Life Abroad

Back in Nigeria after Twenty Years

Twenty years is a long time not to have visited one’s country. It is a long time not to have visited ones place of birth. Twenty years is a long time to have stayed away. My absence wasn’t deliberate. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t set out on a voluntary exile. I had wanted to visit, but somehow, I have not been able to get myself into doing so. Things happen: I had difficulty obtaining an Alien Registration Card (green card); and without a green card, attending school became a problem; and without decent education, finding decent jobs became difficult. As you very well know, even after conquering those huddles, you just might lose your job. Once you lose your job, your sanity becomes shaky and in doubt.

Once the aforementioned happen, other unintended consequences are likely to follow: You might lose your home; lose your car, default on credit card and other loans; and then run out of money to tend to immediate family members. Pray you don’t owe child-support payment. Or back taxes. You may even lose your medical insurance. And if you think those are bad, wait until your immediate and extended family members in Nigeria, or elsewhere in Africa, start demanding money for their own upkeep. Mother is ill; dad needs medication, sisters and brothers needs money for tuition and books.

Before you know it, life begins to snowball; it begins to spiral out of control. Before you know it, it is five years, ten years and then twenty years. You begin to wonder. And in the process, you may lose hope and lose faith and lose handle on your dreams — assuming there are dreams left to pursue. You lose yourself in this wonderland called the United States of America. America is such a biting and unpredictable place. For most people, if they didn’t achieve their dreams within 7-12 years of getting here, all might be lost. Though they could dream again if they have the energy and the vision and the will to dust themselves up and then climb the mountain, and swim in the ocean of life.

To be sure, their dreams will change; their hopes and expectations and joy tempered with. Such is life in America — a land where twenty years can pass in a twinkle. Or, in a yawn.

A few months back I met a Nigerian who came to America in 1970. He briefly visited home just before the 1976 military impasse. For him, Nigeria is a very distant past, a land of his ancestors. But in all practicality, Nigeria is no longer his home. He remembers Nigeria only because he was 35 when he arrive the shores of New York. Ironically, he hates it when his children refer to themselves as African-Americans. He tells his children and grandchildren that they are Africans, Nigerians. Nothing more.

That is his fervent wish. He’s told me time and time again: “I am a Nigerian, deep in my heart, I am a Nigerian; but how do I find my way back?” I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know what to tell him. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know how to help him retrace his steps. But is retracing his steps necessary?

And then there was the lady I met on my way to Phoenix. She was somebody in Nigeria. She knew everybody — all the military and civilian hotshots — but somehow, she fell for the pull of the western world. She left it all and moved; first to London, and then to Los Angeles. Twelve years later she is yet to find her bearing. Fading beauty, gloomy disposition, monotonous life, single-motherhood, neck deep in debt and all the associated negatives of life in Yankee has taken a toll on her. Not yet thirty-nine, but you’d think she is fifty. How to remake her life and retrace her steps is her paramount concern now.

As for me — after twenty years of living in the United States of America — here I am in Nigeria. After three weeks in Lagos I set sail for Ibadan, Jos, and then to Kaduna before flying south to Port Harcourt, and then to my village by road and by canoe. Everywhere I went personal and human security is lacking. And there doesn’t seem to be a method to the general madness.The roads and bridges are bad. The lights are out. It is hot. Mountain of trash everywhere. The open and stagnant gutter. It smells. The air is filled with unknown substance that sometimes makes me delirious.

I couldn’t help but wonder, I couldn’t help but ask: Is this the Lagos of yore? Is this the Garden-city? Is this the Nigeria I knew as a boy and as a teenager? Is this the cradle and the Mecca of the Black race? Is this my homeland? Whatever the answer, whatever the condition, I have come home. I have returned home. I have returned to my people and to my land. I am back to my country, for good or bad.

Time will tell.

11 Comments

  1. I grew up in Nigeria and I now live in the U.S. Whenever I visit Nigeria I just feel sad. Was this the place I knew as a kid? The government, and I include every single official from Obasanjo and his puppet replacement to the local police officers, are all going straight to hell. This also includes any person who wants to run for office in the future. All they do is get in there and screw Nigeria worse than the last ruler. Nigerians and governing don't go well together and never will. We should bring back the British or maybe have the U.S. take over Nigeria. At least they would provide running water and maintain post offices. And they definitely build another bridge between Onitsha and Asaba and fix those roads in Lagos.

