My dear young Nigerian, please permit me to write you a letter and snatch some precious moments of your time.
We could have had a talk over lunch but you see, you are surrounded by distractions; there’d probably be an Olamide video on a flat-screen eating up the words I want ingrained in your heart; our phones may be buzzing- yours with Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, mine with a Maroon 5 ringtone; an interesting figure might walk into the restaurant with a napkin covering her butt or pink skinny jeans crushing tiny phalluses. It’s called fashion and it’s all in your face. You would get too excited with all that is happening around you and miss the point.
So here’s a letter, no distractions whatsoever; find a quiet moment and read through. I really hope you get to read because as I hear, the last time you flipped through anything other than your Malaysian weave was for your JAMB exams, and that was three years ago. You’ve never read a newspaper, you’ve never read a John Grisham book or a Jude Dibia fiction. Have you come across a James Hadley Chase series or picked up a copy of Vanity Fair? Do you follow the magic career of Chimamanda? Do you visit sites like New York times? Do you know who Sheryl Sandberg is? Have you read her book? Have you read the story of Singapore? Do you understand Christopher Nolan’s movie, Inception?
Your life is roped in anxiety, common knots that ensure you fit in perfectly into a system with very little options. Society isn’t giving you much to dream about.
To be a young adult in a country-like-Nigeria means you might need to try harder than the average person. Nothing is handed to you, not even kindergarten education. Ask your parents the ‘bastard money’ they had to spend to see you through 1-2-3 and A-B-C; if we had a government with half the conscience of Satan himself, we would have functional public schools and parents wouldn’t have to sell their souls to give you a primary education. Soon you’ll discover you’ll have to fight for everything you want- break doors, scream for attention, and spend expensively on cheap services and goods.
The sad truth is, if you fight hard enough you can get a good job later on in life and live somewhere on the upper-middle crust of importance where you can have three cute kids and a wife/husband. That’s the kind of phenomenal success we record. In other climes, you work hard enough, you get a seat in Silicon Valley and become a part of the gods who create new technology every day; you may become the COO of Facebook or a partner at Twitter or CEO of some new program set to cause culinary satisfaction without the need to eat; so you get filled without food and thus never get fat- all of this just at the click of some device. Cool, yeah? The possibilities are endless over there.
But not in your country, no they are not. This country-called-Nigeria cannot produce gods because it has refused to invest in YOU- the inquisitive child. Your inquisitiveness is being quenched by music, movies and comedy. Not bad, not bad at all; but is that all the options you should have as a young person?
You are afraid to become a lawyer; your uncle finished law school over ten years ago and he still treks to work, stands at court houses trying to get his next meal, cutting deals like some desperate tout with a ridiculous dirty wig on his head- the dirtiest thing you have ever seen. If he sits in an office, they pay him N40,000! A man, with three children and a wife, who slaved through school to become a qualified lawyer!
You don’t think of medical school either. Your auntie’s husband is a doctor and they still live in a rented apartment in a small neighbourhood. He drives a tiny car that coughs and spits and dies every other morning. Your older sister left a Pharmacist to marry a Deejay. A pharmacist spends seven years and comes out broke, the deejay trains for three months and with the right connection joins a thriving music label and begins to travel business class to London to host gigs; earns big and flashes Rolexes and Pathfinders on Instagram. A celebrity of sorts, he puts a diamond wedding ring on your sister’s finger and shares yet again on Instagram. He doesn’t forget to state the top jeweller that cut the rock into wedding magnificence. So is it fair to encourage you to be something that looks good only on paper? That is the disaster of being African; that is the shame of living in a country-called-Nigeria.
I know at the back of your mind you’d rather be some video vixen with bright skin and big boobs rolling on Psquare’s crotch. This is your reality; very little options are placed before you anyways; so how can I blame you? You are only a teenager enraptured by the shiny things in front of her.
When you listen to music, you will be attacked by a lot of lust that needs gratification; you’d listen to troubled relationships and baby mamas; you’ll hear the male voice asking for some “sugar”, sonorously requesting that she takes his large chunk of manhood from behind (forget that it’s really just as thin as a pencil sharpened half-way). You’ll listen as a female voice flaunts her booty in the face of another woman’s man. You’ll see all the sexual bargain on your TV; music videos preaching body-parts, all night partying, alcohol that leaves you numb and foolish, one night sex; all glorified pieces of debauchery displayed for your endless enjoyment. Before noon, music stations already have raunchy scenes of promiscuity littered all over your screen. Birthday parties have kids dancing to “love me with the right money” “touch me on my g-spot”, like the dance of death, slowly eating at your virtue until there’s nothing left.
Virtue; what does that even mean? Do you know?
All of the twerking you are trying to perfect and the quick sex for relevance you are emulating are pain relievers for bigger issues- bigger issues like the strike you have had to endure for six months. Universities strike and the government shows no interest in what its young leaders are up to for six whole months. They are at meetings defending sums like N18,000 minimum wage for teachers, while some of them have over N500m in private accounts. They are siphoning the crude oil from the national can to their private bowls and tanks. It benefits them and their children who live and school abroad; you and the rest of us are left to lick the bottom of the can for a taste of anything remotely decent.
You believe it is only normal for politicians to be corrupt, to have no shame, to be rash and rich and despicable. These things are signed off with: “it’s politics” and it makes it ok. An uncle dies on his way to Enugu because of bad roads; schools are glorified prison cells with decaying walls and lecturers would rather be having sex with some of you and drinking with the rest of you instead of worrying about advancing knowledge. These are all consequences of corrupt politics; but you are not taught that way; you are not taught to hold these people accountable for your lack of options; what you are taught is to pray your father, brother, cousin gets into politics and gets to grab some of the fat national cake that will affect your kindred!
Mediocrity is excused with a wave of the hand. You are not reading, you are not evolving; these things begin to look ok to you; you just want to be successful like D’banj- the koko master, with his hand in a fist signifying the gift of a large sex organ.
This position you are in is dangerous. You do not have the full picture of the depravity that life is made of; and for most parents trying to protect their ward, religion is the only option they can latch on to.
When your take-me-from-behind music fuses with booty-shaking videos, and your just-make-money-regardless lifestyle meets with Religion, my dear one, you are finished!
Religion first makes no demands. It only wants your heart, like love, it wants you to believe in something. That sounds easy and straight, no?
Then it begins to demand your time- be available to share your new belief with other believers.
It’ll follow up by demanding your head to complement your heart which it already possesses. So it seizes your brain, then it chains your conscience. At this point, it starts to tell you what to do- how to spend your money, who to associate with, what to eat, what to think, how to live.
Becoming a religious zombie is the only alternative offered to you in the creeks of this country-called-Nigeria where your options are as long as a thumb.
It is my hope that you embrace the gospel hidden in rich literature. You know all the songs, but do you know what is hidden in Richard Branson’s “losing my virginity” (no, not that virginity). Go and read it! After all you know the lyrics to Tyga’s “rack city”; has that made you a smarter, more useful individual?
Knowledge makes you glow. You live on a realm that leaves you translucent; you become a god when you are a reader. You can recreate your world; you can possess the earth and all that is in it.
You may think you want to be a musician now, but when you read voraciously you may discover you would rather be an astronaut. No disrespect to the hustle of music, but wouldn’t you rather be on the moon?
Whatever this country-called-Nigeria has denied you, it is somewhere in a book around you.
You may not make astonishing money (really, what do you need four cars for?), but you become something.
Something that makes a whole lot of sense.
And that will be enough.