Over forty years ago my Father stood shielding his eyes from the harsh sun, in his freshly starched Khaki school uniform and sang with the rest of school mates as the Union Jack was lowered and the new flag for Nigeria – the Green, White and Green emblem of our independence was raised.
Today. October 1st. Home is now London, and the day passes without mention, usually buried in between work deadlines, the school run and my weekly trip to the supermarket. Then I might hear about some Independence Day party for Nigerian émigrés.
I am in Nigeria on a visit to see my Father who has not been too well.
He believed in his country. I was ambivalent. I couldn’t help noticing the tall gleaming skyscrapers and expensive cars. I also noticed that my younger brother Sola was getting bored at home because the lecturers at his university had been on strike for four months, that there were regular power cuts and that we still had to buy water to drink.
I felt the car slow and heard the driver curse and as I looked ahead at a couple of Policemen next to three crudely assembled large barrels, helpfully arranged in the middle of the road. The traffic was at a standstill.
“ Madam , if you start to blow grammar these people go increase the money they wan take.”
“ Don’t tell me these people are still taking bribes in open daylight.”
The driver shook his head again. “ They take money for night as well. Maybe if Government paid dem proper money ……” he shrugged, “ Dat’s life – man must chop.”
We drew up to the policeman who nodded at us. The younger one leered at me as the more mature of the bunch demanded our ‘Patikulars’; the drivers licence, which was examined with painstaking dedication and returned with a salute.
“You may go Sah. Your particulars are in order.”
Uncle John smirked and drove off. “ Wonderment! Fifty Naira to avoid wahala!”
I could feel my clothes sticking to me despite the air conditioner.
“Its not easy being a Nigerian.” I sighed.
The driver laughed. “ Madam! You are no longer a Nigerian. Nigerians have no choice but to stay here and make this country work for them. Any body who can go abroad takes on a new nationality. Those of us wey get green passport – we too have a God. Things must to change one day.”
We slowed again and I looked out of the window and caught the eyes of a little girl selling oranges at the kerb. She wore a tattered Chelsea United T-shirt over a jeans skirt and her naked feet were black with grime. On her lap she balanced a blue Oxford exercise book and a pencil.
We smiled at each other and I saw the hope in her eyes. One day she would be me.
Me.. Well, I just did not know who I wanted to be anymore.