Everybody remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news. I was seven that year and most of my childhood memories are blurred, but this one remains one the few that are crystal clear.
Aunty Adanna and I were on our way to church. It was almost 5 o’clock on a monday evening and we were late for choir practice. She always took me along because I hoped to sing on broadway someday and I loved watching the adults practice.
We tried walking fast but the road was filled with potholes. I was hungry and close to tears and I mentioned this to my Aunt. She bribed me with “puff-puff’ and that was enough to shut me up.
As we neared the church, located on the ground floor of a dilapidated building, aunty stopped at Kabiru’s shop to buy a handkerchief. Kabiru was the mallam who sold sweets and other stuff in front of the church building. We picked the hankie we wanted out of a pile of coloured hankies and face towels.
While we waited for our change, he tuned his radio to Radio Nigeria for the six o’clock news. The Palito radio crackled to life, just as the signature tune introducing the news stopped.
The first headline read by the newscaster was about the death of the President.
It was as if a ‘hush’ spell had been placed on the street. The only sounds that could be heard were the voices of Newscasters. They came from other radios and television sets in houses and shops as they read the rest of the headlines.
The headlines had barely ended when Kabiru struggled up from the stool where he was perched in his box- like wooden shop. We were standing by the entrance to his shop and almost fell as he pushed us away. He ran to the road and shouted “ABACHA DON DIE!!!!”.
At the same moment, shouts and yells erupted from houses. People ran out of their shops, houses, church services, just to shout on the street. The Hausa women who sold fresh fruit near Mallam Kabiru ululated. A bar near us increased the Daddy Showkey song playing from their sound system to a near ear-splitting volume. Someone yelled, “Give everyone two two bottles”. This was welcomed with loud cheers.
I gazed in wonder as Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa people living on that street who cussed themselves every other day bonded in an unbelievable way.
As little as I was, I understood how bad a person Abacha had been. I understood that these people were happy that democracy would soon come to Nigeria. I understood that peace had returned to the land. I knew that all the looting and corruption would be no more. It was a wondrous new dawn and I hoped I would be part of it when I grew up.
Thirteen years later, I look on grimly as our nation turns worse than it was when Abacha ruled.
Yesterday(November 22, 2012), The Economist Intelligence Unit(EIU) out of 80 countries used in a survey, rated Nigeria the worst country to be born in. What happened to the progress?. Where is the growth?.
Nigerians go about crying for a savior and lamenting about the state of the economy. We hear phrases like, “Be the change you wish to see” and “It begins with you”, urging us as a people to help our country. Most of us ignore these phrases and point fingers instead.
I wish I had the time and money to coin new phrases or organize campaigns telling Nigerians to be the change they want to see. WELL, I DON’T!.
Maybe, when we get tired of complaining or when we’re rated the worst country in the world(if there is an award like that), we’ll start agitating for change.
As for me, I try in my own little way. A little honesty here, a little patriotism there. Every day, I work towards being the change I want to see. Look!, I’ve got no long speech to give on change.
All I’m saying is, the change really does begin with you. Take a day off from being a grumpy nigerian. Try a little patriotism. Believe me, It leaves an amazing feeling. A feeling of hope. A feeling of self worth. A feeling of greater things to come. Always remember, a country isn’t a country without its people.