Move Back to Nigeria is a new series on BellaNaija. The aim is to encourage young and not-so-young professionals in the diaspora who are trying to make the decision of whether to move back to Nigeria. In collaboration with the brilliant team at MoveBackToNigeria.com, we hope to bring you a weekly interview with individuals who have successfully made the leap. The idea is to share their successes and their challenges as they made the decision.
A lot of Nigerians in the diaspora have questions about making a change at home in Nigeria. Many suggest really good ideas on how to make things better; others would like to contribute to making a difference back home but are just not sure where to begin.
This week, the spotlight is on Toyin Olaleye, a writer and communications practitioner who moved back to Nigeria after growing up in the United States. She shares her interesting account of moving back to Nigeria and after a challenging stint, moving back to the US. Read on for her interesting and humorous account. We hope you enjoy the feature.
Let’s start with introductions: Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Toyin Olaleye and my background is in communications. I am an individual who is very passionate about Nigeria which may be considered interesting especially because I grew up in the US. I also have a passion for helping people, writing and speaking.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I left Nigeria in the late 90s as my whole family moved to the US, where we have since resided. I initially wanted to major in Biochemistry, to become an Anaesthesiologist. However, after a year at school I realised I did not particularly enjoy it and so I decided to do something more fulfilling, which for me was Communications, Journalism, TV and Writing. I went on to study Corporate Communications at the University of Baltimore and graduated in 2010. I am currently doing a Masters in Writing at John Hopkins University.
What is it about communications that interests you?
I have always had a natural flair for communications. While in High school in the US, I did a lot of talk shows, and was part of a Nigerian group involved in planning and hosting events. It was basically a passion for communications that made me switch career plans.
Alright. So after graduation, what came next? A high-flying media career?
Interestingly, I actually upped and left for Nigeria a few days after my graduation and this was because I graduated a semester earlier than scheduled and decided to use the opportunity to visit Nigeria, seeing as I had never been back home since my family moved to the US.
Why did you feel you needed to be in Nigeria at that point, particularly without any work experience?
It was primarily curiosity. I wanted to see what Nigeria looked like since I couldn’t remember what I had left behind. I had also talked to Nigerians in the US who constantly visited Nigeria, and they often regaled me with fabulous tales of the country, mentioning the youth service corps as well, so I thought I would go for the NYSC as a way of transitioning and moving back to Nigeria.
How did you find the Youth Service corps?
I was really enthusiastic about taking part in the Youth Service scheme as a result of all the stories I had previously heard, however I must say that it was a really stressful experience, the most stressful experience of my life to be precise. It was so stressful that I cried on the first day and even thought of quitting the program midway but was encouraged to soldier on by my uncle whom I was staying with. He encouraged me to continue, as it was the only way I would get a job if I ever planned to move back to Nigeria. There many factors that contributed to my experience: For instance, the lack of hygiene was appalling, as I was in Abuja camp and it turned out to be one of the most unhygienic (and disgusting) places I had ever stayed. The almost inhumane treatment of the corpers was also astonishing and to worsen matters, I was really picked on, particularly as I didn’t grow up in Nigeria.
On the flipside, I enjoyed certain aspects of the service year, as during that period I was shuttling between Abuja and Lagos working on a radio show called Digital Passion which aired on Cool FM and Inspiration FM. I also hosted a program called Melody Shelters which aired on Silverbird last year, and got to visit many states while doing it.
NYSC will certainly always be a controversial issue. What happened afterwards?
Unfortunately, after my NYSC stint, I couldn’t get a job, and even though I thought my ‘connections’ would render my job hunt successful, there were just no jobs available. I then realised I had not properly researched and planned my move to Nigeria and it is just one of those countries that needed adequate and thorough planning. Apart from the unsuccessful job hunt, I found living in Nigeria quite challenging and so I did what some may consider the ‘easy route’, I decided to go back to the US to get a Masters degree and hopefully come back better prepared.
If you had to mention a few specific challenges you faced, what would they be?
The main challenge for me was cultural as I found it difficult to satisfactorily communicate with some of the people I met and this was most likely due to the fact that we had very different backgrounds and experiences. There were also a lot of people who looked down on me because I had studied abroad which was really hard for me to deal with because I am naturally a sociable person, and had come back to Nigeria with the best intentions. My being unemployed and idle was also quite frustrating. I also had to get used to being dependent as I did not have a car and my uncle did not let me drive any of the cars because the road culture was totally different from what I was used to and he was sure I wouldn’t be able to handle all the ‘gra gra’.
Having described your challenging experiences so succinctly, you go on to mention a desire to return, what drives this?
Ultimately, Nigeria is my country and there are a lot of things I know I can do when I go back. Although it can be a difficult place, one just has to be very savvy to succeed and survive in Nigeria. Right now, I am in negotiations with an organization which could potentially lead to my moving to Nigeria in the next few weeks. I would definitely put my masters on hold if that happens, as there is nothing like good work experience and also because this is in line with my life choices, which is to be of service to humanity.
It definitely speaks volumes that you would be ready to put your masters on hold for a potential position. Apart from this particular plan, do you have any other project you would be looking to implement in Nigeria?
Yes I do. A group of us are currently looking into issues related to women and children in Nigeria. We are thinking of setting up schools and shelters to help people and although we still have a long way to go, it’s a project we are passionately invested in. Also as a writer and analyst, I would love to come back and set up a writing firm in Nigeria, as I think that a lot of the business writing needs to be more professional. I have observed a lot of substandard work on this nature which means the companies are either not employing qualified professionals, or they simply don’t care how they communicate with their clients and members of the general public, through writing.
Fascinating Stuff! You seem to enjoy writing, how did you pick it up?
I have always loved writing and this started right from when I was much younger, I remember spending more hours on writing assignments than other subjects, and winning some awards in writing essays in middle school. In my communications major, I registered for some 400 level courses while I was a freshman, and though it’s not allowed, I actually performed excellently in those courses to the surprise of everyone. I went on to write a book in 2012, about being an African in America, and right now I am in the editing process of the book, while still blogging frequently. I have also written for an online newspaper called African Examiner and I have occasionally contributed to BellaNaija. Right now whilst studying for my MA, I am a writer at Hopkins, so you see, writing is something I am quite passionate about.
Who do you particularly aspire to be like in the communications and writing sector?
It would have to be Nigerian OAP Toolz, as I have seen her grow from strength to strength in the media and I admire her professionalism. I should also mention Nelson Mandela and even though he is not a writer, I admire the impact he has made on a global scale. I have learnt from these people and would ultimately just want to be a successful version of myself.
That’s admirable. On a final note, as someone who has made the move back to Nigeria albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, what can you say to people who might be considering moving back to Nigeria?
I believe that to move to Nigeria you have to actually really want to be there, as you are going to face certain issues which might set you off balance. Also you should be prepared to adjust to the kinds of people you meet and also learn to be really patient in your dealings. This is because you are bound to come across uncomfortable situations, to put it mildly. You basically have to develop a thick skin because initially some people would want to look down on you.
I would also advise against going to Nigeria with the sole aim of making money, instead think of the bigger picture and be ready to be part of the change the country needs. Ultimately, I must add that Nigeria is an interesting country with great people and so while it may be a difficult to adjust, it’s certainly exciting. Plus I love the Sharwarmas in WUSE 2 ha!
Thanks for speaking with us, best wishes moving forward.
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