THE STORY OF SOTONYE: A TRUE STORY.
Caveat: This is more like a compendium, although lengthy but worth reading if you have the luxury of time. This is a true story, no fiction, not a figment of my imagination.
When i contemplated the need to ejaculate this thought, one thing that comes to mind, is the heading. The heading of this narrative speaks volume simply because; i just love the name of my character (Sotonye), one of my kids (when they arrive GOD willing) will be named “Sotonye” too. This is how much i like the name. Plus, my little princess and niece (‘Popi-bae-bae’ (Soty Bae-Bae) as i call her often) also currently bears the name “Sotonye”. So, those who know me may be quick to conclude that i am referring to my little Niece. Nope, in this context, i am not. The “Sotonye” i am referring to is a ‘Britico-Nigerian here in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, “Britico” in local parlance connotes “Brits, British or a Briton”.
GOD’s decision, GOD’s desire, GOD’s wish, GOD’s statement, GOD’s final-word, etc. These are few of the many meanings of “SOTONYE” in the Ijo (Ijaw) tribe. For those who may not know, ‘Sotonye’ is a Rivers-Ijaw name, predominantly amongst the Okrika-Ijaws, Opobo-Ijaws, Bonny-Ijaws, Abua-Ijaws, Engenni-Ijaws, Andoni-Ijaws, Nkoro-Ijaws and the Kalabari-Ijaws. Although, some Bayelsans also go with the name ’Sotonye’, however a good percentage of Sotonyes’ are Rivers-Ijaws. Therefore, the “Sotonye” in this text is a Homo sapient, not an ungulate or an orangutan; just for the record. Sotonye is a Nigerian and on a normal day, Sotonye can be a He or a She.
I still vividly can remember my first ‘Epidemiology” lecture in my Postgraduate days here in the UK. As common with the lecturers, every first lecture/class would start with everyone introducing themselves. The introduction always takes the fashion of; telling us what you studied in your first Degree, where you’ve worked, what you were doing before coming here, why you chose to pursue a career in Public Health, what you intend to achieve at the end of this course etc. But, the most important item on the introduction list is: “Where you come from” (Country of Origin). But before this time, i had earlier spotted and even exchanged banters with some ‘core’ Nigerian villagers like me. Notwithstanding, i was able to mix-freely amongst them simply because i have been around this city and i am somehow familiar with this University environment before we commenced our course. So, whilst some of them were like “JJC’s” (newcomers), to them i am a ‘landlord’… smiles.
As the introduction commenced. Some intimidating personalities reeled out their dossiers of degrees, work experience and the number of years put in. My class (mostly a class of MD’s (Medical Doctors)), is made up of some who have put in 18years in the medical practice as G.P’s, some (as Young as i am or even Younger) have put in as much as 8-10years as G.P’s, as Nurses, as Midwifes etc. 95% of the White-Briticos, white-Americanos and other white-westerners in my class never mentioned their Countries, rather they said; I am from California, i am from Chicago, i am from London, i am from Derby, i am from Kent, i am from Newcastle, i am from Lolworth etc. This went on until it got to the turn of the ‘local-village-Nigerians’ like me. Suddenly 99% of my ‘Naija’ classmates and course-mates introduced themselves as; my name is this this this, that that that, i am from London. The other followed i am from Canada, the next said she’s from Sunderland etc. Oops! Immediately, i felt a whoosh of adrenalin and my heart quickly jumped into my throat. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled, my body tensed. I was so disgusted and dumbfounded. I lost grip of my vocal cords, so i did not know when i screamed “Tamuno eeeh” (meaning ‘oh my GOD’ in Kalabari-Ijo language), then i ran into a quasi-coma phase.
Whilst i was still in the quasi-coma state of bewilderment, behold it got to my turn to introduce myself. Before then, i had asked myself in pidgin as thus: “Guy, this one wey you no be lawyer, you no be ‘likita’ (Hausa way of saying Doctor), you no be Engineer, you no be tailor, you no be politrician or politician etc, na weytin you wan tell them say you be sef? Though i was still in shock but i managed to quickly remember the words of Late Obafemi Awolowo’s saying that; “He is first a Yoruba man before being a Nigerian”. In like manner, i just told them, “I am from KRAKRAMA”. Guess what the reaction was? Everyone busted into laughter and the Nigerian emergency-Londoners felt i should have followed their lead by lying about my identity like them. Well, I did not lie, i am a KRAKRAMARIAN. Now the discussion continued and our lecturer (DR.Leon) was so interested in knowing what part of the world KRAKRAMA is on the world map, she’d also asked what language (my dialect) Krakramarians speak etc.
