When I was a kid, the sight of a brown paper bag excited me. It still does. The sheer curiosity of what it contains somehow gets my adrenaline pumping. I don’t even consider that weird.
See, when I was little, me and my three siblings would always look forward to the arrival of our dad from work; For one sole reason – the brown paper bag. Call us selfish, but we somehow – maybe naively – knew we didn’t have to worry about whether he’d arrive home safely or not. He always did. But the excitement of seeing the brown paper bag overshadowed any fear that we could have over his safety. We were allowed to be naive; at least we were kids.
My father, our father, was a civil servant who had by sheer determination and a slice of luck (maybe another story for another day) landed a job with WAEC in Yaba and everyday, he’d arrive home with what I’d call an iconic brown paper bag. The bag had a unique smell, one that filled the soul with satisfaction. But our excitement wasn’t always just about the smell, but the content. We longed to see what ‘small chops’ the good man had bought for us on his way from work everyday. The bag, however, usually had a particular content for some reason. It, on most days, contained boiled groundnut. And boy, did we love eating it!
So, we knew the brown paper bag as ‘the boiled groundnut bag’. On other days, it’d contain roasted corn. Sometimes, the extremely lucky times, it contained both. This continued everyday for years, until he was transferred to Port Harcourt just as I started my secondary school education. So, just like that, we stopped expecting the bag. We stopped eating boiled groundnut, regularly. Actually, we grew up.
When he would come home on holidays from PH, these times he came home with bush meat, stock fish, plantain and the likes (you know, those ones that indicate a ‘traveller’ in Nigeria). Above all, he never stopped bringing something home for quick chops. That was some 30 years ago.
It was in 1999 that Nigeria finally broke free from military shackles; May 29, precisely. A day which filled millions of living and non-living things occupying space in the most populous African country with hope and optimism for a greater future. Next Wednesday, it would be exactly 20 years since that historic day. Sadly, many of the unsavoury situations that plagued the country when former President Olusegun Obasanjo received the baton from peacekeeper Abdulsalam Abubakar are still very evident in today’s Nigeria. Even more heartbreaking, is that things seem to be getting worse.
Like we did my father’s iconic brown paper bag, every year since ’99, we look forward to the content of the bag from the government. But, unlike my kindhearted father, every year, we have received, with grave disappointment, empty brown paper bags from the government.
Bad economy, terrible infrastructure, insane corruption level, decaying educational sector, insecurity, mass killings are but a few of the recurrent issues. These are the achievements we’d be celebrating when President Muhammadu Buhari is sworn in for another four years at Aso Rock next week. In 2019, our hopes for a better Nigeria lies on the frail shoulder of a 76-year-old retired Army General.
Though, my father’s transfer to PH meant bigger goodies for his wife and children, the transfer of power from a politician to another since Democracy Day has actually meant that Nigerians expect nothing. Absolutely nothing. The sorry state of things means every ambitious individual is now looking for a not-so-perfect chance to escape the mess of a country we now find ourselves in.
I wish this piece would have a ‘happy ending’ like my father’s move to PH, but it only just looks as gloomy as the day MKO Abiola was pronounced dead. I should rest my fingers now. And take a deep breath. And pray. Pray that everything that is wrong with our leaders be miraculously healed. Even if that is the most unproductive thing to do.
For now, we brace ourselves for another four years of PMB.
PS: I still savour the taste of the boiled groundnut snack anytime it’s in season and I have a weird fetish that when I start raising my kids I’d also always go home with a brown paper bag containing boiled groundnut and roasted corn, no matter how rich I become. Amen.