Journey Through Niger

What started as a happy journey to Ile-Ife one Tuesday morning, turned into an unexpected journey through Niger state. I felt a deep sense of fear and unease, but everything I saw kept distracting me from feeling that emotion. It was the sight of men, women, and children whose homes were in this series of villages we passed through. I've seen ghettos before, but I wouldn't describe these places as one. Their living conditions were similar to what you'd hear in the old stories. It was as though we were traveling through the past. While other bodies in the car engaged in endless chatter about the decayed state of Nigeria, my body and mind were connected to the other bodies I saw. 

I was mostly thinking about how the residents of these villages were alienated from the world of technology as we know it. They lived in hut houses and seemed to grow their food on the farmlands beside their homes. I saw some motorcycles parked beside some houses, and I could tell it was a signal of wealth among them. I only spotted two cars throughout the journey. I noticed how the dwellers of the place looked in amazement whenever our fleet of four traveling Toyota Siennas passed through. From the way some of them waved and greeted us with smiles in their local dialect, I could tell they were witnessing a rare event. At some point, I felt like a white man who had come to colonize new lands.

Just as I would normally do with people, I was fixated on their facial expressions. Some of them seemed happy, some felt tired, while some looked curious. One of the things that particularly caught my attention was the benches that were at the front of each house. Some of the benches were made out of wood, while some others were molded out of clay, they looked to me like the "social center" for them. They sat at these benches in a mostly segregated manner; the older men sat at different benches from the younger men, and the women sat at different benches with younger girls and children. I thought, "This must be how people communicated and bonded in the olden days."  At some places we passed through, some were either sitting still, talking to each other, playing games, or eating together. It made sense that since there was no 9 to 5 or social media to take their time, they would rather be sitting on these benches to bond and talk.

We reached a place where I began to see children walking back home in their school uniforms. Two things registered there for me; the laughter and the play. I didn't see any school buildings close by, so I assumed they were trekking a far distance, but I was excited on their behalf, even though they had to walk all that distance to get an education every weekday, I was excited that they had a chance, something to hold on to. An education, no matter how little, could be that tiny light in a dark room, the one that opens up their minds to what's possible. Unlike the uneducated locals, they might not only have hopes and dreams of what life might become outside of these villages, but they might also get to live these dreams.

As we continued this journey, my fear developed into anger, and it was not the bad roads, the bushes, or the lack of cell signal that bred this anger, it was the sight of endless campaign posters everywhere. The 2023 elections are fast approaching and politicians are trying to gain support en-masse, I kept thinking about how these villages seemed far from the "civilized population" and how hard it was to reach them because they lacked accessible roads, yet the politicians had their campaign identity almost everywhere. This was off-putting, and I started to ask myself, "If politicians' campaign flyers have reached here, it means they are aware of their existence, so how come they've not developed these places ?" I felt sorry for the residents of these villages. Their lives didn’t matter, except they were just a population of people to raise the vote count for greedy and corrupt politicians.

We kept on going through empty lands until we arrived at a small town, Bida, which looked a little like the civilization I know. I’ve heard stories about this place, it was where my mother studied accounting. I’ve always heard her talk about the Federal Polytechnic in Bida. As we went on, my mind still lingered on the inhabitants of those villages. I thought about how we were from the same country, but very dissimilar in so many ways, I’ve enjoyed some luxuries that they only dream of; treated water, electricity, connectivity, and access to information on the internet. I’ve thought about them ever since, which is why I decided to write about them. Although, of course, my memory of these villagers slowly fades with each passing day and my narration of them would always be from a shallow, 1-dimensional perspective, just like in this essay, which is a reduction of their stories and lived experiences. 

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