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Nigeria: A Home not so Homely.
By: Sly Edaghese

Published February 10th, 2015


This piece came as a result of a private mail I found in my in-box a couple of days ago. The sender was Marie, a Nigerian lady living outside the country. I don't know this lady personally, but the content of her letter was familiar. Marie was reacting to the feature article I wrote in the Guardian on December 23 with the title, "My Second Journey to America."

Here was what she wrote:

Sir,

I read your article in the Guardian of last week Friday. It was a most moving account and a tragic reality brought about by the insane people to which this nation has committed its leadership. It is to the eternal shame of Nigeria that a person of your status should have to go through this and worse still is the fact that you are not alone in this most telling episode. Nevertheless, I would be grateful if you could do a further write up, giving some advise on this issue of relocation because there are loads of us overseas who are yearning to return home but unsure of what we would meet on the ground, so that we may be well guided.

Finally, I know that it is still possible for you... to return the US. It is not over until you win. That is life!

Thank you,

Marie-Anna Lopez.


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Marie isn't the only one who has personally contacted me regarding the article. Apart from the comments several people have made in the Guardian concerning the article, up to this very moment I'm still receiving stream of emails and phone calls from readers commenting on the article.

One man called and told me he was 70 and that he had been living in Europe now for over 40-years. He said what I wrote in my article brought  him sorrow. "I'm ashamed that at my age I'm still sojourning in another man's country," he told me over the phone. He disclosed that he has some investments in Nigeria and visits home quite often, but that he's always petrified and horror-stricken whenever he comes home and sees the state of things in the country. He was particularly piqued about the poor level of safety and security in Nigeria as well the failure of government to provide the populace basic amenities, such as light and water. He also pointed to the bad state of the roads. All this, he said to me, has kept him back in Europe like a prisoner against his will.

You see, that article has ignited a controversial debate on the pros and cons of living abroad. That certainly wasn't what I had in mind when I set out to recount "My Second Journey to America." I wrote the piece solely to let those who had never been to America have a glimpse of the greatest country on earth, while at the same time providing those abroad an update of the current state of things at home.

You see, after I had been out of  America for 35 years, following my returning back home in 1980, I had learnt to take things in stride. I must confess it wasn't so easy in the early years of my arrival in Nigeria.  But soon I developed a thick skin to absorb shocks. Boy, many were the things that caused me shock in those early years. Power outage was number one. I could never understand why there would be no light in a whole community for days and everybody would carry on as if staying in darkness was either a virtue or a normal situation. Several other things, as I said, brought me shock. But gradually as the years rolled pass, I discovered I no longer saw anything abnormal again with the system. It's not that anything had improved. He'll, no! But just that I had become acculturated to the system I found on the ground. In other words, I had became a real son of the soil, a true, complacent Nigerian man indeed!  Nothing worried me anymore! My skin had turned to stone! Nothing could shake or move me, no matter how horrifying. I taught myself to sing when I should be crying; to laugh when I should be weeping. If I had to eat stones as lunch, in the face of biting hunger, I would lie to myself it was bread! Or if I ate a toad, I would pretend it was fresh fish! This was all part of the strategy to survive and hold your sanity.

Soon everything about America vanished completely out my mind. I was left with no index to compare how life was with me in America to the one I was going through at home. How the standard of living was in America before I left, for example, I no longer had any recollection. The only life I knew now existed, after thirty-five years of returning to Nigeria, was the one I saw everybody around me living. I began to accept things on their face value. Like everyone else in Nigeria, I learnt to be complacent and docile. You don't ask why things were the way they were. No, you don't ask that type of question in Nigeria!

Now, even though, as I said, I had been disconnected completely from America as a result of my long stay in Nigeria, I still knew in the inside recess of my mind that by all standards, America was way ahead of us. But how way ahead of us I had no idea until I made my second trip to America on November 15. There I discovered the disparity has deteriorated to a scandalous level where you now begin to think of America in terms of heaven and Nigeria hell!

The way I tried to capture this in my last article was this:

As soon as the Turkish Airline that brought us from Lagos touched down at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the difference was clear. You didn’t need to be reminded that you were arriving the greatest country on earth. You could feel it! You could see it! And you could even handle it with your two hands! 

I tell you the truth, as we stepped out of the massive airport and I beheld the beautiful buildings dotting the entire landscape, the well-paved roads, the bright streetlights, the civility displayed by everyone you came across and the 2014 Lexus jeep that came to pick us as taxi, I became nonplussed. It was as if I was in a magical dreamland. And it began to dawn on me why many in America scoff whenever you try to preach to them about the beauty of heaven, whose 'streets are of pure gold.'

Anyway, after I had done with the things that brought me back to America, among which was the public presentation of my new book to the NYU audience, titled "Long Road to America," I decided to return home. Within the few weeks I had spent visiting, I was able to use my sharp eyes, which I carried about like a detective camera, to store in enough materials that I needed to take back home and download for Nigerians to see. But looking at the contents of what my eyes had picked, I began to be afraid if it would be right to show them to Nigeria. You see, what my eyes caught were things that could bring us shame; things too delicate to speak about in the open without stirring up a riot or revolt,  particularly, among the youths. 

That notwithstanding, I still held my head high. A man of substance! A man of accomplishment! And I was glad I was returning back home to be with my people.  But then something happened that took the wind out of my sails. I recorded the thing in my last article thus:

Moses (a former Nigerian schoolmate of mine at New York University but now a PhD holder) called me aside and said to me, 'Sly, I want to tell you something. You have wasted all of your 35 years of life by returning to Nigeria after you left NYU.'"