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  2. I left Nigeria as a teen and didn't return till after university. At first, I thot I would NEVER like or understand it. the craziness, the poverty, lack of security. Now, I go to NIgeria at least once a year. people alsways ask me why I travel there so much. Truth is, no matter how secure America is, I feel a connection to- and a comfort in Nigeria that I would not, could no fell any where else. I am a lot like NneGood. I speak pidgin like a street raised Waffi chick and I can pho'ne with the best of them as well, but after everythign is said and done, NIgeria is where I want to be and hope to end up for good. I know alot of people like the woman you met on your way to Phenoix. I owe the US govt a lot of financial aid for sch, but debt or no, I work two, three jobs durin the summer in order tomake my december trip. People ask me if it si worth it. the answer is always a loud and resounding YES. It's NIgeria!!

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  3. We will always be "visitors" in this place. Whether we were born in Nigeria, or just born to Nigerian parents, we are Nigerians and that is our home. If "home" is where you lay your head, then who will take care of the real home? Who will take care of Nigeria? I was born here in the states. My parents came here in the early 70's and gave themselves a deadline to return to Nigeria. When that time came, my parents packed us all and took us home . . . to Nigeria. In the 8-yr deadline my parents gave themselves to achieve their goals, they were able to build a place for us to lay our head when we got home, establish a business that will generate income when we returned, and took care of family and extended family. All this, while raising three children, going to school and working full-time. I was just 8 yrs old when we moved back to Nigeria, and I can still recall people calling my parents a fool for leaving America to return to a decaying country. Everyone was against it . . . both here in the US and in Nigeria. But my parents had a plan. Today, nearly 30 yrs later, he is one of the most successful men in Aba. My siblings and I went to junior/high school and high school at home but returned to the states to go to College, but we still visit home yearly (or at least every other year). It hasn't stopped us from buying beautiful homes and driving nice cars like those who don't visit home. It's just a question of priority. As I am today, I can tell you every piece of land my father owns in Nigeria. I know every aspect of his business. I can go home today and survive . . . I can go to the farm and plant cassava and corn, and come back here and head to Wall Street in my Tahari suit and 4-inch heels. I speak and write Igbo just as well as anyone at home. I can speak in proverbs and I know all the traditions and cultures. What is my point? . . . my point is that we all have to take responsibility and call a spade a spade — Nigeria is our HOME. We lay our head in all corners of the globe, but at the end of the day, our home is Nigeria. And for those who disagree with me, you just go ahead and ask these Americans, they will be the first to tell you that you are not one of them (regardless of citizenship status). Agaracha must come back! If we do not return in life, we will return in death.

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  4. Sabella, home is where there heart is…..it could be in Nigeria it could be in the States…nigeria is not perfect…infact nowhere is perfect except Heaven! Home is where you make your bed and lay your head…. No body is going to make our country better for us….only us Nigerians…so dont mind what those silly so and so say! Welcome Back! Hope you have a great, safe, enlightening trip!

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  5. So,after all my warning.You this man will never hear word.You never see anything.I just pray that armed robber no read say you don come with plenty dollars.Abi they don send emssary come.Haaaaaaa.I just dey joke.I beg no piss for sokoto.Wish you all the best.I am in Nairobi enroute South Africa.

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  6. Sabella

    Are you really back for good or is this just a trial phase?

    What made you decide to relocate back to Nigeria after twenty years of being in the United States?

    Please let me know.

    I am looking forward to hearing your experiences while in Nigeria

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  7. sabella,

    your courage, zeal and spirit is what i like most. the old and sage saying goes:east or west, home is the best. it'll take you a little time to cope with your environment, but you must cope given your high spirit. i feel for you considering the area you come from-Niger-Delta. i was there-Warri- for almost seven years before going West. i was in Ugborodo (where Chevron has an offshore location) and i wept. i wept and wept because i saw two differnt worlds. i was in the chevron base at escravos with all niceties of life but the villages with houses inside the river (call it island or whatever) and those at the creekside lacked these niceties of life. it was terrible. all our senators and house of representative members should take a trip there and see why the niger-deltans are protesting and weeping and dieing. too bad for our country.

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  8. Sabella. All I can say is welcome to reality. You may have to redefine your concept of home; this does not and cannot change the fact that a person is born Nigerian. Nigeria is touched by change—be it positive or negative —as it is everywhere else in the world.

    As for anyone who is deluded into thinking that America is a panacea, they had better think again. LIFE HAPPENS no matter where you are in the world. Folk need to decide where they want to live and accept the reality of it.

    Once a sailor sets sail, he will see new shores and his life is forever changed. If the sailor decides to dock in a given country, LIFE WILL HAPPEN. My policy is to choose a HOME where ever it is, accept the REALITY of your circumstances and EMBRACE CHANGE. Nigeria is not America and America is not Nigeria.

    I wish you safety in Nigeria.

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