By Amarachi Okpunobi
The bus sped like the driver was being chased by Nigerian policemen for defaulting the traffic rules and regulations. I began taking rapt cognition of the beautiful free trees on the roadside, especially the ones near water bodies that remained fresh like the lilies that grew by the valley. I then wished I could have a country that was as ever fresh like those plants whose branches seemed to have the same amount of water allocated to them equally. The leaves were fresh and pleasant to the eyes.
As we drove down to the east, the thought of home began to rove in my head. The beautiful unpeaceful homes, the pathetic sight of less privileged and even those that pretend to be handicapped, the bad state of the roads, the unruly posting of bills even in banned places.
I began to remember my grand mother who would have been extraordinarily excited to see me. My mind began also to recall those stories of war and freedom she would always tell me. In her words, she would say, “my son, war has left humans with hate and an indelible scar and wound in our souls, even till death. Tufiakwa! Agha a biakwala ozo!”
My grandma was a survivor of the second world war until her death few years ago. She wouldn’t stop telling her stories of pain, sorrows and tears. The story of how her husband lost his life to the cold hands of death before her very own eyes. She wouldn’t stop telling the story of how she ran from her thatched hut to her farm and from her farm to the hills for rescue. How she lost her two children to an unknown disease after the harvest she got from her farm finished and her farm burnt to ashes by unknown men. She wouldn’t also stop narrating how news men will come to their hiding place to ask questions and seemed answer from them. She said she had refused to talk to them because it seemed like the news men never understood the big picture, they were always looking healthy and they weren’t looking sickly like those in the hills. She would wonder if there was a separate place in that part of the world where food was kept in stock for some specific people.
The rivers were filled with remains of their relatives who floated after some days of their death. This also caused the dearth of fresh air, because everywhere was polluted. My grandma said that the news men will bring to them somewhat like a mirror with people moving and talking inside of it. She said they always appeared small in size in it. I will imagine the pathetic state of humans in this part of the world those days.
My grandma narrated that life was so miserable that she kept nurturing the thought of joining her husband and her kids, but with the puzzling question of who will take care of her surviving three children, she decided to accept fate and leave to see the end of the world’s cruelty.
Then Independence came. It was the same news men who always come around to the refuge camp in the hills that broke the news. Grandma said it was late morning when the news filtered the air, they gathered as usual to watch the mirror, they never understood what was spoken in it but through gestures and with the help of news men who did their best to interpret, the refugees was able to grab what was being broadcasted. There was a gathering of men in a big building, then there was also a parliamentary table surrounded by men. The news men said that those men were speaking for their good. They wanted the war to end and the country to enjoy their independence. The outcome of the parliamentary gathering, grandma said she never knew but she could remember was that things started getting better. The news men assured them that they would leave the hills in no distant time and they did. They were lucky, the government then, built bungalows for them, the victims of war. There was food, it wasn’t enough but it was better than what they had suffered previously.
Grandma said by then, her kids had come of age to go for apprenticeship. My father she sent to learn trade in the then capital of the country, Lagos, another to learn sowing and the other stayed back with her. Things actually got better, and a little light shone on the face of my grandma. But it wasn’t for long.
A little while, things began to fall apart again. Hunger and angry faces began to rise again. It got worse everyday. Food stopped coming from the government. All she ever heard was that power had changed hands.
Upper Iweka, down flyover! Nkpor old road! Nkpor old road!! Nkpor Nkpor old road!!! The sounds of unruly conductors and drivers on the high way of Onitsha resurrected me. I looked throught the windows, my eyes immediately met with the banners that hung on the streets light. Almost all of them said, Happy Independence, Nigeria at 59. They were painted white and green. The fences of the industries located along these roads were shinning new and their gates repainted. This is one thing I know my country is good at in every independence. Renovation and repainting! I wondered if it were a taboo to add rebuilding in our dictionary or maybe if we do, the colonial master’s will take our country away from us again. What if we rebuild the bad roads, the corrupt economy, the pitiable face of our educational system and every other sector that has fallen apart, don’t we think we’ll bring back that better Nigeria my grandma spoke of. The Nigeria with good food, good governance and good atmosphere. The Nigeria that was free from war, anarchy and hatred. The country that was once filled with happiness and less of angry faces.
Sooner had we driven few kilometers away that we flew over the Niger bridge. We arrived the noisy land of Onitsha, I wasn’t surprised because this is the heart beat of the east. We sped till we got to Upper Iweka and there my journey was disrupted. There was a great traffic congestion, the news was that two school children where crossing the road was knocked down by a bus. This aided the collision of other vehicles who tried not to crush the kids who were already lying helpless on the tarred express road. Our vehicle was called to a halt by the traffic officers who was at the scene of the accident. The kids was on their way to the local government area where they will match for the Independence day celebration before the fickle fate struck them. I looked around and behold, there was no sign of traffic light on this road but there was an abundant of flying banners that hung on the street light, written Happy Independence. Definitely, this wasn’t the Independence the kids hoped and dreamt of.
Our recklessness has successfully led this kids to their early grave. Same way, we keep destroying ourselves with our own hands.
Nigeria is 59, congratulations to all of us! The sad thing is, we don’t seem to understand it. 59 years is certainly not 59 days, yet we remain unchanged in our corruptible nature and hatred towards one another. Brothers fighting brothers, blood killing blood. We steal from ourselves and melt injustice towards our own blood. Our freedom from colonial masters should be for our own development and growth not suffering and killing.
The world is rebuilding itself, we are way behind. We aren’t getting any younger.The sooner we understand that, the better for all of us.
Let me continue my journey back home!