As much as I love stories, I am discovering that when they reflect present day experiences of ordinary people in Nigeria, they are sad and painful. As a die hard enthusiast for the enterprise called Nigeria, I have been at the forefront of encouraging friends and acquaintances I have met in foreign lands not to forget home, to invest in Nigeria and to work towards going back.
Today however, given the high level of insecurity within the country, I ask myself if I have not been advising these friends to proceed in the wrong (and dangerous) direction.
Story number 1.
This one is about a work colleague who became an adopted sister. The day she told me she would be going home for Christmas after a number of years with her child and siblings, I was quite happy. However, she was bewildered when I asked her entourage to sleep at the airport till the next morning given the time they would be getting into Lagos. My response to her enquiry as to why, was that it would be safer for all of them.
Four weeks later, she came back to me with dejection on her face. In agony, they had cancelled their flight home for Christmas losing money in the process. It later transpired that her uncle and aunt, whose daughter she would have been travelling home with, had just been attacked in their home in Lagos, beaten black and blue with hammers despite their old age.
What crime had the old folks committed? Their crime was travelling abroad to felicitate with their daughter who had recently graduated from university. Their absence from home for four weeks, and eventual arrival back in Nigeria was the ticket for hoodlums (that same night they got back home) to assume they had been picking pound sterling up on the street of Great Britain, and were back home with sack loads.
Story number 2.
I have a very good friend who has sworn never to return to Nigeria. Just as he seems to be changing his mind following persuasion from me, this story about his brother-in-law has steeled his resolve never to have anything to do with the country.
Armed hoodlums have attacked my friend’s brother-in-law three times in his own house in the last one year. From all indications, the hoodlums seem to be the same set. The first time they visited, they struck him with an axe and shot his brother. The second time, they stole all they could cart away from the house, “plus including” food items. The third time which was a few weeks ago, they threatened to kill him in front of his wife and vice versa, and threatened to kill their children in front of the couple and vice versa. Despite neighbours frantic call to the police on their behalf, the law enforcement agencies never turned up.
The most disturbing aspect of this second story is the robbers’ parting shot. They asked their victim to apply for licence to have a gun. As far as I am aware, such guns are meant for wild life gaming purposes. However, the night marauders intention is to come back to collect the gun from him within two weeks, and your guess is as good as mine as regards the usage to which the gun will be put. Failure to acquire the license and gun, his entire family will be wiped out when next they come calling and they are found still living in the house. Of course, the man packed his family out of the house the next day to look for a rented accommodation.
Given the above true life stories, I therefore ask myself if this is the Nigeria I have been asking my friends to return to? Is this the Nigeria Obasanjo, NIDO, and Joe Keshi are asking Nigerians in Diaspora to come and invest in? How many similar or worse stories than the two above, have been recounted by Nigerians in Diaspora on the basis of first hand experience or occurrences that touches their relatives?
With the killing of Bola Ige, the attorney-general and minister of justice of the federation like an ordinary fowl and without any visible sign of justice months after, I identify with the argument of Nigerians in Diaspora who have decided not to go back home, either to visit or to settle. It is sheer madness to work so hard (and against all odds) to legally acquire properties abroad, only to move back to Nigeria and lose all in a few hours to marauders – if one’s life is spared.
Gone are the days when we all came abroad with the hope of sojourning for just a short while, and returning home. These days, home is where you can sleep at peace, where you do not have to barricade yourself in like a prisoner, where you can invest without thinking of the probability of losing everything by the following morning. Home is in a foreign land.
It is ironic that in a foreign land where you are seen as a second or third class citizen, you can walk freely and go about your business anytime of the day without any concerns. But when it comes to Nigeria, your own fatherland and motherland, you develop a morbid fear of travelling home, fearful of who is aware of your coming, scared of revealing the date of your arrival and departure. Arrival in Nigeria turns you into a fugitive, sleeping in one place today and at a different address the following day. Your life is constantly in your mouth. The mere backfiring of a vehicle in a traffic hold up is enough to send every one diving for cover, and children playing with fireworks unannounced in the middle of the night is enough to keep you awake till the next morning praying to your God to deliver you (from armed robbers’ bullets).
Thus, the most important factor that discourages Nigerians abroad from visiting home, to talk less of thinking of investing and living there, is insecurity. Daily living in Nigeria, and definitely a visit home by Nigerians in Diaspora, is playing lottery with one’s life.
Unfortunately, Obasanjo seems to have misplaced priority. Instead of using his powers as President to deal with those that are making life, property and investment insecure in Nigeria, he is busy flexing his muscles in Owu, and terrorising the kingmakers who are not ready to dance to his tune in the selection of a new Olowu.
Until the federal government provides a secure environment for lives, properties, and consequentially investment, it is a difficult road to tread trying to attract Nigerians home to share their knowledge, skills and resources in moving the country forward.
Lucky Dube, the South African reggae singer asked in his “Taxman” album, “Do you wanna be a well fed slave or a hungry free man?”
When push comes to shove for Nigerians in Diaspora, I guess our song will be a twist of Professor Wole Soyinka’s classic, “I love my country, I no go lie, but outside am, I go live and die”