NIGERIA 1914

1914: It was a new country. Ogbonna felt it. But he did not know how to convey this sensing to his fellow Igbo people, to his fellow Africans; because he could not really explain, with words and in concepts, what he so clearly perceived – this was a new country. There was something in the air.

He saw it in the Colonial Officer’s gait. It was the bearing, comportment and carriage of someone who was striding expectantly, imperiously, across new found land. The man’s eyes glittered shrewdly, tempered by surprise and wonder, intensified by ambition and greed, crowned by the realization that this was a jewel, this moment, this place, this new country he and his kind had created and finally pieced together. His mind swept over the large vast area stretching from the desert edges up North to the Atlantic down South, and he still could not believe how easy it had been to play all these tribal nations against each other, using some to subjugate others and others to infiltrate some; and never once had they thought of uniting. A man of greed knows how to manipulate the greed in others. His thin lips bore a faint smile.

Watching him, Ogbonna had the impression of observing a farmer who threw udara seeds into a field and, when it was time to reap, found not udara trees but fields of gold swimming before his bewildered eyes, behind which in his mind the realization dawned that that soft dark red soil had been no ordinary field of activity, this was a fertile land of opportunity. He had created a state of limitless possibilities. And while he stood and admired his work, shrewdly trying to figure out in his mind how to retain his hold on it and what to do with it now and in the future, it burned in Ogbonna’s mind, watching him, that this land, this field of possibility, was his own country. It was not the old clan or ancient tribe in which he lived, from which he hailed, and which was itself trapped within the borders of this new entity, henceforth a part of it. Nay, it was something else. Another place within the same space. Another state of being. A different nation. A new country had been built on his native land.

In this new country, new laws would govern, new thinking would hold greater validity. The old would stay and continue to struggle to stand its ground; but over and above everything, master of all, would be – already was – a new reality, a new game, and a new way to play the game if you wanted to get to the top. This new country was not going away, this new order was here to stay. The magical mix of heterogeneous parts had reacted with itself under the catalyst of a ruthless clever chaperoning, and had disappeared into and yielded an improbable, vibrant, new whole. A strange and powerful virgin. Daughter of improbability, mother of possibility. Familiar yet different. A whole new thing. A new, strange, country called Nigeria.

It is a frustrating thing to feel all these things within you but have no words with which to express them, and nobody with whom to further develop these thoughts. They did not come gradually upon him, but rushed in in one flash of clarity the very first time he saw the Colonial Officer in his village. He just knew. This old ground I am standing on, everything, is new territory. We have not just been conquered – reversing that would have been easy. No, our very world has changed. Something of deep monumental significance has taken place, something irreversible.

We cannot reverse it – but if we are clever and united, industrious and fortunate, we might take control of it. It will never take us again back to where we were, but we can take it away from those who made it, and we can take it in a direction of our own choosing. Because something new has arisen on Igbo soil and, as he had heard, on many other African peoples’ soils far away too, but no African has any control over it. We are all powerless subjects of our own Kingdom.

And there the two men stood, staring into the distance. One contemplating how to subjugate this land forever. The other plotting how to get it back.

That was the moment Ogbonna made the decision, at first instinctively, intuitively, and then consciously, deliberately, clearly, to move away from his old life, from the old order. It was a movement of that intuition which had always been an active part of his inner consciousness. This was the way forward. The way out of the past, for the past had been a world of its own… something else entirely. In order to arrive safely into the future, he had to get into the heart of the system that had broken their heart.

And from that moment he began to strive and to struggle, reluctantly yet resolutely, to move away from his world and move into the Colonial Officer’s world. He would take as much of his past along with him as he could smuggle aboard the ship of change. He would serve the system, learn the system, master the system, would disappear deep into the heart of the Colonial Master’s system and re-emerge a completely new, different person, a Nigerian. He would build a foundation for the future repossession of his home, and he would become the grandfather and great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather of you and me.

– – – – –

2019: Nigeria is on the brink of another round of elections, and they still have not thought of uniting, still have not made a serious attempt at forging true unity, nor at fairly and equitably sharing power. Individual sections or power cliques still want to conquer, control and subjugate all the rest. And Greed remains their Master.

