“What is the reason for your travel to the US?” The consular officer asked, while flipping through my documents on his table.
“For school. I recently gained admission for a Masters of Fine Art (MFA) at the University of Chicago”, I replied with a smile all over my face.
He looked at me absentmindedly and then back at the document in front of him.
“Congratulations,” he said while lifting his face to look at me.
“Thank you,” I exclaimed amid joy.
“What is the duration of your stay in the US?”
“According to the school calendar, I think it is three years at most,” I replied, readjusting myself in the seat.
“Where will you be staying?” He asked.
“With an uncle who has been living in the US for the past ten years. He lives at Hyde Park Boulevard.”
“Where do you stay in Nigeria?”
“I stay in Lagos. Ikotun precisely, Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State”
“Who is going to cover your expenses during your trip?” The consular officer asked, his hands perfectly placed on his jaw for support. He looked at me close enough for my skin to peel off my body.
“My parents and my uncle are over there,” I replied.
“Do you have any relatives or friends in the USA?”
“As I said earlier, my uncle stays in America. He lives at E. Hyde Park Boulevard. He has been living there for the past ten years. I still have a couple of writer friends who are studying for their Masters, too. For the most part, I’ll be living in my uncle’s house.”
“Have you been to the USA before?”
“I haven’t. This is my first time traveling to America. Like people say, traveling is a wholesome part of education, and I believe I will make good use of this golden opportunity.”
“Where will you be studying?”
“In the University of Chicago. 5801 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago. I think it is not too far from where my Uncle stays.”
He looked at me, dropped his biro, carried his coffee cup, sipped a little, and then continued.
“Is anyone else coming to the USA with you?
“None. I am traveling alone,”I said, staring at him.
“What have you been doing in Nigeria,” he asked as he dropped the cup of coffee on the table.
“Professionally, I am a filmmaker, a cinematographer, and a video editor. I just want to add more knowledge to what I already know in filmmaking and to obtain a second degree.”
“If your visa application is rejected, what are your plans?”
“Well, there are many more skills out there to learn, many documentaries to shoot, and many film projects to work on. Besides all these, I will still try again next year.
“What are your plans after graduation from the University of Chicago?”
“I will return to Nigeria to continue with my filmmaking and other things I might have learned from the US.”
“Okay. But what makes you think you won’t be tempted to join other Nigerians in America in their fraudulent activities after graduation?”
“Excuse you! What did you just say?”
“I- I – I mean, in recent times, there has been news on the national dailies about Nigerian youths’ involvement in fraudulent activities, locally known as Yahoo Yahoo in the US. Are you… ”
“Fuck you. Fuck your visa!” I flinched as I stood up from my seat. “Fuck America. I am a Nigerian, a proud Nigerian, and not a yahoo boy. Understand? Fuck MFA!”
I stomped out of the office.
Damaged and broken, I may be, but grown and wiser I have also become. No matter how hard things have become in Nigeria, no man is permitted to make me feel like I don’t have a say or I don’t have a mind of my own in my country. Or maybe I am so desperate to leave Nigeria.
“Fuck America. Fuck the hell out of America! Fuck the embassy! Fuck MFA. I don’t care anymore,” I screamed as I walked out of the building to the road. “Nigeria will not end me.”
“Get the hell out of the road! Go home and go die, old fool,” a Danfo driver screamed at me while he matched the brakes of his bus. “Oloshi!”
Then, I immediately realized I was already in the middle of the road talking to myself and the bus driver had been honking from afar.
“Frustrated Idiot! This is how you put others in trouble,” a passenger shouted from the window of the bus. I turned, stood by the side of the road, and returned my frustrated five fingers at her.
“Lagos wahala. How could a sensible man be talking to himself aloud in the middle of a road.” Another passenger said as the bus zoomed off.
So, I trudged and looked at people by the roadside and the people that queued at the gate of the building I just left, and they looked back at me. We all wore coping expressions. Perhaps a surviving mechanism of being a Nigerian.
We have become people who want to leave their country, by all means, looking for an escape route because we are tired of our country and our own country is tired of us. We have become a people tired of hearing the news of our brothers and sisters killed, and their blood warms the earth. This is what we have become; a country of broken people, a country of damaged people looking for an escape route, looking for a better life.
We are people always looking for greener pastures in an unlikely place and getting rejected. Why? This is because our own country first rejected us before they did. Our Nigerian identity has caused us more than we are. We keep praying that Nigeria would not happen to us but it keeps happening to us every day. Every day, people just want to leave, ‘Japa’ no matter what.
