We can’t live, yet we can’t leave

At that moment our lives were changed — It was good until it suddenly wasn’t. On 1st October, Nigerians in the diaspora celebrated Nigeria’s Independence Day. All of us at home had mixed feelings: couldn’t understand their immense joy in holding the Nigerian flag proudly on the streets of Ottawa, New York, Sydney, Paris, Pretoria, and elsewhere. It didn’t feel the same here even though we crave for the joy of these diasporans; this euphoric moment, their freedom to dream, to belong, to be called immigrants, most of whom hold dual citizenships.

But at that moment our lives were changed. A teenage boy of 15, an apprentice in a community fashion design school laid in his own pool of blood; his eyes are helpless; his mother, unaware of those around shares the same helplessness, but deeper, and with uncertainty. The teen’s hands are motionless; it moves only when held out of the mother’s frustration. There is something poignant about a mother’s tears, her angst, and the drama that comes with each expression. She holds him, clutching his body to her entirety, her essence. She can’t find strength from the person who had smiled with her weeks ago, telling her stories about workplace, his new design; reminding her he will sew her a new dress, and design her future with the best of fabrics. She sees his eyes, it’s empty but in it hangs a fading silhouette of pair of scissors clothed in blood.

On October 16th, the night was suspended in choral unison; of sad songs and beautiful orange-red-gradient — a result of the candlelight ceremony held in honour of those who had been killed by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) – a special killer squad of the Nigerian Police Force – few years ago and till that night. In these candles are the lights that never go dim; each person holding it with a certain gloom, having experienced all forms of wickedness from this beastly squad. That place was the Lekki Toll Gate, soon to be a memorial ground in our hearts four days later. With the thoughts of the so much disregard for human lives from the SARS, hearts splinting in a million pieces, I sat, solemn before an old family piano keyboard, playing the most melancholic song of my life on the 20th of October, 2020. I can’t remember in what key I played; I think it was in Eb. I was too traumatized to remember. I had returned to my family home the week before, numb to write, imagining all that was going on. That night was also nostalgic of Dele GIwa’s assassination and what will be a milestone in our struggle — The Lekki Toll Gate Massacre. My heart is broken! our heart got broken! What started as a hashtag #EndSARS in 2016 became our emblem, our collective memory-machine, our history changer. It became the repository of images and videos which were revelatory of our anguish. Also that night, soldiers clothed in the Nigerian Army uniform opened fire on peaceful protesters. The fashion in which the attack took was as dramatic as the declaration of a curfew four hours to its commencement. The streetlights, billboard and cameras were taken out, and all roads leading to that site obstructed by the Military. The soldiers pulled up in a vehicle, killing innocent youths who wielded flags, singing the national anthem, sitting and squatting as a child waiting for her turn in a child’s play. The youths of Nigeria didn’t ask for too much. All they wanted was to be able to walk freely, not brutalized by the evil Special-Anti-Robbery-Squad (SARS) and their beasts alike. But in Nigeria, it is a crime to dream new dreams; an offence, even too much to ask that you are safe and alive.

This is how the country eats her own. The president presides over a big dining table with cutleries of lies, deceit, indifference, and sheer negligence. The chairs surrounding the big dining table are occupied by the IGP, Service chiefs, media aides and some close sycophants who chant the president’s name the same way a little child needing cheese balls and Freshyo lauds you. But a child is better than them, pious to be compared to them. On this dining table, they eat the best meals — the lives of young and vibrant youths inclusive. They put a fork inside their body, put a knife through and take out the once vibrant life. Amidst the unjust killings, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the new date for the 2023 presidential election. That was the most important thing to them at that moment, and not the many lives lost that night. Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs also gossiped about his memorable zoom meeting with his colleagues — the Chinese, and the Japanese Foreign Minister. That meeting was more important than the several lives lost. It is so. That’s the way it is. Here, our lives don’t matter. It is a country that eats her own. Then, Lagos really revealed itself as a family enterprise with one man, one family as its gatekeeper.

Our voices became too loud; they took coordinated steps to silence us. We made attempts to sort things out but that was us asking too much. They make the county look like plain shit. Then there was this deafening silence from the president whose life’s status remains a myth. He poses for new pictures, unconcerned about the lives which had been lost in the struggle. He comes on-air over 48 hours later to address the nation, telling her youths his administration’s plan to endure poverty with us for the next ten years. He also shares his kindergarten schemes which he has made available for each of us in all shades of ‘N’.

