Life in America
In the last ten years, Ekisola has resided in the States. Did he just get tired of Nigeria? “Oh no,” he replies. “I first came here as a guest of the American government. I was taken around to see how broadcasting is organized here. I visited several radio and television stations and discussed with the stakeholders. Then I went back home. But then, we found out that it was not too safe for me. So the United States government gave me a waiver and allowed me to come back.”
And how has he fared since? The veteran broadcaster hesitates a little, shakes his head and smiles softly.
“You know the regular Nigerian thinks that America is God’s own country. So you think you will get here and start picking the dollar bills off the sidewalks. That never happened. When I came the first time, I was paid for travelling around. So I had thought it was going to continue like that. But no, it didn’t. I was on my own. Then little by little, things started falling into place. Yes, I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Valley of the shadow of death
Things might be looking up now for the broadcaster. But initially, things weren’t particularly smooth. “When I came back, I called somebody and said; hey I would like to set up a radio station. And he said, are you a citizen? I said no. Then he said that’s not possible. You need to be a citizen first. So,before things started getting better, I did everything here. I drove cabs. I waited tables. I worked in factories. I did everything. Coming from Nigeria, you expected to be given some treatment. You thought all you had to do was call some people, then go and take up a job in some respectable office. That is never going to happen. So that was why I was going to set up a radio station, to explain to people back home. The last time I went, I still told them. I went early this year and spent three months. Before you can settle down here and be living from hand to mouth, you need at least three years. Then before you can be reckoned with in terms of money, you must have spent like eight fruitful years during which you must know what you are doing. If you don’t know what you are doing, then your sentence will be longer. And if you think you are very smart and you want to take the short cut, you will end up in jail. You see, what the authorities here have is time. They give you plenty of time. There was a Nigerian who went to school here, graduated and became an architect. He had a nice office in New York working with the city, apart from his own private business. Then he got into bad company and started selling drugs. These people followed him to Asia; got all the information they needed and followed him back to the United States. Right now, he’s serving thirty years to life.” He pauses.
“The reason why our people keep having these fantasies about America is because the American government spends billions of dollars to project their country as the ultimate paradise on earth. But when you get here, you discover that what you’ve been seeing on your TV back home is not the real America. People don’t tell the truth. But I’m not ashamed to say this is what I’ve gone through, as long as people learn something from it.”
No longer in the valley
But now, Ekisola has undergone tremendous transformation, away from those dry days in America’s wilderness, setting up his own business outfit and veering into the real estate sector. “We are managing,” he concurs, a little smile playing on his face. “Now I sell houses. I help people to buy and sell houses. Nigerians who want to purchase houses here can rely on me to discreetly do the necessary paperwork and make sure they get a good deal.”
How true are the stories flying around that he’s planning to float a magazine? “Very true,” he says. “We’ve tried a few things. We tried to set up a radio station, we’ve tried to do a TV show. But these things are not as easy as one had thought. We also planned to start a magazine. Now, when we sat down and looked at some of the issues involved, we decided on doing a newspaper first to gauge the response. Then we can go on to bigger things. We plan to cover four continents, South America, North America, Europe and Africa. We are trying on these things and see how they go.”
Please, stay home
Ekisola sure possesses a gregarious spirit, but he’s also blessed with a blunt tongue. Ask him to offer some advice to Nigerians with a good career back home but who are desperate on seeking better opportunities abroad and his counsel might shock you. “I will just tell them, stay at home”, he says. “People are not likely to take my advice. They will say this man is selfish. I have a nephew who was trying to come here. Before he came, I went to Nigeria to meet him. I told him, everything you’ve been seeing on the TV, it’s not going to happen. He didn’t believe me. When he got here, he expected the dollar bills to start flying. He was shocked. So if you have a good career back home and an opportunity to advance, my advice is, don’t abandon all that for the unknown. Please stay home.” And with that he stands up and walks briskly into the house, leaving a throng of thoughts rioting in the reporter’s mind.
(All photos from the Ekisola collection)