I spent a lot of days preparing for that visa interview. I did lots of research about the possible questions that could be asked and I rehearsed my answers to a few competency questions I saw online. I spent days reading and researching about the University of Chicago and what it will be like to be there. But since it happened this way, I have to move on with my life. Do you know what? There I stood reminiscing by the roadside, a rush of pins and needles declared war on my legs as I walked down the street on the Island. There is always a better way to accept failure when it comes but not this way.
I know about the pain that won’t go away from Nigeria. I know of dreams that won’t come through in Nigeria, of hustle that won’t pay, of businesses that would die even before they come alive, and places that would reject my footsteps. I know of dreams that have been buried here. I know of young lives that have been cut short over here. I know of families that have been killed. I know of marriages that have been broken here. I know of dead youths whose country has failed them.
They died trying to escape the fire burning in their land. I know of pregnant women whose country killed them. I know of a young boy whose mother is still waiting patiently at home for him to return, but he would never return home because Nigeria ended his life in school. I know of a soldier whose family awaits him at home, but he will never come home again, Nigeria killed him yesterday.
I know of some drivers who would never make it back home because they could not survive the bad roads on the highway. I know of a person whose country has no regard for them. She keeps ripping them off of everything good. I know a lot of people who go crying on trains; their country cares less about them. I know of homeless children in the streets fighting to survive. I know a handful of these children under Oshodi Bridge, Iyana Ipaja Bridge, Ojuelegba Bridge, CMS Bridge, and Eko Bridges, fighting to make it back home. I know of those people arrested and detained yet they are innocent of the crime they were accused of committing. I know of those who the police harass every day because they look like Yahoo boys.
I know of those killed by SARS. I know of Tina Ezekwe, Ayomide Taiwo, Tiamiyu Kazeem, Chibuike Anams, Fredrick, Ifeoma Abugu, Dr. Chinelo, Jimoh Isiaq, Chijioke Iloanya, Rinja Balla, Mus’ab Sammani, Kolade Johnson, Chika Ibeku, Chidi Odinanwa, Daniel Adewuyi, Owoicho Ochomma, Chinedu Meniru, Ismaila Anyinla, Chibuike ikeaguchi, Ifeanyi Ozor, and Tony Oruama; whose country ended their lives while the day was still young.
Their country labelled them yahoo boys and girls, or rather lazy Nigerian youths. If our people see us this way in our land, why won’t an outsider see us more like that? Why won’t a stranger look into my eyes and call me a running fraudster? Or a fleeing boy in search of a safe home to stay? But to be honest, there is nothing here. In this home, there is nothing to look up to.
Every day, every newspaper, television station, news blog, and radio station adds a new story to the fracas of the Nigerian predicament; how heartless we have become. And some of us have become comfortable with this news that pops up on our news feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Google Chrome, and other social sites. While others want to run away irrespective of what is happening. I am one of those that want to run away from Nigeria.
I want to go out there to the USA and witness what it means to live, to see new people, and feel a new environment but I won’t stand a man who looked into my eyes and asked me if I was going to America to join some of my brothers in their fraudulent activities or if I want to go to the USA and join some Nigerians to distribute drugs in the streets to Americans. No! I won’t. No matter how bad things get, I am not ashamed to be a Nigerian.
I am a Nigerian and I have known this right from the day my mother birthed me in the General hospital. That day, there was no light to boil water to bathe me and she was told that the Doctors were on strike. This Nigerian Identity stays till the end of my life. You know you are a Nigerian and you can’t rule it out anywhere. You are as wounded and broken as many of us are. You are a Nigerian whose leaders have failed in many ways.
The day before, I read the news on my phone. It was news about the household that lost both parents, a mother and a father to unknown gunmen; leaving the children to fend for themselves. When I scrolled down, there was another household where everybody was shot dead, saved one, a boy of nine years old and, one of the neighbours had taken the lone boy to cater for him. The whole compound was barricaded by the police days later but they never came back after the barricade. They never came back to say that the gunmen have been arrested and there was no news about them to the public at all.
A few weeks ago, a woman was stoned and burnt to death in my street. She was said to have stolen a sachet of pounded yam. Her body ruptured like an over-ripe mango by the side of the road. She struggled for hours before she finally breathed her last.
Even in her struggle to live, some of the boys dragged her body to the middle of the road without having a second thought that she could be their mother. Every bus, car, or tricycle that drove past her dead body swerved their vehicle to avoid crashing into her body. It was a horrible sight to behold for many days. But we are still Nigerians.
Perhaps this Nigerian stench is all over us. And besides, we have to smell like Nigerian everywhere we go. It doesn’t matter how educated you are in the US. It doesn’t matter the seat you occupy in the UK, Canada, Germany, or even in Ghana, that stench is still with you as a Nigerian. You are seen as a fraudster, a yahoo boy, a 419ner; a shithole running away from his own country to find comfort and shelter in other countries.
