by Tola Sarumi
My friend once announced to a room full of dinner party guest, which was being thrown in his honour, that he doesn’t understand why so many young Nigerians want to come back home. “Well,” I piped up, “I’d go back home, given a good job and a safe place to live”.
“You want more than the average Nigerian has, what gives you the right to expect that. You know what, Tola, hmmn, you’re one of those virtual Nigerians, you people who reside on Facebook-ville and tell us what we’re doing wrong, you people who don’t want to come home to help us clean gutters yet you demand clean streets!”
He loosened his tie and raised a toast to the ‘VNs’.
It was all in jest but, I must admit, I was slightly stung by the phrase. Still, he had a point, what is it we in the diaspora want from Nigeria? What do we expect, what are we willing to do and or give?
I have spoken with enough Nigerians in this country, The UK, to conclude that we want what anyone else would want out of life, what should be reasonably expected out of any orderly society, nothing more than what I suspect, your average ‘actual’ Nigeria wants.
I need to become fully Nigerian again but I read somewhere that it may require me to lock an essential part of myself somewhere for safe keeping, just in case it does not work. And it is this option of ducking out when the heat gets too much to bear that essentially leaves our commitment open to question.
In my own quest to disambiguate my ‘Nigerian-ess’, I have taken several trips back home since 2011, spoken to a myriad of folk on how to get started and I’m no closer, I must admit.
Yes, I know I am not quite the type to indulge in the amala politics of my hometown, Lagos Island. I’d bring a table fork to the table, I’d insist we divide the portion and not all delve in at once, but see I’m being short sighted, I’m sure the list of politicians who returned home from the diaspora is quite a long one? Men who’ve had many a bowl of amala served and did not once make the mistake of pulling out a fork. Amala is sweetest when you dive in, its palatability enhanced when the fingers meet the lips, no? So, if getting involved in the rough and tumble is what appeals, one’s hands would have to be washed and ready.
What does Nigeria mean to its citizens in the diaspora, we who are the most vocal, we who managed to escape its (darkest) vortex? I offer no explanation on that, suffice it to say, Nigeria means not one thing to me in particular and it means everything simultaneously. I’m itching to ‘get involved’ to engage in some meaningful action that’ll provoke change but I’ve no idea where to start.
So, do we want to run for political office or do we want to mold political ideology? A lot of are caught in this feet shuffling hybrid, well, not everyone will write beautifully woven prose on ‘what is wrong with Nigeria(ns)’ nor are there many willing to give (the problem that is) Nigeria what it really takes. This could be dangerous and we are returning from places where local councilors respond to letters about potholes, offering profound apology.
(Actual) Nigerians cannot do things the way we’ve enjoyed abroad, forget the badly affected accents that some of our brethren at home seem to be adopting these days. What we have to offer has to be more than a readout of the litany of ills with the country, they already know.
I have spent two-thirds of my 20 some odd years out of Nigeria, I am far out the actual loop but at the same time, I’ve stayed plugged in through (the unfairly bashed) social media platforms. We VNs, birdcage activists or whatever mildly derogatory moniker you’d prefer to tag us (or shall I say me?) should be able to fashion a space for dialogue that can be the catalyst for change, without being viewed as usurpers.
That said, we might need to defer to ‘actual’ Nigerians. They have to take the lead, there is a Yoruba saying that goes ‘Eni ti’o mo onaa ko gbodo daa ipadé’ – Which roughly translated means, ‘he who does not know the lay of the land should not appoint the place to meet’.
A lot of us already enjoy unfair advantages over our counterparts back home. The seemingly coveted accents comes naturally to us; we hold shiny degree certificates from foreign schools that are automatically more credible than the easily frowned upon qualifications from Nigerian schools.
So, when table is set, I hope we understand that while some meals will be enjoyed with fingers, the way they ought to be, the way forward has to be a mixture of Suya and thick cut chips, eaten with aluminum foil tipped toothpicks.