Their own parents did not go school—the earliest generation; their kinds did not go. Only the prominent were pretty close to the British local district administrators, in the close of the 1800’s. Their own parents did not go to school; they labored for the Europeans or owned farms, and gathered a sum.
Their parents sent them to school, in hope they have a life different from what they had. Something like what their elite counterparts have, working with Bata, or the Rail Corporation. Rather than working as laborer in the Julius Berger Constructions, or enlisting in the World War I infantry troops. They dreamed of a different life they did not have, for their children growing up.
They dreamed, and dreamed. They said one day we will be free and stand alone, again; that, one day our tribes will rule themselves, once again. The men will certainly rule, they knew too. And they wanted a life different from what they had—for their children; only their male children now.
Their elite counterparts knew better, did better—no, were able to do better: and those afforded the likes of prestigious Queens College, for both the boy and the girl child. But then, they, too, did the best they could; and it was Olivet High School, and Baptist Boys Schools, and all. So, as it was, the parents sent them to school, the male children—and in the 30’s, or 40’s, or 50’s. And they only started basic school when they were fourteen, or fifteen, or sixteen. And they only had to help themselves through school, the male children. They belonged to the general masses; others were the privileged class.
And the children, they study, they dream… they dream. They wanted a life different from what their parents had. Perhaps something a bit like what the advantaged counterparts have—say, a work as a journalist under the Nigerian Television, NTV; or say, an employment as a sales representative under Lever Brothers; or simply a job as a university lecturer, and proceeding to run a master’s course abroad, in the States or in the UK. And they dream, they dream.
They study, here; a university or college degree in education, or nursing, or environmental design, or accounting, or basic sciences, or perhaps the humanities. They graduate and settle down with a civil service employment, in education mostly, or in primary health care. Counterparts, born into advantages already, or are simply favored with promising events, leave the country to further studies in the US and in the UK, either through scholarship or financed on the fortune of their families. But they who belonged more to the general masses, had to settle down with work, and raise funds to raise other close relatives through schools, something the relatives would ever live to remember and show gratitude for, up to their unborn children’s generation.
They only now quote Nkrumah often; or talk about the agitations for Nationalism. They talk in the west about Zik withrawing from NYM and Awo taking the leadership; and they talk about NPC in the north. In the west, they discuss Egbe Omo Odudua Awo founded in London during his studies and is establishing around the Yoruba regions in 1944, after he returned; in the east they discuss around 1948 and 52, Azikwe leading the Igbo nationalism through the NCNC. They talk about politics and geo-centric nationalism; and in the first party elections, they casted their votes. They also see Independent Nigeria born, and they dream; they dream a better life for their children.
And they settle down, and marry a wife, and begin to raise their own children too. Sometime, some marry and have a family only when they are past middle-age already, in the 1980’s; and so, the next third generation is skipped for them, and those that are to be grandchildren are now children. For some, they settle down pretty faster, perhaps in the pre-Independence 1950’s and the post-Independence 60’s. And they both pray for a life better and much more pleasant than theirs for their children; a dream of heights, breaths, and places they could’ve reached, realized for them.
Their children went to British missionary schools, at a time when African Nationalism in preparation for independence was cutting across Nigeria, Gold Coast and other British West African colonies. They caught the fire, the passion; and got more and more into campus politics as they grew older and went to schools. The well-born went abroad to study, and those that were prominent enough got into mainstream political activism upon return when a series of coups had gradually ushered in a corrupt second republic.
The executive presidents and military heads of states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from 1960 to 1999 before the transition to permanent Democracy.
Before the second republic had come, the growing children had seen, heard about, or otherwise borne, the cruelty, killings and hostilities done to the Igbo communities in Lagos. The Igbo ones had seen their families, friends and tribesmen all carry them and pack in long trains of trucks out of the suburb overnight, to be received in the east by the then military governor of the eastern provinces. They would later never forget that heroic name, and the brutal civil war that followed. They would till date remember Lt.-Colonel Ojukwu and the Biafra War. Many of the young masses died; and many survived disillusioned about humanity already.
And yet the survived, survived; and grew up to witness a series of coups, ninety-nine percent bloody coups. They had heard about the killing of General Ironsi; of Now, they watched on NTV broadcast the press release statement of Muritala Muhammed declaring himself the military head of state and toppled the military government of Yakubu Gowon during his brief absence from the country. They saw the bloody coop of Muritala Muhammed, his murder in a traffic congestion in Lagos and the takeover of General Obasanjo. And then the hand-over to a civil rule once again, under Shehu Shagari. Oil was discovered in the interim; and the masses began to hope and dream again, but not for so long.
The Shagari government politicized the oil stock holdings and allowed key business men and politicians to be the sole benefits from the oil share holdings in large stocks; and the masses heard them spend luxuriously on houses abroad. Oil price hiked in the international markets for a decade, and things became really tight. The ‘oil-rich’ Nigerians do not stop the extravagant spending, and the same masses witness inflation set in; and dreams begin to die in the belly of dreamers, civil servants and business owners… only investors could survive. And Ghanaian investors were marched out. And dreams continue to stink.
They begin to marry—our own parents, and settle. The late 1970’s and the 80’s—the military head of state Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy Idiagbon came along. Their colleagues in the Supreme Miltary Council staged a bloodless coup again and toppled the government; and Major General Ibrahim Babangida regime came in, 1985. And then, we their new generation are either being born or have started to grow.
And we got used to some political slangs and status quo as the days go by and we grow older bit by bit. We heard about Better Life for Women by a First Lady—but it was a climate of terror we knew. Later it was Family Support Program by a following First Lady in a tenser reign of terrific terror. Our dads listened to Fela Anikulapo at agitated times, or simply Ebenezer Obey at moments of resigned tranquility. We hum along the SDP campaign songs for MKO even though didn’t understand everything this was about. We saw the peace green leaves stuck on travelling buses coming from afar during June 12 riots nationwide. We heard the name Shonekan in our parents’ conversations after. And then we sank into a terrible regime of fright and watched in a black and white TV broadcast addresses of a dark-shaded unsmiling military face we know as our head of state, General Sanni Abacha. We remembered the saw-dusts fuel, when firewood became costly, not to talk of kerosene. And somewhere in our salient wombs of dreams, we begin to yearn in our heart of hearts to be a solution to problems societal, spiritual, political, business, academics, and such likes. We begin to really hope to matter in our generation, in our own time.
And then, we begin to grow; and dream.
Ah, bless these dreams, Lord and Father; please, bless these dreams. We have heard dreams die, or could be stillborn; please, bless these dreams in this little womb. Amen.
Kayode Taiwo Olla is a lecturer by daytime and a writer by dusk, with heart issues and mind themes being his muse’s fondest things. His books are a novel Sprouting Again and two poetry collections Softlie & Seven Loves, Seven Hates. His poems and short stories have appeared on litmags like Brittle Paper, Book Republic, Nantygreens, Blankpaperz, SankofaMag and The Nifeminist. He keeps a personal blog here.