I wrote this weeks ago and it was published in TELL magazine.
I have not written in a long time and I wonder this morning, if I can still write. I hope I can. Over the time I had been away, there had been things I wanted to write about, things I wanted to share, things I wanted to complain about but each time I started to write, I would get distracted and then find myself unable to continue. It appears that season of ‘distractions’ has ended. Most writers experience seasons of ‘nothingness’, especially when writing is one of the things you do. Full time writers perhaps don’t struggle as much as people who write because they love to write. Who knows? Did that make any sense? I am back now, watch this space!
I had been working on a collection of poems which has been published and will be released as an ebook (titled ‘The Immigrant’) on Amazon and other online retailers in May 2014. The collection of poems is not necessarily autobiographical, but it visits my first days, weeks and months in the United Kingdom as a ‘JJC’ immigrant. The book tells a compelling, intimate and graphic story of the reality of life in the United Kingdom. The book should have been called ‘The Girl from Ibadan’ as most of the poems there are linked to the writer’s love for Ibadan, her home town. The preferred title captures all actual and wannabe immigrants in the diaspora and at home.
Honestly, before we became citizens of our host countries carrying their passports, most of us had to pay a price. Some had to marry, others joined the Army, Navy or Air Force, others waited ten long years studying, and some were illegal immigrants for fourteen years before they were able to change their status. Now, the rules have changed. It is not quite as easy any more to acquire that home status. Regardless of the route to citizenship in the United Kingdom, we were first lowly immigrants and some of us had to do grit work in other to earn some income in those early days.
Nigerians in the United Kingdom have flourished. Some are Mayors, leaders in medicine, engineering, law, business, academia, religion and indeed in every sphere of life. Unreservedly, the United Kingdom offers Nigerians an equal playing field to excel and Nigerians have taken up that opportunity. France is only two hours away on the Euro star but it is a much different ball game as black people are undermined and the stereotype is negative.
In Nigeria, it is a thing of joy and pride to brag about going abroad either for leisure, work or business. But sadly, when Nigerians encounter hard times over seas, there is less sympathy back home for them. About the prostitution in Italy, we abuse the girls and families of the girls for willingly given themselves up for the financial gains from prostitution. We encourage the government to deport them all. Once in Nigeria, we vilify them as HIV carriers. We berate those stuck in Libya’s prisons on their way to Europe. We ridicule those studying in Malaysia, Indonesia and India wondering how those countries are better than Nigeria? Yet, anywhere outside Nigeria is perhaps better than Nigeria today. The recent National Immigration Service scandal and the mayhem that describes Nigeria tell us
Nigerians travel overseas for greener pastures. Nigeria is hard. For those who cannot make it to the Americas, Asia or Europe, the African continent offers our people immense opportunities. In Ghana, there are over 1 million of us studying, working or doing business. East Africa and South Africa are our favorites. We are selling Nollywood, our charismatic Christianity (healing and miracle services included), fashion, culture, motor spare parts, and our music which includes Psquare, Dbanj and 2face. No doubt, Nollywood has created millions of opportunities and income for Nigerians and Africans in general but there are still millions of Nigerians who are not into Nollywood, who have skills and expertise but lack meaningful opportunities for employment.
The underlying point is that Nigeria’s harsh economic is hard for everybody except those who make huge amounts of money without doing much work like our colleagues at the House of Representative and the Senate. Ordinary Nigerians who routinely collect kickbacks from contracts are also part of this crowd. Regardless of how our GDP has been debased, the average Nigerian finds it hard to get meaningful pay for meaningful work. Many men who should be bread winners are crumbling to blood pressure problems as they watch –with their manhoods eviscerated- their wives struggle to bring in the real income. For those who can afford travelling overseas, going abroad to find to study, to work provides a life line. Even that option is not cheap either.
Immigration has its positives and negatives. Sometimes, the negatives of immigration are louder than the positives. Nigerians suffer untold hardship in foreign and unfriendly terrain when things can go horribly wrong. For instance, in South Africa low class Nigerians are fighting a losing battle with xenophobia and a rather nasty image of Nigerians as ‘druggies’. In Malaysia, our students are harassed and victimized by the police and authorities for all sorts of curious reasons whilst the Nigerian Embassy has its hands tied with ribbons. Mrs Abike Dabiri’ who leds the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Matters was told by the Director General of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Mr Femi Ajayi, last year that there are over 6,000 Nigerians in jails around the world. Tragically, Nigeria had more of its nationals in prisons outside the country than any other African country. Ajayi listed some of the countries as Iran 4,000, Brazil 500, Thailand 500, Malaysia 300.
The writer has just recently been to Paris where she met a Nigerian girl from Delta State who has decided she would remain in Paris against all odds. The problems she faces are financial: it is hard to find work other than as a cleaner in hotels, the pay is little but the work is hard. Secondly, her Delta accent obvious, it will take her a while to get fully immersed in the culture and language in Paris. This girl will face a long battle no doubt as she is only nine months into her Parisian experience. Immigration is not an easy decision at any time. New immigrants face loneliness, deprivation depending on their financial stability and most times they spend years moving in circles. Returning home is not an option. The shame of returning home with nothing to show for it is traumatizing enough.
‘The Immigrant’ unfortunately is not the sum total of all these outlandish negative experiences, perhaps other volumes would look into the general experience of Nigerians in the diaspora. The book looks rather narrowly at one experience which tells the story of the positives of immigration. This is the story of the hundreds of thousands of students who have some-how become successful immigrants in the United Kingdom. You will love to read it.