New Year’s Eve party in the leafy suburb of Borehamwood in hidden Hertsmere. I sat lazily on the sofa with a cup of warm bohea. Saheed Osupa, Alariwo of Afrika and Ayinla Omowura, a peerless hero of blessed memory, got me wriggling like a cut snake on the leather sofa. Many of us have driven from our little neck of the wood all across the UK to congregate and feast on Christmas turkey and the usual ‘assorted’ generously supplied by Aunty Mabel. Isi ewu made Anambra famous. Gallantly, I settled for what made my hometown of Ibadan famous which is a thrilling combination of amala blissfully drown in ewedu and gbegiri.
In such hallowed mood of jollity, we then began to offload our diasporic joy, pain and achievements. We calibrated our struggles without any dark mask of pretence. We fell into the narrative recreation of the present state of Nigeria under a regressive enthronement of collective punishment called Umyanisation. We took account of the social, economic, political and cultural stagnation that had taken place since President Umaru Yar’Adua became the spineless, gormless matador in Abuja. We talked of the febrile vacuity of perverse form of governance foisted on helpless Nigerians by the evil permutations of Obasanjo. Right in the midst of our vibrant mix lurked the diasporic networks of social exchange at its best.
For the many souls lost in the wilderness of Diaspora, Nigeria is our hobbyhorse. There can never be any immunisation against the disease of ‘Nigeriana’ where three or more inebriated Nigerians are gathered. I was given the job of a fugleman. I was given undeserved nobility as leader-moderator between two polarised camps of opinion about Nigeria. That required me to show a high sense of detachment between the optimist discussants and hardened pessimists.
This is the unedited, unvarnished and unscrambled story of Nike Budeyin’s triumphant battle against her motherland. “In 1999 I won the war against Nigeria. It had been a long war of real emotional anguish, tears and broken dreams. The war deflated the balloon of my hope in Nigeria and, sad to say, black Africa. Each day, I woke up to confront the reality of being a black woman in a forgotten continent of squalor and waste. Each day, it dawned on me that looter-rulers in black Africa had no vision. They had no plan to create opportunities for their fellow citizens. Each day, I had to fight the demon of tyranny and the psychological effect of being perceived as a third class citizen in my own country.
Before making it out of Nigeria, I was a believer in Afro-centrism. The sentiment that Africa was the cradle of civilisation was part of my daily mantra. The idea that Africa is a great continent made me proud. Until 1999… That was the year of my deliverance. The year I escaped from the oasis of darkness to a bright, shining light. I guess some might demur at the betrayal of my place of birth, but the sad and touching truth is that I owe Nigeria ‘nating’. Rather, that country still owes me a great deal and still refuses to settle. Cynical, unpatriotic, pessimistic, and pathologically unbelieving: these are my shield against Nigeria.
Living abroad has thrown up the plethora of abnormalities which dehumanise us as a race. Daily, we cheerfully absorb the cruelty of living without electricity. Helpless and pulverised Nigerians had to queue for days to get petrol to move them around. We exist and subsist in a vast ocean of chaos. The perilous sight of sun-drenched humanity in Idumota and CMS bus stops as they are squeezed into death contraption called, Molue, always invokes moral revulsion. Dreams are destroyed, aspirations are withered and opportunities remained stubbornly elusive in a country that is supposed to be a beacon of hope to the black race.
All the tools of mayhem, murderous madness and speedy deaths dot our cities. Uniformed men and women constitute real and present danger to poor Nigerians. They slap, beat and even kill for paltry N20.00 naira with no hope of justice. All the joy of having a taste of what life and living should be are daily eroded by a lecherous, parasitic vermin class of oligarchy who feed shamelessly on the petro-fortune of commonwealth of Nigerians. Such cascades of images where the only economic growth is poverty and nothing functioned but the institutions of corruption and the rise of urban armed robbery and banditry are enough to cause dismay in the most hardened optimist in UMYA’s ‘sebum boints azenda’ programme.
A cat is said to have nine lives. In Nigeria, a poor man has eighteen, empty lives. In retrospect, I still wondered how I managed to cope in a continent that had slipped from Third World to ‘nating’ world. Until 1999, I lived with loathsome dirt, animalistic brutality, pained planlessness and deep pessimism. I woke up each day with complete mesmerism that one day good thing might come out of Nigeria. As a starry-eyed young dreamer, I regarded Nigeria as a great country.
At least that is the ever-present propaganda on the dry lips of our looter-rulers—–“this our great nation”. It took me years to debrief myself from the monumental myth of Nigeria’s greatness. Yes, in the deep recess of the average Nigerian’s subconscious, Nigeria is seen as a great country. That myth starts to crumble when one realises that, in brute practical terms, Nigeria has nothing to show the world for her wonderful greatness. The vigour with which so many optimists called Nigeria a great country still baffles. In fact, Nigeria is worse than all other black Africans quarantined together.
We exhibit the continent’s worse traits. Brutality, e dey there! Corruption, we own the copyright while others merely plagiarise. To growth, we prefer stagnation. And proudly, we are the 13th poorest nation on God’s own planet earth. Nigeria, the greatness figment, not withstanding, has had six coups in her 48 years of retrogressive existence. Satanic Sanni Abacha made it back to hell with the unbeatable record of being the richest looter-ruler in black Africa.
