Kunle Aleshy was seething with rage. He paced around the dimly lit living room like a caged tiger. Every glance towards Nike was filled with horrible disdain. Is this male chauvinism gone awry? Why is he mortally envious of the success of Nike in the UK? Kunle works for an insurance company in Lagos but spends his yearly Christmas vacation in London among celebrating friends. When Nike Budeyin finished with her pessimistic portrait of Nigeria, Kunle, the optimist, could not wait to offer his take on the reality of Nigeria.
This is the robust reaction of Kunle to Nike’s syrupy glorification of life abroad: “Permit me to say that Nike has a problem of self-loathing. I have come to realise that our so-called successful women professional abroad are arrogant, comfort-crazy, materialistic and unpatriotic towards their motherland. I know that it is hard to dethrone pessimism from the throne of our heart and mind. Believe it or not, Nigeria is emerging strong from the ashes of its past poverty into a new universe of opportunities, wealth creation and prosperity. But you see, Nigeria of tomorrow is a hidden treasure from people like Nike who merely travels home on a two week flying visit. Nigeria of tomorrow has so far been hidden by today’s self-inflicted prism of unrelenting fault-finding, self-scourging temper of an average Nigerian.
“There is a peculiar disease which is very common among Nigerians. I call it the tyranny of forgetfulness. Or to those with intellectual pretence, a cementation of collective memory! Do you remember that at one time we were all consumed by the back door entry of SAP-structural adjustment programme, locally called austerity measure? Then IMF had Nigeria in its greedy coil. We shouted. We cried. We panicked. We fell for the professional sadists and mourners, yet we rode out stronger and better. Since then, I have dropped pessimism for optimism especially in matters relating to Nigeria’s destiny. Common sense keeps reminding me to count my blessings rather than my losses.
“Unsophisticated readers of our local news media might think that from the way we moan about the present cost of living, that we are a nation of poor zombies. No, we are not. We make our pain look as if it is incurable. There is palpable fear of Umaru Dikko’s wish becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But God forbid, Nigerians are yet to be eating from dust bins. But Oyinbos do! I have seen this with my two shinning eyes in Euston.
But folks, countrymen and women, come to think of it, we have never had is so good. I swear our life in Nigeria is better now than ever. I work and live in vibrant and throbbing Lagos with all its mayhem. God bless Fashola. The terrible ugliness of Lagos is under his cosmetic surgery. And when you look around you today, what do you see? There are multiplicity of German foundations for mansions and flats in all corners of Nigeria. Look again, what do you see? Marbled mansions, Spanish-style villas and Florida-inspired sprawling houses decked with swimming pools. Now take another last look, what do you see? Swanky American Escalades, muscular SUVs, beastly BMWs, rock-solid Jeeps, sexy Mercedes Benzes and vast array of new Honda cars imaginatively called, end of discussion! Can we really cry poverty when young Nigerians hug and cruise the streets with beautiful cars?
“If you come to Marina and Broad Street in Lagos you will find an assortment of provocatively glamorous, beautiful, elegant and curvaceous women with air of confidence, achievement and power. Can we afford to worry ceaselessly when most Nigerian ladies are looking damn terrific and sexier? I know they wear long, false horse hair? Who cares?
“Now a different picture should be emerging about us at home. We are better housed, better fed, better looking and better clothed than before. Also, we have more expensive cars, more spending power, more romance and more sex. Going further, we spend more on drinks than ever. Our consumption of beer, wine and spirit has hit the roof. Count the different kinds of wine and champagne we now swig from different countries. We spend over N20billion on these beverages annually. Nigerians abroad who moan about hardship back home may not remember the hungry 70’s when it was quite common to see children barefoot and in rags. You had to be well up the social ladder to afford a good shoe or even a gas cooker. Things are better now. My children go about in dry-cleaned T-shirt, smart jeans and a pair of expensive trainers. When dirtied, my wife imprisons them in our washing machines for cleansing purgatory, while we idle away time watching Kanayo. O. Kanayo as this Romeo of the East canoodle the bevy of Nollywoodized beauties on our screen.
“Forget London, roaring time is here. Unemployment in the 70’s and 80’s was uncommon but where it reared its ugly head, it meant unspeakable poverty for many householders. Now, compare that with present-day unemployed youths, some of whom even own cars, girlfriends and their own flats.
“Of a verifiable truth, we take more holidays abroad but if you doubt this, go for the emigration statistics from American and European embassies in Abuja. In those days, it was only the well-heeled who took holidays abroad.
“Now the wretched of the earth are now finding their way to London, New York, Amsterdam, Milan, Paris, Dublin, Dubai and South Africa. Britain has more visitors from Nigeria than any other country in black Africa, excluding South Africa. Most of us are living like kings compared with the squalor of the sixties. Prices of things may have soared, but wages have also risen commensurately. In the 50’s, a married couple (my dad was a good example) earned £8.00 a month. This was what we commonly called chicken change when you compared that to the earning of a half-educated croupier in today’s casinos.
“Eight pounds was more than enough for my old man in those days, but in the 80’s, N1,000 could not buy you good food, clothes, wine and Choco milo. I marvel when Nigerians talk of lack in a modern oasis of plenty and overabundance. But could it be that we are a little greedy? We protest at the cost of a bottle of beer. But we are not short of cash to dole out.
“With heavy weight parties every weekend, ask Bisi Olatilo, we are squandering billions to entertain friends, business associates, girlfriends, honey mummies and event organisers. Today, more people own an average of two mobile phones, wide screen televisions and laptops. Today, our university students are younger. And it is becoming quite common to find graduate students at 23 in many of our campuses. Unlike in the past where graduates are mostly in their late 20’s.
