You have to love a country that shows you it doesn’t want your love. More importantly, you have to love the way this country shapes the words people use in it.


Imisi, my sister’s runaway lover. Our American political scientist. Okay, I’m laughing lightly here, not gonna lie. How long has it been now—twelve years? Fourteen? I was still getting crazed over the Skye Bank advert theme song “I Wish when you bailed on my sister. I’m sure, in Ohio, there’s no kid getting crazed over a bank’s theme song, is there? I mean—what brings you here? Is this your response to all my emails? I couldn’t believe Ogechi when she sent me a screenshot of your arrival post on IG. Like, just on the cusp of the country’s biggest decision-making moment. What goes on in your head? Weeks ago, we voted our presidential choices. Today, we have one of them on that seat. It’s over. So get back to that airport and fly back. If you had wanted to make any impact, you would not have ignored all my emails about Diaspora campaign. Or maybe you came back to trouble my sis. Oh, joker. She shut that door and you know how she can be when she shuts a door. Or maybe you came back to find more, to see if you could recognize your homeland at all. I stalked your profile for years and garnered that you never quite fit in in America. That some affinities had always been lost on you. I mean, you must remember your reel on that sub where you complained about how everyone on transit was speaking ‘poisoned Nigerian dialects’. We all shook our heads here when we saw that.

Well, shall I say, ‘Welcome’ or ‘Welcome back’? Your country still wears familiar memories. The tongue you miss remains active here. Let me paint your childhood in new colours. (Most of it will be me telling you things you already know anyway, but can’t remember.) In Nigeria, they still ‘bring’ light. Or ‘take’ it. It depends—they who giveth taketh. Sometimes, because we have read too many white people’s books, they ‘cut’ it and we now replace ‘light’ with ‘power’. When it’s time to create space, we ‘dress back’. If, while ‘dressing back’, God helps your father to ‘hear pim’ from you, because you are building a tantrum about creating space, then it means you will ‘hear weeen’. ‘Hearing weeen’ in Nigeria means ‘landing in a hot pot of stew’. Your father’s ‘pot of stew’. You may not be saved from this wrath, except your sister comes to tell you, “Mummy have come,” because a parent is always plural; then you can smile and know your defender has arrived. But wait ‘o’ (the brew of our sentences is incomplete without ‘o’). You can only hold onto that strip of glee if you’ve not hurt your little sister before, or she will compound the problem as soon as your defender arrives by saying “I will tell, I will tell!” If she ‘tells’ (on you), you are sunk.

We are magnanimous. We don’t pay school fees; we pay ‘school fees money’. You have to applaud our generosity. Givit up forrus, ees nor easy. (Don’t panic; the expression is cheerleading.) But if you are skint and you go to the headmaster or principal’s office and start telling super stories, it is “Oya come and be going,” they will tell you. Relax; in Nigeria, we are superhumans who execute opposite actions simultaneously. It is our secret mojo; you have to live amidst us to experience and understand it. ‘Nga!’—that’s the staple we throw out for ‘get out’. If you ‘like’, stay there and continue crying; they kukuma do not have your time, let the wall clock in their office be bigger than the World Cup. If you ‘like’, start talking ‘nyen nyen nyen’ (baloney, love). You better start telling them that, on a normal day (most of the days in Nigeria are not normal, what with Sapa—the terrifying tyrant of poverty—strutting around and sapping us of everything), you have money ‘o’, ‘serious money’ (we use ‘serious’ for ‘huge’ e.g. ‘serious breasts’). Ask them an indignant question and make sure it is indignant: Did they not ‘smell’ the money on you already? Long and short of it, my dear, if you follow my advice, it is outside you will ‘meet yourself’, you and your money.

We have crazy powers. ‘Oo-jigbi-jigbi’. (Calm down, the word in quotes is not an African voodoo spell; it’s just an expression of frustration or delight. Here, I am frustrated.) Those powers I am talking about, we call them ‘jazz’. No, it’s not the kind that you dance to in clubs or listen to at a karaoke or hear on the stage. We have heightened sensibilities that help us visualise sounds and listen to odours. I swear, ayam not lying (I have a belief you know I mean ‘I am not lying’). You can ask any Nigerian you know (I mean ‘correct’ Nigerian o; I don’t mean ‘oyinbo’ Nigerian that will be speaking ‘aje-butter’ English ‘upandan’—eh? Forget it). They will tell you. We are so certain of our powers that we ask people, “Did you see the sound of his ringtone?”, because we know they have definitely seen that special sound. And you can gleefully tell someone that you knew they had arrived even without you seeing them, because—of course—you have heard their perfume. (And yes, there are witches here in Nigeria, too. You remember that, eh? They just happen to look angry all the time. They don’t have pointy hats. And they ditch the brooms, because time is ‘going’. Forgive our personifications.)