Now, I don't know what Dr. Moses saw that made him to come out hard on me like that. Was he surprised, I began to wonder, that after 35 years of passing out of NYU with a bachelour's and master's degrees in Economics, I still agreed to be accommodated in the tiny room he offered me in his house? I knew, truly, the room he accommodated me in was more or less a storage room. Also I realised while I was there he would come around to me quite so often or call me through the phone to ask that, "Sly, you sure you OK?" I didn't know why he was showing such concern.

Anyway, whatever it was that prompted Dr. Moses to make that damning statement about me, I tell you, a statement like that was the last thing I expected from my host. And even if one was caste in granite, such a statement was sure to cause one to sit down and think. And that's exactly what I did. Many things began to run through my mind as I heard what Dr. Moses said to me.  I began to silently compare myself with several other former Nigerian classmates who heard that I was around in New York and came to see me. All of them knew my worth while we were together at the university. Now, just as I had it in the previous article: "They have all now risen to top positions in their various professions. They live in plump houses and ride the latest cars. One of them told me his daughter graduated from NYU medical school and works as a physician in a hospital in Brooklyn. Another said his two sons have Master’s degrees and are working full time in New Jersey.  Another one told me his first daughter, a practising lawyer, graduated from Harvard School of Law after earning her first degree at NYU."

If I could bear all this, what followed next got me completely crestfallen  and empty, and I began to ponder indeed if I had not made a fatal mistake, just as Dr. Moses had said, by returning home in 1980 after I had completed my studies at NYU.

What happened next was this, just as I recounted it in last article:

Odion, a very young cousin of mine who gave us a ride to the airport on our way back to Nigeria in his 2014 Honda Pilot, said to me: “Owanlen (meaning Senior), you are wasting your talent in Nigeria. Why not try to relocate here? It will be hard for a time, but you will get over it. Nigeria is hell to live in."

Truly, who would hear this from one you almost could be a father to and would not be moved to tears?

And just as Odion had described living in Nigeria as living in hell, the moment our plane touched down at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, the signs of ‘hell’ dotted the entire space. What did we see? Again as I put it down in my previous article:

First, the lift and the escalator were both not functioning. Passengers with heavy hand luggage had to either carry them on their heads or dragged them through the narrow staircase to the ground floor. 

The arriving hall had no working AC (Air Conditioner). Those of us coming from the freezing weather in New York with cover coats on had to strip ourselves virtually bare, because the whole place had turned into a steamy oven. 

The lights in the airport, unlike those we saw at JFK, were very dull. You hardly could see your feet. And it took us over two hours of baking in the suffocating hall before we could retrieve our luggage.

What followed the publication of the article, as I have said, was a deluge of comments. Now as I round off, let me present a few of the comments here so that everyone will know we have a big problem on our hands. 

Comments:

***Sly, I shed tears after reading your story. I came to England at 20 and now I am 42. But despite all you're going through, I don't think you have wasted your life returning to Nigeria...Free Speech.

***Sly, your story could easily be the story about so many of us. I too left behind a successful career as a software engineer to return to Nigeria more than 20 years ago. Looking back now, I have asked myself so many times whether I had made a terrible mistake. So many hopes dashed. A country that seem governed by the 10th eleven, and with no hopes of redemption in sight. Yes, so many of my hopes about Nigeria were dashed. Yes Nigeria can sometimes be a living hell. But I would encourage you to try and find the courage to remain positive and not feel that you lost 35 years. It is a bag of mixed feelings, and I feel your pain...Gaul

***Sly, you returned against all advise from your friends because you had hope to make a profound and glorious impact in Nigeria. Unfortunately that never be, because the Nigerian situation became a question that answers question...Onehi Ufuah

***Sly, I have always believed that this country will be better again. But when? The bitter truth is that Nigeria needs a bloody change...Samuel Philip

***Sly, I feel so sorry and sad that a country that was meant to give you and many others hope has become an object of misery and getting worse by the day with none to care. But we must keep hope alive for the future generations...Joe odiboh

***My brother, life is a challenge. Your story moved me to tears but it is well with you. Who knows what plans God still has for you. It is not over until it's over...Bamidele Ola

***Sly, my story is a near opposite of yours.  Educated in Nigeria, I rose to the top of my profession, then came to the US. I have no regrets for my action. I am not rich but I am comfortable. No worries over armed robbers! No bad roads, no power outage. Internet is reliable and fast, etc, etc. My kids are going to the best schools in the world. I rather think parents here are closer to their kids than in Nigeria. We spend more quality time with them because we cannot afford house help...Boliatepa

***Sly, you have wasted your time, big time by returning to Nigeria...Cray B.

***Sly, your story could have as well been mine.  At 60, I still remember the day I left Philadephia 32 years ado...Chyke

***Sly, your article moved me almost to tears, for I am one of those who came to the US and never returned home. Trust me, despite those nice cars that seemed so enticing, many of us here are still left with an inexplicable emptiness. Deep down, Sly, there is that feeling that you're a better man than we will ever can be!...Marc umeh

***Sly, what can I say? We that are currently in Nigeria often feel despair...Akinwale

***Sir, I cried when I read this. It's well. You did not waste your life. No, you're a lion, fearless and willing to face life. You are my HERO...Vikipiper.

***My dear man, you did not waste your life by coming back to Nigeria. There is more to life that what those your American friends have. I loved reading your very honest chronicle and will like to meet you in person, to at least comfort you. And maybe help out... Jon West

***Dear Sly, I came across your article on the Guardian Website and I thought it was brilliant - Well written, articulated and truthful...Have you ever considered writing for a major sport net log, perhaps own a column specifically dedicated for your writing career?...Babatope.

 

Sly Edaghese, a novelist, is based in Lagos.

slyedaghese@yahoo.com

Phone# 2348028287553


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