Those who were raised or left for school in London or Paris or Boston, looked back at their parents’ country with envy.
Nigeria has one of the largest diasporas in the world, and the second generation was corning back en masse to give it a try. The “repats” were dreaming of becoming millionaires, or of participating in the development of a country that they hardly knew. The partying had won them over. So had the cover of Time Magazine.
Europe was struggling to recover from the 2008 crisis. The United States was old news. “Everything has already been done there,” people said. “Here, everything has to be invented.” Old economies were buried with disdain and people dreamed of new worlds. In those days we were all in awe of Eko Atlantic, the “Dubai of Africa”.
“My friend Emeka used to look with great admiration at the portrait of Che framed and hung on the wall of Sip, the most famous night club in Lagos. He said that the Cuban revolutionary would have been so proud to see everyone there. He said that it was why Che fought. So that Africa would make it one day”
We all looked up to this futuristic city off the coast of Lagos, raised up from nothing and built on ten square kilometres of land reclaimed from the ocean. Mock-ups of huge skyscrapers were described down to the finest detail online, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of deserts, creeks, poverty and war that surrounded them. We all bought into the dream. ’Them’ Africans, Nigerians. ‘Us,’ Western journalists. We all wanted to believe in it.
Only some wagging tongues and pious souls said that humanity was going too far. They said that God would punish this arrogance. Sooner or later, Mother Nature would take back what was Hers. But to hell with Nature and Gods! In 20i4, the price of a barrel of oil was over 100 dollars, and two million barrels were exported each day. The petro-nairas were flooding the country’s treasury before being discreetly embezzled. Twenty Billion dollars were syphoned off in less than four years. Hundreds of Millions more were most likely pulled out of the banks and the stock markets, having been secretly shared between international corporations and the powerful.
Lagos was showing off. The elite were gorging themselves.
As Afrobeat music was deafening, glitter and fireworks were blinding. My friend Emeka used to look with great admiration at the portrait of Che framed and hung on the wall of Sip, the most famous night club in Lagos. He said that the Cuban revolutionary would have been so proud to see everyone there. He said that it was why Che fought. So that Africa would make it one day. Che, hung on the wall of the night club, was watching Lagos overflow with champagne. To hell with the North, with Boko Haram, the kidnappings and the terror attacks. All that was going to be over soon. And it was already forgotten. Nigeria was the new world. The Eldorado of radical capitalism. And Lagos was its epicentre.
A year later, in 2015, it was official — Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa. I was watching it climb the ranks, boldly and arrogantly collecting superlatives as it went. Lagos, with its 20Million inhabitants, had surpassed Cairo to become the largest African city. It would soon become the fifth most populous city in the world. With the election of Muhammadu Buhari, the first opposition candidate to win a presidential election in the history of the country, it was said that Nigeria was now also the “largest democracy on the continent”.
I went to Kano, the capital of the North, to cover the elections. Outside of the city, the most remote villages weren’t connected by roads. We were afraid of terrorist attacks and didn’t linger for too long inside the overcrowded polling stations. There was no electricity at night for the counting of the ballots, and secondhand Nokia phones were used to provide light. But who cared? We all knew the results anyway. “Buhari! Buhari! Buhari!” He was all people were talking about.
Excerpted from Manuwa Street, a Memoir, first published by 1ER PARALLELE in April, 2021 and later published in Nigeria in 2022 by Farafina