Published today, 'Of This Our Country' is a powerful new collection of essays from some of Nigeria's most celebrated writers. Included within its pages are words from Yomi Adegoke, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Oyinkan Akande, Ike Anya, Sefi Atta, Bolu Babalola, J K Chukwu, Abi Daré, Inua Ellams and Nels Abbey, among others. Their personal stories, memories and thoughts on the joys, pains and complexities of Nigeria are a diverse blend of those who have been born and raised in the country and those who have lived their lives abroad and developed their own particular relationship with the land of their parents.
Here, the acclaimed writer Ayọbámi Adébáyo shares an extract from her own inclusion within the collection, 'Clarion Calls,' which details her early understanding of patriotism and what it meant to pledge allegiance to a land you are only just beginning to understand.
"In primary school, I learn to sing the national anthem before I know the right words. Instead of ‘Arise o compatriots’, I chant ‘Arise o compassions’ with a mix of abandon and confidence that I will leave behind in childhood. Even when I know the right lyrics, they remain opaque to me, revealing nothing of the ideas and imperatives they are meant to conjure. The words are abstractions to me until the day my father sticks branches in front of his car so he can get me to school.
This incidence happens after the 1993 elections are annulled. I know the annulment is some grave injustice from listening to my parents and their friends rage about it. Clusters of protesters have been gathering in the streets, increasing in number daily. My parents have stocked the pantry with food, matches and salt. Clouds are gathering but the sky has not darkened yet. Certain the downpour is still days or weeks away, my father ferries me to school as he has always done. On this morning though, our route has been totally blocked. There are old tires in the middle of the road. Logs of wood and metal drums have been arranged into a makeshift obstacle course. Behind those, the clusters of the last few days have congregated into a crowd that blocks our access.
My father parks the car and, like other motorists around us, he leaves the vehicle to find some form of vegetation. In this situation, any branch would do as an olive branch, but some marker of solidarity is required before a vehicle is let through. I watch the protesters through the windshield of my father’s blue Santana and have the sense that these people are the ones I have been singing about all this time. They are compatriots arising to obey a call I could not quite piece together from listening to my parents’ complaints about the military regime. As I watch them wave their placards, I become sure of two things. Not only have these men and women somehow eavesdropped on the angry complaints my parents share with their friends, they understand every word and are going to do something about each discontent.
Transfixed by the crowd ahead, I don’t notice how much time passes before my father returns with several branches. He sticks them all in front of the car and begins to drive again, inching the Santana forward until I can see those protesting up close. Suddenly, the national anthem’s abstractions have crystallised into something I could touch if I try. They wave my father through when they see I am wearing a school uniform and I am deflated as we leave them behind. It is the first time Nigeria means anything tangible to me, the first time I feel a surge of affection towards this thing I’ve claimed as mine daily on the school lawn: I pledge to Nigeria my country…."
Extracted from ‘Clarion Calls’ by Ayọbámi Adébáyo in ‘Of This Our Country: Acclaimed Nigerian writers on the home, identity and culture they know’, published on 30 September.
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