What The Hillside Showed Me About Nigeria By Samuel Okopi

Two weddings. Dozens of cousins. Pounded yam and my favourite soup, okoho. Some satisfying cups of enyi, our no-sugar gruel. My nephew having the great privilege of seeing his great great grand uncle. Me seeing 2Face, Black Face and Sound Sultan live at the Miss Idoma pageant, and watching great basket ball games at the Mark the Ball tournament, Otukpo.

I slept through the first quarter of our journey back to Kaduna; from Otukpo to Lafiya. When we got to Nassarawa-Eggon, nature arrested me. I was captivated by the way the hills rolled into each other with the trees growing on their backs. As we turned a bend, a group of banana plants on my right, smiled and waved their yellow leaves at us, wishing all of us in the car a safe journey. Another group of banana plants not very far from the first, looked to me like a choir of trumpeters singing Christmas tunes. I smiled as we passed them, and turned my attention to the landscape on my left.

So many kinds of trees were growing on the undulating hills. They were all benefiting from the land the hills had giving them. No discrimination. Big trees and small trees growing as neighbours. Shrubs and grasses in healthy competition. Palm trees, Mangos, Dogonyaro–all growing on the hills in peace. All of them enjoying the warm golden light of the sun.

With that picture, I pictured the Nigerian future we yearn for that seems so elusive. A Nigeria where the people of all ethnic stock can thrive in peace on the land that God has given them. A Nigeria where crude oil and other resources we are blessed with, can perfectly fuse together to shine out the golden light of education, healthcare, good roads and abundant food that will nurture the bodies and minds of every one of her citizens.I did not see the sun select trees or shrubs or grasses that it desired to shine its light on.

The hills in the background were higher than those in the foreground. They spoke to me of a time when Nigeria stood tall in the comity of nations. The Great Zik of Africa. The visionary Awolowo. The articulate Tafawa Balewa. The gigantic groundnut pyramids of the North and the immeasurable cocoa pods from the South. I thought of a Nigeria from a past time whose citizens benefited from a land that was elevated closer to the golden light of good living.

But there was a last range of hills that wanted my attention. They were farthest in the distance, and were the highest of all. Because of their distance from the road, they looked flat and greyed out. I could faintly pick out the silhouettes of trees growing on the very top of those hills. They must be really big trees for me to have seen them from my seat in the car.

Those trees reminded me of some of our great ancestors that had walked these lands before the name Nigeria was ever thought of by anyone. I remembered Sarkin Kanta the Great of Kebbi who built Surame, 400 years ago; a city UNESCO has described as “one of the wonders of human history, creativity and ingenuity”. I remembered the great Queen Oluwo who paved the city of Ile-Ife, a thousand years ago. The long stretch of the hills reminded me of the Great Walls of Benin whose construction began more than a thousand years ago and was overseen by powerful successive obas for almost six hundred years. So long was this wall that the 1974 edition of the Guinness Book of Records entered it as the “largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.”

I pictured our great ancestors walking proud on those hills with beautiful and sophisticated bronze crowns, skilfully sewn leather dresses, and sturdy sandals. The thought of sandals took my mind back to something I learnt last year. Around 1851, Kano city produced about 10 million pairs of high-quality sandals, each year, as well as 5 million hides. The interesting thing is that these goods were primarily produced for export and not local use. The sandals were of the quality being produced at that time in Manchester.

Like the dull profile of this great curtain of hills in the background, the glory of our past seems to have become a faint memory, the rich lessons from the ages lost with them. The troubles plaguing us in these times seem to have robbed us of the will to diligently search out the wisdom and successes of those who walked these lands before us. It appears we now believe that we can never again, for our collective good, profit from the complete wealth of endowments nature and history have bequeathed us.

This land we all spring from, even before it was named, has always had the mark of greatness. Vast empires have thrived on this land. Mighty leaders have been born, impressing their indelible marks on the rocks of time. The illustrious hands that toiled this land, in ancient times, fashioned out astonishing creations that still amaze the world.

How do we make Nigeria, this country we love so much, this land of our birth, truly great again?

Author: Samuel Okopi has a Masters degree in Architecture from A.B.U, Zaria. He loves poetry and engages with architecture, nature and culture on his website www.samuelokopi.com where he takes readers, every week, on an exciting journey round the world. Find out why you should subscribe to his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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