Coming Home is usually bittersweet for Nigerians in diaspora; there is the joy of meeting the family but also the sadness that follows experiencing the problems in the country.
By Tola Sarumi, @afrovii
This December, I’ll be making the customary trip home, which I’ve gladly observed every year since I became an adult. While it’s relatively easy to get lost in the December high, this year, coupled with politics, it’s going to be quite the experience. I am more immediately concerned about the dangers traffic poses to my sojourn home, I spent five hours between the airport and Ikoyi last year, but, there’s still this hope that keeps us rooted.
Shiro, Hard Rock Café, etc, I plan to be a habitue of these spots on a beach that’s walled off to most of the city’s inhabitants. We ‘IJGBs’ get a couple of weeks to extend our FX as far as the black market exchange rate allows. For those weeks, you’re special – service is prompt, people are extra nice. Then you leave the clubs and reality awaits even in the small hours of the morning. You can’t but notice that the hordes of people waiting outside nightclubs hoping for generous patrons has increased exponentially and the children! So many children scrambling after cars, hands, purses and even feet. Something is up, I am not certain if this is due to the ongoing crises up north or the daily migration into Lagos. Lagos is the only coastal town I’ve visited where the shoreline isn’t visible from the streets and we’re surrounded by water. The Lagoon is rancid yet we live on and around it. It can be argued that much more can be done with the internally generated revenue the government currently pulls in (I say yes) but how will Lagos cope with level of need elsewhere?
For the first time post military rule, Lagos is dealing with the spectre of a one term governor, bringing a new level of instability to the state. The old order of a male governor with a female deputising has been discarded by the incumbent party. Those of us that live abroad have families at home, people that keep body and soul together because of the money transfers back home.
Asides gender, diversity is also a concern. The Lagos State House of Assembly, with its four female members, is all Yoruba. I grew up in South London. When the long serving Keith Hill retired, the Labour Party gave the ticket to a candidate that better represented the area’s demographics, Chuka Umunna, a mixed race MP of Nigerian and British descent.
Do I think there should be a constitutional amendment to ensure increased and diverse participation in politics? I’m not sure. Much about the process is opaque – if a candidate is expected to cough up the equivalent of £20k, just to buy a form, what hope does your average Nigerian have?
I spoke to some of my extended family on the upcoming elections; apathy is the order of the day. Most don’t see that it makes a difference, nothing much has changed for the better. The demands on Lagos are clearly more than Alausa can manage. Lagos – the smallest state geographically, with the most cars on its narrow roads and people jostling for the same space.
I was going to Lagos Island (my hometown) but It’s been a while since I walked its length. The place reminds me of what Lagos could have been with some foresight. Century old buildings next to edifices that tell the story of the country, architectural jewels that have fallen by the wayside, inanimate victims of our politics and dysfunction.
For Nigerians in diaspora, Coming home is bittersweet – It’s always a pleasure to be home, being surrounded by the familiar, eating foods you dream of with all the flavours intact. Then there’s the lingering sadness, why can’t our country function at the most basic level? I was of the opinion that only those with international exposure could get the country working. I no longer subscribe to this. To fix Nigeria, we need people for whom the country is the only real “viable” option, Nigerians who can’t leave when the disorder gets particularly galling. Besides, a sizeable minority of our current political class lived abroad before coming to try their luck in the riches of Nigerian politics. We have ideas galore, so do the people back home.
I am looking forward to coming home, to arguing with my peers at home over cold beers, to watching people go about their daily business, impressed by the resilience of my fellow Nigerians. From the women who wait outside concert halls, making easy money selling food to hungry attendees to young men pushing fruit laden wheel barrows.
You can’t but want better for these people. The relative ease of your own abroad life might gnaw at you, if you’re that you’re conscious enough. But I have since learned, listening to my fellow citizens get me further than pontificating, I’ll take some ideas back with me whilst refining my plans on how to get involved and do my part. Then do the little that I can, for now.
This Christmas, a few young people will pool together funds and equipment to share the Christmas vibes with fellow Lagosians. We’re off to Makoko to offer fleeting comfort to its residents. It’s not much but it inspires me. We need more of these, where citizens meet each other at the point of various needs and try to address them. Christmas on the streets is a worthy endeavour, if you have the time, please join us on Christmas day.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.