There has been an increase in the number of Nigerians in the diaspora making the return journey back home. This phenomenon known as reverse migration may have started at the beginning of the new millennium with the re-introduction of civilian democracy after long years of military dictatorship, a period that witnessed mass exodus of Nigerians who went abroad in droves in search of better life.
One could argue that the various socio-economic reforms of the Obasanjo government provided some kind of incentive and renewed hope in the Nigerian nation amongst many Nigerians in the diaspora. The renewed calls for Nigerians abroad to come back home and contribute to nation building and the increasing alienation and frustration experienced by many Nigerians living abroad may have contributed to the first wave of returnees. The second and current wave of returnees may have been persuaded by other factors, most importantly the current global economic downturn which kicked in sometime in 2007 resulting in job losses, repossession of homes and other assets in the developed economies where majority of the Nigerian diasporan professionals reside.
Nigerians living in the diaspora still contemplating the return journey back home are best advised to familiarise themselves with some of the challenges they may face when they return, so that they can at least be better prepared. The first hurdle to cross is the ‘mindset hurdle’. How does one start being a Nigerian again after long years of living in near-perfect and enabling socio-economic systems? How does one begin to deal with the issue of living two lives; that of a ‘Nigerian’ and that of a ‘returnee Nigerian’, with each life having its own demands and expectations. Can one easily get on in life in a system without any social safety net? How does one overcome the various infrastructural challenges including housing, energy, transportation etc?
There is also the big issue of getting a job or starting up a business. It is on the job angle that many returnees may question their original decision to come back home. The sudden realisation that not a lot may have changed since they left the shores, and that there are still not enough jobs to go round becomes a bitter reminder of the many lost opportunities to nationhood by successive governments. With mounting bills including mortgage repayments, credit card bills, college loans and other expenses waiting to be taken care of in the countries they are returning back from, it is not surprising if frustration sets in if after a short period, especially if there is no major breakthrough in business or career in the new Nigeria that is expected to absolve all the millions of Nigerians currently living abroad. The matter is not helped by the fact that the oil and gas, and banking sectors which showed a willingness to absorb the returnees have now shut their doors to diaspora recruitment as an after - effect of the global financial crises. Perhaps the telecommunications and other sectors may still present potential alternatives.
Perhaps the most challenging issue yet, one which yours truly suffer the most is that of living apart from one’s family. According to Ade Oduyoye of jetpages.com, "Quite a number of friends have now had to maintain their father and husband roles remotely". This is worrying. The situation is such that before embarking on the return journey back home, the returnee, usually the man or husband elects to keep his family behind in the safe and stable environment while he undertakes the journey by himself to initially test the waters, after which the whole family will be relocated. Such initial plans of 3-6 months absence usually extends to a year or more as things are not usually as simple as they may seem. At this stage, emails, chatrooms, facebook and mobile phones come to the rescue but all these can hardly substitute the physical warmth of one’s family. For some like me, you resort to following the progress and growth of your kids through weekly email photo updates. The other alternative is to commute regularly on your frequent flier package or your family does but this has major financial implications.
Charles Okoli, a manager with UBA in Lagos says that this is his biggest challenge yet since he moved back home 2 years ago leaving his wife and 3 kids back in the U.K. "The original plan was for them to join me a little later but that didn’t happen for some reasons. I miss my wife and kids and sometimes wonder if it was the right decision to have relocated to Nigeria in the first place, not when you have a young family and can’t watch your kids grow up".
There are mixed views from various Nigerians who have braved the odds and plunged into the unknown world of the journey back home. Onyinye Adigwe who returned home in 2009 after completing an MA in Music Business Management from the University of Westminster says that she doesn’t regret her decision, "Though I’m yet to get a job, I still like the fact that Nigeria is a developing country. I can put a lot of my ideas and talents to good use while waiting for a proper white collar job. So many businesses have run their course abroad and such ideas are yet to be trialled here, we have enough population and resources to carry them out in Nigeria".
Arthur Ekwensi, Senior Consultant at Woodhouse Consulting, a Brands, Events and People consultancy who came home in 2008 after several years of living in the U.K however cautions Nigerians living abroad to look carefully before they leap, "People have got to assess their personal circumstances before coming home. You can not hop on the flight to Nigeria because everybody is doing so. You have got to be clear in your mind which values you are coming home to add, the mere fact that you have lived or are living abroad is no longer an express route to a good job in Nigeria".
There is hope still for those who are considering making the move. Formal and informal support networks are gradually developing in churches and local communities to ensure a smooth return back to the fatherland by the returnees. This is also not taking away the importance of family networks in the process of re-settlement. For example, on any given Sunday at my local church - This Present House, The Dome located at the end of Admiralty Way, Lekki Lagos, you will find many Nigerian returnees, many of whom their accent give away easily. Those who have been back for some time now help new returnees to settle in by sharing experiences. There are also many church activities to engage them while they go through the motions of settling in once again. Pastor Toni Rapu and his team also have a good way of encouraging returnees by bringing to the notice of all emerging business and other opportunities.
There may not be an easy way to settling back in Nigeria as one can only gauge the warmth or coldness of the water by feeling the water. Although Ngozi Okafor, a 2009 returnee from the United States is planning a guide book to relocating back to Nigeria, but still that should not replace the benefits of practical and first hand experience.
Even if one has the benefit of securing a job before coming back, it still has to be said that the process of settling into a system one has left for many years does take a while. I am still not fully settled in after almost a year of relocating back but you can bet that I don’t plan on going back again. This is my country, and as they say, East or West, home is the best. Nothing beats the satisfaction and joy of living and working in one’s own country, and contributing your quota no matter small, using the skills and experiences you may have acquired abroad to making your country great again.