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Square pegs in round holes

By Donu Kogbara
I HAD been living in the UK for nearly four decades when I decided to relocate to Nigeria, largely because I wanted to see more of my parents and partly because many people – including some of the most influential VIPs in this country – told me that my professional skills were needed here and promised to help me settle down.

I’ve now lived in Abuja for 10 years and I am sorry to report that I have often felt like fleeing back to London because this is not an easy place to fit into if you have a foreign mindset and aren’t accustomed to corruption, chaos and tribalism!

I imagine that I would have coped more efficiently if I’d received the substantial assistance that I was promised. But Nigerian VIPs are not always as reliable as they should be and the substantial assistance never materialised.

The soft landing and solid mentoring I’d been led to expect was, alas, not available.

Big boys who had urged me to sell my UK residence and come home did not display any interest whatsoever in my welfare when I reached these shores with my English husband and our small child. The disappointment was crushing.

To be fair, it hasn’t been all doom, gloom, angst and tragic betrayal. There HAVE been some good times. There HAVE been a handful of useful career opportunities. There HAVE been a few sincere supporters.

But my Nigerian experience has been pretty shocking and traumatic overall, not least because my marriage did not survive the multiple stresses that my family and I were compelled to endure.

Having said all this, it doesn’t make sense to blame all of your headaches on other folks. It is necessary to accept some degree of personal responsibility for one’s failures.

So let me humbly admit at this juncture: That I wouldn’t have wound up becoming a divorce statistic if I’d had a sufficiently strong relationship with my husband and that my Nigerian experience would have been a much happier one if I had been more streetwise, more flexible and more enterprising.

There are individuals who are less well-connected or less well-educated than I am who are triumphing over various adversities and becoming immensely successful. And not all of them grew up in this environment. Some are “returnees” like me.

Some are even “aliens” – as in Lebanese, Europeans, Americans, Indians, etc.

Also please note that while I have had access to major decision-makers since birth, some of the above success stories didn’t know a single VIP when they started out.

And I’ve therefore concluded that nature is a more important factor than nurture.

Friends frequently tell me how “too Oyinbo” I am and encourage me to toughen up, get smart and learn how to get the best out of “The System”. But we are who we are.

I initially assumed that I would eventually sink into a comfort zone and eventually achieve more. But I have gradually realised that I will always be a square peg in a round hole and always feel like a fish out of water and always find it extremely difficult to dynamically negotiate my way through Naija corridors of power.

So, dear readers, it is, at the end of the day, kind-of my fault that things haven’t gone as swimmingly as I’d have wished since I moved here.

Marital issues aside, I haven’t adapted cleverly enough to local realities. And I’m certainly not alone.

I know ladies and gentlemen from every geopolitical region who are in the same boat. Interestingly, while many of them spent their formative years abroad, some spent their formative years here and are struggling as much as “newcomers”.

One thing all of the above have in common is personalities that are not compatible with prevailing norms and serious problems that arise from this fundamental disconnect. The bottom line is that they are simply not Nigerian enough.

Whenever I sit down with these beleaguered fellow travellers to discuss our respective predicaments, we wind up agreeing that we’ll probably have more joyful and prosperous existences if we pack our bags and take off to an overseas haven in which people who aren’t hard-edged or shrewd can thrive.

I recently met a very contented Frenchman who has been based here for over 30 years. He described himself as “amazingly assimilated” and told me that he absolutely adores Nigerian culture and has made more money here than he could ever have made in France and has no intention of going back to his roots.

I was feeling particularly depressed on that occasion and told him that we should, perhaps, switch citizenship and identities, so that he can take my place here while I take his place there!

He laughed and said that I struck him as being more quintessentially European than African…and that he has met many Nigerians who like Nigeria far less than he does and would enjoy France far more than he does.

Whenever I tell my Nigerian pals that I am tired of not fitting in properly and have been marginalised or rebuffed too many times and feel increasingly tempted to accept defeat and carry my inability to be Nigerian enough back to the UK, they express disapproval and imply that I am being unpatriotic or too damned weak.

But I doubt that God intended every single member of the human race to doggedly stick to the territories that their ancestors inhabited! Surely, some of us – whether we are white or black or brown or yellow – were meant to be expatriates?

Do any Vanguard readers share my view that it is excessively sentimental to insist on living in Nigeria if Nigeria does not appreciate your talents or suit your psyche?


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.