"Many Have Gone" Forest/Jos Road, Plateau State (by Emeka Okereke)
There are those who consider us foolhardy, judging that we are insecure from far-flung distances. They speak of the insecurity of our journey without having travelled the roads we are travelling – and the gist is that there are more people who are on this side of the those-parts-are-insecure divide than those who are on the other. But we find that we cannot be more secure than security, that all it takes is a decision to move, that the tale we are telling is compellingly relevant, that it will be foolhardy to turn our backs based on the speculation of distant mediums.
I will illustrate why/how I came to the conclusion that foolhardiness lies in not making this journey. On Tuesday, while we were yet at Abuja, we went to the Jabi Motor park to hire a van that would take us from Abuja until Gambaru, the town that separates Nigeria from Tchad. We asked specific questions about the safety of travelling the route, and our respondents were surprised at our fears. We spoke to drivers who were from Maiduguri, who drove on the roads on constant basis.
Now, I am already thinking that there is no point in expending several words on this subject. Truth is, I am not so short-sighted to think that the words of our ‘respondents’ suggest that all risks that we might encounter have disappeared. Yet, I think it is important to discuss this subject, to decry the manner in which ignorance is unfolded by our country people. One speaks about Jos with so much certainty when the farthest such person has travelled is Abuja. And in Enugu, Maiduguri is spoken about with definiteness. For once, I find relevance in the ‘danger of a single story.’ Or perhaps, for the sake of individuality, I will call this the ‘danger of a single dialogue.’ The basis for this consideration is based on the annoying fact that ‘places’ and existences have been derogatorily simplified. I, like Yvonne Owuor, is “…being cautious, terrified of the convenient habit of a single story…That horrible sickness of a sustained single point of view, which never changes, cannot be allowed to change, repeated often enough so it becomes reality.”
We are, I daresay, seeking the exception to the single dialogue – that refrain being repeated by those who are too fearful to see for themselves and those who think they have seen it all. And I perceive, and believe, that our success and safety will lie in the organized effort we are making at seeing exceptions, the attempts to make the exception the general rule.
The fact that the story of Maiduguri as a lynching zone, a Boko Haram constituency, is terrifying because it is sustained and repeated so often that hearsay has become the basis of our joint conviction. Yet, I will speak little about this, despite the nagging noise in my head that wants me to negate a single dialogue with all the literary powers at my disposal.
We headed to Jos with a driver named Emmanuel, who hails from Abuja. I asked him what he thought of the changes in his hometown. He confessed that his house had been demolished a year earlier, but it was a good thing, watching your home transform before your eyes. And he said he had two wives, his voice having no shame, as it is otherwise possible, given the emphasis on nuclear families. There it is, then – we are surrounded by people for whom life is an act of the pursuit of survival and happiness; I tell the truth: those two words, ‘survival’ and ‘happiness,’ summarize the lives of people I have encountered in the cities we have crossed so far.
And while heading to Jos, it was clear to see that part of the single dialogue had become real in our heads. Our van had tinted glasses, which meant that it was difficult or impossible for someone out of the van to see through us. But when Tom tried to make a photo, Kemi and Jumoke shouted him down, saying he should be careful. There was a soldier outside the van – I should add that we gave 200 naira twice to soldiers at roadblocks, easily falling prey to their look-that-tells-I-want-money, easily falling prey to the fear of being frisked, of being detained for long hours. This, again, results from the stories told about the soldiers and police which has been aggrandized and forced into reality.
Tom said, and we saw, that Jos is a beautiful town. This is rarely told – a peaceful Jos – and it is disheartening. To think that the hills in sight count for nothing, the serenity, the cold, is to be shamelessly untruthful. I am hoping that in the less than 24 hours we have left in this town, we would emphasize Jos’ moreness. I am hoping that our work will not tend to condone violence, but will reinforce that there is more than violence. And who knows, we could also establish the impression that Jos is peaceful, after all.
I will not forget to mention Akachukwu Chukwuemeka, in whose house we lived while at Abuja. I have been asked to state that we fulfilled a residency there, in Weird World Studios. He is a visual artist; his house is filled with his paintings – and I speak of a large house, with two wings, complete with all the fittings and furnishings an artist will crave for. His generosity is stunning, his open-handedness. We owe him more than just the following words: Thank you!
I end with a poem:
You too can be part of our speaking
Of memories, existences
I tell you this:
You too can be part