Then i seized the opportunity to educate them. I told them KRAKRAMA is a forgotten and betrayed town in Rivers State of Nigeria and that we speak the Kalabari-Ijo language. This served as a pacifier and gave respite to my Nigerian paddyman (Moh’d) who was sitting right next to me. Moh’d is from Kogi State of Nigeria and he followed my pattern of saying he is from Lokoja Town. Then Dr.Leon asked Moh’d again, please where is Lokoja Town? His explanation shocked everyone and i felt elated once again as a Village-Nigerian in the United Kingdom after he further educated Dr.Leon. Here are few of his reply: “I am a European-trained Medical Doctor, i am from Lokoja town. Lokoja town is the capital city of Kogi State of Nigeria just like London is the capital of England”. This opened another round of debate and made the class so exciting that day. Funny enough, we couldn’t continue the Epidemiology class because of time. To the average Briton or American, his or her place of birth is where he or she comes from unlike what we have in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, whilst the camaraderie was going on in the class, my hippocampus and the broadman areas of thought in my brain raced to my Akwa-Ibom friend who lives in Maiduguri. My friend whose name is pronounced in Ibibio as “Uruak’ but in written form, it is “Uduak”. Uruak (Uduak) was born and bred in Maiduguri the capital of Borno State but she’s not from Maiduguri or Borno State. She is way above thirty (30years), but whenever she’s filling out forms and the ‘nonsense’ State of Origin line comes up, she’d quickly put ‘Akwa-Ibom State” on there. Truth is, Uruak (Uduak) knows nothing about Akwa-Ibom State compared to the way she’s conversant with Borno State. She has only been in Akwa-Ibom just three times last time i checked, she has lived all her life in Maiduguri. She speaks Hausa more than fluently, she writes Hausa without making mistakes, she speaks Kanuri, Bura, Barbur, Marghi, and almost all the local languages in Borno State and nearby Adamawa State, yet she’s not from Borno State. Now, should i blame Uruak (Uduak) for not claiming Borno as her State of origin?
My friend, Abdullahi Lawan was one of the Prefects in our Secondary School days in Port Harcourt. Abdul as we fondly call him was born at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital in Port Harcourt town area those years. Abdul’s Dad and his wives all happily lived on Victoria Street of Port Harcourt. I have been friends with Abdul from Childhood, we were at I.B Johnson Street (a stone-throw from Victoria Street). Though we did not attend the same Primary School, but fortunate for us, we found ourselves in the same Secondary School around the Borikiri axis of Port Harcourt town. In spite of the fact Abdul is a Port Harcourt boy, he has never claimed to come from Rivers State. Though Abdul knows everything in Rivers State (even more than some of us), he will always tell us he is from “Bauchi State”. Mind you, Abdul speaks and understands Kalabari and Okrika. I guess his Dad, Alhaji Lawan must have sold this reality to his dear Son that he is not a Rivers man. As we speak, today Abdul (well over 30years of age) is happily married to Amina with two lovely kids and still lives in Port Harcourt but he is not a Rivers man. Would you blame Abdul for not claiming Rivers State?
Three to four years ago, i met a Young chap (Okorie) on a bus in London. For some reason, we exchanged banters and started a chit-chat, we exchanged numbers before i alighted at Stratford. As luck would have it, this Young man lives in the same city i live in, so it made life a lot easier for us to hook-up at intervals. I was shocked when he told me where he was delivered. This paddy man of mine speaks Ikwerre like crazy, in fact, he has infected me with one of the Ikwerre exclamations “Chineke le”. Today, i unconsciously exclaim “Chineke le” when in shock. Okorie was put to bed at ‘Ogbunu-Abali’ a small Ikwerre-dominated town in Port Harcourt. Yet Okorie would always tell you he is from Umuahia, the capital of Abia State. Okorie’s parents were also born in Rivers State, today they have contributed largely to the economy of Rivers State based on their line of business, but they still say they’re not from Rivers State. Okorie who is also married today and moved down here just few years ago would tell everyone he is from Umuahia, the capital city of Abia State, not Ogbunu-Abali in the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State. Do you think Okorie is unwise not to have claimed Rivers State as his State of origin?
