By Uche Nworah
I got together recently with two of my friends, I call them brothers. One is into construction and he does a good job of it. He had earlier taken us to one of his project sites where I observed that he had mainly Ghanaian artisans. He says they are more reliable and come with superior skill sets. Another loss for our economy and teeming unemployed youths I tried to argue but his defence was superior so I gave up.
The other friend is a financial services consultant with expertise in tax advisory. We are all returnees having sojourned variously in Europe and America schooling and working. Armed with the much desired UK and American citizenships, we heeded the return home (Akuluouno) call early enough when we were in our 30s.
We talked about almost everything, family, career, Nigeria, and Nigeria again. Was it a good thing that we came back? Are we fulfilled? How are we coping with being apart from our families still living abroad? Do we think that our sacrifices for Nigeria matter to anyone? Where do we see the country Nigeria in the coming years? What did we think of the security challenges; Boko Haram, armed kidnapping, banditry and other crimes. Is the government doing enough to curtail rising poverty and unemployment? What’s the solution to the almost non-existent healthcare in the country? A situation that has made Nigerians to fast, pray and hope they would not fall sick. How do we cover millions of Nigerians outside the social safety net, who perpetually depend on handouts for food, house rent, children’s school fees, hospital bills etc.
A reason why Whatsapp platforms have become the new GoFundMe, as Nigerians are daily inundated with requests to join one platform or another and contribute money for one thing or the other, burials, payment of hospital bills etc. What can be done about our decaying infrastructure, and rising national debt etc?.
As we bantered, midway, the viral news and video of the Abia state – born, Borno state based primary school teacher and her encounter with Borno state Governor filtered in. We discussed that and rejoiced at her small fortune (cash and promotion). We also frowned at a system that is satisfied paying a school teacher with over 30 years experience N30, 000 monthly salary.
I often get asked by friends and family living abroad on how best to relocate back home. My answers have always been positive and upbeat. I am not so sure anymore. It’s tough living out here guys, I must tell you. Forget what you see during your short visits, and the lifestyles of some of the returnees you see on social media. Late Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti captured the Nigerian situation very well a long time ago in one of his songs, he called it ‘suffering and smiling’.
Living and surviving in Nigeria everyday is a miracle. Former Governor of Anambra state, Mr Peter Obi was asked in a February 2020 interview if he has had a near-death experience, Obi said: “What is more threatening to someone than living in Nigeria? We live under constant threats here.”
In a homily on the 11th of February 2020, at the Funeral Mass of Michael Nnadi, the 18 year – old seminarian who was kidnapped and murdered by Boko Haram terrorists, His Lordship, Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of Sokoto diocese said that, “our nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids”. Continuing, His Lordship said that “Nigeria is on the crossroads and its future hangs precariously in a balance”.
Perhaps former Governor Obi’s response and Bishop Kukah’s statement sum up our dire situation.
If you are a Nigerian living in the diaspora and have been contemplating relocating back to Nigeria, ask again, must you really come back? Life here ‘get as e be’. Home should be where the heart is really, please make home where you currently live.
Treat Nigeria the way you treat a long distance relationship. Miss her, love her, come back to her when you can, enjoy her but go back again to where you live and ‘hustle’. Don’t come and kill yourself for nothing here. To quote Bishop Kukah again; “Sadly, or even tragically, today, Nigeria, does not possess that set of goals or values for which any sane citizen is prepared to die”. You are probably more important to your family and loved ones living outside Nigeria because at least, you can remit back some money to take care of family emergencies, help pay family members’ school fees etc.
There is a new wave and trend of even ‘successful’ Nigerians selling up and relocating to Canada and Australia, currently the top relocation destinations. This trend has even elicited an upcoming publication by the Africa Polling Institute titled ‘Deconstructing The Canada Rush’. Trump’s American anti-immigration policies and the UK Brexit crises have made the two countries no longer so attractive.
Despite the social mobility of some ‘successful’ Nigerians, many can not afford to pay the school fees of their children. Growing up in Nigeria in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, school fees was never a problem for our parents. Unfortunately, many of us now struggle to pay school fees for our own children, something our parents did with their eyes closed. This is the reason why many people now control their births forced by economic conditions. How many people can afford the high school fees charged by private secondary schools and universities these days, without borrowing or selling treasured assets?
For these and other reasons, migration continues to remain very attractive. In an essay in the Guardian newspaper of Tuesday, 12th February 2020, Babatope Babalobi quoting from different sources say that 15 million Nigerians live in the diaspora, 60 million Nigerians presently living in Nigeria are planning to leave if they have the opportunity. The numbers are rising. This accounts for Nigeria’s inflow of $17.57 billion in direct diaspora remittances between January and November 2019, according to a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) data.
As I was writing this, the news of the attack on innocent passengers by Boko Haram in Auno, Borno state killing 30 passengers and destroying 18 vehicles broke. Also the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) released a rap sheet against Senator Theodore Orji (former Governor of Abia State), and his son Chinedu Enyinnaya Orji, Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly. Both are being accused of misappropriating a mind-boggling sum of one hundred and fifty billion naira. No wonder things are the way they are here, and everyone wants to escape before the ship wrecks.
Back to my meet-up with my brothers, we had lunch, ate abacha (Igbo native salad), and drank red wine. Before we dispersed, we arrived at the conclusion that while our adopted home countries in Europe and America still offered more attractive living conditions, we may well have passed our prime to think of relocating back. Where are we going to start if we went back, having been away for a long time, and having invested professionally, socially, passionately and emotionally in Nigeria these past years?
‘We die here’, we concluded.