Last week, a young, new émigré to Canada posted news of his checking out of Nigeria on Twitter complete with a photo of him in the snow and the caption : “Goodbye Nigeria, the evil you have done is enough.”
His sentiments triggered some “patriotic” Nigerians into abusing him, his children, his forefathers. He was called a “low lifer who sees traveling as escape from poverty,” mocked for taking the IELTS exam 5 times, insulted for taking a picture in the snow, told he’d live in penury. Haba! (By the way, what’s wrong with wanting an escape from poverty? Who sufferhead epp?) They were livid that he used the word “evil” in connection to Nigeria. How dare he? Nigeria the Beautiful, the Best, the Only Sugar in Their Tea. How dare a Nigerian say Nigeria is evil? Never mind that he clearly referred to the “evil” Nigeria “has done” which isn’t the same as calling Nigeria ‘evil,’ but English is our step-mother tongue, so maybe this isn’t a case of willful obtusity.
Anyway, imagine my shock to discover that the ring leaders of the ‘patriots’ either still live abroad (one in Canada sef) or have children who studied abroad (and still live there). Multiply that shock ad infinitum when I learned that they rejoiced when their own children graduated from a UK university, posting pictures on Twitter even. Ah! Fear human beings ooo. Wonders shall never cease. So why were they castigating somebody’s child for leaving? What were they and their children escaping (from) when they left Nigeria? It would appear then that their grouse had less to do with patriotism than it was to do with the idea of someone they probably don’t consider worthy of abroad gaining access to it. Their rage wasn’t against an unpatriotic Nigerian but against equality, against the fact that people they do not rate might be in the same abroad they and/or their children are in. Nigeria is after all nothing if not class-based. He strayed into their lane and they could not, would not take that quietly.
Without knowing this young man, and without him listing the evil that Nigeria has done to him, I can hazard a good guess by listing some of the evil it has done to young people like him. First, it has left him unemployed. No, it is not that I expect the government to be directly involved in the labor market but a working government creates conditions that mitigate unemployment. There is a reason administrations are scored on unemployment rates while in power. There are many like this young man, graduates who do not know anyone who knows anyone in a position to help them get a job. Unemployed and without access to any form of government (welfare) help, leaving the country is often top of their list. Heck! Even middleclass Nigerians with jobs leave if they can. Economic migration is not new. In the past year alone, several people I know have quit their jobs and headed towards Canada with their skills. According to a January article in the UK Guardian, it is estimated that 12 doctors from Nigeria are registered in the UK every week with more than 5,250 Nigerian doctors already working there. Apparently, of the 75,000 doctors registered in Nigeria, an estimated 40,000 work abroad.
Harassment by SARS. The average Nigerian has a SARS encounter story, if not theirs then of someone they know. One of the most tragic stories out of Nigeria last year (for me) – alongside the stories of those ‘disappeared’ by SARS- was of a student who traded on the side , and who was locked up by SARS for no good cause. By the time he was released, he had been relieved of what money he had and had missed his school exams. All he could see before him was darkness and to get out of it, he killed himself. Stories of SARS encounters are ubiquitous. And yet when the youth protested against it, we saw what the government’s reaction was. Ours is a government that does not take kindly to criticism. Obianuju Udeh aka DJ Switch who filmed and released the infamous Lekki shooting footage has left the country. Moe Odele, one the protest’s visible faces had her passport seized. When home becomes oppressive, many who can will leave. It’s self-preservation, abi?
Additionally, Nigeria has failed in providing him adequate security. 112 Chibok girls are still in captivity six years after they were kidnapped. How is that normal bikonu? The egregious state of security and the inability of citizens to feel safe in their country means that those who can, hire their own security and those who can’t, pray not to fall prey to kidnappers, Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, robbers. People plan trips along routes and around times when they are least likely to fall prey to any of these menaces that our government appears to have been defeated by. Living like that, every day of your life is enough to make you set sail to whichever country you can get into that promises to take your security more seriously.
So biko, let those who will stay back, stay back. Let those who will leave, leave. Egbe belu, ugo belu. Nigeria needs us all. Patriotism, like love, is a matter of the heart. Better to spend your time and energy working on yours than on policing other people’s. We can love and work for Nigeria both from within it as from without. But we cannot work for it if we do not acknowledge its realities (both the good and the bad). As for those who cloak their classism in ‘patriotism,’ we see your hypocrisy. And we will call you out on it every single time.