Let me confess a moral anguish. Is it right to submit to a writer’s liberty and paint a depressing pen portrait of the torment and joy, pain and comfort, sorrow and happiness, success and failure of the many brave souls in the western Diaspora? In deciding to document the existential struggle and victory of Lammy, I may be offering a timely encouragement to many Nigerians who have passed or are passing through the same life changing experiences in their newly adopted countries. We are all graduates of what Lammy went through in London. Here is the story of a native stranger.
‘My name is Lamide Cole. I was born in Ghana in a small town called, Agona Swedro. I left Ghana in 1969 during the government of Busia when there was a backlash against Nigerians minority who then controlled the economy of Ghanaians. I had my primary school in Akure and from there I went to St. Francis Secondary School also in Akure.
In 1977 I took up a teaching appointment in a primary school in Okiti-Pupa and stayed there for a couple of years. I came to the UK in 1988 with the hope of a better life. I had grown dissatisfied with the poverty and paucity of purpose of my home government. I realised early on that I had better changed continent or I will not fulfil my purpose in life. I had been captivated by the wealth and opulence I found in most Western movies I watched when I was a kid in Nigeria. But soon when I arrived in the UK, reality began to bite. The picture of Utopia I once had in mind began to be distorted almost immediately after some few weeks.
I got my first job as a porter in Aldgate. Into that mix was another job as a cleaner in Kensington High Street. It was a real anguish and frustrating time of my life. There was so much stress going on in my life jumping from an early morning job to morning and evening jobs. Though it taught me the virtue of hard work, I wasn’t having any fun because I was chasing pound sterling all over the place to the exclusion of every other life’s goals. The routine was fairly regular. I normally start the early morning work from 4.00am-6.pm as a cleaner. The second morning job as a Porter will start from 8.00am-5.00pm. My last job for the day will began at 6.00pm-8.00pm. It was a harrowing experience. In Ghana, such chasing after work is called, from “kirin kirin to karan karan”. I was very angry with myself and several times thought of returning to Nigeria because of the stress of over work going on in my life. It was work, work and more work.
You see, part of my moving here was to get education because in Nigeria we worship paper qualification a lot. The situation is quite different from what I discovered here. In Nigeria, the accepted norm was paper qualification. We boast a lot of the number of degrees we hung on our walls. I think the reason for this was because Nigeria is a poor country but pretending to be rich and making a mess of her deception.
We believe that the higher your qualification the higher would be your chances of securing a better job and living your dream. That mentality still remained in me when I first came here. Immediately, I enrolled with the Central Polytechnic in Cavendish in Central London to study Information Technology and Business Studies. With my much coveted qualifications, I could not get a proper and respectable job because I had no papers. I was living as an illegal immigrant and the best I could do with such a status was to do menial jobs to make ends meet. I placed in my mind the hope that no condition was permanent.
In spite of having a qualification that could land me a better white collar job, I had to apply for job as a car park attendant and held this job for two years. I was dissatisfied and still longed to change my job to a more rewarding and clean one. I am a Nigerian and you know, Nigerians have ambition to “make it” in life. There is no way you could blame me. My society is very materialistic and we tend to worship and glorify the rich and influential. I think the closest comparison to what I am saying could be found in this society too, I mean here in the UK. From my experience, people tend to worship skin colour and the paler you are the better for you. I think this is the reason why some Asian and Black women and possibly men use toning and bleaching cream to lighten their skin.
Anyway, in 1992, I took a professional Novel Netware course. I passed the course but in order to work in IT, I had to use crude ingenuity to configure my National Insurance number. What I did was to use my date of birth and added some alphabets. I got a job with a company called Joynet but my joy there was short-lived. (Laughs.) I was later found out and the matter went to court. Would you believe that I won the case? I think I put my victory down to providence and God’s mercy. I had suffered too much in this blighted country to be messed about by ordinary irregular papers.
Then I started racing forward and by 1997 I had passed my MCSE certificate. In the same year I landed a job with EDS as a System Engineer and Software Analyst and worked there for 5 years. My time there was very rewarding and exciting. I feel valued and I was happy that I could use more of my brain than brawn to earn a living. Also I came to realise that human beings could adapt to anything if there was passion and determination. From then on, this had been my guiding philosophy and it had helped me a lot.
I never knew that an experience that would change my life for good was on the way. In 2001, I decided I have had enough of the UK and I decided to return to Nigeria. If I must tell you the truth, an average Nigerian in the Diaspora still nurses this dream of returning back home some day. Why is it so? I think most Nigerians love their country and are passionate for social and economic change but the corruption and leadership emptiness make them stay longer abroad. So, in 2001 after 13 years, I returned to Lagos. I went back with good money but unfortunately, I lost all my fortune to poor business vision and planning. It was a tragic experience for me as I agonised over what went wrong and realised that the loss was self-inflicted.
Like a bruised and frightened dog with tail in his hind legs, I returned to the UK in 2004. I could not return to IT because of the gap years I had spent in Nigeria. For me to re-enter IT, I would have to update my skill and take other professional exams. My Nigerian experience had made me confidence-poor, dejected and disorientated. I then decided to do something new. From early 2005 until 2007, I drove the length and breadth of London as a mini-cab driver for Addison Lee’.