A book of contrasting stories; the streets and the offices, voice boots and board rooms, concerts and conferences, the baggie jeans and corporate suits, dreadlocks and low-cuts, the piano keyboard and my laptop keyboard; culture and religion, pain and passion, disappointment and glory, losses and wins, the school of media and communication and the school of applied sciences.
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
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
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’.