As strains of the popular gospel anthem: ” Jesus Na You Be Oga” filtered from speakers all around the bus, I was determined to keep up. I joined in, gyrating and singing along as loudly as everybody else. Inside this luxurious bus meandering its way from Lagos to Accra, the atmosphere was electric; alive with loud, warm voices and many heads bobbing from side to side.
I knew the heart and soul of these voices well. Quite simply, I often described them as The Forum. If you have ever found yourself standing by a newspaper vendor on a busy junction or roadside in Nigeria, teasing the headlines and watching others gather to do the same, then you might begin to understand the intensity of a social phenomena like The Forum.
Where two or three people are gathered to discuss, express their unrestrained views on the latest political or celebrity scandal, football scores or news headlines, you have a powerful mix of energies and ideas.
In Nigerian society, as with all societies, gatherings of this kind are in many ways an absolute necessity. They serve a great need. People have to express themselves especially when faced with a future which seems to diminish everyday. This spontaneous and unscripted outpouring in itself is a perfect way for the individual to let off steam. However, the forum is a bit more than this. When most things around you defy all logical reasoning, you crave the company of other people to affirm your own sanity. There is indeed empowerment in numbers.
As I listened to this group of young Nigerian students travelling back to university in Ghana debating with the more restrained voices of seasoned traders, it occurred to me that Nigerians are definitely the most energetic people I know. Despite what seemed like diverse opinions and generational differences, the need to speak out and expel strong emotions created an undeniable pull, drawing perfect strangers together . We are all Nigerians in various states of discontent but our passion for a better Nigeria united us even if only for a few restless hours.
It is is where you can test the strength of your opinions, make other people’s opinions your own, test the depth, volume and timbre of your voice and most importantly let off steam! For a great atmosphere though, you need a few important ingredients: naturally gregarious people fermenting with many cantekerous issues and of course… time.
I have seen this before- an ad hoc collectionof voices seemlessly gather and merge into a formidable vocal formation- on airplanes, airport lounges, in queues waiting for the bus and most especially at the impenetrable wall of people cramped together inside and outside the bank at the end of the month.
And now I wasn’t to be disappointed. Here we were again. Another gathering to keep us human on this long distance road trip from Lagos to Accra. I watched the group, further intrigued.
A few hours earlier we all sat at Yaba bus park, complete strangers. Now you wouldn’t know it. Eyes have brightened and faces widened with laughter. Voices are different too. Some are raised with that unmistakable swagger of a generation who feel connected to the promise of a vibrant future; one mostly fed by the images and stories which pour forth from the oracles of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
As I strained to hear snatches of conversation, I was reminded of many other forums like this all over Nigeria and indeed in the diaspora. Nigerians like myself with many different voices, in many different places mostly saying the same things. Voices asking questions and trying to proffer solutions at the same time. Voices bewildered and hurt, watching a country cascading with such beauty and brilliance continue to move astern without much hope of anything else.1