Perhaps this identity has a way of making us stronger or more timid, or it has a way of letting the world know that our leaders have wrecked us, that our leaders have failed us as a people, that they don’t have us in their mind. They don’t care! And so, we have to survive by all means, even if it means leaving and never coming back home to see how home is.
We have to live. So many of us preferred to be second-class citizens in other countries than to be enslaved in this country. But, is it a sin to be a Nigerian? Is it a crime to have the Nigerian identity, to stand in their midst boldly and say you are a Nigerian without having to defend your sanity, honesty, trust, and sincerity of who you truly are? Is it a crime to be called a Nigerian?
Sometimes, one becomes angry, very angry about being a Nigerian because it hurts more than an open wound. Nigeria has done nothing for us then take from us. Every day, people are killed, ruthlessly. Every day people are kidnapped, and there has been a high rate of insecurity in recent times in the country (and the government is working so hard to curb it).
Every year, ASUU and the doctors go on strike, pensions are not paid, and workers’ salaries are kept in the government treasury. Perhaps waiting for a snake to come and swallow it. Every month, NEPA sends a high number of light bills you did not use and expects you to pay them.
Even when they cut your light and go with the wire, your bills still come every month. And this makes one wonders how or why you pay for something you didn’t see or use? Every day, new policies spring up from nowhere to rip you off of your dreams or make you pack up your business. There is inflation in the country. Things are becoming unreasonably expensive. Hunger is everywhere, and yet, our leaders are clueless about what is happening.
Do you see why many of us want to leave Nigeria? Nigeria is killing us openly and she turns around to ask who is killing us. Nigeria is taking more from us without giving anything back to us yet when we still try to survive, by all means, the bloodthirsty politicians kill us, still.
They say one cannot run away from his home but not when your home wants to kill you and turns around to ask who did. I have no idea of the politics of this fragile land. I have no identity. I’m a nobody, no ties, no family background, nobody at the top; no connection, I’m disposable.
Like every Nigerian who has taken many blows and then, with his fate in his hands, the only way to survive is to leave Nigeria to look for greener pastures elsewhere. It could be in Ghana, Kenya, India, or Malaysia; the fact is, mastering survival there may pay more than here. I am not a yahoo boy; I am a Nigerian trying so hard to survive; therefore, you can’t bottle me up because I dream of going to the USA.
I have also been a victim of this cybercrime too. I was duped of two hundred and fifty thousand by my countrymen before now. I lamented, cried, and got depressed for two weeks, and later, I bounced back. In Nigeria today, almost everybody is wounded. Almost every family is ripped. If it hasn’t happened to you, it has happened to your sister or brother, or mother or father; it has happened to someone close to you.
Sometimes, when I get frustrated with all these things, I go to Facebook or Twitter to rant and yell my frustration out. I would drag GLO network or MTN for not sending me the data I purchased through my Zenith Bank app or my GTBank. I would also drag NEPA, Zenith Bank, and the politicians. This is the only way to be sane in a country like ours where everyone looks good in pictures, but when you have a deep conversation with them, you realize they’re far from sane, from being good.
My Aunt Ugomma said I wasn’t made for Nigeria. My Aunt Ugomma worked very hard to make sure I left Nigeria. But then, my Aunty Ugomma’s dream failed when I came home and told her what had happened at the embassy. She was shocked at first but later shook me and said I did the right thing. I had always thought that my Aunt Ugomma was going to get angry at me, but she didn’t. She had watched policemen harass young Nigerians, especially those with dreadlocks and those with tattoos all over their bodies. You also become a major target when you dress well or you drive a Lexus or Mercedes Benz car.
My Aunt Ugomma had witnessed a boy killed and his body dumped by the roadside. He was wrongly accused of being a yahoo boy. Then, the policemen demanded settlement. He could not settle them. It was their arguments that led to him being shot in the chest. My aunt assured me that I was not alone in this fight. She said that despite all the bullshit the Nigeria factors can throw at me sometimes, I have hope, especially someone looking out for me, fighting in my corner, and giving me everything that I need to get through.
However, I have had moments when I waved my fist at Nigeria, the government and, even God. And knowing that I don’t have to figure out being a Nigerian on my own, I have to keep staring at life and fate to know why I am here in Nigeria.
Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day, I’ll be in America and I’ll be seen as a Nigerian, not a fraudster.
Nigeria is my fate, the fate that even when other countries fail, I will still have to come back to her. No matter how bad things get, even if they have me on my knees, even if it looks like there is no hope anymore, like I’m almost dead, I keep believing in her because this is the only home I have for now. I won’t give up on her, no, I won’t give up believing in her, for when a home falls, it is the owner of the home that repairs it to be the very best that he wants it to be.