Thursday, August 29, 2013

Human Classification Theory (1) – Nigeria is not America

Nigerian Embassy, New-York

It was winter in New-York; she had visited the city to attend a conference at the United Nations headquarters as a member of the Nigerian National Assembly. I was doing a little shopping in Manhattan after visits to the UN and Nigerian Embassy, then we met through a friend she knew from home who also happened to be my host. We became friends albeit she was older. Her amiable personality was extraordinary and she needed company as she found her way through the city anyways.
We later realized that we were going to be on the same flight to Lagos in few days. We discussed a lot about Nigeria and American politics as we rounded off our businesses using our friend’s car for those few cold days. My brother and I shared our views on government policies and she defended the system with a rare naked passion for Nigeria to be better. I bet anyone would get that same feeling of hope we had as I often thought “how I wish all Nigerian leaders can think like this”.
As we stood at the departure lounge for those final goodbyes and battled with her excess luggage which ended not posing her much problems since we claimed to be together and the total weight was ok when spread on three travelers, she kept repeating “Ejima we must stay in touch o, make una call me o”. Sure we would love to have such quality person as a friend, so I thought as the air of her status as a member of the House of Representative or tag as a federal lawmaker never showed up in her attitude, let alone our discussions.
In a reciprocally down-to-earth manner with our new friend we took over vacant seats on the half filled plane as we ate, drank some red wine, relaxed on combined seats and tried to enjoy the long flight to Lagos. Trust the air hostesses to allow us enjoy our liberty; they were used to Nigerians and our free spirited communal lifestyle. We spoke endlessly of how much we could learn from America and its leadership and how the UN summit had changed her view of leadership and social impact.

UN Headquarters, Manhattan NY
I was tired of the flight just 8 hours into it, so as the wave of heat finally blew at me on arrival, I felt it was truly ‘Welcome to Lagos’. One of those moments you wish baggage claim did not exist as I was eager to just get home to crash, then her missing luggage issue showed up. There we all were, running up and down the airport to get things sorted but we could only leave with a promise from the airline that she would be called as soon as her bag was found. In about one week we had shared different sides of life together and the idea of us being friends didn’t seem out of place AT ALL.
Stepping out to be received by family, the reality of the Nigerian class theory stared at me right in the face. Before we could say those final words, gun carrying mobile policemen showed up from the sun and shoved my brother and I roughly away from her with the base of their rifles in a manner that reminds you of the middle-east police versus masses riots. They shielded her into a waiting SUV driven off quickly as if trying to escape a rain of bullets. Everything happened so fast like in well directed Nollywood movies. I stood there shocked to my marrow! This remains my realest ‘Welcome to Lagos’ and never the sudden switch to a hot weather.
US Consulate, Lagos
As I write this I still cannot understand why they acted that way and how she could not manage to stop them immediately. I kept asking myself, what or who were they protecting her from? The same people she needed few seconds ago? What happened to those lessons of accessibility we learn from western leaders when we go abroad? How come they could not stop her from being subjected to extra search at the JF Kennedy Airport? Where were they when she begged common citizens for help when her bag was missing?
That afternoon I realized one of the most bitter truths I have ever had to deal with, it does not matter if the streets of New-York put us on the same level as equal legal non-immigrants; as far as our own country is concerned we are not equal citizens, neither are we equal human beings. Sadly, that is the Nigerian theory of human classification and the manner in which the message was delivered to me still hurts. Naturally in my heart she slowly changed from being ‘Aunty’ into Madam or maybe ‘Oga Madam’.
Follow Keni Akintoye on twitter: @keniknows