Jon Chikadibie Okafo
In the month of March, I concluded plans to travel to Nigeria for my Easter holiday. Like most compatriots making travel arrangements to our dear country, I was filled with so much excitement and a sneaky feeling of apprehension. I was excited because I was going to spend one month with my family and friends alike. I could not help nursing that tiny tinge of apprehension because my friends scattered all over the world made it a point of duty to give me tips on how to beat the snares of kidnappers, armed robbers and trigger-happy policemen. At the risk of sounding immodest, I was already feeling like Rambo after taking in all the security tips I was bombarded with-I even added a little "macho-swagger" to my steps.
My excitement about my waka to Nigeria peaked at Heathrow airport. Being a first time Arik Air flier, I was genuinely impressed by the level of customer service both on ground and up in the sky. I felt so proud to be a Nigerian flying to Nigeria with a Nigerian airline that prides itself as the "wings of Nigeria". Thank you, Arik. A few minutes to touch down, I looked out of the aircraft window only to behold a site that triggered the feeling of dread that I thought I had permanently suppressed- the sight of Lagos from the sky at night is chilling! All one could see of Lagos were just pockets of lights scattered unevenly, the rest of the place reminded one of the description of the earth as was recorded by the Christian Creationists- covered in darkness! We landed, eventually, and passed through immigration without any hassle. I must commend the MMIA officials; they now appear in smart uniforms and are polite! At last, I came out to the embrace of my family and friends, and to the chaos that is Nigeria.
The coach journey from Lagos to my home state, Anambra was a harsher replay of T.S Eliot's epic poem, The Journey of the Magi. The closure of Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu due to upgrading/renovation works has exposed the devilish face of most coach operators from the South East of Nigeria; they are pure rogues fleecing travellers! Ekene dili chukwu Nig Ltd appears to carry the Gold Cup in this regard. Intending passengers are made to part with their money without seeing the coach that would take them to their various destinations; a rickety coach is what awaits you at the end of the trick. My "welcome to Nigeria" started when the Ekene dili chukwu coach I boarded at Jibowu [my wife had warned me against this], broke down in the middle of nowhere before Ore in Ogun state. Like something from a Nollywood movie, the coach driver who disguised as an elderly and responsible fellow promised that another coach was coming from Enugu to convey us, suddenly boarded another coach and abandoned us all! It was heart-breaking watching helpless nursing mothers stranded with their little ones under such a harsh condition, and the sun was wicked that day! After about five hours on that spot, the hopelessness of the situation had crept in-there was no coach coming to our rescue! The management of the coach company had conned us all, so we all had to make alternative travel arrangements. It was horrible. Service providers in Nigeria just rip people off and that is the end of it. Like I said, my Igbo compatriots who operate coach services are the culprits; they wilfully put passengers on coaches that are not road-worthy with the knowledge that it will not complete the journey. Their only concern is profit, profit and profit. It is evil, simple. Nobody talks about compensation-not in Nigeria, mate.
The state of the Shagamu-Benin road evokes dangerous sentiments and feelings in me. If Nigeria had the type of laws and mentality that the Chinese are reputed to have, every government official/contractors that have had anything to with that road ought to be tied up [firmly], and shot with a Dane-gun till dead! The appropriate means of mobility on that road should be camels! The road's only claim to government presence is the presence of Mobile Police officers stationed at every major pothole-which are uncountable. The bold and callous way the police officers rob fellow Nigerians at gun point is sickening, to say the least; they point guns at motorists and demand to be "settled"! In my opinion, people only part with their hard-earned money because the police officer demanding for it is armed, dangerous and in most cases drunk! I thought that the police rascality on the highways was "too-much" until I eventually crossed the Niger Bridge into Ontisha, Anambra state! I thought I was in some dream Somalia; there were fierce looking police officers and soldiers at every hundred yards. This is the case all over Anambra state. The rate of crime in Anambra state is legendary; armed robbers and people grabbers were having a field day, hence the state government acted swiftly by bringing in soldiers and police officers. However, I observed, sadly, that not much has changed. Police/Army check points were deployed everywhere in my home state to checkmate the operations of kidnappers but this is one big lie! People are still being kidnapped almost on a daily basis in Anambra state. I crossed the Niger Bridge into Ontisha some minutes past eleven at night, and all through the entire journey from that point to my hometown in the Capital territory, we did not meet any police/army checkpoint. But come out during the day and you see these security men causing traffic chaos for commuters; all they are after is their mandatory "roger", which come in twenty-naira notes-depending on the officer's mood! Majority of these Mopol officers and soldiers are from the Northern part of the country and one outstanding feature which distinguishes them is their inability to speak good English! The shortest route to incurring their wrath is to ask any question in English. Again, the infuriating thing about the police/army mischief in Anambra state is that the people of Anambra just comply, and go-no complain. Kidnappers grab people at night; sadly you won't see any police/army resistance or checkpoint then. I kept wondering where they were always hiding at night, only to be informed by some fellow that they take the night off to share their loot and re-strategize on how best to traumatize the hapless Ndi Anambra.
