It was my second visit to the Nigerian Prisons, on a trip with Equity Chambers, OAU to the Ife medium security prison. We had paid a similar visit to the Ilesha medium security Prison in 2010 with virtually similar experiences. The religious fervor with which the entry gates are locked the instant you step inside the facility prompts a message within: “the occupants of this house cannot afford luxuries, neither of time nor of space”. Walking past the poorly ventilated cubicles crowded with dry-eyed inmates, silent prayers against every plan of the enemy screen in the recess of one’s mind up until you come to the reality that many of the occupants of the facility could also pray, they just probably could not pay enough.
Nigeria, just like many other African countries, has an enormous youth population grappling with unemployment and financial incapability. There is an abundance of lack in the midst of much more abounding resources, the proper application of which is always debated. It needs also be stated that the problem is worsened by the lack of adequate opportunities and financial literacy.
Governments at various levels recycle spurious empowerment schemes, offering pittances in exchange for the altruistic dignity of the supposed beneficiaries. It hurts to see local councils offer uniforms to jobless youths and sending them out to collect questionable taxes or as supposed traffic marshals without due attention to adult education classes for them, or much more importantly, judiciously applying the council revenue to revamp dilapidated primary/secondary schools whose continued failure turns out destitute youths in the first place.
Often the media is awash with tales of Governors inaugurating ‘ingenious’ employment schemes that tend to benefit more of their political permutations and less of the state’s economy than they are willing to admit. It is encouraging to see thousands of youths put on a monthly stipend, we however must ask questions about the foreseeability of financial independence for those youths through such schemes. Truth is, financial security is virtually impossible even after working ten years at such less dignifying and exerting jobs.
It is time to tell the ‘First Ladies’ to redirect the bogus sums spent holding organizing rallies on girl-child empowerment, to actually building schools for them; to better use the funds earmarked for staple food distributions, to equip young farmers through agricultural education and grants. We need tell our leaders to cease dropping fish at our feet, but rather take us to the deep and teach us to cast our nets too.
@tobisammyjay on Twitter
Now I can tell what it feels like to live without it all, the shoes and shirts and shocks of life but most of all, I miss my pen. I simply hover around now, clasping my palms upon my ears, wishing I had enough wax in there to cushion the sounds. I have had to watch so many reviews of life, of the sad and the bad, the light and the bright, even of mine that comes with a date-tag of February 14. The clip begins at the worship centre, blinding colours of headgear filling up the pews and sonorous tones climbing to the roof from the choir at the right corner, their garments red as blood.
I come up at the entrance of Cortland Gardens, my wife and child on my tail, beside many other celebrants of the sun’s demise trooping in. It was the first time we had decided to hang out in four years. We marched calmly towards a bench, careful enough to avoid the band of young men locked in binge drinking. Hadley beer was free for as many who took time to get to the truck. I laughed within; I had done the same things many years before walking down the aisle.
Laura gave me the same look that had dragged me to her many years back at a bar in Enugu, just this time, she was my wife asking for a dance. My hands settled on her waist as we ambled to the centre, swaying to the music. The smell of her hair took me to the office. Sheila had a similar smell that afternoon as we dissolved in passion, shoving aside my editorial on the latest fuel scarcity in the country, and when she left, she wore a smile that seemed more pregnant than my heavy cousin.
If I had the rights, I would have stopped the review of my life when it got to the part where Laura and I went completely immersed in our world, sealed up in the heavy beats from the disc jockey. The seconds sped though, like fleeing rats. It was the moment four men showed up, all huge and daring. The first shoved me aside with what seemed of no effort to him. “I want a dance with her,” he bellowed. “No way, that’s my wife,” I replied. Watching it now helps to fill in the unconscious moments that followed our two-minute heated debate. Silver metals shining under the dim light appeared from the other three. One lodged his in my belly, the next in my shoulder and the third in my chest. Then they went in quick turns around every part of my body they wanted and thought appealing, the screams of my wife drowned by the flashes of silver and the sputter of blood. In six heavy steps they were out of the Gardens, commotion and curdling blood on their trail; my eyelids close in half and faintly I hear an attendant’s gripe about bloodstains on the dance floor, well over my wife’s persistent calls.
Josh interrupts my life’s review with a thump on his chest where the tear into his breast is yet to heal. He points at a figure from his life review, and I pause mine to see Josh thrust through in the chest by a dirty Caucasian on a rowdy Harlem street. They had been arguing over a missing condom pack in a run-down apartment they shared with six other men. Josh brings the timeline to the point where he had thumped his chest and I see shiny courtrooms, contrasting sharply with Josh’s dingy neighbourhood. The judge, Ms. Fairclough reads from a paper, her spectacles sinking upon her nose as she pronounced a one-way trip to the electric chair for the dirty Caucasian.
Adebolu arrives as the credits on Josh’s earth panorama begin to roll, his eyes squinting at the enormous lighting that surrounded us. It’s easy to tell that he is from my homeland having experienced similar discomfiture upon my arrival. He limps towards me. I turn towards my screen to see scruffy cops rounding up jolly-goers at Cortland Gardens. I recall the countless editorials bled out from my pen about the Police, their incompetence, nonchalance and occasional extra-judicial fervency. I was caught in-between rejoicing that arrests were being made over an incident in which I have earned the victim tag, and lamenting the manhandling of many innocent party-goers over the same. I looked away, looking up to see what the new Editor will write about the arrests.
Adebolu’s screen is being set up when I look away from my screen, his attention firmly rested on Josh’s screen who seemed to delight in seeing a review of his last review for the umpteenth time. When Adebolu looked away, I recognized the look in his face, a common bout of solidarity flu that made us sneeze away any hope of enjoying same pleasures as Josh. We may never see our actual predators given same treatment as they were sure to get in Josh’s country, we knew it and we knew there was little we could do about it from this side. To the system and its beneficiaries, we were mere traces of existence, not worthy of half-masts or days of mourning. When by their often cluelessness, they are plucked from the skies to their early deathbeds, they were super-humans worthy of immortality, not us, mere traces of blood.