Great Nigeria with all her fabled wealth and brains is now the new colonial outpost for rapacious Chinese, Indians, Lebanese, Israelis and Italians. The Chinese, Indians and Lebanese known notoriously round the world as merciless exploiters have balkanised NEPA, NPA, NITEL, Ajaokuta Steel Mills, Oshogbo Steel Rolling Mills and various sectors of our oil industry. Government aside, Indians are now the second employers of labour in great Nigeria!!! In a moment of greedy epiphany, our rulers have sold the future of Nigeria to foreigners under the guise of privatisation.
The Chinese, Indians and Lebanese are the clearest danger confronting the destinies of most black African nations. They are drawn to black Africa by the twin evils of greed and corruption of our looter-rulers. The Chinese in particular are the pilloried, soulless ‘chincos’ with new imperial ambition for the entire African continent. Great Nigeria is the only country on earth that actively encourages her brightest and best to look for greener pastures elsewhere. The only country on earth where government officials will brazenly aggrandise public money and yet receive national award for moving Nigeria forward!
Look, I must say that the fear I had when I made that giant leap in 1999 had turned out to be the best decision of my life. My finest moment! Being out of that rat hole called Nigeria has unlocked a positive Pandora box of untapped, latent skills and potentials I never knew I had. My escape from Nigeria has made me a rich, comfortable, professional, self-sufficient and a happy go-lucky woman. I own my own palatial 8-bed house in Lagos with manicured lawn and fitted with the latest modcons-modern conveniences. As a professional in the UK, I earn a modest £1,000 per week doing a career I picked up by chance and without a certificate to prove any pretence to academic excellence. My skills and experiences are enough to get me a job without the boss demanding a shagging twosome in a remote hotel on an IKEA bed.
My escape from Nigeria has made me rediscover the meaning of hope and optimism. For the past 10 years, I felt the absence of tyranny, chaos, poverty and man’s wickedness. The forces of adversity and regimented existence that punctuated my old life in Lagos have all given way to opportunity and well-ordered life of peace and quiet in a very rich, salubrious borough of London.
Life abroad has given me security of life and limbs. I drive around the streets of London in my gleaming 4×4 Lexus with a soft, modulated and jazzy voice of Pamela Williams serenading my satisfied soul. At weekends, I let lose my hair and cruise around in a sexy, sturdy-looking, fearsome, silver Mercedes Benz which comes complete with customised 18inch alloy wheels and 12-CD changer. The fear of being wasted by ubiquitous red-eyed monsters we called armed robbers are gone forever. The fear of being torn, limb by limb by Nigerian police personnel at checkpoints does not give me any jitters. It had been 10 years since I divorced myself from poverty, diseases, cruelty, greed, corruption and sudden death.
With British passport in my kitty, I can now give a winsome smile and say….”I’ve got the power!” I have brought my mum over. All my siblings have been here on summer holidays and are doing fantastically well with the small businesses I help bankrolled. My children have far more life chances of realising all their potentials, dreams and ambitions than most kids in Nigeria. No wonder, your looter-rulers send their kids here to study abroad. Who wants his children to be victims of wasted generation who will eventually ship into area boys?
My children have computers in their rooms and can email friends, family and classmates from the comfort of my home to the tune of Paul Hardcastle’s “Zen Warrior” at the background.
I pop my vitamins in the morning. I run hot bath after work every evening to the burning, vanilla smell of Body Shop candles. Do you blame me? I need to pamper my soft, succulent body so beloved by my husband of 21 years of blissful conjugality and who still makes love like a prize-fighter. He is a naughty ‘bednovator’ who still cherishes complex configurations of positions on our futon bed. My bank accounts are like a fattened cow that needs to be culled. Daily my heart is full of gratitude to a country that reinvented and gave me my destiny back!
Nigeria, like any other badly managed, badly planned black African country, is a place where life torments you from birth to death. The only way to break free is to follow my carbon footprint and get out fast. Rather than slip into prostitution, I will encourage every Titilayo, Bola, Nwaloko and Ndidi to take the plunge and embrace a post-Obama risk. Busty ones among you are especially welcome. Big chest is always on demand in the West. Tell my sisters back home that it is time they told those amorous Alhajis who wanted them as side chicks to go hang their tiny drum sticks. People need to take hard decision and forget the idea of redemption through Umyanisation. I will say it again, tell those girls back home to take the risk and get out. With luck, the war against that country called Nigeria may be won”.
When Mrs Budeyin finished, I did not know whether to laugh or cry at her hortatory words. The message was clear. Unequivocal. Bald. Bold. Direct. Even glaring in its immediacy: get out! If she had paused to consider, she would have realised that the endless flow of opportunities and affluence she now enjoys in London result directly from the blood, sweat and tears of others. And again, no matter how many fattened cows are meowing in her bank accounts and the British passport, she and her children will remain strangers in a white man’s land. Perhaps I am just being a fool. Yet something tells me that even then, the answer cannot simply be to “get out”. After all, some Nigerians are returning back home!
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Note by the Writer: This piece was first published in the Nigeriavillagesquare in January 2009. Eleven years after its publication, all the fatalities that had wobbled Nigeria’s aspiration to greatness are still there and getting worse.