“Money Can Buy A Bed But Not Sleep’’

By Amina Salihu

I got the title of this article from the back view of a long-distance travel Toyota Hiace bus just recently as I was returning to Abuja from the farm in Zaria. We were held up in the usually snaky traffic of a security checkpoint which our new reality has foisted upon us. As we awaited our turn to crawl forward, there rolled in this passenger bus. Scrolled across its top back view was this inscription: Money Can Buy Bed But Not Sleep. How true this was as we were bumper-to-bumper, jeep-to-jalopy, all meandering at the mercy of the Boko Haram­-imposed security restrictions. We had paid for our cars but our freedom to use them as we want is tethered. All the money in the world could not hurry that checking process. All the money in the world couldn’t guarantee safety against the danger of a pothole or an attack by insurgents in certain parts of our country.

My very first article under the Forum section of this medium drew strength from a similar aphorism which I took off the back of a truck, an open-backed vehicle into which were heaped a girl, some men and a grinding machine among some bric-a-brac of existence. It ran the poser scrawled boldly across its topmost part: Who Is Free?

As Nigeria just celebrated 54 years of independence on the threshold of our centenary of existence as a country, it is a good point to ponder about our ‘beddom’ and state of sleeplessness. Are we a nation or are we still in search of nationhood? A nation is different from a country; a country can be attained through declared sovereignty, rule of law, a geographical expression and a collection of citizens. Nationhood, an intrinsic thing, is derived from a feeling of shared affinity, one of oneness, and a commonality of aspiration. Therefore, respect for the status of a state derives from the conviction that it represents the nation’s interest.

Some nations are lucky to form a country. Some countries have the uphill task of building a nation out of their country. This is the case of countries such as Nigeria, the UK and Rwanda, among others. The desire, of course, is to have a common goal and a oneness in which we care for each other, in which we respect the ways of one another and through which see strength in our different ways. In nationhood, we can acknowledge that the nation is bigger than the sum total of all its citizens. Getting there however requires the patience of the farmer, not the swiftness of the hunter. Nationhood must be a deliberate process of cultivating justice and effective use of resources. We must think inclusivity where the needs of women and men, minority and majority, the able and disabled, the young and old, are upheld. The problem of one part of the country must be seen as the problem of all. The triumph of one is that of all [citizens].

As we count more years of Nigeriahood, it is clear we have our work cut out for us because we have a myriad of challenges facing us. We have to tackle physical and social security, get more of our children off the streets and take them back to school, bridge the widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, I choose to celebrate our resilience as a people. The fact that we have come this far and continue to survive as one entity is truly a miracle, one that is also a function of our history and the fabric of who we are as a people.

In times like this, I am very tempted to believe that tongue-in-cheek the assertion that the Almighty God is a Nigerian at heart, if only because of the things we get away with! Imagine that the poor Liberian diplomat who was the primary source of Ebola had come in through any of our other ports or by road and not through one of our most alert and system-functioning states in Nigeria, Lagos. What would have happened? Liberia had 51 doctors of its own and 120 doctors in total and about 5000 other health personnel to cater for a population of 3.8 million. We have been told that the scale of response required to tackle the Ebola virus menace has overwhelmed the healthcare system. In Nigeria, we are a whopping 170 million citizens. A vast majority of our health personnel were on strike when Ebola arrived our shores. Even with the challenge of Boko Haram, we are upbeat and optimistic. Neither Ebola nor insurgency has stopped the people congregating. The mosques and churches, pulling large congregations, are filled to capacity during worship sessions.

Nigerians are hard to repress. At international forums, you could identify a Nigerian across the room in a sea of Africans even before they have opened their mouths to speak. Extra confident, greatly turned out in whatever their style of dressing, they come across with a strong intellectual cutting edge and an undeniably powerful logical force so much so that other countries have no choice but to love to hate us. Interestingly, outside Nigeria, we bond, we solidarise. There is no north or south, east or west. We follow the rules; we are proper guests in the best of behaviours. The moment we return home right from the immigration post, the North-South dichotomy and East-West divide are back in their ugly nakedness.

As we move forward past our national anniversary into another year, let us rethink our role and our location as citizens. Change is possible and it begins with each one of us making decisions to better citizens. This requires small steps that lead to big gains. For instance, one could help pay the school fees of the children of an indigent neighbour or send food to his family at Sallah or Christmas. Let us remember that true sleep comes from inner peace and security and not from the bottle or the doctors’ pills or the quality of your bed. True nationhood will come from us caring about each other and working to transform our country into a place of equity and justice for all.

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