This week’s guest post is from Ayodele Olofintuade a writer and blogger living in Ibadan. She was shortlisted for the 2011 Nigeria (NLNG) Prize for Literature for her children’s book, Eno’s Story.
A lot has been said about Nigeria and her people, how corrupt, ill-mannered (translating to loud), lazy and greedy we are. People making these claims are not just blowing hot air, as examples of our ‘criminality’ abound all over the internet, from the policeman caught on camera asking for a bribe (you can check out one of the articles written about the incident here) to internet scammers milking ‘poor’ and ‘innocent’ women out of their hard-earned money.
A lot more has been said about our ethnocentrism and how the differences in our ethnicity drive us apart instead of uniting us (the recent brouhaha over the ‘deportation’ of indigents from Lagos to their respective states is a fine example of. this). Then there’s our religious fanaticism, the worst of which is exemplified by Boko Haram, a terrorist group presently scourging Northern Nigeria.
If all the reports and stories on the internet are to be believed, Nigeria is going to hell in a basket. There was even a rumour floating about that the US predicted that Nigeria would break up in 2015.
But little is known of women such as Mama Yinka, a woman with little education who used to live in my neighbourhood. Married to a man who was disappointed in her because she persisted in having girls for him, in spite of the fact that he left his first wife for her (that one also ‘refused’ to give him a male child).
Mama Yinka started out by blending pepper for the neighbourhood; she bought a machine that ran on diesel. But her girls were growing up and she was determined that they would have a better life than hers, so she started selling charcoal.
“My daughters must have better lives,” Mama Yinka said to me one day while she was helping me blend pepper. “Nobody in my family has ever passed primary school level. The same goes for my husband’s family.”
After her first daughter sat for and passed her common entrance exams, she was sent to a substandard government secondary school. Mama Yinka went to the Ministry of Education and showed them her daughter’s grades telling them why the girl should be sent to a better school. On seeing how determined the woman was, they reposted the girl.
The first girl, Yinka, is now an undergraduate at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and the other two are in secondary school.
I saw MY Nigeria in her the night I went out to buy some stuff and my then-8-year-old-son, set fire to the house while trying to light a candle because PHCN had taken the light. Mama Yinka single-handedly broke into our flat and rescued him.
I see Nigeria every day in the eyes of the children who come to my house to borrow the books their parents cannot afford to buy for them. I see it in that single-minded determination to make something of themselves, to be better, and in turn make this country better.
I see Nigeria in Olamilekan, a master butcher who was apprenticed at a very young age because his parents could no longer afford to send him to school. He enrolled for the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, and he is now an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan studying veterinary medicine.
Or should I tell you about that beautiful country with a bright future that I see in Tunde, a fresh graduate who put himself through school by riding a motorcycle commercially?
Maybe I should tell you about my Ibo neighbour who lost her shop to a fire and half the neighbourhood pooled their resources together and for her because she was heavily pregnant and would soon put to bed?
There are so many examples of Nigerians helping one another, fighting, pushing and striving to make this country theirs … ours. A people who see Nigeria as a land of opportunities, a land where they can be all they can be free, if only they push a bit more … work a little harder.
This is the Nigeria that the international community does not see, an accommodating and friendly people who will smile at you for no reason at all, ask after you when they’ve not seen you around, give to you out of the little they have when they see that you’re in need.
This is my Nigeria, my people, intelligent, smart, humorous and ready to share the little they have, from their money to their opinion. A people who push back, they light their candles to push back the encroaching darkness.
These are real Nigerians and I see my country through their eyes.
Ayodele Olofintuade is a writer, an avid blogger (http://totallyhawaya-haywire.blogspot.com/) and children’s advocate. She is presently running a not-for-profit mobile library project called Laipo Reads (http://laipothepowerofwords.blogspot.com/). She lives in Ibadan with her two boys and her cat, Kit-Kat.