Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A mother's cry to her children

WHO can I turn to? Who can I call on to help me? There have been many who have promised me that my life would be different; that soon change will come. I have waited in vain for forty nine years.

When my children took over from the strangers in our homeland they swore that no longer would I give without being given; no longer would I be the slave of another. I was promised independence from those who crossed the earth to find me and to take from me. I was told that things would be different, that what I yielded from my lands would be only for my children. It was a happy time for me to know that I had much to give - oil, bitumen, palm oil, cotton, rubber, tin, coal, fruits, roots and tubers, vegetables, groundnuts; I had so much. I danced when my children came home and told me 'Mother, we are free!' I looked at each face standing under the bright sky, beneath those beautiful colours of earth and purity on the cloth waving happily in the sky and held my head high. I was Nigeria; I was the envy of my brothers and sisters; I knew I was destined to be a giant. The oil running in thick streams underneath my earth would bring us good and I was so proud of my children for what they had done for their homeland, for taking back what belonged to them.

My pride didn't last long. Too soon, my children fell to quarrelling and I watched as they slaughtered each other, their knives and machetes and guns pillaging through my fields and lands, destroying what we had. They nearly bled me to death. Thankfully, exhausted, burnt out from fighting one another, they stopped. They tried to mend their differences. Like every eager mother wishing the best for her children, I was only too willing to overlook the blood flowing down the streets, the heads without bodies and, the bodies bobbing up in the waters, without limbs. I ignored the memory of the stacks of burning flesh, the houses and homes that were destroyed, because I thought that if I pretended I forgot the war, my children would move on to a better life, to a life with no desire for victory, for vanquishing one another.

I was wrong. Oh yes, they moved on. They moved on to me. I should have known that. I should have known they would turn on me, their mother. It was the wealth I made; some wanted more than others and when they couldn't get it, they began to steal what belonged to everyone. They killed with strokes of the pen and with telephone conversations; they killed with threats and empty promises as they stole and stole the money I made for everyone. They killed with their carelessness and negligence. They killed with bullets. They always came with big words and big intentions; they wanted to make me beautiful once again; to put me ahead of my brothers and sisters born of our great mother Africa. But did they do what they said? They didn't.

In whatever garment my children came in because the outward appearance has always mattered to them; whether they came in green trousers, in black suits, in white gowns or, in the vibrant colours of their dyed clothes, they forgot their big intentions. I wept often for those whom I could see truly loved me but who couldn't withstand the lure of power, of authority, of money. They started programmes they knew they wouldn't finish, they ignored every other thing I had to offer - and stayed with the one that promised an immediate reward - the oil.

I curse that oil. It runs like blood through my veins but it has brought me more hardship than I ever thought I would ever see in my life time. It has ruined my lands and waters; it has made my children sell their souls and polluted the skies. Some of my children had let in those same strangers they had joyfully waved good bye to years ago back into our home. They showed them the path to the oil streams, handed them the keys to our front door and turned away their eyes. I curse that oil. I curse it because my children know I can do noting about it. I loathe what the oil has done to us but even I cannot make the wells run dry.

I am tired and spent. My chest hangs empty. I look at so many angry faces, so many lazy ones. So many of those who will give anything to earn an honest wage, many who plough through books with candles dying out in the hot wind. So many who watch their lives wasting away; many, their health ignored and neglected as more and more structures reach to the skies. They think structures will feed the hungry and clothe the naked. They think promises will teach my children the right thing in the school. They think inviting those people they sent off long ago will change the poverty they have inflicted on me. They think borrowing everything abroad without sifting for the good is right. Foolish children.

Abroad, I tread carefully because I know every one looks at me warily and that any crime will find fingers pointing to me. But I weep most when I hear what the others dare to say to my face. They call me the mother of crooks and the guardian of rogues. They sneer when I tell them that I will change my children. They laugh when I point out their own poverty hidden as it were behind the glass buildings and the glittering lights and the busy streets where my children have fled to make a living. I mention my children who are doing well and they still laugh. They mock me. They call me the mother of crooks and the guardian of rogues.

Sometimes a glimmer of hope comes. I see it in the few, the very few who are determined to do things differently. It is there in the bent backs of those who work at making life better for themselves and for others around them. My heart swells with pride at those ones. But they are too few. Many don't care as long as they are alright and the little tugs of conscience left in most are swept aside. I need more, more from my children. I need them to understand that all of us have to grow together; that for those of them who ascend to the top they have to do. Not talk. They have to do. They have to look to the real problems and not the symptoms. I have oil. Let them get the machines working. I have other minerals, let them get these out of the earth and call on their brothers and sisters to research and develop. This is what the other mothers that mock me have done. I have children, many hands prepared to work. Let them make it possible for my children to produce, to trade. I have water, vast bodies of water. Why do the taps run dry? Why do the houses stay dark in the night? Why do they let businesses close down when an enabling environment can make them stay on for years and years? Why? Now they have turned on each other again. Killing. Kidnapping. Terrorising.

I thought things would be different that day we gained our independence. Sometimes I fear that those who lorded it over me in earlier years left too early. Isn't a child who seeks no permission as it feeds from a mother better than the child who drinks and drinks and drinks and then cuts off its mother's breasts in its greed? And that is what my children have done to me. Sometimes I wonder if it is my fault. I cry because my children care more for their pockets than for me. I have given everything I can possibly give and I have been patient. But I fear my patience is running out for those of my children who make things even worse. Yes, they are my children. But soon, very soon, I who put a roof over their heads, I who gave them an identity, I will take it all away. Without warning. Yes I will do that. Someone should tell them there is only so much a mother can take. When my tears run dry and my anger takes hold, let them not cry to God then, for God though merciful, is also a God of justice.