We strong ‘kakaraka’. (‘Kakaraka’ is an adverb to indicate the intensity of our strength.) Have you seen our women? Have you seen our men? Have you seen our children? Lord! You should see us. A truck could roll over a man in Onicha market, and he would bounce back up like springs. In Mile 2 market, in Lagos, we will set a thief on fire—roaring, leaping petrol flames—and they will still take forever to become a lump of char. In fact, sometimes, they pick themselves up and dance the insane dance of poverty, because it is not death that licks off their flesh; it is poverty. Our politicians steal billions of naira, steal even our souls, but they are legitimized by their wealth and power. So, let the common human dance and show how strong it is. Fathers have buried their daughters; sisters have been bomb-cast apart from each other. But we ‘stand strong’. Our talents are weakened, but we stand strong. We are ‘seeing shege, shege banza, dan duru ba’ (don’t be puzzled—they are all siblings, synonyms of ‘difficulties’). We have all passed through a lot and we are still ready to pass through more. But, Imisi, don’t be fooled. We have our different ways of coping with it. If you beat a child, she will “Tell her daddy for you.” If a woman’s child dies, you will hear her say “I am dead ooo’ (extra ‘o’s) as though she were the one who has died. And if cold “wants to kill” the father of the house, he will tell you to “Slow that fan osiso; who you wan use otutu kill?” (Believe me, translating it to English will suck out all the flavour. Let’s just leave it.)

Sorry, I forgot to add that we say “Sorry” to people whose misfortune we didn’t cause. If your neighbour tripped and fell, and you were not even there, you will say sorry whenever you learn of it. If your daddy did not get that contract and he enters the house in a flurry of fury, you must stand aside and say “sorry”. We can be apologetic “Laidat.” Somebody once said it’s because we have confidence but no dignity. I disagree. 

Sorry again; I forgot to add that, in this place, our ‘jazz’ also helps our organs move around in unimaginable ways, so that my eye can “enter” your food, or you can “enter” trouble, or we can use mouth to “scatter” a whole town, or we can “walk” unannounced into conversations. We are so bad.

And there’s something about our attitude to food that should inspire other countries. The way we taste food. The way we treat food. The tiny allusions we make of food. In Nigeria, not only can our birthday cakes and ice-cream be sweet, our films also can be sweet. We are a country steeped in stereotypes, grounded in histrionics. There is always a wicked stepmother (if she is not wicked, ‘the stepmother is not stepmothering’) and the orphan must be a woman and well-behaved, or she wouldn’t make the prince fall in love with her. This prince must be handsome—if vapid.

Oh, I was talking about food. We wrap bread inside ‘lylon’. ‘Yes o’. You should also see the way we pound fufu. All the anger in the world. Fufu did not offend us. But Nigeria is an angry country. 

And yet we are always laughing. If a tragedy happens in the morning, we will spend the evening TikToking, or jumping on trends, or doling out unsolicited ‘hot takes’, or ‘dragging’ someone on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. ‘Dragging’ here has nothing to do with queer expressions. It means the sometimes malicious (called ‘call outs’), sometimes humorous (this one is also couched as ‘cruise’), always the sensational affair of wrecking people and their (sometimes already wrecked) images. It is one of the few times we bond, one of the few things over which we push aside our differences and become a single mass of energy. An unbearable, almost unbelievable vignette comes to mind, where we were all united, particularly we the youths of the country, and we died like fowls for it. I would use the simile of ‘cattle’, but even cattle are better protected in my country.

This place tries so hard to be a nation. But it is not a nation; it is a country. A nation has weathered storms and taken lessons from these storms and grown. This country has not even started walking. We are, at best, an emaciated nation. The nation is ill. And the bug is in our bones, not in our skin.


Few months ago, on Instagram, I watched a young man bare himself on a road in the east (I think Onicha or Nnewi). He stripped down to a pair of red butt-hugging briefs. His navel, a shrunken pellet. His tummy, flat and toned. The person recording the video was more interested in his good looks. She kept remarking about them. Another person (a background voice) worried about his youthfulness, about what substance he could have taken to render him thus. “These boys sha and peer pressure,” she said.

