Nigeria: Send me about 100 Naira to celebrate Buhari’s second term

Dami Ajayi
By Dami Ajayi

Nigerian psychiatrist, writer and author of three volumes of poetry. His most recent book is 'Affection & Other Accidents'.

Posted on Friday, 9 September 2022 12:39

Demonstrators hold Nigerian flags as people take part in a protest at the Parliament Square in London, Britain October 21, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley

This is what patriotism looks like: a man standing still to a recital of his country’s national anthem, his right hand on his left chest, his heart beating defiantly against his ribcage.

A lifetime of indoctrination in primary and secondary school prepares you for this. If your university education spared you this, the three-week long National Youth Service Corp orientation programme offers a refresher course.

The last time I heard the Nigerian national anthem was when the track and field athlete Tobi Amusan won the gold medal. I was on a bus heading to work in London. It had been three years since I left Nigeria.

I was posted to Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria, in 2012 for my youth service. Peter Obi was coming to the end of his second term as the state governor. After the orientation camp at Umunya, my posting letter read: The Chairman, Orumba North Local Government, Ajalli. That chairman had visited our camp during and donated a fat sum of money shared to every corp member. I received my cut, about N1000, and bought bottles of Hero beer for my friends.

The civil servants thought it was a good posting. The chairman is young, dynamic and generous, they said, becoming his personal doctor would be rewarding. The chairman re-routed me to his hometown, Ndiowu, a cluster of seven villages. I looked after two health centres and one health post. There was one retired nurse in one of the health centres; all other staff were community health officers acting up in senior clinical roles. At one time, one of them had a mentally-ill patient in custodial care. She had that vulnerable adult tied up in her flat behind Ubaha Comprehensive Health Centre.

‘God’s reward’

A N50,000 monthly stipend was agreed upon by the Ndiowu Town Union executives with further assurances from the local government chairman.  My doctor colleague posted to the moribund Ajalli General Hospital faced locum work at a private hospital in Onitsha. At the end of my one-year service, I returned to Lagos penniless. The town union owed me N600,000.

I began my residency training in psychiatry within five months of my return to Lagos. Some people say it is God’s reward for my unintended charity in the Igbo heartland.

Within a few months, I rented a flat in Yaba with my doctor friend, T. We would sit outside a snack bar on the breezy Commercial Avenue on most evenings. Over beers, we would laugh at those jumping ship and leaving Nigeria for abroad.

This was 2014. Goodluck Jonathan was Nigeria’s president. The revenue from oil was good. The Lagos culture scene blossomed with Diaspora returnees who wiggled their bottoms at Afropolitan Vibes in Freedom Park.

We would sit at Freedom Park after the show, sipping beers, eating pan-fried Tilapia, and discussing Kant, Fela, Neruda and Kahlo.

The Naira was 150 to the Dollar. The polity was corrupt and it seemed President Jonathan, a democrat who became president by his uncanny luck of being at the right place at right time, devolved power to his ministers.

‘We knew of his dictatorial tendencies ‘

To our minds, corruption was the main problem of our oil-rich Nigeria. In 2015, T and I supported Buhari’s election in principle. I couldn’t vote because of the impossible task of relocating my polling booth from Ile-Ife where I registered as an undergraduate.

We knew of his dictatorial tendencies and his human rights violation record. We may not have been born during his military regime in the 80s but we listened to Fela. On Beasts of No Nation, Fela characterised him as a crazed man but we thought the Nigerian political class needed an injection of that kind of craze.

Buhari’s first nine months in government cleared our delusion. His I-am -for-everybody-and-I-am-for-nobody inaugural speech reminded me of  Lapite’s reign in Tunde Kelani’s classic film, Saworoide. Buhari ruled by the grain of that rhetoric, without the full complement of a cabinet in the first instance. There was no clear fiscal policy and global oil prices began a slow and steady moon-walk.

The naira became 360 to the dollar.

‘Goodbye to Nigeria’

The Nigerian middle-class went into an identity crisis. Obviously, the suffering of the working class had not let up at any point in time; the pinch had always been in their shoes.

T, now a surgery resident doctor in Ilorin, had recapitulated.  He had begun preparing for foreign medical exams. In 2017, he said goodbye to Nigeria, but not without a parting shot, a piece of journalism that began like this: “Things are falling apart in Nigeria’s health sector. There is a worsening rash of altercations between resident doctors, the single largest body of doctors in tertiary hospitals, and the government. With their welfare and that of their patients at risk, Nigerian doctors are being pushed to the wall and it appears that their options are fight or flight.”

Fela wrote hilarious letters in prison. His longest stint in prison was during General Buhari’s mid-80s regime. When the regime was deposed by a counter-coup, Fela wrote a letter to his younger brother Beko asking him to  “Send me about N100 to celebrate the fall of Idiagbon.”