“Today, the numbers of doctors, accountants, journalists, lawyers, bankers and brokers have increased and with it are vast opportunities that were sadly absent in the past. With more doctors, the outlook is brighter for our babies. Percentage of infant mortality rate has been halved since the 70’s. Money is been allocated to battle malaria and yellow fever. I know you have your NHS. Not to worry, we shall soon get there!
“You could smell money on many streets in Nigeria. The new generation banks have brought money and investment close to many who were once denied. Innovative and efficient financial planning, liberal lending and access to start-up capital have all made Nigeria a better place than ever to invest and amass wealth. We now have automated cash machines and there is availability of credit cards locally.
“UBA, First Bank and Union Bank’s mortgage departments have transformed many into homeowners. Stockbrokers, fund managers and pension fund managers have opened smart offices in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Port-Harcourt, Onitsha, Owerri, Enugu, Kaduna and Kano. Trillion of cash are sitting in vaults across Nigeria begging for risk takers.
I am sorry to say this, you see, many Nigerians who live abroad are investment timid. They complain that things are bad while the few and smart ones among their tribe are making fortune and changing the demography of Victoria Garden City, Lekki Peninsula and Maitama Avenue in Abuja.
“Even in my own insurance profession, handsome remuneration has overhauled the disdain people used to reserve for people like me. I have built my own modest four-bed bungalow and the sky is the limit for me in Nigeria. I have two kids in private schools and have a private company doctor who looks after my family. Media managers, editors, editorial board members, columnists and reporters now live better, own houses in Lekki and go on holidays abroad. In the 80’s, existential survival for most journalists was the despised brown envelope. Also, Nigeria is now a nation of 24 hours news media which was non-existent 20 years ago. AIT now beams news to us as they happened anywhere in the world.
“We are now a nation of fun seekers. We invade beaches with family and friends at weekends and on Saturday night we party in the many smoky joints in Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Lagos, Calabar, Kaduna, Jos and Enugu. However, I am not a blind optimist. There are still people who are genuinely hard up just like your poor people in Camberwell, Peckham, Brixton, Harlesden and other run-down inner cities of London. Initially, I had wanted to bring my kids to live and study here, but I had to change my mind when I saw the horror of ‘oyibo’ children. Parents are rearing talk-back, rude and disrespectful children in London. It is always, “what!” or “whatever!” to their parents. And they are lazy. My uncle washes his car while his 20-year-old son play games on his computer. In Nigeria would you be washing your car while your 20-year-old son ignores you? Who born monkey? Never!
“Thank God for Nike that she is happily married. London is a graveyard to Nigerian marriages. Within four years, seven out of the 10 married women I knew are now divorced and drying out in the singles ward. What is the problem with professional Nigerian women? I learned that women are given keys over their men in Council housing allocation. That they have the power to send their husbands packing just like that.
Is that not Western abomination? And our women are buying into this damning, worthless, empty white trash? I have also noticed that many Nigerian women in the European Diasporas are sad and suffer depression due to absent, non-contributory fathers whom they kicked out in a fit of demonic desire for freedom. Motherhood is kissing dust big time among Nigerian women in London.
“Well, Nike may not face armed robbers as frequently as we do in Nigeria, but British kids are worse on anti-social behaviour. I was told that children start smoking cigarette as young as 12. They go to classes with knives in their bags to defend themselves. And children are being jailed for knife crime. That they start cuddling and kissing at 14! How can I allow my children to live in such decaying world of minor promiscuity?
“Look at Boyo, my secondary school chum who had been here for 20 years. He has no roof yet over his head in Nigeria. He has been singing “returning back to Nigeria” for the last five years, but he could not make the move. Why? He is ashamed that he could not keep up with his old mates, materially, professionally and socially. He curses the day he hitched the expatriation wagon to London. He read Philosophy and what could he do with that other than drive the gravy train of Addison Lee carrier as a minicab driver? I pity this bloke for his wasted life. His story is enough to dissuade any would be sojourner, but, you bet, Nigerians will rather listen to Nike than a realist like me.
“Let me quickly say that Nike is being lured to a false sense of achievement and freedom. All the material trappings she energetically accumulates like the cars are nothing to the white man. Let her come to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. These are the epicentres where people will bow like zombies for your Hummer, Mercedes Benz, Pajero, Shogun and BMW. I was told that jealous people go about scratching cars like Nike’s in London? We do not do that in Nigeria.
“What more can I say, I decided from the start that I could not cope with racism? Granted that we have tribalism in Nigeria, but believe me, we all still get along fine. How can somebody just throw racism shit at me for 20 years because of unblinking electricity, free flowing water supply and good roads? Are those more important than man’s inalienable honour, respect and dignity? Are Nigerians abroad not paying through their wet noses to enjoy these modern, subtle entrapments?
“I know failed sojourners who have been abroad for more than 10 years but have nothing to show for it. My advice to them is that there is treasure in the darkness of Africa for the brave, the determined and the hungry. Rather than stay out of Africa, my battle cry for you is return and refused to be lured back before it is too late.”
By the time Kunle finished, I must confess that his Delphic wisdom almost had me in a hopeless bog of confusion. For minutes, I was like a man who was helplessly lost in a shuffle of contrasting paradigms. What then is the best option for addressing Nike’s pessimism and Kunle’s optimism for our motherland? Any great stroke of light in “get out” and “return home” as the two contestants suggested?
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