Man (and woman) is born to be fast and free. Free to roam the earth and lay his head wherever he pleases, like an agric fowl. Socio-economic and political barriers sometimes prevent or inhibit those freedoms, like having a green passport or no kpali.
The one time humans all over the world tried to congregate in one place, build monument taller than Olumo Rock called the Tower of Babylon under the rule of a man called Nimrod. God scattered them, and instructed them to spread around the earth. Lord Lugard tried a similar tactic in 1914 amalgamating several kingdoms, ethnicities, races and peoples of over 250 languages and rich cultures into a geographical yam-pottage called Nigeria, no doubt pissing off my Okoro great-grandfather greatly.
In a country of over 300 million people (and that amount has to be more, because I personally know more than 5m people, and they all have relatives, friends, well-wishers, haters etc.) why would we all cram ourselves into one country – a third of which is arid desert, scorching Savannah, or covered by jungle and swamp? Imagine if all the people in the diaspora (I hate that word) all returned to Nigerian, and half decided to settle either in Lagos or Abuja… infrastructure and resources will be short like that Seyi Shay dress.
There are foreign or immigrant communities in many countries and cities around the world, from German, Italian and Irish communities in Texas, New Jersey and Boston which have been there since the mid 1800s, arriving USA via ship through Ellis Island where they passed the Statue of Liberty. Nigerians have been arriving England through Gatwick airport in the same vein, flying over and pointing to landmarks like Mama Cass restaurant in Burnt Oak.
Immigrant communities have divided parts of Britain or Yankee into their own tiny fiefdoms. Indians love Harrow. Brazilians like Willesden. There is a thriving Jewish community in Golders Green. Likewise Nigerians, formerly ogas in Peckham and Woolwich, have since taken a shine to Kilburn and certain parts of North West London. By and large, one’s ethnic origin influences their area of settlement, especially in Yankee.
Igbos love Houston, Dallas and Baltimore. Yoruba folk tend to prefer Chicago and New York; while Bendelites have this fascination with California (water nor get enemy) and Calgary, Canada (ice is a form of water). Shout out to our brethren in Malaysia and Cyprus though.
There have been so many arguments and counters about whether Nigerians who reside abroad are selling out by “abandoning” their country at its time of need. Some resident Nigerians believe that those abroad should “abandon menial jobs and a lackluster social life” and return to Nigeria to help build the nation. Returnees have also been caught in this cross-fire.
Some other accusations are:
• Nigerians who reside abroad are 2nd class citizens in that country of domicile, and are doing so at their peril.
• The standard of living is somewhat lower since you get taxed more abroad (N.I contributions, income tax, Medicare, 401k deductions etc.), have less disposable income and buy everything on credit. On the other hand, in Nigeria, whatever cash you make is mostly for your pocket as FIRS has nothing on you. Apparently, there are lots of juicy contracts growing on agbalumo trees in Abuja.
• There are more opportunities for career growth for a Nigerian in Nigeria – you are more likely to be made a CEO or reach the pinnacle of your career.
• Returnees have a “Yum-Yum potato chips” sized chip on their shoulders.
The above statements are unfair or unsubstantiated, as wherever you set up shop is your home. One exception to the first point is if you are illegal in a foreign country – but being illegal anywhere is an awkward business. Besides have you seen the Nigerian Immigration Service nab an illegal alien before? I was at the passport office in Ikoyi one time, and NIS officers were interrogating illegal Chinese nationals who had been busted during a factory raid near Alaba “You these Indomie people sef. We done catch una today. Una must to deport commot from Nigeria today.”
I do not buy the 2nd class citizen rhetoric because there are many who feel underrepresented in many spheres of our society. Being a 2nd class citizen is not only a measure of skin color or nationality – there are class divides, disenfranchisement, social stigmatizations and economic class gulfs too. Driving through Maitama and Old Ikoyi and seeing the bastard money on display, it is easy for Nigerians outside the ruling classes to feel like economy-class citizens sef.
The menial job accusation is also ridiculous – our inbred sense of entitlement and get-rich-quick arrogance makes us look down on the dignity of labor. What counts in all instances is ambition and self-belief. Kukuruku newsflash: the world owes you nothing. More middle and upper class resident Nigerians need to stack shelves in Ebeano Supermarket to appreciate the beauty of a come-up.
