I felt it important to write you this letter on this day when you turn fifty.
It is heartfelt and I hope you will read it with the same gravity with which I have written it.
Do you know, N, that I am not at rest when the power is on? This is because I know that the power can be cut; without my permission and without notice too! It makes me feel that I am at the mercy of other people and I do not like that. At least with my generator, I can choose to put it on and off when I want; that way I do not feel too helpless. Speaking of which, the cacophony from the generators guarantees that I get a tension headache by bed time. The low rumble of the Mikanos, the harsh cackling of the Hondas and the ambitious groan of the Tigers all make for a perfectly discordant orchestra, the noise, of which ensures I lay tossing on my bed all night long.
When I drive on the roads, N, I can be sure to find gaping holes wide enough to swallow a little Beetle! The roads in my metropolis resemble rocky terrains, jagged and rough. Sand dunes line the pavements; with enough sand to build whole houses. It is the reason why any journey I make out on foot guarantees I return looking like a desert tourist. If I escape the sand dunes, the refuse dumps do not spare me. Unconsciously training for deep sea diving, I hold my breath for whole minutes if I am to make it past alive.
My daily commute to work, dearest N, requires a psychological preparation because the journey of thirty minutes stretches to one hundred and eighty threatening to drive me up the wall. My anguish is worse, Oh N, when I use public transport because the 'private tax collectors' need to relieve the bus and taxi drivers of a sizeable share of their earnings. Fierce looking and in baritones that make your tummy rumble, they dare to tell them that it is for the 'chairman'. foI like to envision an ogre sitting in a large palace and chewing the naira notes for dinner! Of course that' tax' is transferred to me; the final consumer resulting in a further depletion of my meagre resources.
Pure water according to science, N, consists of two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen distilled under conditions to guarantee purity .The water I drink consists of those and much more packaged in plastic skins. I call it 'pure water', against my better judgement. If I do not want to drink that, I am forced to buy it in bottles - small, medium and extra large ones.
I went into a hospital, dear N, because I felt sick in my stomach, and the attending doctor asked if I had been drinking pure water. I answered in the affirmative. He then proceeded to inform me that I may be suffering from dysentery caused by impurities in my drinking water. I smirked in response. He hastily scribbled an indecipherable prescription and on arriving at the hospital dispensary, the pharmacist also hastily scribbled something indecipherable that looked like 'qs' in four different places and sent me on my way without a word, and a pill. The tail of the 'q' was so short that I'm not so certain it was 'q'. I do not know if you know what that means, N, because I was not told.
I read in the dailies, dear N, that a twenty- four year old English graduate sent in an application to a multinational, and the British human resource manager without looking at the resume said, 'What does this person want, a job amusing me? I could pay him for that, because this application is utterly laughable!' That graduate was trained on your soil, Oh N, in a system where the teachers need a teaching on teaching and while we are at it, a salary raise too!
N, the little children around me have been forced into a premature maturation. Apart from being kidnapped in their bus loads, some of them are made to hawk anything man has a use for; darting in and out of traffic, sandwiched between SUV's and trailers, saloons and bikes, tankers and trucks.
Speaking of kidnapping, N, in the fraction of number of kidnapped over number of not yet kidnapped, the numerator is rapidly catching up with the denominator. I once convinced myself, N, that the Caucasians deserved it; that they polluted the Niger Delta with oil wastes, rendered the fishermen jobless, gave existing jobs to outsiders, seduced their women and every imaginable evil I could think of. They must be smirking right now; when they switch on their TV sets and see that we have begun kidnapping our own children, our actors, our leaders, our fathers and even our grandfathers, quickly concluding that we are a crazed lot. Even our diaper clad tots are not safe!
Speaking about choices, who chose all the past leaders that you've had? Who decided that the national purse was calling their name; singing the song b'I want to be a billionaire, so freaking bad', in loud raucous tones and helping themselves to my tax? I didn't! So if I didn’t choose them, who did?! Did anybody accept naira from them in exchange for their conscience? "They chose themselves", I say. How? This leads me to infer, Oh N, that our electioneering process is a circus, with the politicians as clowns; while I spectate, oohing and aahing at their perfectly executed moves.
