I can only imagine what the men who lowered down the Union Jack – to hoist up in its place ‘hope’ symbolized in Green-White-Green drapery that early morning of October 1st 1960 – felt. It must have been something like the overwhelming dream logic of the marines who planted the American flag on Okinawa in 1945.
Oftentimes, I dream about being one of them. I would fantasize being one of them and then going home after the ceremony basking in the apotheotic glow of freedom and the blank canvass placed before my very own means. I would go to bed, to nirvana, and wait for the morning so I can wake up and go to work.
It is now sixty years since then. Even though I am only 30 years, I have lived in the nightmare of Nigerian history for every single year in this sixty-year journey and I have felt every disillusionment, every anguish that is to be felt over the failure of my country. It has been sixty years now… and all my dreams have left me – some have died, of the ravishing drought that followed in this abundantly watered land. Others have flown out.
What happened to us?
I remember an artwork I saw on the internet reading something about the so-called ‘Age of Discovery.’ In it, a man stood over another man was ostensibly sitting up from a hammock. This was supposed to be a representation of Amerigo Vespucci rousing the eponymous American continent to “join the league of mankind” as the last continent.
Growing up, my brothers and I did all the house chores during school holidays. I also remember pretending to fall back to sleep after Subh to avoid doing my own share of the chores and my brothers would bring fire and fury to my bed until I am on my feet, lest I shortchange them.
Unlike America, Africa has always been known since the dawn of time… indeed, she was the first to awaken, she was the one who woke up the rest yet remains the most unknown member of the family – maybe because she went back to sleep, and slept while her siblings worked to discover fire and invent the wheel. People like Joseph Conrad thus called her the Dark Continent. Since then, Africa has had no favourable popular culture recognition beside the gory, putrid, wretched-of-the-earth stereotype that was enough to make a couple of American teenage band from the 80s felt compelled by moral duty to bless down the rains to quench her ravishing drought otherwise she would die. It did not get any more primeval than that – all she needed was rain, nature, the same thing their own Neolithic progenitors needed to survive.
Was that what happened? Did we sneak back to bed, after rousing the rest of the world? And did we yet again find our way back to sleep after being roused a second time?
Who knew it would get so bad that Africa, together with Nigeria, would need to rely on charity from a couple of teenagers who probably did not even yet know their left from their right hands? Not I.
Was Conrad right? Do I have a duty to moral rectitude to surrender to truth, to his profile of my kind? Do I fly out like the rest of my dreams? Maybe I should.
How did we get here? We boarded a car with an engine, sound and sleek, that revved to life like the Ark of Noah as we set out in 1960.
We should be on a rocket ship today heading to Mars, instead we have sunken into the mud, in a jalopy with a pitiful whimper for an engine. Before my own gnashing eyes, the heart of darkness did become my home and my home became ‘the other world’ – the antithesis of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.
I had resisted Conrad for so long but as the sun has set and I am tired of fighting. I was ready to surrender; my situation resembled that of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce native American tribe when he was subdued. I have read somewhere his sermon to this people after he had surrendered and could not help mouthing them to myself:
“Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
I had made up my mind to surrender with terms as dictated by my foes. I had decided to follow our dreams where they have been exiled to. I will join the mile-long queue at the American or British or Canadian embassies and fly away.
About three weeks after 1st October 2020 as I drove up from Dape, a ghetto settlement in Gwarimpa, I noticed something. An epiphany. Lo! it was that same flag from my dank reveries. Green-White-Green. But in the middle where the two green meadows yielded to the white valley, three words sang a melody that would have meant utterly nothing to me before the breaking of the world: “E Go Beta.” Now, who the hell put that there?
I was so heavy laden… and to think that I would see this here of all places! This was a place with people who have a lot more face-value reasons than I to despair and this fact threw me off balance.
An epiphany was before my eyes. I could fly away and mooch off the sweat of others. I could surrender and fight no more and my life would be that of consummate comfort. But here I am, and I can see that I will not stand alone should I choose to stand. I could fly away, live and then die.
But here, before me, in the land of my ancestors, was the prospect of immortality. Here I can actually live a life full of event and excitement, of building and breaking; breaking records and barriers that have never been broken elsewhere and defeating despair. Where else can anyone defeat despair so completely than in the Heart of Darkness?
Maybe I will die trying, but how can a man die better than by facing odds so fearful as the ones before me? We don’t have to build skyscrapers, or nuclear power stations or maglev trains – we will build the next best thing, and maybe Conrad will be the one wanting a piece of those.
He has reached saturation, but we are only at ten percent. We can rise and rise until lambs become lions and by the time the sun sets on my generation, I would be a fulfilled man. I will endure the long March and then maybe reap from it too. If not, I will still be a fulfilled man on my deathbed someday. Nothing beats being fulfilled on your deathbed.
So then, here are my new terms of surrender: none. We fight on.
Huzaifa is a management consultant and writes from Abuja