Not every Nigerian is built for living in Nigeria – nothing wrong with that. I know some resident Nigerians who hate the idea of residing abroad due to its processes, unfamiliarities, weather, social independence which can lead to feelings of extreme loneliness. On the flipside, some prefer the chaotic nature of Nigeria where anything can go. Or come. And where your family and friends are in your business 24/7. I always miss the suya and Gulder most when I am abroad though.
Returnees from abroad show different degrees of ease integrating back into Nigeria seamlessly. It has nothing to do with how long you lived abroad. You do get used to certain patterns of living no matter the tenure of your “exile”. When I moved back from Jand some years ago, the hardest obstacle to my adjustment were not trivial things like NEPA taking light (I copped a I-better-pass-my-neighbour generator), or the crazy traffic (I whipped out my MP3 Walkman which was stacked with jams for days). It was the following, which for some weird reason I have forgotten and got used to not worrying about:
• People being tardy with time…your time!
• Folks not acting on a promise they had sworn their grandfather’s life on; or people always trying to get one over you like you have mugu carved on your forehead.
• The fear and realization, which I had never taken cognizance of, that in Nigeria no one is really safe or sacred. Anyone can be killed or locked up or can disappear without big questions being asked. That realization made me very uncomfortable and sad. And paranoid. I made our gateman buy a big padlock for my gate. I also slept with a big cutlass under my pillow.
• How people leave every single thing entirely to faith without putting in the hardwork or sowing any seed. Industry not just church will transform Nigeria.
• The decibel levels. Chai, my ear drums took a harsher beating than a Yoruba talking drum. The sounds of generators, Molue horns, the din of rush-hour traffic all created a cocktail of noise that felt like someone was chewing chin-chin in my ear.
• I did not have a car for 4 months, and in that time I had to ride the iron-horse (okada). Hustling for my daily Agege while being ferried in the cockpit of a sedan is a much more comfortable proposition than relying on public transport where the Lagos sun fries you. Those few months really tested my mettle. Some nights I cried like a learner, after the day’s frustrations.
Returnees should not all be tarred with the same toothbrush. Not all speak Lekki-British or “I just got back” isms. True, there are a few who took advantage to break into Nigerian entertainment or the corporate world, and then there are those who wear their “abroadness” like it is chieftaincy title which should bestow them special treatment. Guess what – there are resident Nigerians who indulge returnees this preferential treatment or even resident cousins/friends who encourage the returnee to show off. However I have seen many returnees settle back in quietly put their head down and make successes of the transition. Not every returnee is interested in painting the town red on their return or playing the club scene. Some just want to be changing their dollar into naira small by small, fly under the radar, and thrive.
Being a Nigerian anywhere in the world is no mean feat. Our green passport earns us the treatment of a pensioner waving a tally-number at an old generation bank. Wherever you reside on Chineke’s green earth, become an influence. Nigerians have been living abroad since the Oba of Benin sent foreign emissaries to Portugal in the 16th century. Italians in 30s New York formed a power bloc to influence the election of La Guardia as Governor of NY. The time has come – we Nigerians have got to expand our whole operation. Distribution, industry, space-travel. From Lagos, Aba, Ewekoro to Toronto to Chicago. We have got to set our own market and enforce it.
Nigerians should be out there conquering the world with our greatness and our boisterousness. I feel a hint of envy when I see other cultures who have entered the mainstream – do you that as recently as 60 years ago spaghetti and pizza were not staples in the American diet. See how popular Indian culture and eastern philosophy with western tourists flocking there for pilgrimages. My village could do with those tourist dollars.
Everyone who is Nigerian by birth does have to reside in the country, but we all must be good ambassadors. If you have good disposable income, why not plough that into Project Nigeria. She needs help from all her kids even the prodigal ones. Start small, like buying land in Nigeria. Form an NGO or kick-start pet project. Heck, pay someone’s school fees. Do something.
E never tey wey Lizzy travel go America
And then I realized America was very far
Ice Prince, Whiskey (2013)