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 woman who left Nigeria seven years ago. She’s lived in Scotland and England so far. She talks about how leaving religion made all her friends cut her off, and how she’s grown past the idea of living in Nigeria.
First things first, how long have you been in the UK?
I came to the UK for college in 2013, but I was in Scotland for about a year. In 2014, I started undergrad in London. 2017 to 2018 was my master’s, I went back to Nigeria for a year to do NYSC. I got married in Nigeria, and I moved back this year. So that’s roughly seven years.
Did you initially move with your family?
All my siblings were in the UK by the time I moved.
How did you feel when you started living in Scotland?
In college in Scotland, you’d see girls with purple hair, tiny shorts, crop tops. Scotland is cold and I don’t know how they managed to pull that off. Before I moved to the UK, I had done a year of undergrad atin Niger Delta University (NDU). There, you couldn’t wear sleeveless clothes past the gate. The security man would embarrass you. Another weird thing in Scotland was professors and teachers telling us to call them by their name.
Definitely. During orientation, I met a bunch of people, and we became friends in the first week. There was an Indian, a Pakistani, a Russian, some Columbians and some Scottish people in our squad. It was in bonding with these friends I realised that once you’re out of Nigeria, you need to watch the way you speak. There are some things you’ll randomly say in Nigeria that you can’t say here because they’re not “progressive.”
Did you have an incident?
Yes. One time in college, I was talking about God with a friend, and her friend was there. She was Muslim, I was Christian, and he didn’t believe in God. I remember saying something along the lines of “Well, I won’t discriminate against you if you don’t believe in God,” and the atheist guy got a very bewildered look on his face, like “What does that even mean?”
Haha. Did you say you “were” Christian?
Yes, but leaving religion wasn’t due to culture shock. I blended into British culture as much as I could. My religion was part of my social life. When I left Scotland for England, all my major friends for at least one year were church mates. It was a lot of fun. We used to go out to a lot of parties and clubs a lot. It was great. But I was already getting some progressive ideas.
Leaving religion was because of religion itself. I started dating my husband when I was religious. I used to be a Jehovah’s Witness. In 2018, one of our big conventions was coming up, and at that point I had already red flags with religion. I had questions. So I decided that I was going to listen and study this time during the convention and let the word dig into me and all of that. It was that extra listening that messed everything up. Everything just started sounding very very silly.
It was a three-day program and I was supposed to invite my husband to part of the third day, but I couldn’t because I was just there thinking “If he hears any of this, he’s going to think I’m crazy.”
That was the beginning of the end. I started researching and watching a bunch of videos and that was it. Apart from when I moved to Nigeria and had to make my mum happy and all of that, that convention was the last time I stepped into anything close to a Kingdom Hall.
How did that change your perception of life?
First off, I lost my social circle because everyone cut me off. After that, it was just an extra fear of death. Before, I used to believe in resurrection after death. But now I had to accept that it was just a final sleep.
Even till now?
Yes. But I channel those thoughts into loving more and appreciating life. Because I only have one, I might as well make the most of it. I stopped restricting myself to opinions and views I had in the past. I just owned it and then I reconnected with some old friends. Leaving religion was scary, isolating and free.
That’s cool. What’s it like living in England?
I live just outside London. It’s been weird because of Covid-19 and lockdown so everything is on hold. When we moved, we went to London a lot because London is 30 minutes from where we are if you use a train. We would go to the theatre, restaurants, or shows. We saw Dave Chapelle live. I slept.
Then we went into lockdown. During lockdown, I started baking and my husband started working from home. So we would be home 24/7. We would bake, eat, sleep, watch a movie, and record videos for our YouTube channel.
What kind of videos do you make?
We review Nollywood movies.
I’m also job hunting.
How’s that going?
I started job hunting when I got here. Covid-19 was teasing, but it wasn’t that deep. I was applying for jobs at universities because that’s kind of the space where I want to be. When lockdown happened and the schools closed, the jobs went on hold too. There was really nothing to do so I put my job searching on hold. A couple of months ago, I started applying again, so many people have become unemployed as well so the job market is full.
Do you think it could be harder for you to find a job because you’re not British?
Not right now. Before I went back to Nigeria, I was job hunting and a lot of my problems were because I needed my visa to be sponsored. I almost got some jobs but because I did not have residence and they couldn’t sponsor my visa I lost the opportunities. But now they don’t need to sponsor my visa because I have a spouse visa.
Wait. Please explain that for Nigerians like me who don’t understand.
When you’re on a student visa, you can switch to a work visa if you get a job and the company is willing to sponsor your visa. They’re not paying money for it or anything. They’re just saying “This person is in the UK because they work for us.”
Not every company has a sponsorship license and getting one is not so easy. So they would rather just interview and hire a lot of home and EU people. But my husband is a resident here, so after we got married, I got a spouse visa which means I’m technically a resident as well.
Does it mean you can stay there forever?
Something like that. When my visa expires in about three years, I need to apply for an extension, and then after the extension, I need to apply for my resident visa. British people will always look for a way to eat your money for you to stay.
What are the chances that all of this will work out?
Very high. As long as you’ve gotten your first spouse visa, you’ll get the second one, except they have reason to believe that you and your spouse are not really married. It’s easy from there on. You’ll get your citizenship in about 5 years.
Nice, so you’ll be a British citizen soon. Does that excite you?
I don’t think about it a lot. I just want it for the passport. I want to travel. Visa applications are the worst. I feel I wasted my uni years studying instead of travelling. I had a friend who said she was feeling stressed so she went to Italy for a day. You can’t do that unless you have a visa, but having the red passport is a beautiful thing.
I can’t wait to start travelling. Tickets are actually very cheap. The last time I went to Paris, a round trip ticket was about £60. I want the freedom of the passport.
What would make you come and live in Nigeria again?
I’ll only come back and live in Nigeria if there was a war in England I can’t go anywhere else.
I don’t hate Nigeria or anything, but being there really stresses me out. When I moved back to Nigeria for a year, I didn’t feel like I really fit in anymore.
I was biting my tongue on a lot of stuff even the things that I decided to talk about would have my mother freaking out.
I like to consider myself as one of the most benign feminists ever, but in my area in Nigeria my views were considered too extreme. I would say something simple and the older ones would be losing their minds.
I did NYSC, but there are parts of it that were kind of a humiliating experience and that just killed the whole Nigerian experience for me. Imagine someone inspecting my NYSC uniform and telling me to turn around or someone giving me a blade to cut my NYSC uniform because they don’t like it.
It sounds silly but those are things that put me off from coming back to live in Nigeria. I can fight for my rights here with my chest, but you can’t do that in Nigeria because they will mess you up. Imagine trying to claim that you know your rights with a Nigerian police officer. I think I’ve taken myself away from that culture and going back into it will be hard.
I also have learnt to dissociate myself from the idea that I have to be smart because someone might be trying to cheat me and I don’t want to have to learn that again.
What do you miss about being in Nigeria?
My friends and my family.
What’s the best thing about living in the UK?
Freedom. I feel more like myself if that makes sense.
And I don’t have to fight to go to the market.