Sometime last year a short TED Talk video of award winning writer Chimamada Adichie was circulated online. Listening to Adichie speak for me is always a special experience, but this time, it was the salient truth in her talk more than her beautiful use of language that made me fall in love with the video. She spoke on the dangers of a single story pointing out how clinging to a single story of any people has severely compromised our impression of the people. I feel ashamed to note that I am guilty of this just as most of you are.
What am I talking about? For most Nigerians from the South, the North is a no go area because of our single story of the northerners being a group of religious bigots, willing and eager to bring life to an end at the slightest provocation. Perhaps more notorious of the lot is Zamfara state which became popular some years ago for its implementation of shariah.
I arrived Zamfara on Thursday 11th February with a single story of Zamfara people weighing down on my thought. I had just spent a truly boring week in Kebbi and it seemed a death sentence that I should be spending another (plus the Valentine day weekend) in this “state of religious fanatics”. On Wednesday 17th when I finally left Gusau, I knew in my heart that I had become more Nigerian even if just in my thought.
I met a receptive people. People facing the same challenges as my grand mother in the village deep in Anambra state is facing. People yearning for a better life, for a little more money in their pocket, for a richer plate during dinner. People so welcoming and helpful that you want to begin to doubt their sincerity.
I interact with them. They tell me that shariah was simply politics. I see them sitting around and interacting openly with women. I speak with some Corp Members and they tell me no one molests them as regards their mode of dressing. All the food, akpu, amala tuwo is available in the restaurants. Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church (where I attended Sunday Mass) sits in the heart of the town, enjoying such generous land space that for a moment I thought I was in the heart of eastern Nigeria.
The people, from the achaba riders to the young man who cut my hair are funny and sensitive. They feel the pinch of the low and consistently dropping power supply. They hate that they pay more for fuel. They are bitten by mosquitoes. They are concerned about the Super Eagles. They pray to a God. They are Nigerians.
I was at Mardum LGA close to 100km away from Gusau. I saw the newly constructed Maradum Dam. In a way, it felt strange to see such large body of water in the middle of this almost arid environment. In Maradum I met with one Dr. Ekong the Physician in charge of Maradum General Hospital. He’s been there for eight years. Are you as shocked as I was when he told me this? He looks much fulfilled, each day attending to barely literate and senile men and women of a different tongue and creed…people who in our single story do not have a right to such care…people who really need his expertise.
No doubts about it, my Valentine weekend was far from ideal. Well, save for my laptop I was all alone. Alone to my thoughts…alone with a muse that refused to be courted. I stuttered when I tried to write. When I got tired, I arose and took a walk my pocket made heavier with fifty naira worth of dobino (dry Date palm fruits) which continued to disappear into my mouth as the walk lasted.
I was happy however for what I knew would happen the next day. I knew that on Monday 15th, the very first edition of the Sentinel Nigeria online Magazine of contemporary Nigerian Writing would go online. I remember when a few months ago a young man I hardly knew, Richard Ali who had always left a comment in the short stories I published on facebook invited me to join a team he was constituting. I liked the idea and I signed on. We did make it online and are in fact already preparing for our May 15th issue. I feel so proud to have been part of this. I know one day Nigeria will thank us for this…for giving voice to young writers who like me are struggling to overcome all sorts of challenges…for providing a platform to reach and ascend…for starting it all.
Today, I write from a room aptly named “Aguata queen” in the Fadama view Hotel Katsina. Don’t be alarmed, an Anambra man actually owns this modest Hotel in the very heart of Katsina. Deal with that. So there are such names like Onitsha queen, Nnewi Queen..etc. I am pretty sure there is an “Agulu Queen”. Tiger Woods is reading a very emotional apology on television. He says he thought money and fame was all that mattered. That was his single story. We all have ours. We must let them give way.
From what I have seen of Katsina since I came in on Wednesday I make bold to state that His Excellency Umar Musa Yar’adua…a man I criticize very much right from the less than modest way he got to power, his slow pace and the fact that he is holding us all hostage with his weak heart, left legacies of good governance in Katsina as Governor. I am here and I can see. My single story of him is fast giving way. There is never a single story of any one or any people.
Have a happy weekend people.