By Pelumi Olugbenga
Just like a mother who had just been informed of her child’s demise at work, I sat at the front of a computer last night – struggling to process the news of a visa ban on my lovely home country, Nigeria.
There is one thing about being a Nigerian student abroad. You are faced with the burden of living with every perception of your country. On different occasions, introducing myself as a Nigerian in America inspired mixed reactions from some other nationals who believe the average Nigerian is a fraudster. In September 2019, I was at an event when a student from Ghana told me: “all Nigerian guys are 419″ after I had proudly introduced myself to him as a Nigerian.
Before that experience, a couple of American students had also brought up the stereotype of ” Nigerian Prince” and email scams upon introducing myself as a Nigerian. On these different embarrassing occasions, I did put up a spirited defense of my country. I made them understand that Nigeria is a country of over 200million people and the few who allegedly engage in internet fraud are less than one percent of the country’s total population. I reminded them that we are a country of Wole Soyinkas, Chinua Achebes, Chimamandas, Silas Adekunles, Israel Adesanyas, Emeka Ukagas, Reginald Azizas, and many more.
Yet, the continuous flow of disheartening news from my country belies the reality I try to paint to my foreign peers. How do you explain to foreigners that Nigerians love education (and statistics from Rice University show that Nigerian-Americans are the most educated ethnic group in the United States) when more than ten million children are out of school right inside Naija itself?
The news of an immigration visa ban on Nigeria has been brewing for a while. Days before the ban was finally made public, some colleagues here called me to express their worries about the prospect of a visa ban on my country. A few of them even mischievously asked if it will be legal for any Nigerian to be in the United States. Sadly, the news of this visa ban will ignite numerous forms of microaggressions toward Nigerians abroad in the days and months ahead.
In all of these, I do not blame any of my foreign “friends” or the government of any other country. I hold a country that has failed its own people responsible. I have been in the United States for a while and more than 90% of the Nigerians living here will rather be in Nigeria – if it was a system that provides basic social amenities and opportunities for its people. Think about it. If not for a search for greener pastures, no one happily leaves the luxury of his own culture, his preferred climate, his favourite food and loved ones to a foreign land – where he will be painfully treated as a stranger, an intruder, and a second class citizen. Every day in graduate school reminds me that I will rather be in Nigeria – only if: there is a university that offers a graduate school education in my preferred program of study on a full-tuition scholarship. Every day in America reveals to me that I deeply miss the Naija spirit and it is where my heart is and I would have remained there – only if: there exist basic social amenities and opportunities to pursue my biggest dreams.
Whenever I remember those hard-working children who brave the odds to hawk items In Lagos traffic, those men and women who against all odds continue to display sheer creativity in Aba/Onitsha, and those relentless individuals who toil day and night on their farms in Kano, I remember the unyielding bravery of Nigerians back home and the limitless possibilities of what Nigeria could be – only if it harnesses its talented, resilient and relentless human capital. The stories of these brave and strong countrymen in big cities and small towns across Nigeria make me proud of my fellow citizens and their faith in simple dreams. Their stories keep me going in some of my darkest moments.
This is not the best of times for Nigerians both at home and abroad. Many of our brothers and sisters in other African countries are facing numerous forms of humiliation in places that once saw Nigeria as the King. The big question now is: how did we get here and how will we meander our darling country from the murky waters it finds itself?
Nigeria is where it is today because of many decades of failed, irresponsible and reckless rulership from heartless politicians that masquerade themselves as leaders. This is, however, the easy and hackneyed excuse for our failure as a nation. The reason for our failed system is beyond the politicians we easily use as scapegoats. The irresponsible and heartless political class are only symptoms of a bigger problem.
The main problem here is our lack of a collective sense of responsibility and ownership. Our penchant for running away from our problems after being pushed to the wall is central to our predicaments. We, as a people, are not willing to take full responsibility for our own political and economic future. We are a country of human beings that easily adapt to the most inhuman situations. This lack of a collective sense of ownership and responsibility gives room for the political class to plunder our commonwealth unchallenged.
Now, Canada is the newest bride. Thousands of promising Nigerians are applying for Canadian residency and consequently draining our country of some of its best brains. Yet, I am quite sure that those who have already migrated to Canada live with the pains of Nigeria capable of being more. Living abroad will make you realize that there is nothing particularly special about these countries and Nigeria(with its so enormous natural resources and human capital) has the potentials to do way better than most of them. Nigeria could and should be more! Unfortunately, no be potentials we go chop.
In the end, we do not belong to “the abroad”. Our ancestors have no roots in America, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom. We are descendants of visionary hardworking men and women who discovered and built our communities in Africa hundreds of years ago. Our ancestors bequeathed a land flowing with milk and honey to us and we must not abandon it for a few to plunder. Because, wherever we go, whatever we are, NIGERIA IS OUR ONLY TRUE HOME. It is the only place we fully belong to. It is our heritage and whatever affects it – affects us no matter where we are in the world. We must develop a sense of collective ownership and responsibility by organizing ourselves to get involved in a rigged political process and mobilizing ourselves to influence policies that shape the future of our communities, different sectors and our country.
Now is the time to take full responsibility and ownership of our motherland!
LONG LIVE OUR DARLING NIGERIA; WE WILL OVERCOME. WE WILL GET THERE!!!
Pelumi Olugbenga is a graduate student in the United States.