By the time Buhari was campaigning for his second term in 2018, I was also ready to abandon the Nigerian patriotism project. I was completing my psychiatry residency and had become an active member of the umbrella body for Resident Doctors.

It was during one of our industrial actions that the then Honourable Minister of Health was asked about the ongoing brain drain on National Television. His response was that Nigeria had more than enough doctors. He boastfully added that his garments were made by a medical doctor.

The minister in his heydays as a resident doctor was an activist. He had fled Nigeria during Buhari’s regime in the 80s, but he was now in cahoots with the government of the day.

I once wrote an essay titled, Send me about 100 naira to celebrate Buhari’s Second Term, mid-flight to Lagos from London in July 2019. The essay alongside my laptop was stolen on that British Airways flight. The story about my suffering in the hands of a British national carrier is a different kettle of fish. The suspect was my sole co-passenger, a holidaymaker who worked in procurement in a multinational company based in Lagos. The last cyber trail of my Asus Zenbook was at Otigba street, Ikeja.

‘Overtake don Overtake Overtake’ is one of Fela’s later masterpieces. The musical composition enjoys rock-infused bass lines and clever storytelling. Fela’s story is about a man who wants to buy a fan because he sweats from intolerable heat. He saves and saves but every time he nearly buys the fan, the government increases the price by N10. The Sisyphean activity of this man is the story of every Nigerian patriot.

‘Right side of the exchange rate’

Self-determination is the first step toward migration. That moment when you start to side-step the collective psyche, you begin to think as your own person. You begin to realise that your dreams are valid and patriotism is performative. You begin to break down the notions of what home is. The myth of the dislocated autochthon in the diaspora stops intimidating you. You begin to think about the other side of the divide.

The exchange rate is the real consequence of exile. By being on the right side of the exchange rate, you may thrive. Of course, this notion is simplistic especially when you consider the fate of the Nigerian middle class. In a country where politicians earn more than professionals, where there are more church auditoriums than hospitals, where clerics are more influential than statisticians, you are only one major illness from a fundraising drive.

The word Japa was popularised by Peckham-raised rapper, Naira Marley.  The meme used to announce relocation on social media is courtesy of actor Sola Sobowale in Kemi Adetiba’s classic film, King of Boys. A flute of champagne is raised to new problems and the accompanying text reads, welcome to a new dispensation.

Sidebar: Sola Sobowale left Nigeria for London at the height of her fame as an actor. By her own account, she traded the glitz and glamour of Nollywood for janitorial work in London. The etymology of the word Sapa which loosely means crippling suffering is not as clear.

Living abroad is an unsuccessful way of abandoning the Nigerian patriotism project.

Living abroad is a bed of roses with thorns. Sometimes it feels like learning to walk again. Add the double orientation, the constant tom-peeping at your natal country because your exile is contingent on its failure. The commute is short here but the weather is intolerable. The loneliness is velvety and the better quality of life does not touch the dysphoria that missing home brings. Folks spend their time reconnecting to home via the telephone. I hear a smattering of Igbo and Yoruba on my commute.

Emeka, you cannot expect me to send money, money does not grow on trees here.

Some people spend that time on social media, as voyeurs on Instagram or pundits on Twitter arguing about everything from reality TV to Nigeria’s inclement political climate.

This is what patriotism looks like: a middle-aged man on the Overground to West Croydon wearing a Biafra hat. This is what patriotism looks like: a middle-aged actor in Onitsha wearing a Biafra dress. This is what patriotism looks like: a young lady in Owo wearing amotekun-patterned flats. This is what patriotism looks like: a Nigerian man furiously pounding on his phone’s keypad on the 328 bus to World’s End.

Living abroad is an unsuccessful way of abandoning the Nigerian patriotism project.

There are two ways to tell a Nigerian apart: our love for theatre and the defiance of our hope. The political scenery has become an amphitheatre once again with political aspirants and their supporters dancing for their political survival. Our ruling class understands what is at stake but they also understand that we must be entertained—or how do you explain how a chieftain’s pre-primaries monologue became a lodestone for viral memes, songs and slang? Our country is at the precipice again, its sovereignty shaking like a toddler’s milk tooth but all we care about is theatre.

Hope 93?  That is what happens when an entire country adopts a political messiah. In 2015, we endorsed a retired General who vowed that he was rehabilitated as a reformed democrat. The hope for a Mr Fix-It-All president is a tried and tested delusion. I lived in Anambra state for 10 consecutive months in 2012. Ajalli General Hospital, the closest state government hospital to me, was not useful to the living as only its morgue functioned, perfectly I must add. The only doctor working in that hospital was my friend, a corp doctor, who spent all his time in private practice in Onitsha. The governor at the time is the soft-spoken and affable Peter Obi.

This is what patriotism looks like: a man standing still to a recital of his country’s national anthem, his right hand on his left chest, his heart beating defiantly against his ribcage, his children standing beside him in mock attention, singing along in their British accents.

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