Memories of Nigeria’s colours in black and white (III) - By: Abdulkareem Baba Aminu | Dailytrust

Memories of Nigeria’s colours in black and white (III)

Sometime after that, and after I had two popular cartoon strips in the now-defunct newspaper called The Democrat, and got my first four rejection letters from Marvel Comics, I somehow remained a young man full of hope. Nigeria, even with monumental ups and downs, still allowed me to dream, to be an artist or writer at the world’s foremost pop culture company in another country, on another continent. Fast-forward to 2002, one day as I was setting out to the post office in the city centre to drop off my latest art samples to Marvel’s Submissions Editor, I couldn’t get a bus. Loads of people were walking on foot, while some gathered in clusters, with worried looks on their faces. A bit weirded out, I walked back home, only to hear that riots had broken out.

Again, many lives were lost, and families and friends were torn apart as a move by Christians to Kaduna South, and Muslims to Kaduna North from the South, began. My Kaduna – my Nigeria, really – was falling apart. A small consolation was that some Christian friends who stayed in certain areas, like my mine, felt safe and didn’t move. So, while the violence raged in other parts, my friends and I would play soccer on the street, and exchange VHS tapes, and bootleg VCDs. The concept of hating someone because of his ethnicity or religion, frankly, seemed incredulous to us. But a fellow teen, who had moved to my neighbourhood a couple of years earlier, would provide me with my first, bare-faced encounter with bigotry.

Assuming we somehow were all Muslim, playing soccer, this new guy made a clear call for us to ‘go and attack the infidels who lived down the road’. We all looked at each other most comically, with puzzled expressions, after which we burst into laughter, then sternly told him to get lost. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my heartbreak would worsen with the appearance of labels and slurs from both ‘sides’. My perfect Kaduna was now in smoking ruins, and close-knit families and bosom friends would part ways, not because they stopped loving each other, but because it was the safest thing to do.

After that end of innocence, I faced university with cautious optimism. Many old friends were there, as Zaria was a stone’s throw from Kaduna, figuratively speaking. Many new friendships were begun as well, many of them remaining till today, some even stronger. The best part of that part, is that none of those friendships, new or old, are coloured by religion or ethnicity. It seemed to some us who noticed, that the Kaduna we knew, loved, and lost, wasn’t really gone. It couldn’t be gone, for the simple reason that it actually resided in our hearts, and so was hard to kill.
The almost two decades I spent as a journalist after all that, showed me things which many cannot even begin to experience in a whole, robust lifetime. I had front row seats to riots, violent attacks, concerts by superstars, movie premieres, and all kinds of generation-defining moments. I also got to regularly interview some of the biggest newsmakers in Nigeria, during moments when they had the most chutzpah, or none at all. It was a Nigeria without social justice warriors, virtue-signalers, outrage-peddlers, or cancel culture-purveyors. It was a Nigeria that, while flawed, still reminded me of my Kaduna of old, even if it wasn’t a mirror image. But a body can only take so much for such a long time.

On the bed, I looked around my old room once more, everything just as I left it pre-Coronavirus lockdown. I smiled to myself, as I had at that moment decided on my next steps. I twirled the rubber band round the stack of photos twice, and put them back into the longbox. Maybe one day I will look at the other ones, the colour photos, which carry relatively more recent memories. Maybe I won’t. One thing remains clear: It is my mother, and my father, and the relationships they had – or didn’t have – with me, that made me the kind of kid I was to the other kids who knew me, as well as the man I grew up to be, to those who know me. But I find it unsettling, and relieving – mostly relieving – that in my stack of black and white photos, I have realized that while my head guides the kind of person I have become, it is my heart that has kept me Nigerian all these years.
(Concluded)

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