In Search Of Greener Pastures

The Insight: By Lateef Adewole


Many times, I have asked myself what I am still doing in this country, Nigeria? Why have I not left for other countries, especially the Western world, despite the numerous opportunities I have had to do so? The situation in the country; economically, socially, security, and many wise, have not made it encouraging to remain here. They are worrisome and frustrating, truly.

As an academic topper in the university, it seemed natural that I should have sought scholarship for further studies (postgraduate) abroad, because, my parents could definitely not afford it. That was a driver of my ambition while in school. I realised early that when your father's name cannot move mountains or your family does not belong to the crème de la crème of the society, the only leveller for the kids from both the poor and rich families is education. Academic excellence knows no wealth, societal status, class, or any of such stratification. I had to work so hard to gain such advantage. But, I did not leave Nigeria to study abroad.

I got to work in the downstream oil and gas eventually after few other smaller jobs. While there, I had all the financial resources to relocate abroad with my family. Many friends and colleagues with whom I worked did, but I didn't. After I resigned from my paid job in the oil industry, many naturally felt I must have finally decided to "japa", moreso because the economic situation in Nigeria was already getting worse. Nigeria fell into recession. Yet, I didn't leave.

Many wondered if something was wrong with me. A lot of people wished they had just a little of the leverages I have had, that they would have left since and no one will see their feet again in Nigeria. The situation kept getting worse. In the past, only people who were struggling or not meaningfully engaged in Nigeria, majorly strove to "run away" from this country, except ofcourse, those who wanted to go for studies. Many who were gainfully employed and well-to-dos, simply travelled out on holidays and came back. They were more comfortable staying back in Nigeria.

However, in the last few years, the story has drastically changed. I know this for a fact. One does not need a soothsayer or to look far. Just visit any Immigration / passport issuing office anywhere in Nigeria, you will think having an international passport has become the ticket to access free money. Let's not talk about various Embassies and High Commissions of foreign countries in Lagos and Abuja. "Na die be that". Nigerians spend fortunes and sleep for days at the embassies looking for visas to leave this country.

I gave up on rationalising it when I watched it "live" on the television, where some Nigerians were interviewed at the Ukrainian Embassy in Abuja some months ago. That was at the time after Russia invaded Ukraine and war had started, and they called for help with volunteer figthers from around the world. These young, able-bodied Nigerians went to the embassy with the aim of travelling to Ukraine to fight for them, not minding the risk of losing their lives. Some said they would even prefer to die fighting in such war, than remain in Nigeria. It is that bad.

Like I was saying, in the last few years, another trend has entered the emigration. Those so called well-to-do, working class, well educated, well trained, well experienced, even rich cadre of our society, began to leave Nigeria. I belong to that class, so I have numerous friends there. I have seen so many of them left, including tens of my friends. Many are still getting ready to leave. They resigned from their relatively plum and well-paying jobs, to go abroad and face whatever uncertainty there. Many were prepared to start from the bottom, all over again. What could be fueling such desperation? Doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, academicians, bankers, and many other professionals are not excluded. It is worrisome.

"Greener pastures" is a idiomatic phrase borrowed from nomadic animal herding. This is a practice that is still rampant in Africa, despite its negative consequences. It involves herders moving their herds from one location to another in time of drought, looking fresh green grasses (pastures) for their cows and sheeps. They move from desert areas or savanna region to forest region during the dry season. In Nigeria, cow herders migrate with their cows from the northern parts southwards, in search of water and fresh grasses. This has created the current insecurities across the country. That's by the way.

In emigration, the citizens of a country leave their country for another, in search of greater opportunities and better lives. They believe the grass is greener on the other side. Is this really true? Well, yes, but not all the time and does not come easy. Also, as Yorubas will say: "opopo Mecca mo roro, won n tun se ni" (the cleanliness of the streets of Mecca does not happen by accident, some people take care of them). All these countries many believe are better and with greater opportunities and fortunes, are made possible by the people there. Not accidental. Citizens sacrificed and built those countries with their sweats and bloods. But they are human beings too.

If so, why then can't we make ours so attractive that foreigners will be desperate to come here too? Yes, it is possible. And Nigeria was once like that in our lifetime, just about fifty years ago. It was this same country that some other countries came to borrow money for their own survival and Nigeria even decided to "dash" them the money instead of giving them as loan. One "Super Permanent Secretary", former Minister of Finance in the Second Republic, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, once said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) requested and got a loan from Nigeria in 1974. He said he signed off on the loan. This is an organisation we are now heavily indebted to.

It is the same Nigeria that Saudi Arabia royals came to get the medical treatment at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, which provided one of the best in the world then. Many foreigners came to attend universities in Nigeria, not only from other African countries, but also from other parts of the world. As a secondary school student, I knew of the time Ghanaians, Indians and other foreigners, were students, as well as teachers in our schools. It was in this same Nigeria. So, what went wrong?

As the years passed by, the quality of leadership and followership began to deteriorate. Many would like to blame only the leadership but that's incorrect. Leaders did not fall from heaven but emerged from among the people, who themselves have lost their values. So, all are to be blamed. However, I am always of the opinion that leadership can set the pace and the agenda for revolutionary changes. It takes one person or few persons with the right vision, attitude, character and will to transform a society or country, most times. Chief Obafemi Awolowo led the Western region to phenomena greatness during his time.

So, today, the situation has degenerated so much that many Nigerians, except ofcourse, those responsible for the squandermania going on, want to leave Nigeria to just about any other country. Many risked their lives on such journey by road through the Sahara desert and water, the Mediterranean Sea, on their way to Europe. Many lost their lives in the process. Many become entrapped on the journey. Many were sold into slavery. All manners of fates befell many.

