“Our country is that spot to which our heart is bound” (Voltaire).
After 25 years of living in the United States a friend of mine finally returned home. His desire to return has been in the works for almost five years; but as much as he tried, he couldn’t bring himself to doing so as he couldn’t get past the issue of basic infrastructures like NEPA, clean potable water, waste disposal, and other aspects of human security. To think that what most other societies take for granted — law & order, abundant food supply, clean environment, first-rate schools, health care and other factors that contribute to ones quality of life — is a luxury in Nigeria is simply heart-broken. It is because it isn’t as though Nigeria does not have the resources to provide these basic needs.
This fear, this reality discouraged my friend — just as it has discouraged some seventy percent or more of Diasporan Nigerians from returning home. Life for most Nigerians abroad is a double edged sword: despised at home and unwanted abroad. Our government does not know what to do with us. Some of us are too educated, too expensive or too worldly to be absorbed by the economy or by the political space. Others have roots so deep within the American system that any attempt to uproot would cause grave pain and agony. And for a few others, the shame of a wasted sojourn abroad does not allow for a permanent return. For most therefore, returning home can be a difficult, expensive or impossible proposition. At the very least, it can be a complicated undertaking.
But more than the aforesaid, here is the real pain and regret: people like me have wasted and continue to waste away our time and talent in this and other countries — helping to develop our host countries while our ancestral homes continues to rot and rut. We have spent our golden years in a land that is not ours. Most don’t even know where and how to begin. The laws are not clear on any given matter. And most of us are not even sure if there are processes and procedures in place for reintegrating into the Nigerian political and economic space. For instance, to what office do I apply for authorization if I wanted to establish a private secondary school? What if I wanted to establish an insurance or investment company? To whom or to what office do I report if I feel aggrieved? The cost of doing business or reverse migration is simply too expensive and cantankerous.
My friend has business plans. He is going to be self-employed. But his wife was a teacher in a community college. Almost five months since their arrival in the country, she has not been able to find a job in any of the universities. However, before my friend left he (1) built two houses — one for his use and the other for rent; (2) exported two medium size power generators to counter NEPA’s inefficiencies; (3) exported three cars — one for himself, the other for his wife and the third for sale and for extra cash; (4) asked to be introduced to a couple of military and police officers in case he needed extra help. He paid “soft landing fees” for this service; and (5) he did not completely disengage from the United States just in case things go wrong in Nigeria and they needed to return. Sad, but those are the steps he took. But why? Why Nigeria?
Nigeria is not an easy country to live in. And more so for those who have spent considerable amount of time in the western world. Most of us have family members who are steeped in poverty. Such people become one’s responsibility. There are school and hospital bills to be paid; debts to help repay; bribes to give; and family support to render. Because of the culture, one is forced or “forced” to be one’s brother’s keeper and in the process constraining or stunting one’s economic and social growth. Family members aside, there are the constant bribing of government officials if one wants to get anything done. You bribe the police and security services, the examining and admissions officers, the phone and light company personnel, the folks at the banks and the court clerks. Everybody take and gives bribes. Not even our religious and spiritual guides are immune from this scourge. Not to give or take bribe is generally considered impolite.
In spite of all the negativities and fear, Nigerians like me would like to return home. But where do one start? Would I fit into the Nigerian economic and political space? Would the government see me as a threat to her shenanigans and selfish interests? Would my local peers see me as an outsider and as someone to frustrate out of the system? Would my children and wife feel welcome and in place? Is the atmosphere conducive for personal growth and development? Would my ideas be considered and or tolerated? Is my safety and that of my family guaranteed? Would the government affirm my human rights and if abridged, can the courts restore it and the restoration obeyed by the executive branch? I wonder. And others wonder, too.
In spite of all these, there is something about Nigeria that grips one’s heart and soul. The irony is that Nigeria is not even a country that cares about the vast majority of her citizens; it is not even a country that brings out the best in her citizens; yet, Nigerians love her. They love and adore her. They dream about her and have fond memories of her. There is something about Nigeria that makes Nigerians teary-eyed when they speak about their land. It must be love. It must be love because even in their moment of melancholy and utter disgust, they can’t help but kiss and hug their land. How unfortunate that Nigeria is incapable of reciprocal love. Perhaps with the right leadership, viable institutions and a populace that was willing to fight for and take their countries back, socio-economic progress would be made and human development achieved.
If I were to return to Nigeria, where do I go? I have fond memory of Ilorin and Jos. Besides Lagos State where I was born to Ijaw parents, Ilorin and Jos are my second and third homes. Government Secondary School, Ilorin, is where I spent some of the best part of my formative years. It is a school and a city th
at is etched deeply into my soul. And Jos. Ha, how could I forget Jos: her gentle and peace loving people; and the magnificent landscape and soothing weather. Is it possible for me to return to a Nigeria that once was, the Nigeria of my youth or am I a stranger to be denied my rightful stakes? I wonder.
And if instead of Jos and Ilorin, would Port Harcourt and Lagos welcome me? After all, my umbilical cord was cut in Eko and the soil still holds my blood. And my soul knows Port Harcourt too. Or perhaps, the only place I now have a right to is deep in the groove of the Niger Delta, in Ijawland — the land of my ancestors. But, what does it mean for a Nigerian like me to return to Nigeria? What does it really means; and how do I know what it means?