I am 35,000 feet above the ground, floating in a giant mechanical bird that man calls an airplane. This has become a second home to me. I’ve had immigrations officials say “I just saw you a few days ago” to me at my local airport in Los Angeles. Once, flying was a pipe dream for a kid from a city with now airport of its own. Now, it’s a place of calm. But something just upset my little idyllic world on this morning when I thought I heard the birds singing with the voice of cherubic angels. One minute, I’m chipper and showing a piece of cookie who’s the boss. The next moment, my mouth is dry and there are tears quickly filling my eyes
I am in God’s won country battling a 20-year emotion in a country some swear God has forgotten even though there is a church in every street corner. I’m hearing tunes that promised hope yesterday but got mangled under the force of a soldier’s tank. I’m lucky the passenger nearest me is in dreamland or I would be a bag of embarrassment. A stewardess strolls by, gives me a look that says “I understand and I’m here for you” but she has absolute no clue. How could she? How could anyone? How do you even begin to explain it?
The source of my grief is a twenty-one year old commercial I just played on my laptop. I had obtained in Lagos a week ago as part of the archival footage for a political documentary I was working on. I’ve put off watching it for many weeks because I thought I knew it frame for frame, after all it was once the soundtrack to the Nigerian life. Now, I’m watching it in this giant, big machine floating in the air. And, the tears are still dribbling down my face.
If you’re below 30, you probably won’t get it. But, you know what, that was the beginning of the problem you face today. You know, the problem with power, the problem with security, the problems of kids getting trampled to death because they dared chase jobs that had probably been filled anyway – the he problem that has turned us into a miserable, delusional giant of Africa.
I am watching the MKO Abiola campaign video from 1993 and I’m crying because of what could have been. Like the line from the movie Raging Bull, we could have been somebody. That was the summer Nigerians came together and voted for the promise of a better future. That jingle was the soundtrack to our summer. When I close my eyes, I can still see barefooted kids abandoning their football games to catch the 68seconds commercial every time it came on. I can still see mothers taking a breaking from dinner chores to see the commercial when it came on between the early evening news. I can still see the pride in the eyes of the youth who would boast of working “on the campaign” even though all they has was a poster from Abiola’s SDP. I could still see me who walked with pride knowing that their destinies was returning to their hands. I could still see those soldiers nodded their heads to the jingle whenever it was on radio.
Then, puff – and the dream was gone. Buried in a cloud of smoke. Murdered by a coalition of generals and politicians who only cared about the size of their bank accounts. And, with it, the dreams of a nation that has been raped and continued to be raped by the men and women who claim to want to lead it to a glorious future.
I am watching the video again and the tears are playing a game on me. I am watching a video of hope and wondering what the problem with Nigeria is really. A country of promise and natural wealth is cursed by the lack of basic infrastructure; country with oil which o now has to import kerosene from places like the Republic of Niger; and country with some of the brightest people in world reduced to looking like bumbling fools on the world stage.
I have travelled the whole land, asking folks what they think is the problem of Nigeria. It is a question everyone has an answer to but no one seems to have a solution to the growing crisis. Every man and woman tells me the problem is leadership. Every time I want to run to a corner and cry. I want to cry because the men and women telling me the problem are our leaders. They are the problem with Nigeria. They know it and we know it. Nigeria’s leadership problem is worse than HIV right now because you know even with a full-blown AIDS, you have hope
Nigeria’s leadership problem is now a cancer, a disease that is fast killing the country. You pray cancer gets a cure soon the same way you pray Nigeria gets a break in this long streak of heartless leadership. And you have to keep praying because in this season of politics, you look left and you look right and all you see are people camped under different alphabets. But, they are all the same and one. Our politics and politicians shunned ideology a long time ago.
I am still crying because I just wish yesterday hadn’t turned out the way it did; that the hope of 1993 had led us into the future. We could have been somebody. And, I’m probably going to keep crying because we’re far from being alive. And, this song keeps reminding me, just as the cacophony of nothingness fills the Nigerian political space.
Ose Oyamendan-Eimakhu is Los Angeles-based Nigerian filmmaker