Before setting out to Kaduna, I sent a lot of questions ahead of me, mainly because whenever I thought of the state, my memory just fails to conjure up any images at all. If I had only thought a little while back to years of childhood, I might have remembered that the Nigerian Defence Academy that trains all Nigerian soldiers is located in the state. I should have known this because there was a time when my brother was seriously considering enlisting. That was like twenty years ago. Now, all that circled my head were merely blank thoughts that never materialized into any concrete images, and my father had always said that there were no stupid questions.
So I asked, in all innocence and as a precaution to a situation of being hopelessly stranded in a strange land far away from home, “There is a UBA bank branch in your state, right?” And the problem started.
Unknown to me, that was the ultimate of all ignorant questions in today’s Nigeria. Actually, even to me, I realized the folly as soon as the question was uttered, but I justified my question with instances during my youth service in Jos when my National Bank account was suddenly rendered useless when I realized that there was no branch of the bank in the state. If I had thought about it a little more, I would have realized that after the consolidation of banks throughout the country, one of the requirements of new banks was that they must have branches in all thirty-six states. Yeah. Dumb me. To add salt to injury, as Zainab took time to remind me about a hundred times during our first meeting since New York, “Kaduna was the capital of the old Northern Region. How could we not have UBA?”. All my protest that the question was supposed to be a reflection on UBA and not on Kaduna as a state fell on deaf ears, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. Think about it, I said. You have Chase Bank in NY and we don’t have it in Edwardsville. It doesn’t mean that Edwardsville is “bush” as you must have thought I meant, but that Chase just doesn’t have the national reach. The more I made the argument, the more I lost.
And there’s more. I never really put my mind to the extent of the Shariah law introduced to some states in Northern Nigeria since 1999 so my asking the question also seemed to put her at some defence. “Yes, we cut people’s hands,” she said, and I will make sure that you lose one of your fingers before you go back to Ibadan.” Now I’m doubting whether father was right after all, because here I am looking like the dumb American returnee, and about to lose a limb. I am still a Nigerian, am I not?