By CHIKA ODUAH
My brother propped his coarse-haired arms on the seat’s leather armrest and shook his head. “I don’t think you should go, Chika. But no one listens to me,” he said. I watched his eyes. He watched my face. I asked him, “why?” Why shouldn’t I go to Nigeria?
“You can’t trust anyone and there are too many witches,” he said.
I chuckled and assured my younger brother that I will be protected from witches…and from wizards.
“Whatever,” he said. “I’ll be safe,” I said.
In a hushed tone, a dear confidante once advised me that Nigeria is not the best place for me. “I’d rather you go back to Kenya,” she told me. “Forget about this Nigeria thing.”
They said I could be killed, kidnapped, cursed, persecuted, scorned, taken advantage of. They told me everyone in Nigeria is corrupt, no one is to be trusted and your friends and family will not hesitate to arrange armed robbers to attack you. In Nigeria, anything goes, I heard. They told me that nothing, absolutely nothing is working in Nigeria, that the entire country is a disaster, a time bomb waiting to explode, a heap of rubbish with the rancid stench of Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, Tinubu and so on.
“I will never go back to that God forsaken country,” pronounced a deacon at my church in Atlanta, shaking her lace- wrapped body with a conviction that I cannot forget, have not forgotten. This is the perpetuating dialogue that I had grown accustomed to hearing throughout my 24 years of life in America.
A bulk of Nigerians abroad concluded a long time ago that Nigeria is a failed nation. That’s why many of them left the country. That’s why many of them have stayed out of the country. Expat rejection, we may as well call it.
But, despite the prophesies of Nigeria’s total destruction and the condemnation of the giant of Africa, I wanted to live there. I wanted to be home. My occasional two-week excursions had fueled my curiosity, my need to understand the place I had left as a two-year-old kid. The thought of leaving the U.S. and moving to Nigeria had kept me awake at night in recent years. My career as a journalist had taken me to places around the world…but Nigeria remained a no-go area.
It was Nigeria’s witches, corruption and armed robbers that kept me away to a certain extent. I had yet to conquer the fear of them. In fact, those three forces had conquered not only me, but are still defeating many of us who call ourselves Nigerians.
Because every Sunday at the U.S. -based predominantly- Nigerian churches I attended and in such churches throughout this planet someone raises the topic of witches. Some say witches are attacking them, not the witches in the Nollywood movies (those are fake, you know) but the witches with four dragonheads and eyes like coal.
Someone’s friend was married to a mermaid or an evil spirit had prevented someone from getting the coveted job promotion. Everyone seems to be losing the war against witches. A crippling brand of “Nigerian religiosity” promotes a myth that witches and spirits are the source of all one’s problems.
I know quite a number of American-raised Nigerian youth who have no plans of visiting Nigeria partly because of their prevailing fear of witches. They hear about them in church, they see them in the movies, they talk about them with their friends. They are terrified and so was I.
Corruption, the toxin killing Nigeria inside out, stupefied me as I read about it in the news stories over the years. The brazen personality of corruption in Nigeria astounded me. And those armed robbers, I learned are not simply “area boys,” but some of them are vagabonds in power in the most elite political circles. Armed to rob the country of a transparent democracy. I stayed out of Nigeria, handicapped by my fear of witches, corruption and armed robbers.
“Nigeria is doomed,” I read in a 2009 editorial written by Emeka Njoku, published on Nigeriaworld.com.
Yet three weeks ago, I found myself stuffing my suitcases with shea butters, satin dresses, electronics, and everything else that would fit and not tip my bags beyond the 50-pound capacity limit. I had finally succumbed to that voice I had been hearing for the past two years, the one telling me to move to Nigeria and conquer my fears.
But the other voices -‐ those of friends, associates, and well-‐wishers -‐ accompanied me as I boarded the Lufthansa aircraft.
“Don’t let anyone touch your head, especially in the village.” “You will see life in Nigeria.”
“You’re not a Nigerian. You are pure American.”
“You can be prissy, so I don’t know how you’ll do in Nigeria.” “Nigeria is an occult-ic nation.”
“You just need God to survive in that country.”
“You’re moving to Nigeria? Wow, you are so brave! Are you scared?”
Conquering fears is part of the essence of life. I am convinced that one’s readiness to conquer is the beginning of fulfillment. My readiness to fulfill my craving to understand Nigeria means I am ready for my cousins in Anambra to keep calling me “Americana,” and “I wanna wanna.” I am ready to say “I am still learning,” with a sheepish smile when Igbos ask why don’t I speak Igbo. The “ajebo” comments-‐ bring them on.
I am ready for the stares and the confused expressions when I speak in my oyinbo accent. All these quirks are part of the journey home and the fear of so-‐called witches, corruption and armed robbers remains on the battlefield for all of us to battle.
Chika Oduah is a freelance journalist. [email protected]