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Nigerian Trauma

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

2012 to 2015 saw a wave of IJGBs (I Just Got Backs) returning to Nigeria from the four corners of the earth; from the concrete jungles of America to the sleepy towns of England, from the tropical cities of Malaysia and India to the crispy-aired southern African nations - waves of young Nigerians returned home. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had just been made president and he would be our good luck charm* - change had finally come. We would rebuild the Nigeria our parents and a dozen military regimes had destroyed. Here was an educated man (a whole professor with a whole PhD) who would help us rebuild. Our time had finally come, so help us God.

What we faced was a stark reality. After the hustle and bustle of NYSC orientation camp - which really was three weeks of gbedu and shayo - came the reality of surviving in Nigeria. If you had been suffering from anxiety and depression when you were living in scenic England, Nigeria would serve to compress that depression for you, shake it very well so that it would bubble over. If you had not learned how to deal with your triggers, Nigerians were ready to give you plenty of practice - from Aunties who won’t mind their business to fellas who have no idea what personal space is.

Here’s what I want to say: Nigerians are the bravest people alive. And yes, I absolutely am biased.

It was supposed to be funny

A friend sent me this video and it broke my heart:

Source: @trylips

Personally, I hope they catch this boy and flog him one day.

But here’s why it messed me up - it is abnormal to just start running and have everyone drop what they are doing and run after you.

It might make for great comedy content, but fundamentally, that is the behaviour of traumatized people. That video shows the volatile state of Nigeria. People expect anything to happen to them at any time. Nigerians are constantly on edge. They have heard (and perhaps even witnessed) too many stories of kidnaps, armed robbery, police shootings, trailers falling off bridges. So when a stranger runs past the front of your shop, shouting, “They’re coming o!”, you drop everything and you bolt, because what if today is the day that robbers have finally come to your neighbourhood? What if it is finally your turn to be befallen by misfortune?

In a “normal” society, if a man runs across the street shouting “They’re coming o!” three things will most likely happen -

  1. People will check to see what might be chasing this man

  2. (when they find out that nothing indeed is chasing him) They will decide that he is mentally unwell and might be having hallucinations

  3. They will call the police, who will most likely cart him away to the nearest hospital for a psychological evaluation and necessary care

That is the way things operate in functioning societies.

The kind that never leaves

Nigerians are perpetually traumatised and they do not inhabit a functioning society. Amidst the jive of our music, the success of our musicians and entertainers, and the glow we enjoy that emits from the likes of Fela Kuti, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Dora Akunyili - amidst all this, the trauma never really leaves.

Even when you relocate abroad and you live in a safe neighbourhood, you still check that your doors are locked countless times before going to bed - should in case. When your phone’s battery goes below 50%, and you immediately want to plug it in, you have to force yourself to remember that there will always be power, even when it is down to 1% and about to die. When you want to iron your clothes for church, you remember you can iron on Sunday morning, because power will still be there. You have to remind yourself to breathe, not to be in such a hurry to get through your to-do list before your laptop dies, before they take light, before the phone dies, before the washing machine finishes its cycle. Just breathe, nobody will cut the power.

And you don’t have to pay your rent for two years at a go, because the landlord takes rent monthly. You can breathe - that’s the part that drives you crazy. You can actually breathe. And take your time. You don’t have to be constantly in a hurry. You can take your time. And the silence. You’re still getting used to the quiet of the house at 2:00am - with no generators running outside your window and no late prayer vigils running through odd hours of the night. You used to wake startled - Something must be wrong; the house is too quiet. And then you remember.

Nigerian Trauma follows you everywhere you go. It makes you appreciate the things that your counterparts complain about – roadworks through the summer, for example. Well, at least they are fixing the roads, are they not? And it helps you catch yourself when you want to start complaining too - you catch yourself so that you remember where you are coming from; so that you remember those who are still dealing, not with a fading trauma or with the memory of trauma, but with present trauma because, while the hustle and bustle of Nigerian living has become your past, it is still very much their present.


* Please tell me you remember the amount of pastors who used this man’s name to preach back in the day. Tell me you remember!

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