July 7, 2014 – Un-Nigerian Nigerians: The Diary Of Ajebutter Kids By Ifeanyi Igbokwe
She stood there; her countenance not different from a worried sentry’s. It’s either I was noticing unnecessarily the young lady on the far side of the road across from me or she’d spent more time standing there than necessary. Curiosity was getting the best of me now.
I gently crossed over and walked up to her. She was well groomed, tall, and slender with the innocent look of a confused teenager plastered across her face. Her skin and accent said it all—she’s one of those Nigerians who never knew lack. ‘You‘ve been standing over there for a while and you look worried, what could the problem be?’
First, a shy defensive look crept unto her face, then an air of surrender took over completely. She’d been standing there, hoping she’d be able to cross the dual-carriage typical Lagos road and had failed woefully. I tried to hide my utter shock at the possibility of a Nigerian girl living in Lagos, who is unable to effortlessly cross a normal busy Lagos dual-carriage way. And she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen? Who knows?
Together, we crossed the road.
She’d come to write an aptitude test for employment into one of the nation’s few multinational corporations. Her mum had dropped her off, but had to rush off—she’d got to make this presentation. The driver’s hooked up somewhere, father is offshore and now she’s in the street all by herself, with nobody to drive her home for the very first time.
I cringed. Could it be that there are people in this country who live and go to school in this place but yet are not Nigerians? To be Nigerian by name and perhaps origin only and nothing else?
The molue-jumping, hustle-or-remain-poor, nonsense-tolerating average Nigerian has got a huge rival. They are Un-Nigerian Nigerians, but Nigerians no less. Their presence dot the many rich neighbourhoods in the country. They are found in duplexes and serviced luxury apartments flung and scattered all over Lekki, Lagos Island, Maitama, Wuse Zone II, Magodo, and a few other upper-class districts. They live here, but they don’t belong here.
They don’t talk, dress, reason, struggle like Nigerians. If they managed to understand Yoruba language, it was seen more as an accomplishment than a norm.
Classrooms painted in various themes, tag-wearing always cheery teachers, air-conditioned classrooms, and multi-million Naira school fees. They are children who have read more books than the average Nigerian school teacher has read his entire life.
They are children ‘‘who had learned from being immersed in celebrity culture, from watching E! on cable. They must know exactly where Beyoncé spent her last holiday with Jay-Z’’ Adichie was once quoted saying. When they are not busy holidaying in the UK, you’d be sure they they’re in the US. Their often fading American and British accent that rubbed off on them from frequent trips overseas readily gives them away.
Theirs is a world of glamour. Ask what they be when they graduate from high school.
You’d be sure of answers like:
‘’I’d be proceeding to a school of aeronautic engineering in Houston, Texas once I sit A levels and international baccalaureate. I’ll be a qualified pilot before I turn twenty’’
‘’I’d be going to England, to study medicine. My biology teacher said a whole lot of people die daily in Nigeria. Once I become a doctor, I’ll come back home, start personal practice and begin saving people’s lives’’
‘’I don’t think I’d want to live in Nigeria after university. My cousins in the UK said I’ll not have a future if I continue here. Had it not been for my dad, I would joined them since’’
I think Chimamanda Adichie’s depiction of this set of people as a generation of privileged Nigerians being trained to exist …. People who would all go abroad, by default, and if they returned, they would do so to attractive jobs, and perhaps to expatriate paychecks.’ fits perfectly. ‘They would survive in Nigeria without understanding it. Their gatemen and househelps would puzzle them. They would lack certain skills needed to survive in the parts of Nigeria that are not constantly air-conditioned.’
Have you ever visited the American University of Nigeria, Yola? It was in the news for something interesting recently. It was simply reported this way: ‘’It’s tough to get an Internet connection in northern Nigeria. That’s why Google was surprised to see – on their user map, where they track the locations of people Googling around the world– a big bright dot of activity in the Nigerian city of Yola, right on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. So when Google sent a team out to Nigeria … to figure out who was doing all that Googling, the California-based company was surprised to find a scene right out of an American college campus. In fact, they sort of did stumble on an American university – the American University of Nigeria (AUN)’’
A short walk around the campus would expose you to such set of students whose bright air of confidence would sweep you completely off your feet. Why would they not be confident? They have the best of teachers—both at school and home from the word go. When they needed to undertake any research work, they readily have access to libraries stocked with the best books any university can offer. When they study petrochemical engineering, the students are handed crude oil samples and are allowed to distill it themselves in labs equipped with more state-of-the-art equipment than many Nigerian oil company research labs—they cannot not be confident, or not know it.
Un-Nigerian Nigerians. At sixteen, they are already graduates, informed enough to take on the world. If there are any set of people who live in this land but stare blankly at you when you say garri is expensive, or never knew the harsh sting of a teacher’s chastising rod, or that getting a university education is akin to climbing the Kilimanjaro, they sure are the one.
At age ten they wear Nike accessories, whose cost would effortlessly feed a family of ten in downtown Lagos for a whole week. A simple hug you give any one of them would ensure a considerable dose of Tom Ford’s Orchid sticks with you for the rest of the day. For them, the only crocodile they know is Lacoste. If by any chance you find yourself around them, never make the mistake of whipping out America or making an uninformed generic statement about how that in America, you can do this and that, except you are ready to become fully informed of your utter ignorance.
The next time you walk the streets VI, Maitama, or any of those high-value neighborhoods and find a Benz SUV with a learner-driver symbol on it and a sixteen-year-old behind the steering wheel, you now know what exactly to think. I don’t think any other kind of teenagers who pull-up in current-model-year Range Rovers and BMW’s except those very same people—Un-Nigerian Nigerians.
Igbokwe Ifeanyi writes from Ifeanyi.firstname.lastname@example.org