The Colonial Master’s descendants still bear a faint smile on their haughty lips.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

I Don’t Run With The Crowd

I don’t run with the crowd.

When I got into secondary school, King’s College, at the age of 11, all of us wanted to each be the fastest runner. It’s in the nature of kids. Including me. But, to my disappointment, I was not a fast runner. Then my school father Emeka Udezue told me, “You look like a jumper. We have nobody to fill the second Triple Jump slot for juniors, because nobody wants to do or learn the Triple Jump. Anokwuru is our only jumper for now. Why don’t you fill the gap and become the second jumper? Every point counts.” I agreed, and learned the Triple Jump one day before interhouse sports and then competed in it. Anokwuru got the Gold and 4 points for Pane’s House. I came fourth and got 1 point for Pane’s House. That year Pane’s House won the Interhouse Sports Competition by just 1 point.
My school father said excitedly: “See what I told you!” And I internalized three valuable lessons in life.

1: Embrace what others avoid. The seemingly uninteresting. The difficult. The unsung.
2: Every point counts.
3: That which seems inconsequential and even like a failure at the start, might be what provides the complement that makes the difference in the end.

From then on, I concentrated on Triple Jump, and also added High Jump to it.

Five years later, in my last year in secondary school, the cycle closed. The scene was the National Interschool FedCol Games 1991. All the 45 Federal Government Colleges from all over Nigeria converged in Illorin for the competition. Again the stars were the fastest runners. The track events pulled the crowds. Every school wanted to produce the 100m champion! One got the impression that the Field events (jumping, throwing, etc) was not interesting to some sports teachers.
If there was any event even more unattractive to the students than Triple Jump, it was Discus. But this was exactly the event which Ekeinde Ohiwerei had practiced and mastered during our six years in King’s College. He wasn’t fast and he could not jump high, but he threw a mean Discus. And he threw his Discus and got the Gold for K.C.
Chukuka Chukuma was next. He too was uninterested in the sprints and had focused on what he could do well. He picked up his Javelin and speared a Silver medal for K.C.
Like Ekeinde, Chukuka too was not a crowd-runner.
Then I stepped up to my signature event, the Triple Jump. To my shock and surprise, all my six attempts were better than the second placed person. I got the Gold for K.C. – and my mind went back to my school-father Emeka Udezue and the day he told me to learn the Triple Jump, because I can jump and every point counts.
After that came the High Jump. I was up against a great jumper from Waffi, a dark wiry fellow called Toju. He had springs in his heels. We were the only two left in the end. When I missed, he missed. When I jumped the bar, he jumped the bar. On and on, back and forth. The officiators grew impatient, because they were waiting for the High Jump to finish in order to do the final event, the 4 x 400m relay and then end the games before sunset. So they started pressuring us to “Jump quickly! Jump quickly!” hoping one person would miss. I resisted the pressure, because… “every point counts”. But the pressure got to Toju. I took my time and scaled the last bar. He rushed.. and missed, and crashed the bar. That was one more Gold for K.C.
Then came the surprise of the day. The 4 x 400m relay event. It was the last. It was our chance and we threw everything at it. Dike Ugonna, Femi Sholesi, Sanusi Gambo and myself. We just ran like there was a devil after us – and we won the Silver medal. Our only sprint medal at the competition.

The real shock came when the final overall results were tallied. King’s College had won the overall first position. Everybody was baffled. They had only been calculating which schools won the sprint events. Most people’s attention had been on the sprint events. Very few people had taken cognisance of us as we were winning our “uninteresting” field events. And that’s how we climbed to the top. While 40 schools were busy fighting for 7 sprint events, we were calmly taking the road less travelled. And it led us home. We won by a single medal.

1: Embrace what others avoid.
2: Every point counts.
3: What seems unimportant at the start might be the deal-clincher in the end.

You don’t have to run with the crowd. But, if you do, may your fellow bandits be people who also have the foresight and the discipline to go their own path when necessary, even if it be a separate path.

And when you have friends or family members or partners who choose or are forced to take the road less travelled in life, show them the value in it, and encourage them to do it – and do it well. Because we are always a part of a greater endeavour, … and Every Point Counts.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.