SHSU recently debuted the documentary film festival “Africa World” in honor of Black History Month. Senior Zachary Toney sat down with Nigerian native Ukenazor “Valentine” Ifeanyi to discuss what life was like in Nigeria compared to America.
ZT: What was it like living in Nigeria?
VI: That’s a broad range question. For me, I think, living in Nigeria is quite challenging because of the corrupt government. Also, you know, it is the only place that I can call home. For me living in Nigeria is just like it would be for any other person in another part of the world living in their own part of the world. You know, it’s not something I would consider a pain or a disadvantage; but for me, living in Nigeria is a blessing because I believe any other person in any other part of the world is going through a similar situation. Maybe not mine, but you know. So I would say growing up in Nigeria has its own challenges, but it’s about the best thing that has happened to me.
ZT: You say it’s the best thing that’s happened to you. What are some of your favorite memories living in Nigeria?
VI: For example, I got my education background in Nigeria. If I did not learn well what my professors taught me in Nigeria I would not be in the U.S. Speaking of living in Nigeria being the best thing that has happened to me, I might want to take back that statement because coming to America has exposed me to a bigger world. So I would say there has been many more beautiful experiences, but what I meant to say then that living in Nigeria definitely was something I enjoyed so much. One of the beautiful experiences I have is what I told you. My education background has its roots in Nigeria so if I did not learn well, If I did not decide to focus on my education then I would not be where I am today in a great country like America. For me that’s some of my beautiful experiences.
ZT: Do you have any favorite memories as a child?
VI: Yes I do. There was a dog that pursued me. In Nigeria, we’re not very friendly with pets. You know, you’ll see an American, for example, take a walk and play around with them, where else in Nigeria those are things that are considered, you know, just kill them and eat them.
ZT: So Nigerians don’t have pets whatsoever?
VI: Many, many. People have pets, but it is not common.
ZT: So they actually eat them?
VI: Well, there are some areas. For example, if you go to the middle part, they eat dogs. Though I don’t eat dogs, in Nigeria we have areas where they eat dogs. So some things that we just kill become food, where as in America they turn into pets and take good care of them. The point is that we don’t take care of pets as much as Americans do. That memory that I want to narrate to you is this, because of that lack of friendship with pets. I had a phobia for dogs, so when I see dogs I run. This dog, my eyes made contact with this dog’s eyes and I got fearful. Then the dog saw the fear in me and I started running and the dog pursued me. Then I got to a point where I could run no further and the dog stood there staring at me like now “what are you going to do?” I think the owner of the dog came around to take the dog away from me. So for me, that was a very beautiful, shining child experience I had.
ZT: So there are some differences between Nigeria and America. Along with pets, what about movies and entertainment?
VI: There is a popular one close to the university where my alma mater is, The University of Lagos. There’s a cinema called Ozone. You find it somewhere close to the University of Lagos called…I don’t know about the name exactly, but the name of the place is Ozone. It’s close to the University of Lagos. You find it in Sabo. That’s where we have this Ozone. It’s a very popular place where people go to watch movies, people take their girlfriends, people have dates there and you can also buy several things like wristwatches and do some shopping. At Ozone, you have different movies you can watch. I have not been there personally, but I see my friends go there. I would say it’s the only cinema I know in my vicinity. People go there for different purposes, but most people go there to watch movies. They pay a fee, but I don’t know how much exactly for it.
ZT: So while you were in Nigeria, I’m sure you’ve heard of all the Boko Haram news, did you personally see any conflict?
VI: Oh no, I did not because I grew up in Lagos, which is in the Southwest of Nigeria. The Boko Haram issue or terrorism is actually something that is very rampant in the North of Nigeria. So you have the Northeast of Nigeria and that is the base of Boko Haram. That’s the region where we get news of bombing and several killing of innocent lives. I never saw such things. I experienced a little of it when I was travelling to Abuja. Abuja is the country’s capital and I was going to Abuja for a job interview and I had to pass through the Northeast because Abuja is deep in the Northern region. So I had to go through the Northeast through one of the states where Boko Haram was operating. Because of the killings that occurred they had to declare a curfew. The bus I was in transit to Abuja did not make the curfew so we had to wait six hours. I think we got there at midnight and we couldn’t leave until six in the morning. That sort of affected me. I would say that is my only infinitesimal experience I had compared to what people who live in the region experienced.
ZT: Did you ever feel in danger in that moment?
VI: Yes, I was very scared. I was thinking these people were going to come out of the bush from nowhere to attack us. But, I survived. I had to go for the interview, I had to make money, feed my family and take care of my siblings. I was willing to face the challenge and dangers of the road.
ZT: With your experience, how do you feel about all the Boko Haram attacks that are happening right now?
VI: It makes me feel very terrible because whenever I hear about bombings I imagine my family living in that region and God forbid sometimes place a family member or even myself in that position and ask how would I feel. I can imagine what my family would feel if something negative happened to me. My family would definitely break down. I’m not thinking about that right now, just something little like a headache or maybe a cut in my flesh. I know how my family would feel, let alone losing my life. So I usually put myself or a family member in that position. I feel that instead a emergency should be declared in that region, I feel the government we had before didn’t do enough and I feel that the government we have now is making very good efforts to really stop the terrorism.
ZT: A lot of the movies at the film festival cover topics like war and militant groups, I know you said you didn’t watch a lot of movies, but do you think that everything that is happening is being portrayed accurately in the entertainment or even on the media?
VI: That’s a question that I will try to be as honest as I can because I don’t want to make a bad image of the entertainment industry as I believe there are situations that the movie industry tries to portray in movies which are not very accurate. Maybe I should give you an instance. There was a time when we had a musician; you can call him an artist if you want. His name is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His music always offended the people in authority and that was because his music, or his lyrics of his music, carried truth of what was going on, the injustices and the corruption that goes on in the government. I’m sorry to say you would not be able to find such a voice in the movie industry today.
ZT: So with that in mind, how would you say the best way for me as a westerner to be aware of everything that is happening?
VI: You will need to read the newspapers. Most of the newspapers, at least the ones that have integrity, always write the truth and they write it fearlessly. Even though there have been cases where some journalists were killed even in recent times. Even in a civilian government we’ve had cases where journalists were killed and not because they were bad people, but because, if you can imagine or if you can think about it, they were being forthright. People don’t like the truth because if you want to fight corruption, it fights back.
ZT: Is there anything that you want to do personally to raise awareness or change those things?
VI: Well, yes I have things I would like to do to combat corruption. To help the people of Nigeria become better aware of what the government is doing. But again, before I say this, it might not be the best option, but I think I should say it. There are two things I would focus on: morality and education. In fact, in a more general sense, you can view both of them as education. One is just the usual education and the other one is just a spiritual education. In trying to make a people or trying to bring about a revolution in a country, it would almost be impossible to call it a revolution if the people’s lives are not affected positively. But how do you affect people’s lives? It comes from the inside. There’s nothing revolutionary about any government of today if the life of the ordinary citizen is not affected profoundly. So for me I would focus on those two things: education and morality. If you have education, you have power. If you know the popular saying “knowledge is power” you can imagine how much power someone who has knowledge has and imagine what would happen if that knowledge fell into the hands of someone who lacks character and they start having some ill practices in his profession or our profession. So therefore, it is very important for us to consider those two perspectives. See how we can give our people sound education equivalent of what is attainable in the western world and also let’s see how we can improve our level of morality. Regardless of religion, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian.