Nigeria never completely frees you. It just gives you some breathing space.
Another day, another barrage of news from Nigeria. Even with the physical distance, the news permeates my space from every angle — WhatsApp, Twitter, TV — prompting emotional reactions.
In truth, it’s not like I imagined I’d be completely disconnected from Nigeria when I took flight 2 years ago. Understandably so; having been born and bred in Nigeria, my entire being is shaped by the country not to mention deep family, friends, and cultural ties. However, I did perhaps naively imagine having at least a period of sustained non-interference where I wouldn’t require a self-created bubble to live. You know, the bubble — self-professed hope, misconstrued resilience plus the peculiar nuances that spur you to keep living, doing what you love amidst the characteristic dramas — NEPA, Police, SARS…
But then, when hashtags like #EndSARS stay trending for over 1 week with grim accounts after accounts including images from the #LekkiMassacre prompting emotional reactions that have you tweeting and retweeting, praying, donating resources, staying on lengthy calls with family and friends, it dawns on you that Nigeria never completely leaves you. To think any of these victims could easily have been me, my siblings, neighbours, colleagues or friends has me reflecting deeper about how Nigeria maintains its stronghold on you regardless of your geographical presence.
Living outside Nigeria is as much as difficult as living within her. The sheer helplessness one feels sometimes is terrible. And that’s what I dread. That phone call or WhatsApp message that speaks of a problem I can’t directly address; it’s a psychological trauma that haunts me. It’s why Nigeria has never ceased from my prayers since I departed her shores. It’s not like I’m some religious prayer warrior. Rather, I can’t think of a better weapon in situations where you’re helpless to do much. For many, the ties are simply too deep to ignore happenings at home.
In light of recent happenings, I ask myself, what’s changed? When in the last 2 years have I not had to share in the burden of folks back home? This is beyond hashtags! I’m talking crying over needless deaths, bailing out friends and families etc.
They say living in Nigeria demands constantly praying. Well, living abroad hasn’t ended it for me. With every WhatsApp message or news about accidents or ailments, I go on my knees praying. Even the wealthiest of folks know that money has its limits. Plus, I’ve always believed that you’re only as wealthy as the responsibility or burden you carry allows. So, it’s understandable when I fear that any call about a family member getting kidnapped, falling seriously ill or getting locked up for anything has me on my knees. It’s one thing to read about diaspora remittances and another to live it crisis by crisis, pay check by pay check. It’s how much the homeland burdens you. From the ‘please send anything’ to ‘help me find something’, it’s Nigeria’s way of haunting you.
If any, what you leave behind when you depart Nigeria is it no longer has control over you in terms of infrastructures, unemployment etc. Not that straightforward! I could argue that given the direct impact these issues have on those you have ties with back home, you equally feel the burden although psychologically. For example, your share of burden over an unemployed sibling. The chain of ties is what ensures a sustained direct or indirect backlash from the systematic issues bedeviling us.
It’s not as easy as ‘e no concern me’ or ‘make everybody answer their papa name’. Think about it. Your favourite nephews, nieces, cousins are growing up, getting into schools, making seemingly cheap demands; ones that remind you of your younger self. Remember when you made demands of that unku or aunty abroad.
In my local Church, it’s the same. With a congregation dominated by Nigerians of average age 40, the ties to the homeland are fresh and deep. From conversations and testimonies, you find you share a lot in common dealing with issues from Nigeria. Sometimes, I wonder if there’s a struggle to banish some memories just to stay sane in the present abode. But it isn’t that easy.
Amidst all these, I think about my daughter and many like her born and growing abroad. How effective will their loose ties be to sustain this kind of emotional connection to Nigeria. Would happenings in the homeland trigger the same empathy or emotions that it does to me? My hope is that they never have to deal with these issues. And that directly means that, things have to get better in Nigeria. The momentum of this unprecedented #EndSARS agitation will catalyse similar ones that will eventually force the hands of those in power and shape the direction of our country. It is my hope that the remote support of Nigerians in the diaspora plays towards that.
In the end, Nigeria’s excellence also follows you. The Wizkids, Davidos, Burna Boy, Nollywood, PayStack, Iroko… are as much as infectious in that they spur hope and inspiration; the kind that has you doubling down on your beliefs, ideas and faith.
Through it all, ‘mo ti gba kamu’ as we often say when we’ve made peace with something. Nigeria’s excellence and downsides will always be mine to own.