Lagos is my home. I was born in Northern Nigeria, but my family moved to Lagos when I was four years old. I love Nigeria. I love Nigeria despite her growing flaws: congested roads, unending traffic, corrupt politicians, unhelpful civil servants, power cuts and a shrinking job market. I love Nigeria enough to come back and participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The stress that comes with moving back home, and accepting that the average Nigerian is on a mission to work your last nerve, can be managed. I can handle the heat, the traffic and the road safety officers, who are constantly expropriating money from innocuous drivers everyday. I, however, cannot handle living with my parents. I have come to find out that after three years of being away from Nigeria, completing my Master’s degree, I am built to live on my own. In the short three months I have been in Lagos, my freedom is restricted and my privacy is no longer respected. I find myself reminiscing about the late dinners and happy hours I enjoyed in New York. In Lagos, I must be home by 10 pm or deal with the wrath of my father.
In these three months, I have also discovered that my father has a mild case of what I like to call “the Chauvinist disease”. I have never been ignorant to the fact that my father is a traditional, African man who expects to be waited on hand and foot; who expects his meals to be prepared ahead of his return from work; who expects his daughters to be domesticated. Like most traditional Nigerian men, my father relegated the task of raising three daughters to my mother and focused his fatherly duties on my brother, his oldest son. He expected my mother to train us to be decent, God-fearing and hard-working women, and also prepare us to be the perfect wives and homemakers for our families in the future.
Maybe I always knew my father was a storybook Nigerian man and I chose to ignore it – or worse still – I chose to believe he could change.
The change never did happen.
At 55, my father is still an angry, hot-tempered disciplinarian who can still make us, his children, cower in fear when he raises his voice. At 55, my father sees women as homemakers, child bearers and wives. He does not see me as a future CEO of a multi-million Naira company, a published writer with a Pulitzer, or a renowned professor. He sees me as his first daughter; the woman of the house; the maid; the cleaner; the one who must never rebel; the trophy daughter; the one who must make the family proud.
When male guests arrive with their loud laughs and conversations about the banking world, I am summoned downstairs, regardless of what I may be doing, to serve refreshments. I am given a list of food and drink items to assemble before grinning men who will later murmur about how much of a good wife I’ll be when I am married. I am warned, very sternly, not to forget to add a teaspoon or a bowl of sugar on the serving tray. I am forced to take on the twisted, subservient role of an African woman for a brief 5 minutes. I am forced to back into the gender roles I discarded after my first year in College.
In my current state of financial dependency, I cannot complain or talk back; my father relishes the fact that he now has me in his house, under his control. I cannot be vocal, for fear of being slapped, about my support for feminism, or about educated women being more than their reproductive organs. I cannot chastise my father for playing into inequitable gender roles; he is the patriarch, the breadwinner, the head of the home, and absurdly, the puppet master. His control and bank account has offered him the right to make statements that would make even the most novice of feminists balk.
There was the time in our London flat, during one of the hotter days, my youngest sister and I had just returned from the market, lugging plastic bags filled with salads, croissants and juice cartons. We found my father in the kitchen busying himself with a pot of oatmeal and boiled eggs. We assumed he had his meal preparation under control and went ahead to offload our bags and restock the pantry. Our assumption earned us some pretty epic upbraiding. My father brandished his bowl of oatmeal in our faces, and said, with as much disgust and disappointment as he could muster, “why should I have to make my own breakfast when I have two women in the house?! No man in the world makes his own food when a woman is available to him.” We stood in shocked silence, listened to his lengthy speech about the roles of young women in a home, and offered our apologies when he was finally finished.
There was also the time he challenged my elaborate plans of having a career before starting a family.
“There are many women who balance work and family. Why can’t you do the same? You are a woman. You are supposed to want children.” He asked, staring a hole into my face.
I know women who have successfully balanced having four kids and running a business. I admire house wives, stay at home moms and working mothers. But I do not want to choose between work and family; I want to start with the former and let the latter happen when I am good and ready. I explained my thoughts to my father and he looked at me like I had an island growing out of my head. I was silenced once again.
It is most hard to believe that my father, a man who had beaten all the odds as a child, could still be so myopic and set in his ways. My father grew up in a small village in Bayelsa, but he fought his way out of the deep South-South and moved to Lagos to become a success story. He was well read, well-traveled and extremely brilliant at his job – but his views on the role of women in society are laughable.
As a woman, I am expected to be maternal and nurturing. As a Nigerian daughter, I am expected to be maternal, nurturing, docile, domestic, quiet, shy, reserved and domesticated. I am allowed to have dreams and aspirations, but I must be willing to limit myself when a man demands my time and attention. I am expected to have children – not for my own personal pleasure and wants – but to please my parents and my in-laws.
The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is knowing what is expected of me but still daring to be different; still daring to teeter on the edge without fear of repercussions. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is waking up every morning ready to fight a battle of sexes with every man I encounter. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is choosing to be single despite facing countless pressures to go out and find a husband. The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is believing that my dreams are bigger than the limitations that society has placed upon me from a very young age.
The audacity of being a Nigerian daughter is simply being audacious, bold, free-spirited, wise, intelligent, feminine, womanly, and most of all, being me.
About Yobaere: Sometimes I make things up and write about them. Sometimes I take other people’s’ stories and make them my own. But I have come to find out that my best pieces are always about what I know and what I have experienced.