Now this quickly brings me to yet another nonsensical issue bedeviling this Country’s growth and unity; “Catchment area and Quota system”. Few years ago i met with some corpers who were serving in Oyo State. After their service year, they decided to apply for a job in one Federal Government Research Institute in Ibadan. I met these gentlemen on the bus when i visited Ogbomosho, they had come to Ogbomosho for a programme. The corpers (Ugochukwu, Olakunle, Belema, Shugaba, Garba) all served in Oyo State. Amongst them, only Garba whose degree is not relevant to the Research Institute was given the job simply because; he is from the catchment area and the earmarked Quota for his State of Origin (Gombe State) is yet to be filled-up. Garba, though very smart and articulate but he read ‘Library Science’ unlike the rest of his colleagues who all had Science Research-based degrees. Although they are all happy for him, but it beats me that one can gain employment simply because of his catchment area over others even when there is enough room to employ all of them? Who should be blamed for this, please?
Still moving on. Need i say more about the relationship of Bayelsa State and Rivers State. Bayelsa State was carved out from Rivers State, today Bayelsans contribute 50-60% of the economy of Rivers State. (Emphasis mine). The best indigenous lecturers in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) that i know were Bayelsans. The University (RSUST) was established by a Bayelsan (HRM King Alfred Diete-Spiff), the funds came from Bayelsa and Rivers. So I was overly discomfited, shocked and disgusted when a former Governor of Rivers State said Bayelsans in the RSUST should pay ‘non-indigene’ fees different from what Rivers Students pay. That was the most repulsive and pungent news i still haven’t been able to comprehend till date. To my mind, if there’s any State that should benefit more from the University (RSUST), it should be Bayelsa State, although their Government too should also contribute to the funding of the institution. As if this is not enough, few years ago i met with some insecure Bayelsa Young men who had cerebral malaise (that is, they were intellectually lazy and ignorant), as a result, they were quick to feel uncomfortable with non-Bayelsans in their midst. In fact, one of them openly said to me; “Nengi (though mine is Nangi), concentrate on your Rivers politics and leave our Bayelsa alone”. Funny enough this Young chap is from Delta State unlike me that still has my Nembe route, so i laughed at him. Notwithstanding, i would not blame that Young man for his cerebral laziness (my coinage of cerebral malaise) because this has been the trend right from time immemorial in this Country.
Before i get to my major character (Sotonye), too often i have heard most Nigerians in the diaspora expressing their fear of relocating back to Nigeria. Their fear is mainly on the seeming bleak and blank future of the Country giving our current attitude to development. Some of them who are world-class professionals fear that they may not secure their dream job in Nigeria because they’re not connected politically and they may not fall within the catchment area for their dream job. I have heard of cases where Nigerian Scientists in the diaspora offered to lend their expertise back home and gets frustrated in the end. Indeed this is the quagmire most Nigerians in the diaspora face, but i call it “the fear of the unknown”.
This brings me to a Young man who according to my Ghanaian friend (Charlie), is ‘ebony black’ fine boy. Meanwhile, i work in a firm in the UK where i had to sit on a wooden chair in front of an old computer to sort out some challenges for clients who may need help. Better put, i do some part-time job here. So i have been noticing this newbie Youngster full of life, according to ‘Charle’ my Ghanaian friend, “Ebony black fine boy”. My first guess was, he is either Ghanaian or a Jamo (a Jamaican), but i was so wrong. I cannot but notice this Young chap because he is always using the library, half the time i have seen him, he is in the library studying. I knew he was a ‘Britico’, but i kept wondering why he will be studying that hard. Ehen! (meaning wait a minute), there is this phrase in the UK i have noticed to be frequent amongst non-white Britons whenever they try to introduce themselves to you. That word is “Originally i am from”. For instance, if you meet a Ghanaian-Briton, he or she would say thus; I am from Manchester, but ‘originally i am from Ghana’. This ‘originally’ is almost becoming a hackneyed phrase amongst the non-white Brits here.
