How are you? It’s your fifty-sixth birthday. How do you feel? I hope you are hale, hearty and hopeful. I really hope you are, though I hear myself asking, “How can she be hopeful considering all she’s been through these past years?” Well, I guess I am inspired by Dad’s unrelenting hope in your future and in his undying love for you. Oh yeah! Greetings from Dad. In fact, Dad is the main reason I’m writing you this letter. Dad loves you so much, he dreams about you every day; So in love with you that his mind is full of you every passing moment; So in love with you that one can‘t but ask, “What is mother that you are so mindful of her?” He says you are in critical condition, in the intensive care unit. My heart was broken when I heard you lost your mind at some point, Dad says you have lost your sense of history. In spite of this, his love for you has never waned. I’m writing this letter to recount to you some of the things you’ve been through in the hope that you’ll remember who you are.
Dad was a little boy running around barefooted in Iporo Sodẹkẹ in Abẹokuta when you were born. He was almost six. He had just enrolled in primary school at the time but he still has memories of the day of your birth. He tells us that the day you were born was such a day of joy, that he and other little kids were given hand flags to celebrate your first birthday in 1961 and that they each had a sumptuous plate of jollof rice. My mouth is watering at the thought! They were taught a very interesting song that hailed you and talked about your greatness. Everyone sang this song to welcome you, the latest beauty on the block. I guess that makes you smile.
Mama, I have read many things about you. I am told you were born into a family whose children had been held captive and sold as slaves to strangers in faraway lands across the seas. I am told that your mother was a paragon of beauty, and that her dark skin reflected the scintillating rays of the sun. I learnt that, many years later, the strangers came back to invade grandma’s home and she became their servant in her own home. The strangers could not understand how she could be so dark, yet so beautiful. I hear they didn’t care much about her even though they could not take their eyes off her. They all desired her at the same time, so instead of scrambling for her without a plan, they decided to have bits and pieces of her. They “partitioned” her and took turns with her. You, Mama, are one of over fifty children that came as a result.
I am told that grandma was being held hostage by these strangers when she was pregnant with you and that she experienced protracted labor when she was about to give birth to you. I am told that her captors didn’t really want her to have you and that attempts were made to terminate you when you were conceived. I am told that some of my uncles fought on your behalf against the schemes of the strangers. I am told that Uncle Herbert, one of the first midwives who tried to take delivery of you, died while trying because of the difficult circumstances surrounding your birth. Anyway, you were eventually born. I wonder if you cried. I wonder if you cried the day you were born like normal babies do. I wonder if you cried when Uncle Nnamdi, Uncle Femi and Uncle Ahmadu eventually took delivery of you. I wonder if you cried because, if you did, that was just the beginning of your many years of painful tears.
I hear that, in spite of the circumstances, everyone rejoiced because of the promise of hope that surrounded your birth. Dad tells us that neighbors trooped in with congratulatory messages; he says that well-wishers from the locality and beyond took part in the fanfare that accompanied your birth, people came from faraway lands because they had heard that you had a great destiny. Even the relatives of the white strangers who didn’t want you to be born at first eventually came to celebrate you. I heard that grandma was very happy because she had been told in a dream that you were destined to liberate her and all your siblings from captivity. Uncle Nnamdi recounted this dream in your oriki the day you were born. Dad tells us that, true to your oriki, you demonstrated leadership ability right from childhood.
Unfortunately, though I was told that after Uncle Nnamdi, Uncle Femi and Uncle Ahmadu helped grandma take delivery of you, they began to struggle amongst themselves to keep you in their custody. They eventually handed you to Uncle Tafa and some other caretakers who had access to the massive estate that was bequeathed to you by the Creator.
I learnt that some of these caretakers didn’t appear to be doing a good job taking care of you and that they seemed to be serving their selfish interests instead. For instance, I heard that one of them set up a shoe factory for himself at your expense and some zealots became so angry that they killed this caretaker. I heard they also killed Uncle Ahmadu, Uncle Tafa and some other caretakers. That was when the family crisis intensified beyond control. You were six at this time and Dad was twelve.
One year later, when Dad was thirteen, he had a dream about you. He was sitting on a mountain peak with two of your caretakers – one a soldier, the other a wise man. Three of them began to have discussions about your great and bright future and he saw that your destiny was intertwined with his. I guess that was when he became deeply in love with you. I guess that was when he became determined to help you fulfill your destiny. That day, you were betrothed like the precious heavenly city to the Lord as a bride beautifully prepared for her husband. Yes, Dad taught me about the Lord. He tells me how he desperately wants you to meet the Lord. We’ll come back to that. For now, let’s get back to when you were six.
At that time, your caretakers had taken up arms against one another. Some of them wanted to receive their share of your estate and go their separate ways. The others didn’t let them, and so they fought bitterly. I learnt that over one million people died. It appears that, since that time, you never really recovered. I hear that, though you are fifty-six today, you still behave very much like a child. They give it a name I’m trying to remember. They say it’s called…erm…erm…oh yeah! Arrested development. I cannot bear the thought. That Mama still behaves like a baby at fifty-six? It hurts. I can’t fight back the tears. How did this happen? How come?
I hear it’s what they did to you, that the family tried to come together again after the crisis. I learnt of how you would starve and beg for crumbs; that your estate was no longer used to take care of you and that your caretakers began to feed fat on your wealth. At this time, you gradually grew to become a teenager. In spite of the difficult circumstances in which you were growing up, you became ravishingly beautiful, much like grandma. In fact, I hear you are the carbon copy of grandma. Just like her, you have multiple dimensions of beauty which, coming together, create one bundle of elegance. I was told that, as this beauty began to unfold in your teenage years, you became really nubile; that your curves began to blossom in such an alluring manner that the whole world began to turn their heads each time you passed by. They say it’s called a boom. Your figure (or is it statistics?) became so inviting that your handlers lost their sense of shame and ravished you without mercy. They raped you, battered you and looted your estate. They sucked the oil out of you just like the white strangers did to grandma. Dad calls it the operations of familiar spirits – negative things running in the family from generation to generation. My heart bleeds!
