Written by Oluwaseun Famoofo
Edited by Veronica Vivi
Illustrated by Grace Kaluba
I still remember the days my parents and their friends would sit in the living room, ardently discussing the politics of the land. I used to be scared someone would knock on their doors and arrest them for even daring to speak. Freedom of speech in Nigeria is an illusion, and so is the right to vote. To be a patriot or to not be, I have spent my life asking myself this question. But I ache for this country, a country where a lot of citizens keep saying their daily “what-ifs.”: what if we were never colonized, what if the amalgamation did not happen, what if we all united? Reading “Of this our Country” reminded me of “There was a country,” by Chinua Achebe – the Nigeria he grew up in is so different from that which has been handed to us, the new generation of Nigerians.
Nigeria is a land filled with contrasts: inter-tribal hate and inter-tribal marriages; a wide income gap between the lower class, the middle class, and the rich; startling differences between the experiences of the citizens in the diaspora who come to Nigeria occasionally and the citizens who live and breathe the country. In “Of this our Country”, the most captivating sentence I read was “If you want to know a country, read its writers,” a quote by Aminatta Forna. The storytelling of the book shines a light on the hidden crevices, it points out the abnormalities and peculiarities of Nigeria I have come to regard as “normal.” A selection of first-person experiences where Nigerians highlight the authors’ strong ties to their ancestry. Sefi Atta, Helon Habila, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bolu Babalola, Abi Daré, and Ayobami Adébayo are a few of the authors present in the collection. Finding both well-known and lesser-known Nigerian authors is easy within the book. I found compelling how at ease the authors were describing the places they called home; some of the authors are skillfully able to persuade their audience of their love for Nigeria.
The story by Chimamanda Adichie provides a hysterical and horrific view of life in Lagos. One’s response to their stories, which serve as a powerful representation of the author’s other works, should be able to inform if one will be interested in other books by these authors. Despite the fact that throughout the book many of Nigeria’s negative characteristics, which may discourage those who have never been there from traveling there, are highlighted, I believe readers will enjoy the descriptions that highlight the country’s timeless features and some may even feel an affinity for it as a result of reading the book.
The personal short stories by twenty-four writers from different parts of the country contained in “Of this our Country” is an accurate representation of the country. A symphony of colors and languages, of cultures and traditions, of religion and politics. It can make people awfully happy in a moment and the next second the smile is wiped off their face. In Nigeria, one never particularly knows what the day has for them, or even the next hour, they just hope for the best. Hope, they say, is a Nigerian citizen.
The book shows the nation that formed in the year 1960, which is still heavily scarred by colonialism and looting, civil war, and corruption, but which still stands tall regardless. Nigeria moves day by day through the sheer will of its people. The currency for surviving in Nigeria is the dream – everyone has it. It burns like a fever in people’s eyes when they see what they can accomplish. One might say this is also the factor that drives greed: the bottomless pit of want our leaders keep shoving the collective resources of the people into, and that person would be right. The complexity the country displays on a daily basis is intertwined with so many beliefs. Nigerians are a proud group of people, and it has led to generations of people who have a hard time admitting their mistakes. That the way they are leading this country is wrong or the hate for fellow Nigerians is baseless. They will not admit that we need better leaders, empathetic leaders, and that we have been wrong but with measured steps and goals, Nigerians can begin the long and tumultuous journey to start healing the land.
The writers’ time in cities like Lagos, Abeokuta, Enugu, Jos, and many more has been a transformative experience and inspired them to produce an enlightening book. Any foreigner who previously believed Nigeria had nothing noteworthy or interesting to offer would have their opinion altered after reading these testimonies. The authors are not all native Nigerians, though; some of them were raised abroad and have just recently chosen Nigeria as their permanent home. Every single piece in the collection is astounding, but those by Helon Habila, Lola Shoneyin, Yomi Adegoke, Okey Ndibe, and Abubakar Ibrahim will stand out as particularly unforgettable.
“If you want to know a country, read its writers.” – Aminatta Forna, ‘Survival instincts’, Guardian, April 24, 2009.
Of This Our Country. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Borough Press, 2021.
Oluwaseun Famoofo is a passionate narrator. A lover of comedy shows and wine, you will mostly see her glued to her laptop revealing one story or the other. Creating her novels and building their characters gives her the utmost satisfaction. Her works have shown in media such as Peace Insight, Black Ballad, Adventures from the bedroom of African women, Yellow seeds magazine, Noisy streets magazine, Resonate, Shado magazine and HypeQ Magazine.