Once elected, N, a certain group assemble in a house. Left fist, right fist, left fist, right fist, upper cut to the jaw and someone is on the floor! It is called the House of Representatives - Upper and Lower. Representing who? Not me! Another set rush in claiming they have come to enforce the law. Or have they? They are dressed in black. Interrupted from their daily venture; relieving motorists of their naira notes (they particularly like the one embossed with Muritala); they quickly pocket their loot, readjust their beret and then bark, 'You there, stop fighting, respect your constituency!'
Who is fooling whom? A sorry case of bread calling pancake fattening! They have in turn given birth to protégées all over the place, smaller units, calling themselves all sorts of names. In this case though, the student is much wiser than the teacher. These groups have learnt very well.
It is easy to deduce dear N, that only the Supreme Being can save me if I am ever accosted by the 'original owners' assum(because of the impunity with which they collect my money, I have to assume they owned it in an earlier life!). Masked men, brandishing weapons that will make the United States Armoury green with envy; the fear of whom is the beginning of wisdom. Call 911? Guess who answers? "The Original Owners!" After all, the Cicero who also happened to be Chief Justice was murdered in his bedroom, surrounded by armed guards, and till this day I do not have a clue as to who committed such a brazen crime. Or do I?
I try to go to court. Now that’s where the real joke is. You see, N, justice is a gift from God. It is one of the oldest subjects in the world, that is after nomenclature, gardening and sex because when Adam, Eve and the serpent appeared in the green court of God, he administered justice to each, commensurate with their misdeed. But within your shores, Oh N, some people are above such 'base things' as administered justice. Maybe, because they have the option of fine. But the irony, N, is that they will pay the fine out of the money they stole from me!
At the airports, N, I see people travelling in their droves for everything, ranging from a college education to a tummy tuck to baby shopping to kidney transplants. There seems to be nothing we do not have to go abroad for. It is apparent to me, that the leaders prefer us to make the cross-Atlantic trip. I believe darling N, that it won’t be bad at all if all the amenities we so crave for, were reproduced here. That way, trips do not have to be made for everything save the occasional vacation. I love those, N, but I can barely afford it!
These days, N, if I want to buy a decent box of cereal, I have to buy the ones made by your colleagues across the Atlantic. Even if I want decent bathroom slippers or nail varnish remover! Cereal? Bathroom slippers? Nail varnish remover? Where are the industries that I 'heard' you once had, N?
Do we still export? Yes! Our brilliant youth! In their numbers they besiege the foreign embassies for asylum into their countries. Whether you are superior to those countries does not make them relent. The other day someone mentioned that your children are in Diaspora in Libya. Libya? Something is seriously wrong, N! In the not so distant past, you attempted to rid yourself of certain asylum seekers. They fled carrying a particular red checkered rubber bag. Today, your children are fleeing using the same bag and ironically to that same country you once denied asylum! Some other 'brilliant ones' busy themselves behind computer screens; necks bent, eyes hidden behind dark shades, laying their traps across the world wide web, and catching wads of currency bills.
Then I hear talks of rebranding.
Rebranding speaks of cleaning up your image and presenting you to outsiders as beautiful and attractive. But I know you, N, I know who you really are, and it is I who really matters. A perspiring Coke bottle does not necessarily translate to chilled Coke!
I wish you could be as God intended, N.
That way, I do not have to travel anywhere to practice my profession, or to have my heart checked, or to buy my cereal or to tuck in my tummy, or even to get a marketable identity.
I love you, dear N.
I love the fact that I can pray openly, in tongues or without; attend parties - (the only connection between the celebrant and I being the fact that I have the 'colours'), with my head encased in starched nylon sheets; feet tapping to the beat of a free, carefree spirit.
I love you, N, because within your boundaries I do not have to evacuate my home periodically; fleeing from an angry wind.
I love you, N, because the old woman down the road can "help" slap my child when he misbehaves, and she doesn't have to be sorry.
I love you, darling N, because I look around and I see laughter in the midst of pain, comedy in the midst of tragedy and hope in the midst of despair.
You have the power, N!
You have the power to make me stay with you all my life, the power to set alight my dreams, the power to make me believe again.
I love you, dear N and happy birthday!