The Emily Dickinson poem, ‘Hope is the Thing With Feathers’ has been on my mind all week, particularly with regards to Nigeria. And Nigeria’s Independence Day. For as long as I can recall since I became an adult, October 1 has always been a day of sober reflection for me.
A day for me to tally up Naija’s losses and gains and be mostly exasperated at how much the losses outweighed the gains. This year was similar, but instead of exasperation, I found myself reciting lines from Dickinson’s poem all day, scrolling through my TL on Twitter and daring myself to believe that maybe the tide is changing.
I allowed hope to perch on my soul. And for the first time in a long time, I was in the mood to “celebrate Independence Day,” like I used to as a child: food, drinks, merriment.
That state of mind probably influenced my dream on the night of October 1. I had what some may term a fortuitous dream. A group of us – a dozen people or so, none of whom I can recall now- were in a room with one of Naija’s founding fathers, Nnamdi Azikiwe. Yes, the great Zik of Africa. We were seated at a table, laughing and discussing with him. In the dream, we were all relaxed as Zik inspired awe without being intimidating. He addressed us by name and we had a really great time. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that Azikiwe’s words – whatever they were – were optimistic and that I woke up still reeling with delight. They made me believe that a new Nigeria is possible. A Nigeria that we can all believe in.
At present, belief in Naija is low. The rate at which people are japaing, relatively successful middle-class families even, is proof that the country is broken. They are moving their whole families abroad and starting afresh.
A friend told me of her sister who is a banker arranging to relocate to Canada. This sister had felt guilty because she loved her job, loved her colleagues and felt like she’d be leaving them in the lurch, only to discover that her boss and at least one other colleague were making similar plans too. This was a woman who never thought she’d leave Naija but staying was no longer sustainable. She had children and had to think of their future, and she did not see a viable future for them in Nigeria.
In some instances, folks who manage to leave the country post photos on social media sharing their ‘wins’ abroad- houses and cars and jobs with good pay- and sometimes even publicly disowning Nigeria sef. Those left behind in Naija pray to “tap into their blessings” and find the means to leave too. It is easy to feel second-hand embarrassment for those who celebrate relocating abroad as a major achievement, lapping up congratulations as if they’ve won an incredible prize, easy to suggest that citizens shouldn’t be too quick to disown their countries but it is difficult to have a sense of pride in a nation in which one does not see a future, and not to rejoice when one leaves it. There’s a line in the poem, Home, by Warsan Shire that goes, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” There are people for whom daily living in Naija is sitting close to the mouth of a shark. It is untenable to stay.
Insecurity has contributed to making Naija unbearable for many. Kidnappings and attacks all over Nigeria. There’s hardly anyone I know without a kidnapping story. Like oil, it touches everyone. Family members or friends or people related to them were kidnapped. And in some cases, killed. A former classmate of mine was kidnapped and released after a hefty ransom was paid. An old roommate’s husband was kidnapped and despite the ransom being paid, he was murdered. This is the Nigeria that many of those who can are escaping from. The mouth of a shark. It’s easy for all the bad news to overwhelm one but hope is the thing with feathers, and after my dream last night, I dare to dream.
At birthday celebrations, we pray for the celebrant, so this is my prayer for Naija at 62: leaders who put country before self-aggrandizement, citizens who put country before ethnic group or religion. I wish us all a better Nigeria, a country we can take pride in. May we live to see the dreams of our founding fathers for Naija come to fruition.
*Hope” is The Thing With Feathers
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. – Emily Dickinson