Possibly the worst year of my life was 1984. I was 10 years old and blissfully unaware of the changing face of Nigeria’s political landscape. And a rather unyielding face it was – that of Muhammadu Buhari who had recently overthrown Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected president. For Buhari, this was a necessary coup d’etat because Nigeria was being overrun by corrupt politicians. However, his regime would have a devastating impact on my family’s fortunes.
For the first time, at the close of the school term in Edinburgh, my father wasn’t there to pick us up. My older brother, aged 15, took charge and we made our way to Heathrow. Touching down in Nigeria, it was my mother who met us at the airport. She didn’t smile, perhaps couldn’t; her mouth was turned down at the corners like she was being flattened by existence. Something was wrong, clearly. I waited until we were settled in the car and piped up: “Where’s Daddy?” Without turning to glance at me, my mother answered: “He’s in jail.” She always had an aversion to bullshit but even, for her, that was pretty cold.