I first set my eyes on my beautiful heritage shortly after the civil war 1969, 9 years post independent Nigeria. In my little mind I could not understand why so many black people in their Sunday bests speaking in an alien language dancing with drums and horsetail (Irukere as it is known in my native language Yoruba) had come out to meet us. They were singing our praise names (Oriki as it is called in my native language Yoruba) touching and adoring us. Prominent among these people was my maternal Grandfather known as ‘Young Ade’. I got to know him much better over the next few years. In my young eyes my grandfather was a Black Englishman. He was dapper and very smart he had a Citroen that rose and fell a fantastic sight for a child and drank tea at noon and to crown matters he turned his tea cup upside down when he finished!
My granddad Young Ade belonged to the Nigerian Nationalist generation they believed in a new Nigeria, the Nigerian dream, a Nigeria where its own children will be in control of its destiny. A Nigeria where the state will provide basic infrastructure, utilities, education and health for its entire people. For this reason men like my grandfather worked very hard to give their children the proverbial “Golden Fleece’’.
My grandfather and many like him working class, selfless men had birthed the next generation of middle class African, free, post independent educated men and they were the Nigerian dream. How and where did it go wrong?
My grandfather and his generation were the dreamers, they had the vision and they made it happen. They will not tolerate being ruled by colonialists and they equipped themselves with education even if it meant getting it themselves. The dreams of these men unfortunately died with them, they will somersault in their graves if they could see the play on the Nigerian stage. A sight to behold, no light, no water, no fuel?
Post independence, what a time it was to be a Nigerian! It meant you could rule the world, It meant you got the best education state or private. I attended a little primary school known as Sunnyfields Primary School in Surulere, Lagos. The main things I remember were the assemblies where we sang from the anglican hymn books and a subject called civics where we were taught how to be good citizens.
The streets were safe, we used to walk home from school. After lunch I would idly go to Sobeye Princewills house on Eniasoro Beyioku or Funke Fasoyiros on Sam Shonibare. You could even ride your bicycle there were no potholes. I never saw a police man! ECN (electric company of Nigeria) the power authority never rationed power you could switch on the television in the evening and see Uncle Yinka Craig!, Marine Boy, Space 1999. I had the opportunity to take my children to the streets I grew up in, in my beautiful Surulere where I woke up to the strings of Fela blaring aloud (Jeun ko ku o ode, wakii and die ode, chop and quench ode….) or lojoo Monday Eko Oni gba gba ku gbao!
They asked me, Mummy were is the road here? Olukole, Olufemi, Simisola, Subulola, Sam Shonibare, Ajao, what became of you? Have the “gods” rejected you?
How does one explain that Surulere was my fairy tale land? I could walk to Lennards on Lawanson and get wedges or platforms or I could walk to the Oshins store and get my Clarks school shoes or I was sent regularly to Bola Benson supermarket to buy groceries or I walked to Elegant Twins to get my hair stretched on Saturday for church on Sunday or I walked to Ajao Road for Ayo Bankoles music class.
My state secondary school was the pride of the then Western region; I was so proud that I had passed the common entrance to go to such a school. I had been taken in Holy Child College Obalende, Lagos, Federal Government College Warri, St Teresa’s College Ibadan and St Anne’s School Ibadan spoilt for choice. The Nigerian Secondary schools were modelled after the English public or grammar schools and those at the higher echelon were like English Prep schools. My Dad paid N30 a term for my boarding fees and tuition was free! Nigeria was in it’s hey day! Nigeria was on its path to glory. The school system was for everyone there were no private secondary schools and there was no need for any at the time. Our books: there was an abundance of them our school texts books were published by Onibonoje Press, Longman and Heinemann and they were all based in Nigeria.
Every child had access to the same education if they wanted it!
I remember then reading a book called ‘Cry My beloved Country’ by Alan Paton I was is the third year of secondary school and I thought how fantastic it is to be a Nigerian, not oppressed by any one, not like poor Khumalo! I was getting a great education for N30 (at the time it was equivalent to £30).
What an irony, today i become Alan Paton! Cry my beloved Nigeria!
I write this piece in nostalgia for my dying heritage. A heritage that gave me my identity and makes me stand tall and proud wherever I find my self in the grand scheme of things. I seek a path to give back, I hope I find one in my little way.
My grandfathers generation ran their part of the Nigerian race, they handed the baton to the next generation but it seems the baton dropped! Who will pick the fallen baton who will write the next chapter of the Nigerian dream? Who will make it happen?
Adetoro A Akinseye