12 September 2014

THE NIGERIAN DREAM | Guest Post for United Nations Day for South South Cooperation

"Is there a Nigerian dream? Is it perhaps fashioned after the American dream? If there is a Nigerian dream, what exactly is it? This, Julius believes, is what the Nigerian dream is--the dream of optimism"- Editor's note

A few years back, when my nationalism was at its peak, I was often involved in intellectual skirmishes with my childhood friend, Kumo Ikoko. I call it intellectual skirmishes because Kumo's points were so valid that sometimes, secretly, I yielded and sometimes the argument will be so heated that someone's emotionally charged remark would burst the balloons keeping the other person's ego afloat. I believed then that Nigeria wasn't just a cluster of very different people and even more diverse dreams flying around and sharply contradicting or threatening the next man's dream. Kumo believed so too. Kumo believed that for every nation to exist there must be something strong as its foundation, something sweepingly fundamental like a general religion, or something as essential and as healthy as an obsessive ideology or a singular national language other than that which was brought centuries ago. But these things, according to Kumo, where absent in Nigeria.

Unconvincingly though, and less visible that time, I ambled down the road of the Nigerian dream, a dream akin to the American dream only that ours has a smaller dose of individualism and a far less significant self-reliance owing to the sudden rise of a renaissance of faiths--Islam in the north and Christianity in the south, new rebel missions that came with truckloads of pills of hope that should be more effective to hopelessness, an easier, inexpensive access to God that did not require the most flawless of morals. Our reliance in ourselves is helplessly hinged to our reliance to God, and that is the point the Nigerian dream departed from the American dream.

I grew up in Marine Base in the early 90s. Marine Base is to Port Harcourt what Ajegunle is to Lagos. Our house, like most houses then in Marine base was made of wood, tarpaulin and rusted zinc. Whenever the storms came the houses would rock like grasses in the winds, precariously, set to fall in an imminent tumble. At such times it amazed me how my mother would smile and say 'this house will not fall in Jesus name' my elder siblings would, in unison, thunder 'amen!'. Our house never succumbed to the storms and I don't remember any of our neighbours houses falling to the storm. The more tragic times were when the small river just in front of our house will overflow and we would sleep on the roof at nights with our scant properties of hole riddled mattress, Ghana-must-go's of rundown clothes, second-hand shoes with battered soles in a shoe rack, the calendar of 1994 with Jesus Christ cuddling a lamb as white as cassava flesh and declaring Himself, to our approval, the 'Head Of This Family'. When the floods recede days after we would move down to our house victoriously and my mother would say 'I must build a block house somewhere far away from the river one day'. But it wasn't feasible to my realist mind. She was then a low level nurse, divorced serially, and almost a dozen mouths to feed and educate. She was being driven by the Nigerian dream, a dream that allowed heaven sporadically leak into earth, a dream that melted the rocks of limits and impossibilities, a dream that defied fates. 
There were many ships belonging to Shell that sparkled at night with bright lights, just in front of our waterside house. While we sat outside in the early hours of the night for air because there was no power and residents of Marine Base always never had enough money for subscription, we would agree when my mother, staring longingly at the lighted ships, would say that one day 'the money for light bill will never look too big and even when we pay there will never be power cuts.'

Our neighbour, Bashiru, was a butcher and was certainly the wealthiest: he had a standing fan that squeaked to every force of energy and he also had a 14 inches black and white TV. It was from that TV we saw the infancy of Nollywood and the peak of Hollywood and the artistic uncertainties of Bollywood: action, drama, glitz, vanity, love, New york, babalawo, exorcism, super eagles, Mandela and Rwanda all busied past our fascinated eyes. The rich that seemed to be only in the GRA's and Lagos taunted us from the screen with Daewoo Racers, lawns and women in pink Bikini drinking 5-Alive. Bashiru would say "Insha Alla one day I will build big houses and my daughter Halimat will drive a Daewoo, just wait and see, when our time comes all these fine things will be nothing in comparison". If my mother was close, agreeably she would say 'Life na turn by turn'.

We all turned blind eye to the footages from Rwanda. We didn't bother about the Juntas, we had no big mouthed activists in Marine Base or anyone who could ennoble his/her self by claiming to be an activist. But we yearned for democracy, albeit silently. Sometimes though, somewhere between a league of draft and a blaring Voice of Nigeria Service some old men gathered around the radio would briefly talk of the war, Abacha and creation of new states. Every talk, every dream, every aspiration was coated with a powerful positivity.

It was a blessing if a fine car sent arrows of water from a puddle to you, bathing you. It was a sign that your own car was imminent. The few times we got exposed to middle and upper class arrogance (which was just as painful as racism) we shrugged it off with images of our own future lives wrapped in Utopian glamor. My mother would build two block houses in the next years that followed and would rise to the highest level in the Nigerian nursing profession. Bashiru would build a mansion and send Halimat to school in Saudi Arabia. Everyone in Marine base, of the flood and gaping roof era, slowly transited to the Nigerian middle class just a decade after. Progress was general and almost uniform.

Marine Base of the 90s was always my example to Kumo that there truly is a Nigerian Dream. A dream ideologically rooted in every Nigerian home, every Nigerian community, every Nigerian gender, every Nigerian class and religion. That's why people don't give up in the face of difficulties, that's why people don't die until they die and the requirement to live and persist is just to have breath. It is hard work, expensive optimism mixed with the constant presence of a democratic God. There is a Nigerian Dream, Kumo must believe, a dream that gives us the guts to linger here and dream, and to mold greater futures from the ashes of despair and nothingness.

Julius Bokoru is a memoirist, essayist, and historical fiction writer. His works have been featured on several local and international literary journals. His memoir, 'The Angel That Was Always There' which is set to be published next month was chosen by the Association of Nigerian Authors to pioneer the Nigerian Writers eries. In 2012 the government of Bayelsa state named him among the 50 most influential people in the state for his literary contributions. He was a recent participant at the Farafina Creative writing workshop.



  1. Another inspiring piece JB.
    I'm forever proud of you