As fate would have it, one day this ‘ebony black’ Young chap walked up to my table for help. He gave me his details in his British accent, but before then he had said ‘hello mate”. Obviously i know he is not my mate, but this is the British style of establishing friendliness when exchanging pleasanteries. In Britain, your grandfather is your ‘mate’ in terms of greeting. So, i did not pick offence at his ‘hello mate” even though we are not mates. So, on seeing his particulars i was dazed, petrified, disorganised and in disbelief but i still struggled to ask him to pronounce his name if perhaps my eyes were playing tricks on my mind. Then again In his British accent, he said my name is “Sotonye” something something “J”. I knew all his names (including his last name) were Ijo (Ijaw) names, i am 99.99% sure he is from Rivers State. So i went on to ask him where he is from? As usual he said, he is from London but he further broke my heart by saying he is ‘originally from Lagos-Nigeria’. At this time my neck could not carry my head again, i started developing pink disease, i was in shock. My bulky eyes turned red, i was ready to break the sky.
Sotonye is a 24year-old Young research Student (a PhD Doctoral Researcher) in one of those wowing fields. He has only been to Lagos six times since he was born, he had travelled three times this year to Lagos and once every year since he turned 20. My aproko nature (my curious nature) would not let me keep quiet so i asked him again “are you sure you are ‘originally’ from Lagos” of Nigeria? Guess what he did? He laughed and brought out his Nigerian passport and showed me, behold his State of Origin is Lagos State. OMG! i screamed uncontrollably, i melted that moment and i became furious and agitated. Now i felt like strangulating Sotonye for being ‘brainwashed and not being a ‘true Nigerian’ but deluding himself. Sotonye’s parents were both born in Lagos, they both did Queens College and Kings College in Lagos together before jetting out to far away England where they got married and brought forth Sotonye and his siblings, but ‘originally’ (as the Briticos would say), they are both full-fledged Rivers people. As we continued our conversation, Sotonye killed me by exposing why he had to visit Lagos three times this year and what he intends to use his Research to do in Lagos State.
At this point, i became confused and was lost for words. My mouth was wide open whilst i keenly listened to him. As he was explaining his passion for Nigeria, especially Lagos State, internally i was battling with my emotion, i didn’t know how to break the news to him about Nigeria. Whether i should start by telling him about the Lagos he so love and revers or that there is xenophobia attacks in Lagos and across the Country. I was confused whether to remind him that even the Oba of Lagos do not see non-Yorubas like his parents as Lagosians even though they had lived there all their lives. I do not know whether to educate him that in Nigeria, where you were born and bred is not necessarily where you are from and that you do not have any right whatsoever to benefit anything from the Government of the place of your birth. Like Abdullahi, like Okorie, like Uruak (Uduak), like any other Nigerian? I do not know how to break the news to Sotonye that he is not from Lagos State, but Rivers State and that the Government of Lagos State of Nigeria like every other State Government in Nigeria would alienate him and his good ideas. I am in a fix on how to tell Sotonye that he should not think what happens in his saner clime (the United Kingdom) is same with all other climes (like Nigeria), sincerely, i am confused. How do i tell Sotonye that he would be frustrated out of Lagos State in the end?
Do not get me twisted, i know Sotonye’s mindset should be the mindset of every well-meaning Nigerian. But would you blame me when the system itself is conscious of “Catchment area, State of Origin, Tribe, Religion, political party affiliation” etc before gaining admission into the University, before getting a job or even being allowed to have a word with anyone in power? Would you say i am wrong? Should i choose to educate Sotonye on the realities on ground in Nigeria? Would you call me an unpatriotic Nigerian if i choose to arm Sotonye with the ‘hard truth’ so that he does not fall prey and get frustrated in the end? Also, would i not be causing more harm than good to Sotonye if i choose not to educate him on the reality about Nigeria? Please advise me, i am in dire straits and i feel terribly bad whenever i see this Young man dedicating his life to what he is researching on, only to be disappointed tomorrow because he is an alien in his chosen State of origin in Nigeria. Your advice will do.
…To be Continued.
Maobuye Nangi Obu