Compatriots abroad, I know it is not easy to go home for various reasons, personal, internal and external. I am myself finding it difficult to go home, but that is a different reason, and go home I must. Those of us who are afraid of going back home are those afraid of taking risks; not that I blame them (I am perhaps guilty of this myself); we have a fear of the unknown happening in Nigeria – but then we all know what do happen in Nigeria, don’t we? We do not want to leave our families and comfortable and relatively convenient life in the foreign countries where we reside and enter into the harsh environment of our own country – lack of water, electricity, good schools, good healthcare system, good roads and transportation system, lack of security and the corruption. How can I ensure that if my child born abroad falls sick in Nigeria, I would be able to get the same quality healthcare treatment as I am currently getting from the UK National Health Service? Food for thought, yes, but do you really want to die in the UK? Do you really want to get old in the US? I did not send you abroad so I cant force you to go back, of course. But think about it, you are probably more useful to your people than to the Englishman and American.
There are so many reasons for going back home, that is, for those of us who really want to go back home. One, and the most important, is that it is our country. Get American citizenship or UK citizenship, you are still Nigerian. Nothing can change that. Perhaps your children are not, but you are. Not with that thick Igbo or Yoruba accent of yours. I have been stopped at points of entry into the UK several times because although my passport said I was born in the UK, I have a thick Nigerian accent. The Immigration Authorities then wondered how can I be born in the UK and don’t have a London accent. The last time this happened, I grabbed my passport back from the hands of the white Immigration Officer, told him he’s a stupid man, and walked off calmly, daring him to follow me. He did not and he just looked at me and turned to deal with the next person.
Secondly, we are in danger of becoming an endangered species. We are fast losing our identities in foreign lands. Our children cannot speak our language or understand our cultures. We are even finding it difficult to understand our children. They are taking up foreign cultures. I, for example, sometimes do not understand my children’s accent, while they in turn sometimes ask me to repeat what I have said to them in English, because they do not understand my accent. This is very serious indeed. In the US, Canada and the UK especially, we now have Nigerians representing these countries in various areas of human endeavour – sports, academia, science, law, medicine, etc, while Nigeria itself is regressing on the international level. Please don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a global world these days and boundaries and barriers are breaking down, and we all have a right to do as we please, live where we like and take up any citizenship that benefits us, but what good is it doing for our country. And we are lamenting that Nigeria is no good, throwing long range salvoes at the leaders and people in the comfort of our living rooms in America or England, forgetting that Nigeria will remain Nigeria, with or without us. After all, at the last count, there are 140 million Nigerians living in Nigeria, so probably a few more millions living abroad do not matter. Right? No, it does matter. What Nigeria lacks as a nation can be found and gained abroad but only if these are transmuted back to Nigeria. I say this because, after almost fifty years of independence, the Nigerians who have not permanently left Nigeria have not sufficiently demonstrated that they can make Nigeria better. So why don’t we try working with the ones who are abroad, who can bring in fresh and innovative ideas, skills, knowledge, abilities and capabilities, if only they are given a chance? Can we make a difference? Yes, I think some, not all of us, can, but only on certain conditions, which I have enumerated in previous articles (“Nigerians in the so-called Diaspora: Abuja, we have a problem” and “The illusions and delusions of Nigerians in Diaspora”.). This is because we have to admit that it is not all Nigerians living abroad that have that will, sincerity of purpose, vision, skills, abilities, commitments and honesty to make a change.
You cannot reap where you don’t sow. The arguments of many Nigerians living abroad is that the people back home are not getting themselves together, and that until there is electricity, water, security of life and property, jobs, etc, they are not prepared to go home. This is very selfish and unreasonable. Firstly, if you wait for all these to happen, no Nigerian will ever go home and we will be condemned to live and die abroad. Secondly, why would you want those in Nigeria to do the hard donkey work and only for you to go back and start enjoying what you have not contributed to? If you contribute to making all these things happen, you and your generations to come will enjoy it in full knowing you have contributed. No, compatriots, you cannot reap where you do not sow, and it is very selfish making others work for you and you reap the benefits. Life is not like that. This is why the offsprings of people like the late Chief Awolowo, the late Great Azikiwe of Africa, the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the late Sardaunna of Sokoto, late Aguiyi-Ironsi, late Murtala Mohammed and others like them, can always come out and beat their chests and say their patriarchs did something for Nigeria (and even Africa) and they have the right to get something out of Nigeria too, and we would not be able to deny them, because they are right.
