Growing up, I thought my adulthood would mimic my parents’ in every way and include weekly drives back to Osumenyi, our ancestral home. The first time I took my children there, we sat on the balcony of my parents’ home and ate the sweetest guavas ever. Osumenyi was where I raced my cousin, Stanley on our Raleigh Choppers. It was where I learned to play ping-pong. It was where my younger sister, BG and I made friends we only saw once or twice a year when their families and ours returned home for Christmas or Afia olu. When we got older, my brother, Okey, Stanley, BG and I would take drives to neighbouring towns to isi ewu joints. Once, we were served an isi ewu that was missing both eyes. The punctilious Stanley asked the owner of the joint, a broad-faced woman- if she’d perchance served us a blind goat or if she’d simply forgotten to include the eyes. When my parents-in-law came for my Igba Nkwu, on my father-in-law’s first trip to Nigeria, they loved it so much, they spoke about it for years. I have so many memories, funny and happy ones of Osumenyi, of spending time there and I’d hoped to make more with my children, but I haven’t been back in a while.
I haven’t been back to Osumenyi for many reasons but one of them is because we know that the South East as a whole is facing serious security challenges. Abductions for ransom, and more recently, bandits and the faceless, ubiquitous Unknown Gun Men aka UGM committing their crimes apparently with no fear of reprisals. Whenever I share my fears, foisted on me by the news of these crimes in other parts of the SE, someone – a cousin mostly reminds me that “Mba nu. Osumenyi isn’t that bad.” Whatever crimes happen there – including the burning of a police station a couple of years ago- are anomalies. “Osu is safe.” My cousin returned from the states for her wine-carrying and everything went well. Inspired by that, we’ve talked recently of a family reunion party there. I imagined returning with my boys and my husband, and creating new Osumenyi memories. I guess I so desperately needed to believe that my beloved town, the home I love, had been miraculously spared the madness infesting, not just the South East, but the entire nation. I wanted to believe that whatever changes had occurred in Osumenyi had only been good ones, progressive ones: the tarred road – constant electricity – and – pipe borne water variety of change. I wanted to believe that my town was still the safe, warm womb of my young(er) days. Alas, last week shattered my heart and presented that illusion for what it was.
Last week, ‘UGM’ struck at a beer parlour and killed five people including the owner of the bar. One of the other victims was a businessman back home for a funeral from his base in Sokoto. When, as young adults, we went out exploring isi ewu joints between Osumenyi and Nnewi, joking about blind goats and staying out long enough with a car ‘borrowed’ from our parents to get into trouble with them, we never thought that we were in any danger. Not from gunmen, not from kidnappers. I envy my younger self the freedom and safety of those days, and I am saddened that things have fallen so much apart that for our children, that level of freedom and safety in the SE is the stuff of folktales. It brings me to tears.
But tears will not change things. If it would, I’d devote the rest of my natural life to shedding them for change. These attacks are happening everywhere. In Anambra State alone, the same day as the Osumenyi attack, there was another one with fatalities by these domestic terrorists in Agulu. If we are not safe where the umbilical cords of our ancestors are buried, where can we be safe? Governor Soludo has his work cut out for him, and I wish him the wisdom and resources to tackle this issue and uproot it. ‘Unknown Gun Men’ are not ghosts. They are not air. To whom are they unknown? They can be unmasked and apprehended, surely. Adapting and paraphrasing Ursula Le Guin’s quote on Freedom, let me remind our leaders that governing is a heavy load, a great burden for one to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice involves making difficult and bold decisions. We need to sanitize our state, and seize it from these oso chi egbu folks who believe that all life is theirs to take as they see fit.
We want better for Nigeria, and we want leaders dedicated to getting us that. We demand that. On that note, let me ask oo, una don get una PVCs?