December 7, 2022

Simon Ateba: My Journey From Cameroon To Nigeria

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From outside Nigeria and listening to Radio France international, I heard mainly negative news stories about Africa’s most populous nation.

It was a corrupt country ruled by army generals. It was a dangerous nation where corpses littered the streets as gun-wielding gangs clashed.

A place where godfathers played their game of corruption with pleasure and crisscrossed the planet in private jets.

It was a country where Muslims and Christians went to frequent wars and left hundreds slaughtered along the path.

It was a place where kidnappers made millions by taking hapless citizens away and threatening to blow their heads off, where militants bombed oil pipelines and gunned down soldiers at will.

It was a country where police brutality was sky high, where cops shot people dead for just a bottle of water! Where presidents embezzled all they could and smuggled cash callously to Swiss banks! In that country everyone was corrupt.

It was a bad place to be. It was hell on earth.

When I decided to go beyond the headlines and see things for myself, a prayer was said on my behalf. People touched me for the last time. A female friend of mine who before then only pecked me, kissed me on the lips to my utmost surprise and shed a little tear of goodbye.

Friends who knew me as a sweet philosopher wept profusely wondering if they would ever see me! Enemies cackled as they wrote me off. Loved ones thought I was lost. I was already a dead man in a dangerous land! A man who had signed his death certificate himself.

Once in Lagos, indeed I was lost. The confusion was unbearable. The traffic snarls were unimaginable. The news stories were true. Eight generals had ruled the country. The few civilians who had reached the throne had been toppled or assassinated.

People took advantage of the chaos and perpetrated evil. It was true, there was evil. There were killings. There was insecurity. Lawlessness was also ubiquitous. Nigerian policemen shot hapless Nigerians at will. But not everyone was bad. Not everyone was dishonest. Nigeria was a country trying to put its past behind. And the negative stories were only part of the story. The other part which was never told was the side of the Nigerian people. Most people were honest. Reliable. Religious. Good people.

Most people wallowed in squalor and cursed government officials who made life so unbearable for them. Life was pressing them so hard that they could barely breathe even as they did all they could to keep the stomachs full and the lights on.

They wanted a system change. They wanted a better life. For several days in January, Nigeria was shut down following strike over the removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit. Offices, banks, airports, shops were under lock and key. People took to the streets to vent their anger and despondency. To reclaim their dignity. The dignity of the giant of Africa. The dignity of Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation.

Two months after those successful protests, I am just wondering whether those who live in palaces and move around in private jets and a cornucopia of aides heeded the Nigerian call.

This article was first published on PMNEWS Nigeria in 2012. It was written by Simon Ateba, then a senior correspondent for PMNEWS.

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