+ kilometres to Ife. For anyone who knows what Nigeria’s highways are like, that decision of mine deserves a round of applause.
The highway was thankfully free, for most of the way. All I had to contend with were endless trucks, potholes and swellings (no highways cops or robbers, thankfully!). Few things are more fascinating than how the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway suddenly seizes the car steering from your hands, in a bid to toss you off the road, into the surrounding nothingness. I did the Lagos-Ibadan trip two weeks ago, and I think I’m now qualified to tell you that no one should have to ride on that road more than once every quarter.
I made it into Ibadan in good time, and then turned off at Iwo Road; onto the “New Ife Road” (I wonder what the old one looks like!). Shortly after speeding past a sign that said Ife was 10km away, the largest pothole I’ve ever seen in my life suddenly showed up in front of me. I ran into it, flew out of it, and a minute or so later, heard that most terrifying of sounds: the flapping of a flattened tyre. I pulled off to the side of the road, just outside a wooden shack in which three young men sat and drank palm wine.
I asked if they could help with changing the tire (I’ve lived in Nigeria long enough to know that for the right fee you can always get someone to help you change a tyre). One of them looked at me and asked if I’d pay. Of course, I replied. The three men followed me to the car, and set about the task of changing the tire.
And then a discussion started. I explained how the flat tyre (it eventually turned out to be a bent tyre rim) came about. One of them – the most vocal of the lot – said something (in Yoruba) that shocked me. “Things will not change until [X’s] child dies on this road,” he said. It was intended as a curse, no doubt; ‘X’ is a prominent Nigerian apparently linked to the firm that bagged the contract for the construction / maintenance of that road.
“If only you knew how many people have died because of that pothole,” he added, and then started recounting accidents. “You should be very thankful,” he admonished me.
One of them brought up ‘Boko Haram’ and said he hoped the sect’s attacks would help chase everyone out of Abuja, to their respective homesteads. I recognised that morbid wish as an expression of anger at the image of Abuja as the overriding symbol of Nigeria’s unrestrained corruption.
And in that instant I realised that it was the multifaceted dysfunction of Nigeria that connected me with these young Nigerians a million miles removed from the locus of my daily life. They may never have heard of Twitter, or the term ‘Occupy Nigeria’, but they, like me and the multitude of social-media-active persons I know, all share in the nagging sense of victimhood that Nigeria confers on us all.
Later on, one of them said something else that struck me. “Nigeria’s still going to be great.”
Tyre changed, advice dispensed on the nearest vulcaniser’s location, I ‘paid’ for their services, and set off on the last bit of my journey.
I walked into the TEDxIfe auditorium at about half past five. I’d already missed most of the speakers, sadly. But even in the bit that I caught before the end, and from the people I met – speakers and attendees (most of whom were OAU students) – that small, almost-dormant voice of hope in my heart resurged.
Nigeria is full of passionate young people, disenchanted with the status quo, and fired up to make a positive difference. I think that the depressing status quo will never be able to withstand their sustained assault. Do you agree?
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.