These yellow buses remind me of chaos. I look out from my window seat on the plane and I look to see my country beneath, as we continue in our descent. Brown and rotted aluminum roofs welcome my eyes, fumes rise in the air from something burning nearby – Or someone, yes someone burning nearby.
Maybe an angry and frustrated mob caught an old and haggard hungry man stealing a curb of onions and made him pay with his life. I hear all these stories, I’ve seen all these things and I’ve been in so many situations that make me feel depressed, angry and sad about my identity.
I try to convince myself, I say it like a mantra, ‘I am proud to be Nigerian!’ I say it three times, sometimes more, hoping that the more I say so, the more I’d believe it, and the better I’d feel about my country.
But it never works, I don’t feel any better.
My thoughts begin to overwhelm me as my mind slips to various disturbing scenes and events that I have witnessed and a lot more that I have heard. Things like criminals who go unpunished, work started, and then abandoned, greedy politicians who confidently steal the nation’s resources and do not even bother to do so in hiding.
They don’t even try to cover it up.
Corruption has eaten so deep into my nation. It’s a second nature. She walks confidently on our streets, she doesn’t hide, no, she doesn’t. She is always dressed in the finest lace materials, with the finest jewelries, of gold and of silver.
She walks with her nose in the air. The people clear the roads for her, they sing her praises. And when integrity walks by, they spit on her and call her names and she runs into hiding.
I am forced to think that the average Nigerian has the tendency to be corrupt and the very few who aren’t, just haven’t had the ‘right opportunity’.
But of course, I do believe that there are a few good men but I also believe that this is a country for no good men.
But that’s not all that concerns me.
Another, perhaps the most disturbing, is the mind-set of the people. I watched a woman, one day as I set out to work, clean up the front of her stall in preparation for business that morning.
She swept with all sense of responsibility, her back was bent so low, and she kept sweeping until she got to the edge of a gutter and she swept all her dirt into that gutter. Right there, in front of her food stall.
I wondered what kind of mentality that was. This has nothing to do with education; surely, this should be common sense. I’m coming from a country where the average mentality of a common man is not to litter and where that of another is to pick up after someone else.
And there is the mob mentality, where the people rather take laws into their hands and brutally murder a person. It is almost a form of entertainment and there is a sense of accomplishment and excitement when this is carried out. Sometimes, even the law enforcers stand by and enjoy the moment.
Now, it would be very wrong of me to say that I am completely innocent. While I have never been involved in or witnessed any mob murder, I remember the first time I heard about something like this.
I was shocked and sick to my stomach but the ‘grown-ups’ around me had begun to analyze the event.
They talked about how ‘those boys’ terrorized the people. How they had mercilessly killed a business man the other day. How they had come to rob that night and were caught by the local security guards.
These local security guards were in fact more efficient than the Police men, because, you see, they weren’t ordinary humans.
They had their juju which kept them from danger. Bullets couldn’t go through them and even a moving lorry couldn’t run them over. They said. But no one ever really talked about the mallam who stood in front of a highway with all sorts of charms around his body and how he was gruesomely crushed to death by an over speeding truck.
I remember that after their analysis, I felt okay with the whole mob justice thing, after all they deserved it, I thought. But the dead tell no tales and who is to say some of these men hadn’t been innocent, a case of wrong place and wrong time perhaps?
I think to myself in the few minutes that the plane is about to taxi down the runway. When I get the opportunity, should I run? Should I abandon this place I call home?
As we get closer to the grounds, I can faintly see the bus conductors hanging out of their buses and I imagine them yelling at the top of their lungs, calling for passengers to fill their empty seats.
This is a normal sight in Lagos and I begin to wonder, how did it ever become normal for a human being to hang off a fast moving vehicle?
I see pedestrians running frantically across the multi-lane roads, right underneath an overhead pedestrian bridge. How is this normal?
But talk is cheap. I am but a writer, and several have been written. A lot more have been spoken but what must I do to make a difference? What action must I take?
I should start with myself. I should never litter, I should never ask for or accept or even give a bribe. Or should I even bother? Because every step I take forward is like taking two steps backwards.
I try to be orderly, I wait in line, I never cut but they insult me and call me a fool for not doing so. They frustrate me when I do not ‘give them something’ for a service that should be free.
As I begin to lose hope, something amazing happens.
I am going home with my family after a service one Sunday morning when we notice there is chaos upfront. As we get closer, we see that a car is on fire and there are people gathered around it.
‘Very typical of Nigerians to gather around something like this and do nothing but put their hands on their head and exclaim pitifully for the fate of the victim’ I say to myself.
But then I notice that none of these people are doing that, they are all trying to put out the fire with water and hands full of sand. I am sure it hasn’t come to the mind of anyone there to call for a fire service, since they might have had a better chance putting out the fire with water fetched with a teaspoon.
A lot of people have stepped out of their cars and are trying to put the fire out with their own extinguishers. My father instructs us to stay in the car as he rushes towards the burning car with his own extinguisher.
Then I notice this water truck in front of us. In movements so coordinated, the men were out of the truck. One of the men ran to the back of the truck where the water gauge was, unwrapped the hose and threw it to the driver who caught it and made a run towards the car and in a matter of seconds, they were spraying the car with water and soon afterwards, they succeeded in putting out the fire.
I don’t know why but something moved in me that day. You see, these men were the simplest of men. They wore jagged clothes, didn’t own cars or houses, perhaps. They were simple men who delivered water to rich men’s houses in the estate and their first thought was to put out the fire from the car of one of such men.
Not the thought of having to explain why they had to refill the tank with water, the fuel they would have wasted making a double trip or whether or not they would be paid for what they had just done.
After that day, I still heard about all the negativity there was to hear but I decided I would focus on what was positive and when I did, I began to see my country in a new light, albeit a fairly bright one.
You see, at the end of the day, it is the people who make up their country and I am one of these people.
So, rather than relent, I would continue to hope, believe and do my part in making a home I can say without an iota of doubt that I am proud of.