I marked my golden jubilee on May 1. Being a day I clocked 50, it was a moment of introspection as I ruminated on the past. I recalled the village life where everyone was a parent to you. I was born in a little village called Shinge, now in Kamuru Chiefdom of Zangon Kataf local government area of Kaduna state. At the time of my birth, my father was at the warfront fighting for the unity of Nigeria under General Yakubu Gowon. My uncle, Ndabi, who was also drafted into the war never made it home. My other uncle, Yakubu, was lucky to have escaped with a bullet lodged in his body. He limped through to his grave in September 1995.
Life in the village then was not complete without a ride on donkeys owned by herdsmen who were seasonal visitors to our abodes. We crept into our homes after playing far into the night to avoid arousing our parents from sleep. Life in the rural side was simple and rustic, with no fear of insecurity. Most of our homes had no doors, and even when doors were provided for, they were not padlocked. We were warned not to eat eggs because eggs were considered as food meant for thieves.
Tired of the drudgery of the village, I wrote a letter in Hausa appealing to my father to come and take me home. I got to Sokoto in 1978 and enrolled in primary 3. The head teacher of the Army Children School in Kwanawa in Sokoto was painfully disappointed in my inability to write in English. I survived the furious insistence by the head teacher who noted I should repeat Primary 2. My father had to salute the head teacher severally before he grudgingly allowed me to be left in Primary 3. Happily, my desk mate in the class, Mary, did a good job by encouraging me to speak in Pidgin English. Within six months, the village boy who had been an expert in writing letters in Hausa soon started shouting and cursing at the boys taunting him over his inability to speak English. My usual response to them would always be, “Na God go punish you”.
On one fateful morning in 1978, a maternal relation of mine arrived to see my mother. His face was grave and solemn. After some minutes, he came out with a hopeful look. Few minutes later, my mum summoned me to inform me about the subject of her relation’s visit. There was this disturbing look on her face as she shot her eyes at me. As a respectful boy from the village, we were not allowed to look into the eyes of our parents.
She said, “My brother has told me I should withdraw you and put you in mechanic workshop since you cannot speak English. I know you will one day speak and write English. Those speaking English are not witches and wizards.” Rather than dash my hopes and aspirations, the encouragement from my mom after the shocking news would later buoy me up to attend Government Secondary School, Bungudu, now in Zamfara State from 1980 -84; College of Advanced Studies (1985-1989) and the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria (1988- 1991) for my first degree in English Language. I later returned to acquire a second degree in 2000. To put a lie to the false prophecy, I spent over six years teaching Communications Skills at the Kaduna State Polytechnic Zaria from 1993 t0 1998. Thereafter, I began a career in Journalism where I was first employed by the defunct Examiner newspaper owned by Chief Pini Jason of blessed memory. Indeed, it can be amazing how the voice and faith of a beloved mother could make one soar above the clouds of doubts.
At 50, I have been a witness to the often-repeated singsong of the great potentials of my country. From the tail end of the General Olusegun Obasanjo era in 1978 to the recent electoral victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the recently concluded 2019 polls that has been described by the opposition as an electoral heist, my country has always been a perpetual potential awaiting to be realised. Just when we thought we have seen the worst during the military era, another worst greater than that of the past has resurfaced to our disquiet. Before my eyes, we now have new set of Fulani herdsmen terrorising our communities and unleashing all forms of barbarity. In one day, over 150 people were murdered in Kaura local government area of Kaduna State in 2014. Not a single word of consolation from then sitting government of President Goodluck Jonathan was issued.
Added to this is the fear of kidnappers that have turned human lives into commercial articles. With no jobs and the economy not willing to come out of the woods, many youths may be heading to the woods to join the lucrative business of abductions that now hauls in millions of naira in ransom, depending on the status of the abducted. If the situation is allowed to continue unchecked, Nigeria will soon be elevated into a flourishing den of kidnappings. Mass killings by herdsmen in most states of North-central zone, and banditry in the North-west zone, including the resurging Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east are signs of distress for a nation wobbling down the slippery slope of irreversible collapse.
Considering the lackluster attitude of government in performing its mandate of providing good governance, churches and mosques, among other religious platforms, have come handy to provide alternatives. Those things we had complained in the past are still with us, with power generation still below 3,000 megawatts. Hope for decrease in the prices of petroleum products is still dependent on Dangote Refinery that is yet to commence operations. The joke of our failed leadership came up during the week when we were told that Saudi Aramco, an equivalent of our Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is set to establish refineries in our country. According to records, Aramco makes a profit of an average $200 billion annually.
Nigeria is only a transactional platform in advancing selfish interest as her leaders, who were product of public schools, have destroyed and replaced them with private schools and universities. Parents now have to work themselves to death to pay fees for their children and wards. The urge to be corrupt by public workers in order to pay bills is a commitment and not an urge. Hospitals are now mere morgues, as patients are now referred to medical facilities owned by doctors serving in public hospitals for pecuniary interest. Considering what I have witnessed so far in these 50 years on earth, Nigeria is pathetically on a journey to self-destruction. As a nation, we are farther from our dreams of nationhood than when we started in 1960. At present, we are too disunited to be united, as ethnic sentiments and religious factors have now become pliable platforms deployed by political leaders to access the corridors of power. As recently observed by former governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the rising level of corruption and the unprecedented security challenges are obvious signs for trouble ahead. During the military era, corruption was then the major problem, but now we can’t even be assured of waking up without risking our limbs being chopped off by some blood-thirsty gunmen.
These days, I wake up in the middle of the nights, not because of these problems haranguing our nation, but because of our leaders who have shown gross incompetence in tackling these challenges. May our moral sense be pricked to understand the need to provide doors of opportunities for all, no matter their ethnic, religious and socio-political status.
Reef writes from Abuja.