September 29, 2023

Here versus there, By Donu Kogbara

Here versus there, By Donu Kogbara

THIS week, the American President, Joe Biden, appointed two Nigerians, Osagie Imasogie and Chineye Ogwumike, to the 12-member advisory council on African Diaspora Engagement in the US. Earlier on this month, Adewale (“Wally”) Adeyemo, who has been the deputy secretary of the US Treasury since 2021, visited Lagos to address business leaders and meet technology innovators.

Many Nigerians in the US, Canada, UK and other foreign countries are doing exceptionally well or simply earning decent livings as government officials, doctors, nurses, lawyers, civil servants, entrepreneurs, entertainers, bankers, sports stars, hairdressers, academics; and so on. The list of employment areas in which Nigerians based abroad have established themselves is a long one.

Given what a depressing basket case Nigeria has become, it is hardly surprising that so many home-based Nigerians are tired of trying to survive here and keen to join their successful overseas brethren.  “Japa” – a Yoruba word meaning escape is now firmly ensconced in our national lexicon. And the desire to japa is widespread.

It’s not just frustrated youngsters who want to run away from the multiple dysfunctions and limited opportunities that Nigeria inflicts on its citizens. I know plenty of thoroughly demoralised older folks who wouldn’t say “no” to a fresh start on the other side of the world. All that is holding these wannabe japees back is the fact that it is hard to get foreign visas and work permits, especially if you are past your prime. Relocating also costs money that most people don’t have.

A cousin of mine who is desperate to flee went so far as to say that if White slave traders show up on the shores of Nigeria today, he and most of his friends will gladly queue up at the ports where the slave ships are docked to offer themselves up for enslavement. “And,” he grimly added, “we go even carry our own chains to the port because we no wan’ hear, while we are queuing with hope in our hearts, that their own chain don’ finish so they no fit carry us again!”

So I pointed out that White slave traders were evil and that slavery was far, far, FAR worse than anything he and his friends are going through now. But he was adamant. As far as he is concerned, ANY route to abroad is better than sitting in Nigeria, “quietly dying”.

Thanks to this belief that anything is better than staying put in a toxic motherland that has betrayed them, thousands of Nigerians bitterly jump from the frying pan into the fire and have recklessly risked their lives in various ways, including embarking on perilous journeys to Libya, then entering leaky boats to reach Europe.

Once in a blue moon, they eventually get to where they want to be without injuring themselves or being hijacked by ruthless crooks. Once in a blue moon, they are able to make their dreams come true. But more often than not, they wind up as impoverished, exploited, terrified victims of pimps, drug dealers and human traffickers…or wind up just plain homeless, hungry, homesick, humiliated and dead.

Meanwhile, at the other extreme of the japa spectrum are Nigerians who can afford to emigrate through safe, legitimate channels and either don’t need visas or work permits at all OR can get visas and work permits fairly easily. Some even already own homes abroad.

I fall into this category. I have lived in Abuja for years but don’t need a British visa or work permit because I grew up in Britain. And I can probably get a job in the UK if I decide to return to the UK.

I used to be a high-flying Diasporan Nigerian. A huge portrait of me once hung in the lobby of BBC TV headquarters in London. Now I am a low-flying Nigerian trying to thrive despite endless obstacles. 

My mother died on July 22nd. I was solely responsible for her day-to-day welfare. I couldn’t leave while she was struggling with the illness that turned her final years on this earth into a nightmare.

Now that she has left me, I no longer feel tied to Nigeria. If Nigeria had been a nicer destination, I wouldn’t be feeling that Mummy’s death gives me a good reason to japa.

But Nigeria is what it is. And I – along with millions of other disgruntled elements – am emotionally exhausted by the chronic injustice, never-ending financial anxiety, corruption, cynicism, materialism, insecurity, incompetence, cronyism, etc.

I came here with a spring in my step, hoping to use the skills I acquired in top-class international organisations to contribute to the development of the land of my ancestors. And I have achieved almost nothing while all sorts of useless leaders mess us all up.

Blacks complain about racism in White countries. But tribalism abounds here. There are glass ceilings EVERYWHERE; and I have never felt as dispirited in Europe as I’ve felt in Nigeria. 

And don’t even get me started on the sexual harassment that is directed at Nigerian women who don’t want to sleep around!!!

ANYWAYS, Independence Day – Sunday October lst – is around the corner. And I’m not optimistic about the future.

What next?