Of course, it was a suspected case of drug abuse. Because, in Nigeria, if you have fashion dreads and suddenly start unwrapping your clothes from your body in the middle of the street and stamping your foot and uttering mumbo-jumbo and directing traffic that nobody asked you, the first (and often sole) thought we entertain is—you’ve gone mad. No, not the ‘village-people’ type of mad, the one that strikes after someone vile visits a secluded hut in the dark. Or goes to bury something in a banana grove. No. The madness I watched unfold on IG that day was ultramodern. The ‘overdose’ kind of mad. For a place known to be brash and blithe, we are really a country of euphemisms. “Your head has turned”—that’s how we like to put it. Someone had taken stuff they shouldn’t take (or maybe should take but) in ways they shouldn’t and now it has turned their head. Simple. So the video-recorders ranted about the unconscionable madness in our youths, the drugs and the horror of fine boys and girls turning their own heads. I held my phone, watching them watch him, and wondered when exactly they would move close to him and grab him before he got the inspiration to peel his underpants off his loins. I wanted them to arrest an erratic situation because I had the moral highness to think that they shouldn’t be content just recording erratic situation for self-gratification. It didn’t occur to me that they might have hesitated because of the obvious fact that he would have harmed them. Or maybe it did occur to me, but I only pushed it down because of the gavel that enters our hands when we are sitting behind keypads in the comfort of our spaces and saying, “Nu-uh, they shouldn’t have done that.” We are not in the same environment and it’s strangely easy to have opinions about things you are not experiencing. 

Two fellows later photo-(or video-bombed) the scene and, twisting around the man, seized him and hauled him off the theatre of tremendously entertained bike men, Micra drivers and passengers.

Yesterday(?—such days have now become so numerous that the edges have blurred and they now flow into one another), a youngster jumped to his death in the Lagos lagoon. I did not know. I heard of it first at our school party today, by word of mouth, so I leaped into instant judgment: “You mean people were looking at him and just recording until he jumped? That’s crazy. What on earth is wrong with conscience!” Someone had to remind me it was a suicide, not a homicide. That the boy may have been too determined for anyone to do anything. 

I fired back, my grip on the table too tight. “You guys are talking about suicide as if people just wake up and do it! What happened to trying, trying to stop him!” I would go on to ask myself how much right I had to stop someone from doing what they wanted to do for their own peace. After stealing enough drinks, I left the party and went to my sister’s, my phone blinking with IG reels. I watched a few before the slide about the boy came up. A celebrity had posted it, his caption inflamed with righteousness. He was in a rage. Mine returned. I yelled at my sister:

“Why are people so obsessed with social media clout? Why would someone rather record a suicide than offer restraint? Is it for likes or media sensation and followership? Why!”

She asked me to watch the video again and listen to the voices in it. I told her the video had no voices. She took the phone and searched up another video of that same incident. She depressed the volume button. We leaned over the phone. That was when I realized that the boy had quickened to jump when he saw they were making moves to restrain him. 

My hands started shaking anew. 

They said the boy had a diploma from a reputable school. He looked so bent on it, his hands cupping the Third Mainland Bridge railings, his eyes a black firmness. He had worn shorts to free his legs. He was glaring at the man behind the phone, who walked closer, asking him gentle questions. For a moment, I thought—I just thought—he would have dragged the man in with him had the man made any hasty move. He jumped like an Olympics swimmer. He jumped with the eagerness to receive death. He jumped and I was certain they wouldn’t even find his body in that same river. 

I leaned against the wall and shut my eyes. I could only remember the anti-motivational exercise newly waving through social media, people posting stuff like:

“God is not preparing you for anything, nwanne, you’re just suffering.”

“My guy, if you are currently going through a tough situation… Wo! Go through it; it’s your turn!”

“If you never achieve anything for this year by this time, don’t worry… Sister, you no fit achieve anything again this year!” 

Which one had the boy read? Did he even have an Android phone? If he didn’t, did he hear it from someone? Probably he tried talking to a friend or a neighbour and received an “Abeg, give up if you want to give up.” in response. 

These memes (most times) are aimed at inspiring comic relief, that Nigerian knack of making light a tragedy to help people laugh it out. That is what this place sounds like. But do all of us in tragic situations have a sense of humour, or the luxury of laughter, to actually survive, process, these anti-motivational quotes? Can memes posted on social media for cruise go forth and actualise the death people hold within? Are there people who see no light at the end of the tunnel, who would truly say the end has come for them if they see a post that says that, if they see light at all, it is an oncoming train lunging forward to crush them? How much can jokes do? How far can actual, in-depth help go? 

I don’t know the answers to these questions. We are just a country content with staying on the ground and laughing, not even giving time to learning how to crawl. When you come to gawk at us, because you can, remember this anthem of a place that has only cared to become a tourist navel and nothing really more.


