The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a Nigerian-American who returned to Nigeria about 3 years ago. He talks about the reasons he moved to Nigeria, having to do NYSC so he could get better employment, and almost getting kidnapped by armed men disguised as members of the Nigerian police.
What was growing up like?
I grew up in a pretty stable household. My mum is American and my dad is Nigerian, but they fully settled in the US, so that’s where my siblings and I were born.
During holidays, we always had fun activities planned, whether it was travelling to other countries, going on group camping trips in the desert or just the children going to summer camp. We were always doing something.
Tell me about these summer camps.
Omo, they were super immersive and educational. The foundations for a lot of the things I know now were built at summer camp. One could be about art and craft, another about biology, another about cultures from around the world.
One summer, I returned from camp and found out my parents had gotten divorced while I was away.
I was 14, so I could see that they had some slight issues, but I didn’t think they were big enough grounds for divorce. Or maybe I just didn’t understand at the time. My younger siblings were home when it happened, so they found out before me.
How did this change things?
My siblings and I had to shuttle between both parents’ houses — two weeks with one parent, two weeks with the other. For me, this went on until I finished high school and went to university. The divorce didn’t affect my relationship with either parent though. At that point, I didn’t care about being with family so much anymore. The entire thing made me not want to be at home as much, so I took every opportunity I had not to be at home — school, a friend’s house, anywhere. If it wasn’t a complete family, there was no point being there.
I feel you. As a Nigerian-American, did you ever feel like you were missing out on your Nigerian side?
Not really. First of all, the camps I went to made me mix with a lot of people from different backgrounds and learn a lot about other African cultures, so my African identity was strong. I also had family around that I saw from time to time and I travelled to Nigeria, so I wasn’t missing out on much.
Also, my dad is an amazing cook and he always made the best Nigerian meals, so we were constantly reminded of what Nigerian food tasted like.
Sweet! I was going to ask how often you came to Nigeria.
I saw pictures of myself in Nigeria as a toddler but I don’t remember any of those trips. The first trip I remember was when I was about 13. We all went to a funeral. I loved the experience. I can’t remember how often we went to Nigeria after that, but the next major time was when I moved to Nigeria after university in 2018.
Moved!? I refuse to be distracted. Tell me about university first.
LMAO. I first tried to study a computer-related course, but I left for another university to study a health-related course because I wasn’t enjoying the tech life. Honestly, nothing super fun happened in university. I was close to my grandma, so I promised her that after university, I would return to Nigeria to learn Yoruba from her.
Aww. How did that go?
Well, she passed away a month before I finished university so we couldn’t do that. Till today, I can’t speak one word of Yoruba. Still, I moved to Nigeria the month after I graduated. I’d already planned to and I didn’t want my grandma’s death to stop me.
I moved in with some relatives and integrated into the Nigerian system pretty easily. I got an internship that paid peanuts because I hadn’t done NYSC. There, we did radio shows that promoted some products. From my first month there, I already loved it, so I was hooked.
What is one thing about Nigeria that took time to get used to?
The systems, man. It’s glaring that the reason systems don’t work is because some people profit from the dysfunction. I initially had some desire to make some change, but omo, you quickly realise that Nigeria’s problems run deep and anyone who will fix them would have to fight battles.
LMAO, deep. Here I was thinking you were going to say “Jumping danfo”.
LMAO. Integrating into Nigeria wasn’t too hard because I had family and made friends at work pretty fast. But then, there was the little problem of NYSC.
Couldn’t you just wave your American passport in employers’ faces?
I didn’t fully understand the power of the passport at the time. I didn’t grasp that I could work as an expatriate in my own country.
So you did NYSC.
Yep. I started in 2019 and finished in 2020. I was still working at the same company I started with when I got to Nigeria, but by this time, I had been promoted to leader of the Business team of the organisation.
Sweet. So you’re just chilling now.
If chilling means almost getting kidnapped by armed fake policemen in the middle of the night, then yes.
Give me the tea.
Because of my cornrows and accent, I’m a target in Nigeria. This means that the police stop me a lot and when they do, I have to do some explaining and probably part with money.
Three weeks ago, I left my house around 11 p.m. to go to a friend’s house. I hadn’t gone too far from my street when two policemen flagged me down with a flashlight. One was armed, the other wasn’t. They asked for my papers, and to see what was in my boot. I popped the boot open for them but they insisted I stepped out of my car to show them. They didn’t see anything suspicious in my boot so they decided to search my shoulder bag. When they saw my ID card, the unarmed one started shouting, “You have fucked up today! We have caught you.” I remained calm because I thought they were just trying to collect money and this was a scare tactic — Nigerian police 101.
Every time I tried to ask a clarifying question, I was met with the same thing, “You are stupid, you’ve fucked up, we’ve caught you.”
After some time, they asked me to get in the car because they were taking me to the station. I didn’t even recognise the name of the station they were saying, but I decided to go with them anyway because I didn’t want to resist arrest. The one with the gun sat at the back, while the one that did most of the talking drove. At some point on the trip, I started adding things up and nothing seemed right. I realised they didn’t show me any IDs even though I asked and they didn’t answer any of my questions correctly. It was suddenly obvious that there was something wrong, so I started thinking of ways to escape.
We were now some minutes away from my house and I had to act fast. It was midnight and I had to do whatever I could to get the attention of as many people as possible. On the road, there was a vehicle approaching and I saw this as my chance. When we got closer to the vehicle, I snatched the steering and swerved straight into it, causing a huge crash. Immediately that happened, I started fighting with the guy who was in the driver’s seat, but the one at the back ran away. After struggling for a few minutes, I eventually put him in lock hold with my legs. Nobody intervened because it was weird that a random guy was fighting a policeman in a car that had just crashed into another. They just left us and watched. After some time, he escaped my hold, so I shouted for everyone to hold him because he was a fake policeman and they did.
There was a police station nearby, so they took him there.
Omo, this is a whole action film. What did the police do?
I didn’t stay around long enough to find out. I called my friend who I was going to visit and they told me to get out of there ASAP, and not set foot in the police station because I could get in trouble just for being in that situation. They could pin a random crime on me. I exchanged numbers with the guy whose car I crashed into and went back home. The next day, I called him and paid to fix his car. That was the end.
You didn’t follow up on the case.
Not at all. I hardly told anyone about it. I just continued my life like nothing happened. I even went to get drinks with friends the next night. My office people only found out about it this week.
I was around the area where it happened a few days ago and I ran into one of the people that helped me apprehend the guy. He told me that he heard from the police station that the guy was also armed. He had a pistol that I couldn’t see. That just makes the whole situation a lot scarier. He also told me that they were waiting for him to indict his partner in crime before they proceeded with the case.
Omo. Sorry you had to go through that.
It was a wild experience, but thankfully I won’t be experiencing that anytime soon again because I’m going back to the US.
I have student loans to pay and I can’t pay them by earning in naira. I’ll go back, get a job in the health sector, and stay for however long it takes to pay my student loans.
Do you see yourself returning to Nigeria?
I do, but this time my focus would be on helping Nigerians japa. There are so many young people in Nigeria who deserve to be earning more and living at higher standards because of their talent, intelligence, and what they have to offer. Nigeria can’t offer a lot of young Nigerians what they deserve so my project in Nigeria would be to help them get what they deserve by opening ways for them to japa.
Please take me with you on your second coming.