Throughout my one month stay in Nigeria, I used every opportunity to inquire from my friends why they all keep quiet in the face of tyranny, oppression, I pointed out to my friends that there was so much corruption going on in Nigeria, hence our facilities and institutions will always remain comatose, I argued that our politicians, especially the ones in government are robbing the nation blind, most importantly, I kept on telling my "guys" that real power belonged to the people, and not to a few rogue politicians. I was shocked when all my friends repeated to me, one after the other that " johny, e be like say oyibo culture don enter your head", I was gutted. Majority of people living in Nigeria do not care a hoot who is looting the treasury, most of our people back home have come to accept the looting of treasury by government officials and politicians as a blessing from God and something that each fellow should pray to experience, in every gathering I found myself, the story was the same-nobody cares who is looting! Little wonder there is so much gangsterism associated with our electoral process! The shortest route to tremendous affluence is through clinching an elective post-be it the post of a local government councillor! The sad reality is that those of us in Diaspora have changed in thoughts and reasoning from our kith and kin back home, it is true. We have access to a better life, a better economy; our perception of reality has been affected by the world-views of our foreign hosts. We now ask questions when we need clarifications, we say "no" when we feel cheated, we demand compensation when we feel aggrieved, we reports crimes to the appropriate authorities when we witness one. This is the sad reality.
My broad, Nigeria is bad. The level of poverty in that country is frightening; the gap between the rich and the poor is beyond comprehension. The BBC documentary captioned "Welcome to Lagos" paints a clear picture of what life in Nigeria looks like. The city of Lagos represents the largest concentration of human beings that are daily being plagued by so much misery, stench, pollution, criminal elements, generator fumes/noise, pick-pockets, ritual murderers, etc. Even though the gallant governor of Lagos state, Mr. Fashola is making giant strides in terms of revamping the state, much still needs to be done. In my humble view, our people back home needs a change of attitude. The mindset of people living in Nigeria must change; most people living in the country are so self-centred, the general mood seems to suggest that "it is all about me", drivers on the roads do not care about fellow road users, nobody obeys traffic rules, most police officers are crooks, hence nobody respects them, our politicians see their positions as a means to an end-the end being the ability to steal so much money from our patrimony, government at every level is almost non-existent, the people do not trust those in power, those in power build big mansions and high fences to keep out we the people. Life in Nigeria is horrible. Electricity is a fairy tale, a night in Lagos is not recommended for the faint-hearted. The rumbles of electric generators of all hues imported from China will surely drive you mad at night. If the sound fails to prick your sanity, the fumes will surely nab you. My broad, Nigeria dey bad! Most people living in Nigeria do not have access to information, thus they do not bother discussing what is happening around them. You would expect that the noise about Yar'dua illness would be generating hot debates at every social gathering in Nigeria, na lie! All you hear wherever and whenever our people, both old and young are gathered are stupid arguments centred on the English Premier League! Nigerians love having fun. All you need to keep the mood going in Nigeria is a satellite TV showing a Premier League match, a generous supply of beer, isi-ewu, nkwobi, pepper-soup and sex, government and the societal ills and evils could go to blazes.