Like a thief seeking shelter but scared of being questioned for his loitering, the Vice president had sneaked to Twitter around 11 pm sharing his solidarity with the fallen heroes. He says his heart goes out to all the victims of the Lekki shootings — the same shootings orchestrated by his older brother in office. Every time, their heart does nothing but goes out. It keeps going out. Days before then, he had the presidential aide and fawner print tweets which captured the anguish of the people. That particular tweet sticks to the screen of his Tablet but it didn’t stick in their hearts. Then there was a clown who threatened Jack, the Twitter landlord. That night was dramatic in the same measure of its tragedy.

We only demand better: to stop being brutalized by the police and not watching killer cops being promoted as a result of body count of youths they are able to kill. We haven’t come for the state governors, the senators, just yet, and the speakers who hardly ever use their voice for the people. Sadly, that night, the flag betrayed us. It stole our struggles, didn’t mind our voices. Since the beginning of the struggle, there were deaths in Oyo state, the most traumatic, of Jimoh Isiaq; Abuja, and thugs parading in black SUVs sponsored by the same government that eats her own. These are murderous and bloodthirsty leaders who wouldn’t resign because their stomach is their priority. They thrive on the unity and oneness of the nation and exploit it. The avarice-syndrome is such an immersive one every Nigerian politician suffers from. They share camaraderie with greed; nothing will make them negotiate resignation over what’s going on.

When you walk across a street, or even behind your windowpane, you will hear voices of cursing mothers, women, and men, youths emblazoned with fear, anguish, the uncertainty of the moment, and what is yet to come. Away from Nigeria, there were marches and protests across Prague, Warsaw, Birmingham, Trafalgar Square, Washington DC, Toronto, Berlin, et al. This had to be done because this is by far the most shameless government in the history of Nigeria. We can’t get tired at the moment. We created different memories, trauma unique to each of us but from similar experiences. To handle tragedy and the uncanny speech from the president on the 22nd of October, we cope with richly-caked-jokes, told with the greatest sense of humour — jokes about leaving the country as a caregiver abroad, as something, just anything to be out of this horrible place. As Nigerians, we have built a system of endurance, smiling through the pain, moving, even as we bleed. We are inspired that what the leaders couldn’t do in sixty years, we did in two weeks. We became stronger realizing that we can achieve what we set our hearts to with the power of unity. There were many heroes in this struggle, most notable, The Feminist Coven. We, in fact, are all heroes in our little way. Something as great as our struggle was taken away in the twinkle of an eye by the president’s speech, but we move. We mouiveee!

As writers, photographers, videographers, painters, health workers, documentarians, translators et al., we are telling stories and documenting it all because this moment, more than anything else is very important to us. It was important. It remains important. The fight has just begun. While our leaders can’t throw in the towel when they should, we aren’t too sure if the president is dead or alive. We can’t live, yet we can’t leave. Our tales have become that of a lover in an abusive relationship. While we are still here, we will always remember that we are the world. One day, our vision of an ideal society will be realized. One day it will all make sense.

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If you enjoyed this essay, I will like to hear from you. Write to me badirukehinde@gmail.com

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Nigerian writer, editor and graphics artist, Kehinde Badiru writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. He is the author of much acclaimed debut Poetry collection, I Know Why Your Mother Cries and founder of WriteNowLit, a leading Lit Mag to come out from Nigeria. Kehinde’s work has been widely published. You can find him on badirukehinde.com

Book Alert: I KNOW WHY YOUR MOTHER CRIES

If you are reading this, I am happy to announce to you that my much-acclaimed debut Poetry collection, I KNOW WHY YOUR MOTHER CREIS is out now.

There’s something here for everyone.

Some poems in this collection are humorous and contemporary, dealing with everyday human experience; others deal with deeper stuff, setting out and transcending the nuances of memory, feminism, motherhood, body-narratives, longing, and identity.

Some poems rail about poverty, corruption, hypocrisy, injustice, and social issues, expressing the poet’s deep revolutionary concern.

I Know Why Your Mother Cries is an interesting new collection.

You can read more about this book here. You can order copies from bookstores in Nigeria.

For those in diaspora, you can buy from Amazon Kindle here