Monday, September 9, 2013


Change sometimes strangles us in our sleep. It creeps up on us slowly, imperceptibly until we are like the frog that sits still, not noticing that the water has been brought to a boil. You know this, because of how you now feel—like waking and finding that your own strangulation is well under way, waking up to choking breathlessness, to a big hand around your neck. You felt the same when suddenly after a tin of milk you became terribly sick, not because the tin of milk was bad—the same thing happened with another tin the following day— but because lactose intolerance had just showed up on your doorstep without a warning. This is how Abuja now makes you feel.
This city once made you drive around in wide-eyed excitement. The calm, the paved streets, the relative security and order. It was different from Kaduna which had started growing again after the many riots. Peace had made people come back and those who worked but couldn’t afford a home in Abuja came to Kaduna to keep their families. And so Kaduna swelled with people and especially in the South where you lived, the population was dense. There seemed to be one church and one drinking spot for every two houses. Both churches and drinking spots had loudspeakers and loud raucous prayers competed with dancehall music in residential areas. This change was liberating.
Six years on, Kaduna is a blur in your mind. You have just noticed that you now say ‘I am going to Kaduna’ and not ‘I am going home’ when you have to travel. Abuja has grown on you and become your city. You can now complain in an entitled way when the FCT administration does things you find unacceptable, like when they harassed single women walking alone at night.
The night is pierced by many street lights, security lights and car headlamps as you walk toward the restaurant on Adetokunbo Ademola to have dinner. The traffic here is crazy especially since two major checkpoints were introduced on either side of the road. Sometimes you wonder what the use of this flashing torch lights into cars is; if any sensible person had a gun or bomb, they surely would not leave it lying on the seat or in the trunk.
Right in front of the restaurant which is adjacent to a large pharmacy, you wake up to the strangulation. Your eyes widen as you feel the squeeze of big hands around your neck. There are more touts than cars, struggling to control traffic. Only they are not really controlling traffic. Right across the road is a police car with at least one policeman reclining in the front seat. Two boys dangle a chain of used recharge cards in your face. ‘Charge cat. Charge cat,’ they chant. Then two touts take over. ‘Ya, SK bros. You want SK? Or Big stuff?’
From the restaurant you look out onto the street. There are at least twenty boys milling about asking people if they want ‘SK’ or other hard drugs, right in front of police men. You see people make their way through the sea of people asking for alms or asking if they want pirated DVD’s, banana’s, recharge cards, cigarettes, chewing gum, condoms, marijuana or other ‘big stuff’. Some have their kids with them.
You do not remember this changing slowly, the numbers of touts increasing or the boldness with which drugs are sold on the streets increasing. Then the recent stories flood your mind: of people whose cars were stolen at gunpoint in Jabi, of men killed during robberies in suburbs like Lugbe, of your own experience with robbers armed with AK-47’s, and you suddenly feel unsafe. The hands grip tighter around your neck and it becomes harder to swallow the prawns you are eating.

1 comment:

You fit vex, bet abeg no curse me. You hear?