Patience is a sign of emotional maturity, for sure. As the world gets crazier and the people around me throw fits about it, I feel even more pressure to be the poised one. My mother, bless her heart, told me I was this good, quiet child growing up. The truth is I did a great job of hiding my impatience because someone needed to be calm amidst the rambunctiousness of my siblings and cousins. I could have easily been that child in car commercials crying “are we there yet” all the time, but opted to keep my angst to myself to avoid being a nuisance.
That impatient itch is back, but with a more altruistic agenda. Now I’m in a rush to change the world.
I should have known better than to share this with my grandfather. My impatience is very evident and perhaps frustrating to him. That’s why a typical visit to his and Grandma’s house on Sundays start with cross-examinations of how we spent our week, interrupted by a brief but hearty meal of pounded yam and efo. Thirty or so minutes after, Grandpa’s riled up and ready to start an unprovoked argument about politics. I never instigate this, I promise you. I don’t know what’s inside our grandfather that makes him think he has to talk us out of some idealistic notion we have around this topic. Maybe he sees his younger self in us, and it scares him. He’s told countless stories of how his father tried talking him out of being a diplomat with the Nigerian government, especially during the most dangerous periods of the country’s history. He’s a living textbook on the Biafran War, during which millions of soldiers and civilians were murdered. He’s also worked with every single Nigerian president since independence in 1960 and has seen some…things.
And he’s probably pissed that, despite all his efforts to save us from similar fates, my sister and I hinted at moving to Lagos within the next year.
I didn’t grow up in Nigeria but it always felt more like home than the States. It’s empowering to be in a space where you are the majority, in skin tone, identity, and culture. On top of that, there’s a huge surge of young professionals who grew up in the West but moved back home to build thriving businesses, hire as many people as possible, and create win-win opportunities for everybody. This is the Year of Return, so what better time than now to join my friends and do my part?
I almost did, several times, but Grandpa was always one step ahead of me. Whenever I’d ask for a job, thinking that my family legacy would give me an advantage, Grandpa always found out and quickly told his colleagues to shut it down. One time he told me “it’s too hot out there” as an excuse not to go. Really?
This Sunday, the truth slipped out and Grandpa unleashed his wildest rant to-date about the “audacity” in thinking we can disrupt politics as usual in Nigeria.
“You young people think you know what is actually happening behind the scenes?” he shouted incredulously. “What do you think is going to happen when you get there? Buhari is doing the best that he can — they [they = powers that be] know him, and he knows them. You can’t say exactly what it is you are planning to do and live to see tomorrow. Rome was not built in a day! ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY! You young people, they will just eat you alive! You can’t go there and expect to play games the way you play them here!”
I’m not sure what games my grandfather thinks we’re playing, but I get his point. The U.S. education system, for example, is a scam, and during my years as a teacher and executive in this sector, I’ve seen firsthand the backlash when you try to uncover the truth. Thankfully there’s some degree of respectability in Western politics which kept me alive (people only tried killing me with words). And change, albeit gradual, isn’t far-fetched.
As for Nigeria, change may be possible, but it exacts death. Either death to a systemically corrupt apparatus that’ll lead to disorder, or deaths of martyrs who (perhaps naively) thought they could challenge the system unscathed. A go-between is rare, but with the collective brainpower of the African millennials, I’m sure we can think of something.
Because even if it took years to build Rome, at some point people decided to start building. Elders throw these platitudes around as if to say “just don’t try” rather than “be patient, it’ll take time.” As we wait indefinitely for God knows what, people are breathing in poison and can’t grow the crops they need to pay school fees. If they do get them into school, ceilings fall on top of innocent children trying to learn skills for a better future.
We are clearly capable of creating what we need, but only when and where we want it. Nigeria, along with many other African countries, suffers not from a lack of ability but a lack of care. I went back to Nigeria for the first time in 15 years last April. I don’t know exactly how fast or slow the change happened, but things were different, at least on Lagos Island. Uber and Taxify are now an option for getting around Lagos traffic. There are artsy restaurants and the shopping malls are growing with a variety of shops, movie selections, and casual entertainment. Hotels and condos are popping up, with basic luxuries like satellite TV and Internet service. But then we started driving from Ikoyi to Lagos mainland one day, on one of the smoothest roads I’d ever seen in Nigeria, only for it to abruptly end as we crossed over to the “poorer” part of town. Then you cross Eko Bridge, and a whole other reality presents itself: dirt roads, broken or nonexistent traffic lights, people living under bridges…
These cosmetic changes strategically placed far away from where most tourists and repatriates would venture sends a clear message: just keep the peace and enjoy your little piece of it, and the others will make due. How long can this continue? How much longer can we let millions of people waste away so a few hundred can be comfortable? Are we there yet, at the critical moment where it’ll cost more to keep up this charade than it costs to provide a halfway decent standard of living for everyone? Or aren’t we there yet, at a moment where the old guard is passing away (literally from old age) and a new generation, with generous hearts and an inclination towards what’s fair, can rise to power?
If we’re not, we need to ask ourselves why. And I mean the younger folks, not people like my grandfather. If it were up to him, I should just hope and pray with fingers crossed for a shift in the atmosphere. I respectfully decline, and it’ll behoove my peers to also ignore most of their parents’ or grandparents’ advice so that we may reach a more promising destination. We have to be bold enough to be the nuisance they tell us not to be, speaking up against what we know is wrong and unsustainable in the long run.
Our parents and grandparents want to protect us by keeping us on the side of the shooter, rather than facing the gun. Because they love us and want to live long, prosperous lives. But both the shooter and those shot will die, regardless. The question is, which legacy are we building for ourselves when we’re all gone?