As it is with many a violated young woman, you became vulnerable, you lost your pride and dignity. You were at the mercy of people who hated you; they could easily sway you with their smooth talk and ill-gotten wealth which was yours in any case. But, because you didn’t realize that it was your wealth they were flaunting, you were bamboozled by them. One after the other, they came to you and had their fill. Some came in khakis, some in agbada; some forced your back to the ground at gunpoint; others found you in the streets at the red light districts, and you rushed after them gleefully when they dangled crispy notes at you.
Some tried to rescue you because they really liked you but the rescue process was so painful that you couldn’t bear it. One of them was particularly bent on rescuing you and he declared war against your enemies. You had become derelict and forsaken. You had come to depend on the drugs of indiscipline and corruption. This zealous rescuer declared war against your indiscipline but you couldn’t bear the pain of withdrawal. You couldn’t bear it! So, when a smiling gap-toothed general they call Mr. Settlement came by and offered you settlement doses of your drugs, your addiction got the better part of you. You rushed after him. “Comot for here, asewo no dey find husband! Who send you? Knight in shining armor rescuing damsel in distress! Mschew!” you said as you gave the back of your boot to the stern and officious rescuer with his so-called war against indiscipline.
After the smiling general tasted you, he didn’t want to let you go. He tied you down to himself. But there was much pressure from the world, so he organized a suitors’ competition and promised to give you to the winning suitor. One man with a lot of money won this competition. By this time, Dad had become a lawyer and then a preacher. He was appalled by the way you were being treated. He wanted to rescue you but the system wouldn’t let him. He warned that this competition would fail and that Mr. Settlement would cancel the competition. Like Dad warned, Mr. Settlement indeed cancelled the competition and withheld the results. He called it, erm…what is it again oh…? Yes! Annulment. He annulled the competition. So, there was no marriage for you; Mr. Settlement kept you in his custody. However, he had to step aside after a while because of the outcry.
A close friend of Mr. Settlement’s had his eye on you all the while. He was a dark goggle-wearing general. Mr. Settlement had handed you over to an interim caretaker but the general chased him away one day so he could have you all to himself. This dark goggle-wearing tyrant became your most vicious violator ever. He was a sadomasochist – he found pleasure in your pain. He stole almost all that was left of your estate and made you a by-word. He left you unkempt and the pus from your sores was offensive to the whole world.
All the while, Dad never ceased to love you. He stuck his neck out in defiance against this tyrant even though he was marked for the bullet. Dad prayed, he preached, he prophesied; he told us then that you would be rescued from your captors and that your recovery would be fast. He told us that your tyrant-captor was going to meet his waterloo. True to prophecy, this tyrant died. We heard that while he spent his down time with some call girls from India, one of them dashed him Adam’s apple and he bit the dust. I don’t know how true this is but this is what they say. In any case, he had his way with you until death did you part.
After this incident, you were handed over to yet another caretaker, Uncle Salam, who was quick to prepare a marriage certificate for you and handed you over to the family of Baba Agbẹ. Baba Agbẹ had been your caretaker many years before when he wore khaki. He now wears agbada. Dad cried out against it, he warned them not to give you to him or his family, but nobody listened to him. You spent sixteen years in that family. During that period, your estate had grown again but Baba Agbẹ’s family plundered your estate and they continued to violate you.
Five years ago, Dad and that officious disciplinarian who really liked you and waged war against your addiction formed a tag team to rescue you but you kicked them away. You didn’t want them. You followed Uncle Jona from Baba Agbẹ’s family. But, five years later, after Baba Agbẹ’s family had almost wrung the life out of you, you eventually went back to Mr. Disciplinarian. He is now much older than he was when you were first with him. He is now Sai Baba. Some call him Baba Change. He is trying hard to rescue you because you are in a very bad state. He and Dad are friends and Dad has been trying to help him rescue you. Unfortunately, Baba’s efforts don’t seem to be yielding results. Some people say he is confused. Others think he is surrounded by people who don’t care about you and who want to pull the life support machine from your nostrils. Baba’s companions say you are spent. They think they can make some money from your carcass. They call it erm…erm… Sale of national assets.
All said and done, Dad still loves you. He doesn’t care that you’ve been violated again and again. He doesn’t care that you are no longer as attractive as you used to be. He doesn’t care that you are almost dying. He has always loved you and he still loves you. He’s working hard so he can buy you everything you need to breathe on your own again. He wants to restore your glory; he wants to take you to your destiny – to the Lord, his Master, your true husband, who loved you and gave Himself for you, oh land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia!
Dear Mama, I hear you asking, “But who are you? When did I bear you?” Well, I am the child who sometimes wishes Mama were here and well; maybe no child would die before five and none would be out of school; maybe every child would have access to quality healthcare and none would die from malaria; maybe no child would be kidnapped; maybe the roads to school would be free and I wouldn’t have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. just so I won’t be late for school; maybe education would work, maybe security would work; maybe infrastructure would be abundant; maybe, maybe; just maybe.
But I won’t give up. I am a child of a man who has seen your future; Dad has seen sights of your brightness that tell him we are approaching the end of the tunnel. Dad says we’re coming to see you soon, to buy you back; to clean you up and to adorn you with great glory such as you have never known before. He says that no matter how sordid your past was, your past will no longer be your prison because your future is much more glorious than your past.
Happy Birthday, Motherland! Happy Birthday, Nigeria!