Last week I heard that Nigeria plans to put someone in outer space (yes, outside the atmosphere of the earth) around 2030.
My first reaction was the usual Nigerian cynicism and incredulity. Has Arik air flown successfully from here to Dubai? You’re here talking about the moon. If any of my sci-fi movies have taught me anything, it is that the rope (tether) will surely cut in the middle of a space walk and if you are Nigerian that is how you will float until you reach the edge of the Milky Way. Floating people, floating nation.
The more serious question occurred to me when I realized that in general, the vast land space Nigeria has, we haven’t even explored and fully developed yet. We focus on cities (and not very well to begin with) and we forget our villages and suburbs. Why would everyone want to live in Lagos or Port Harcourt? I want to stay in a quiet place and come into town just for business or tourist type activities that I can participate in with my friends.
Somehow, we act like land is scarce in Nigeria, with plots selling for outrageous prices like we are in the United States of America, London or Hong Kong even. A cursory trip around Port Harcourt to look at land available for sale revealed that many plots were available but only accessed by mountainous roads in territories flung together without planning. The prices I was hearing, I just kept a straight face. Why fight for land in just one place? When there are villages 10 km away with much better space? No, really, I want to stay in a village. I just need a good road to come to the city to work. You don’t understand, do you?
There’s a theory I read that the Europeans who came to Africa came with their ideas of crowded cities and resource scarcity and passed that mentality to us along with the concept of the rat race and the clock chase. I would argue with that but it does feel like Africa was a lot more relaxed and spacious living when we were just rural. Now we are cities, all grown up, modern, attention-deficit, impatient, hustling and crowded.
The crowding continues on the bus when you sit down and the bold guy beside you is spreading his legs like the wings of a falcon. Or when you sit on a plane for a one hour flight and the arm rest is not enough for the podgy elbows of your seatmate. Oga, do your elbows need to be on my breasts before you accept that your flight ticket money has been fully utilized? What happened to minding your lane, to staying on the left or right of the road so I can overtake on the other side and be on my way? Why would you just slam your taxi brakes and throw open your doors to discharge and accept passengers without bothering to park? Trafficator? What is that to a road god like you? What do our feelings matter as you swerve madly from one lane to the next, treating U turns like hostage situations, T junctions like Truth or Dare, and roundabouts like a game of spin the bottle?
We have personal space too, you know? Even in our thoughts we have personal space. Here I am, feeling this suitor out and trying to decide if he’s trying to make a trophy wife out of me and you come along with your questions about “how far with your wedding plans?” I don’t know you like that. “When are you giving birth to your baby girl? Is it only boys you want to have?” See me see wahala. I don’t need that kind of pressure. God will give me a job, a partner, a child (of whatever sex), a car, a house, a partner for my child, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, all in answer to your (silent private) prayers and without your breathing down my neck accomplishing one less second of waiting, ma.
Can I breathe? Can I have some space? How about your life and your lane? How’s it going? Are you fully occupied chasing your dreams? Oh jolly good chase yours and let me chase mine. Unless I let you in, please don’t come in. Knock before you enter even if the door is not locked. It’s just …. polite.
I hope to meet the first Nigerian in space one day. I hope to meet him and congratulate him and ask him how it felt to finally escape the choking fight for space that is living in urban Nigeria.