Yesterday, my thoughts flitted back to the culture of media sensationalism, inevitably. I wanted to blame someone so bad.  Video-recorders. I should get used to it. I know of many videos plying the thoroughfares of social media. Horrid capturing of precarious moments that make you go “Wtf, why didn’t someone try to help!!!” From lynching to preventable or controllable (aftermaths of) accidents to actual arson. I have sometimes watched a few, not because I’m morbid, but because people can post anything online and we come across these things and they trigger us and we run off but not before we have caught a deeply disturbing glimpse. 

Why do we care more about the shallow things? In this place, when you visit, you will see that love is political, highly political, and diversity is thwarted by discrimination. There is a religious law in my country that allows the defilement of an eleven-year old in the guise of marriage. Should it not then shock you, dear Imisi, that, nearing our 63rd anniversary—in this same country—there is “a more important law” that criminalizes groups of adults for the mere expression of their being different?

We are religious, but we are not Godly. We say “God abeg” all the time, but it is God that actually needs our mercy. God watches before They sit here, because the throne is spiked with human creations of what and who God is supposed to be. We take these creations in our minds and trample on the perceived weak: women, children, men who love men, women who love women, humans who reject gender binaries, people born into wrong capsules. Then, to mourn this diversity, souls begin to take flight. Those that could have earthed our country’s limbs have either left or sunk under the weights of disfocused legislations. Maybe it’s not just poverty of money that kills us; maybe an empty heart snuffs out our light even faster than an empty pocket does.

We are a 62-year-old baby still snoring in its cot, dead to the dead, dead to the needless deaths that crown us like wilted allamandas. And, because of this, I swallow bubbles of my laughter, images of my country people wasting away on their way to Canaanland, and look on gratefully at these hungry videos. It is a legalised show of shame, how a shameless country casually suffers shameful things. They (these videos) are, in a way, forcing us to be socially aware again and again of these issues. I can’t ask people to plunge into Messiah Mode in a country where you would grab someone trying to jump and they will still jump and someone will later scream that you were the one that pushed them into the water. Or where you would be a Good Samaritan taking a wounded human to the hospital and they would die and you would be nailed for murder. 

I really should be used to it all. But that’s the tragedy: that I should be used to it. Sometimes, I look at my personal voter’s card (PVC) and dream of a utopian 63rd. Sometimes, I preach the tired, but still shining sermon to the youths of “Your vote is your greatest civic power; your vote is your franchise, your ticket to freedom.” Sometimes, I stare into space and imagine a country where everyone is holding a travelling passport and a visa. Sometimes, I take long walks. Sometimes, I write—furious paragraphs that young people tragically fail to read. And the rest of the time I spend for my country, I sit like my mother sits with gbure vegetables, taking apart sprig from leaf, and start to sort the soothing fricatives of Mohbad’s sound, next to the merry highlife of Asake’s backup, the unpretentious huskiness of Davido contrasting with the smoothness of Fireboy, and the ever strident satires and charges of Olamide, Brymo, Asa and Falz—all of which sound like poetry. I sit like the grand composer of anthems, counterpointing, pitching, writing out the notes of a symphony, so that—like my mother with her veggies—I can take them through the halls of their diversity, where their future thrums with an audacious hope, and blend them together again. It is music. Someone should listen.

About the Author:

Enit’ayanfe Ayosojumi Akinsanya is a Nigerian writer. He grew up in Sagamu. His writing can be found on Afrocritik, Brittle Paper, Fiction Niche, The Shallow Tales Review, Kalahari Review, One Black Boy Like That, African Writer, Eunoia Review, Bending Genres, Writer Space Africa, Livina Press, Fiery Scribe Review, The Airgonaut, among others. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Dusty Manuscript GTB National Novel Prize, and for the 2023 Afritondo Short Story Prize. He won the 2022 Itanile International Short Story Prize and was also the First-Position in the 2022 Bicontinental Arts Lounge Contest for “The Green We Left Behind” Creative Nonfiction Climate-Change Print Anthology. He holds a double-honors degree in English Language and Education from Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Ayosojumi is interested and invested in works that explore and celebrate faith, family, women’s humanity, human sexuality and the diversity of LGBTQ+ humans. He believes that the death of a story is the death of a generation and that even the most rude stories deserve to be told and heard. He is the author of a short-story collection, “How to Catch a Story That Doesn’t Exist” [IfeÁdigo Publishing Company, 2022]. He loves reading poetry and watching deeply human films.

*Featured image by Pexels from Pixabay