Another argument for going back home, and in time too, is that, all of a sudden, and recently, strange things are happening to us. Suddenly, our children are being killed. Suddenly, our children are joining gangs and carrying knives and guns, and also killing people. Before you jump on me, I am not saying these do not happen where we come from, but the fact is Nigerians living abroad were previously not noted for violence or violent crimes. Now, let’s face it, it is happening. In London alone this year, over ten Nigerian children have been killed. Even before Damilola Taylor was killed some years back, they have been killing our children. It is well known now, unless we are not honest with ourselves, that there are Nigerian teenage gangs now roaming the streets of London. I am not sure about the United States, but I would think it is a similar situation. (Correct me if I am wrong please) And also Nigerian-born boys who came in recently and brought violent crime with them from Nigeria. A few years back, while doing interpreting work for the London Metropolitan Police, I came across a young Nigerian who had been arrested on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. He actually could not speak good English. At a point, and away from the Interviewing Officer, I asked him what he used to do in Lagos. He did not hesitate to tell me he was an armed robber. I recoiled in shock, and he laughed and repeated it. I told him if he ever lets out that he’s an armed robber, they wont let him out. He was released that day for one reason or the other. I later met him at a drinking spot and as soon as he saw me, he ordered drinks for me, and told his “paddies” that I had saved him from deportation. I later learnt he is the leader of a Nigerian gang that waits for Naija women at big hall parties and relieve them of their money and jewelleries at gun-point. So much for “Nigerians in Diaspora”.
What about this? Western culture is causing havoc with our domestic and matrimonial lives. Here, I have to be very careful, otherwise I will be labelled as a male chauvinist by our womenfolk, but the fact is a lot of Nigerian women living abroad have assumed the misplaced independence of their western counterpart, and believe me, why not? I am not an advocate of oppression of women in any culture, but neither am I a supporter of “women’s lib”. As a matter of fact, women’s lib has been dead, even in Western countries for some time now. It has been replaced with “equality”. There are now a lot of “independent” Nigerian women, who because of their beliefs, have caused misery to their families, leading to a spate of separations and divorces. I hold up my hands before you crucify me. I agree our men are also guilty and mostly at fault in most of these situations, but we have to be realistic that where the wife chases her husband out of the house is not part of our culture. If you don’t agree with me, please give me an alternative. I am not in support of wife-beating or the man chasing the wife out too, but we have to find a balance somewhere. Admittedly, not all parts of our culture are good. A lot are obsolete and redundant in this modern world, but you see, even in these Western countries, though it may not be admitted openly, what God has ordained for man and woman still applies. Enough said, or I will get myself into further trouble with our womenfolk.
God said to work while you are young and then enjoy the fruits of your labour when you have grown old. Compatriots, I do not want to go back to Nigeria when I am over 60. There is no joy in it. There is a danger in growing old in Western countries. One, your children may put you in an Old Peoples Home, something very alien to our culture. Secondly, by the time you decide to go home and live, you will not be able to fit into the society. Thirdly, all your mates and friends have also grown old and may not be in the position to help you settle down. So do it while you are still relatively young. I had a relative who spent the better part of his adult life in the old USSR. In fact he was involved with their nuclear program at the height of the Cold War. It was said that the Russians would not let him go back to Nigeria, even to visit, because they feared the Americans would snatch him and make him reveal their nuclear secrets. So what my relative did was to send all his children to Nigeria to live with other relatives as soon as they are old enough to travel. This actually saved him, because, when eventually the Soviet Union disintegrated, and he finally came back to Nigeria, he had lost so much touch with Nigeria that he was virtually friendless. None of his boyhood friends could help him, as most of them had either retired or died. He had no connections in Nigeria, and the man lives in Nigeria a broken man, unemployable and friendless. It was his children, who he had wisely sent to Nigeria, who had to house him and care for him. A loss to Nigeria, actually. A brilliant nuclear scientist.