Those who make it there, what become of them? Except one deludes himself or herself, no place on earth will a Nigerian claims he is accepted in toto, devoid of discrimination. In all these countries, many Nigerians are and will remain second-class citizens, whether they like it or not, no matter how many years or decades they have lived there. Those who were born there still suffer racism many times. The world witnessed the massive protest by the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2020. That was caused by a racism induced action of one or few white officers. Not to an immigrant but an indigent black African-American, George Floyd.

Sometimes, I questioned what use were all the degrees that many Nigerians have here and when they travel abroad, they throw them away (literally) because they were not "useful" ( not used to work)? Unschooled people can do many of the jobs that graduates take up in overseas. What degrees does someone need to be house helps, cleaners, labourers, care givers to aged and sick people, etc? Our citizens become "degraded" and lose values when they travel abroad, except those who fight through the system to use their education in the jobs they do, but what percentage?

There is no denying the fact of the opportunities that abound in those countries. They are numerous. The established systems in almost everything work for and help the people to get by. No matter the situation, once you are not lazy, you cannot go hungry. You cannot be poor in the sense of being poor in Nigeria. An average person lives as comfortable a life as a rich man in Nigeria. They have their houses, even if it is through mortgage. They drive cars of their choices. Quality education and health care, which are free for children in primary and secondary schools, though, paid for by adults through huge taxes. Security and safety. They feed well, reason why many grow fat so quickly after they go abroad (lol).

However, none of these comes cheap or easy too. You have to work for everything you want, but the avenues to do the works are available. You pay for everything; rent, energy, water, insurance, fuel for cars, internet, etc. And they don't come cheap, when converted to local currency (naira), just as the wages are very high when converted. President Biden approved the increase in minimum wage to $15 per hours some months ago. That's N10,500. (at unofficial rate of N700/ $).

A man who works for minimum eight hours a day earns N84,000. For 22 days of a month, that is N1,848,000. This is many years' salaries of many workers in Nigeria who earn N30,000. as minimum wage per month. This example is at the minimum. There are categories of workers with far higher wages as high as 50 to 100 dollars per hour. Just imagine the multiplication as done above. Humongous! But this is only one side of the story.

The other side is the bills. For instance, a moderate two bedroom apartment can cost as low as $1,200. per month in rent. That's N840,000. per month (at N700/$). This is double or triple the annual rent for such apartment in many parts of Nigeria. What can $1 dollar still do in America? May be to buy sweet for kids. Equivalent N700 will feed a person well for one meal or even managed twice. A loaf of bread can cost about $5 (N3,500). What kind of bread will cost such in Nigeria?

People work hard to survive, contrary to what obtains here where many lazy around. In Nigeria, those who work hardest are paid least. Otherwise, people who spend half year on break and attend sessions three or four times weekly as lawmakers, would not be earning between N13.5m and N15 million per month (officially), while a full time government employee earns minimum wage of N30,000. ($43) per month. "The more you work, the less you are paid". This can afford workers to go on strikes for months unending and still expect to be paid. Or workers who work in some government organisations like the refineries, they refine zero crude but earned hundreds of billions of Naira yearly in salaries and other allowances. Only in Nigeria. What a mess!

When I see the people who sweep our roads in many cities, and I found out many of them don't even earn up to the minimum wage of N30,000. per month, it breaks my heart. If these people do similar work for such hours in America, they will be driving cars use by bank managers in Nigeria and live in places like Ikeja. But, that is not the case here. The point I am making is that the opportunities are available to earn decent incomes abroad, once you are not lazy. This is all that Nigerians seek. Why won't they run away then?

It is not all doom and gloom here. Has anyone asked themselves why many foreigners and foreign companies still find Nigeria attractive as investment destination? They might be seeing what we are not seeing. As a business person, there are many legitimate businesses one can do here and still do well. Our population is an asset if put to good use. That is a ready-made market for many manufactured goods. We all must eat. Agriculture and its value chain present gigantic opportunities. Likewise in different sectors of the economy. We just have to open our eyes and think with our brains!

The challenges facing prospective entrepreneurs here are huge, so are the potentials. Finance is a big problem. I have personally suffered because of this many times. I have lost many business opportunities due to lack of, or inadequate financial support. Banks give more money to already "rich" customers. How can small and medium sized enterprises grow like that? The loan conditions are too stringent and credit facilities are not easily accessible. A friend in the USA told me this week how he was being chased with credit cards worth $45,000. They want him to take it. That is over N30 million "free and easy credit". Why won't they do well? Why won't Nigerians run to such country by hook or by crook? These are the realities.

In all, I no longer discourage anyone from travelling abroad. In fact, I actively encourage them, especially young people. It gives people a head-start actually. But, it should be done legally. No one should go through the dangerous routes through the desert and sea. When in overseas, it is easy to make money legitimately, and Nigerians are not lazy. It is greed that push those who go into crimes to do so. Drugs, fraud, prostitution and similar criminalilties should be shuned. Crime does not pay.

Our leaders should sit up and do the jobs they are elected to do. They need to improve the situation in the country right now, especially 

insecurities. It is bad enough that hunger and all kinds of economic hardship are now the lots of many, to be kidnapped for ransom, raped or killed, is adding salt to injury. We will have another chance to choose people to political offices in 2023. The citizens must choose wisely. They must vote for visionary individuals with competence, capacity, experience and gut, who can take on the monstrous problems facing Nigeria heads on.

The citizens should look inward too, see through and take many opportunities available to them locally. Not everyone will travel abroad. I am still here. I have kept faith with Nigeria, though, disappointed numerous times. We have to make our own country work as well by being ready to make necessary sacrifices. No one will do it for us!

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole can be reached via Email: [email protected]

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