I got a call last month from one of my closest friends. The voice on the other end was quiet and subdued. His daughter and her husband had just left his place. They came to tell him they were relocating abroad at the end of the month. Their explanation for the short notice was that they were given only two weeks to tidy up their affairs or forfeit the chance. ‘Just like that? What about his job?’ was all I could say. ‘What about their jobs? They both have good jobs.’
He corrected. I could tell he was crestfallen. She is his only daughter and the one who fusses over him. Her children come over at the slightest opportunity and they have a lovely relationship with my friend. In fact, her first son is named after him. It is certain now that there will be an emotional as well as a physical distance between them unless my friend who hates to travel, makes some adjustments. Its hard to say goodbye at the best of times.
But to have just two weeks to sever yourself from family, friends, belongings and job is just callous. But that’s the kind of regard the ‘Oyinbos’ have for us. We are not supposed to have any prior life until they give us one. They need labour at different levels and we are the labourers; their slaves by choice.
My Relationship Officer at the bank calls me daddy and behaves like a daughter. She even has a much closer relationship with my wife in whom she confides. Two months ago, she told me her family would be relocating in the first quarter of 2018. Her husband is a medical doctor. I tried all I could to dissuade her.
She in turn lamented about the stagnation in her job, stagnation in her husband’s job and the constant struggle to make ends meet. I do not know the husband but this woman is bubbly and intelligent and I have no doubt she would do well in the entrepreneurial world if she put her mind to it. But alas, a call to the foreign land beckons. A call which in her mind, is to a secure job and therefore, a secure future.
Over 800 medical doctors are said to have left our shores this year alone. Her husband would be part of the statistics for next year. As it is in the medical field, so it is in all the other fields. Our youths, the pride of our future are leaving in droves to foreign lands. Someone said we export crude oil and refined people. It is poetic but hardly true. The people who travel through the Mediterranean Sea are hardly refined; the people who find themselves in Libya and the desert are hardly legal.
But whether they emigrate legally through immigrant visas or illegally through the desert, whether they are professors or peasants, whether they are refined or raw, they have one thing in common. They are united in their quest for a better life. And for this they are willing to give up their identity, their culture, their root. For this, they are prepared to be dehumanised if necessary. It is tough enough to be in a place where you are needed but not wanted. It is humiliating and dehumanising to be in a place where you are neither needed nor wanted.
I can see with those who say we export crude oil and refined people though. Some of our best brains are in the diaspora. A good percentage of those who have not gone are looking for opportunities to set off. We read of them and when we travel, we meet some of them at conferences or when we have medical challenges. On the surface, they are poster individuals on immigration in that they have the trappings of success—nice house in a gated environment, dream cars in the garage, kids in private schools and a general quality of life that is only available to top politicians in Nigeria.
But a closer interaction shows the hunger, the discontent in their lives. There is the skin colour that cannot be washed away, there are names that cannot be completely anglicised, and there is the deferential, almost apologetic personality that is virtually ingrained in black immigrants. Above all, there is a heart that longs for home.
All these create a glass ceiling and an invisible wall that are limiting. A sort of ‘thus far and no further.’ On top of it are constant snide and denigrating remarks even at policy levels sometimes which remind you that you are not part of them. You do not have all the rights that indigenous—read that as white-people have. In other words, you are just another hired hand in the white man’s vineyard. It’s apt therefore to say that our significant exports to the world are good old crude oil and modern slaves described charitably as immigrants.
Many long for home but are in denial. But their searching questions and interests in home affairs betray them. Many realise when they yearn for the little things they miss at home, when they witness their children’s disconnect with Africa, when they find themselves without significant ties, that they have paid a heavy price for economic liberation. An adopted child no matter how well treated, knows somehow, that the DNA of his ‘parents’ doesn’t quite match his.
Yet, I can understand why people choose to emigrate. The quality of life is deteriorating. The jobs are not available. The infrastructure is decaying. On top of that, the politicians have cornered the commonwealth. A local government councillor earns more than a university lecturer; a Special Assistant takes home more than a Medical Consultant.
Salary cuts don’t affect our legislators. Yet, what bothers most of the emigrating professionals is the quality of our education and what it portends for their children. The next Industrial Revolution is going to be IT based. We simply do not have the tools in men and materials to prepare for this. Worse, we don’t care.
Our politicians are merely shedding crocodile tears over the plight of emigrants to Libya, South Africa and elsewhere. They know what to do. They should cut down on their fat salaries and release funds for massive infrastructural remodelling. They should stop stealing money and transferring it abroad.
Leaders who have no stake in Nigeria are easy to know. They are the ones who have money, properties and even children abroad. They should not be in government. Nigeria is blessed. Very blessed. But our leaders behave as if there is a curse on them. We have to learn to look inwards and fight for a change from within. There is no place like home and the system—and leaders—that makes potential emigrants out of us must be changed. The time to start is now!