Furthermore, we have definitely overstayed our welcome in these foreign lands. Our reputation as scammers, drug couriers, corruption, etc is not helping. Most organisations now carry out extensive and exhaustive investigations on their existing Nigerian workforce and are hesitant in employing anybody with a name like Adegoroye, Akintokunbo, Chike, Chukwu or Ndekwu. And I don’t blame them. Even working for my organisation for the past 7 years, every year they ask me to produce a Criminal Records Bureau report. And believe me, at least in the UK, this is what obtains. Should I continue to live in that kind of environment where I am not trusted?
It is instructive and notable to say that it is not possible for all of us to go home either at the same time or at all. There are, for example, unfortunately a lot of Nigerians who would like to go back home but cannot, because of health and medical reasons. This is granted. We cannot all make it in the Whiteman’s land. As it is, a large percentage of Nigerians living abroad are barely keeping their heads above water financially. Let us face it, majority of us are struggling to survive here. Some of us came abroad hoping to make lots of money – some people think money is picked from the streets of London and New York – the reality is otherwise. Some Nigerians have made it beyond belief in these climes, no doubt about that, honestly and legally, through sheer brilliance, innovation and hard work and knowing what they want to do even before coming abroad. Some have also made astounding lots of money through illegal means. All well and good for them. A lot have been lucky with work, education etc. But what we can all agree on is that if you think you are going to be able to make loads of dollars and pounds sterling before going back home, you’ve got another think coming. I have been in the UK for 17 years and the banks are still chasing me (and charging me) for permanently going over my overdraft limit, and I thought me and my wife have good jobs. Savings? None? Mortgage? Paying through the nose. Bills? The constant nemesis.
Lord have mercy on us.
My take on this is that please you do not have to back to Nigeria. By all means, if you don’t want to go back, please don’t. But don’t criticise those who are running the country to the ground, because you don’t have the right. Neither do you have the right to feel the pains and sufferings of the ones left behind, no matter what amount of money you send home to your people. They want you there to help the larger community, not only your immediate family or clan. They want you to help kick corrupt leaders and political charlatans out. They want you in place to help them, not yourself only. They want to say, “Yes, our man is there and he will definitely alleviate our problems and he or she will not embezzle all our money”. They want to be able to say,” Yes, see that man in Abuja or the State House or in the Senate? He is a good Nigerian”.
I was going to write an advice on how to go about going back home, but I decided against it, because I will only be talking about my personal experience and strategies, which might not be applicable to everybody because our situations and circumstances are different.
I would say that this article is directed only at those Nigerians who really want to go home with sincerity and commitment and purpose, who want to help build the country and save its people from corruption, selfishness, greed, poverty and enslavement by a corrupt few. It is not always an easy option, but bear in mind that a lot of Nigerians have gone home and made it. Also bear it in mind that many Nigerians who have never or rarely stepped outside the shores of Nigeria have also made it, albeit more arduously and under more difficult conditions.
It is always my happiness and pride when I hear and read of Nigerians excelling in life, both within and outside Nigeria, and we should continue to promote all those positive aspects of Nigeria, not denigrating us as a people and as a nation. Even there are numerous Nigerians who are quietly achieving unbelievable things all over the world, without publicity. I respect and adore them and commend them too. But let us do these things to make an impact on our very own people and country. It is all well and good if Nigerians contribute to the development of mankind, but it’s a great disserve to ourselves and humanity, if such development are not transmuted to our own people and country.
I sincerely wish all of my compatriots the best in all their endeavours. I have a very resourceful and hard-working Nigerian sister in Birmingham (not Alabama, USA) who has given herself until December of this year 2007 to go home. I sincerely pray for her success in Nigeria, and I have no doubt she will make it in Nigeria. If she can make it here in the UK, I have no doubt of her capabilities to make it in Nigeria without stealing from her own people. Nigeria is not always the best of countries to live, but live there we must, and change that perception, or else there is no hope for us. Absolutely none.