From Limbe to Lagos, and across at least thirteen states in Nigeria, road trips undertaken by young writers have produced stories worth your attention.
At two separate events this weekend, works of creative non-fiction were unveiled as products of writing expeditions. Ouida house played host to the writing team behind Limbe to Lagos: Nonfiction from Cameroon and Nigeria, while an exhibition situated in between two rail tracks at the Nigeria Railway Corporation compound saw the display of chapbooks and photography from Re-imaging Futures: A Trans-Nigerian Conversation, a project by Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organization.
On average, each writer’s work is 7000 words long, and mostly synthesizes each one’s lived experiences with the realities they encounter on their journey. In Daughters of Salt, for example, Amara Nicole Okolo finds (or attempts) an escape from the sequence of events that saw her give up the pursuit of a dream job in Lagos to save her mum.
Traveling around Nigeria for the 2017 Invisible Borders project becomes, for her, a search for purpose. It “exposes the mind to the unexpected… You see people like you but never really like you, people with stories better or worse than yours; people happy to survive; and people struggling to survive. People who do not necessarily feel like surviving, but still survive, because how sure are you that death is truly rest?”
Okolo’s story contrasts with Lucia Edafioka’s chapter, Daddy, in ‘Limbe to Lagos’, an anthology produced through the collaboration of the Goethe Institute, Bakwa magazine and Saraba magazine. Edafioka reflects on the change in relationship with her dad after she was away from Warri for some time; no longer the girl daddy would throw up joyfully and hand sweet things without cause. In Daddy, she gives raw, courageous insight into a semblance of dysfunction between her parents which makes it unsurprising that another work of hers published in Catapult late January, has caught serious attention. Edafioka’s parents are both alive but her account of their presence in her life evokes pictures of chills, not sparks of love.
What do these tell us about life in Nigeria?
Well, family relations are messier than the themes of harmony you regularly hear about at Sunday morning testimonies. But the stories of the other authors in both projects present other descriptions of dysfunction and irregularity synonymous with modern day Nigeria and, broadly, Africa. Limbe to Lagos features Howard Meh-Buh Maximus, a Cameroonian PhD student whose chapter in the anthology would not be published but for his determination in overcoming internet shutdowns that have become part of life in the Anglophone regions of that country. And when the lady at the Nigerian airport asked him for a bribe, he felt very much at home. Emmanuel Iduma, a co-founder of Saraba magazine, participated in the 2016 Invisible Borders road trip. Among other themes, his chapbook Lives That Enter Mine wonders whether the romantic environment between Flora Shaw and Lord Lugard that led to the naming of his country may not be enough sign to start this nation over again.
These first person representations of life in Nigeria are important. Not because they should be treated as factual historical documents; these are works of creative non-fiction, not destined for academic peer review. Their works should inspire young, curious Nigerians to undertake fact-finding journeys of their own, each following personally unanswered questions into southern streams and northern deserts.
The British journalist Richard Bourne says, in the introduction to his history of Nigeria, that you are either deluded or lying if you claim to fully understand Nigeria. But one can at least, like these writers have done, try to. Road-tripping and writing about it is one way.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform