Since 1995 I have had to visit my children abroad and in recent times and as my children got married and settled down the urge to visit them has become almost a family imperative. Everybody in their old age likes to bond with their children and grandchildren. What I am describing has become almost a common experience of people of my generation. Some of us are lucky to have their children living and working in Nigeria but others including myself are not so lucky. In the past, living abroad was seen as being most desirable or admirable and those having children living and working abroad were celebrated. Of course there are things to say for living abroad such as financial stability for those who are highly educated and who have jobs to do. Currencies do not lose value as our own. I remember the 1970s when our naira was at par with the pound sterling and was almost two dollars to a naira. The naira today is in downward spiral of 260 to a dollar. There is relative physical security abroad. The standard of life, good transportation, education and health.
infrastructure are much better than what we have in Nigeria. We can also humor and cajole ourselves by saying we are in a global village where ideally there should be mobility of labour and free movement. But there are several consequences of moving from one’s native country and moving abroad. The obvious one is for a black person becoming part of a visible minority in a white, brown or yellow country. I include yellow and brown countries since our people are no longer restricted to Europe and the Americas but increasingly go to countries in Asia particularly India and China even if on a small scale. There is obvious discrimination against so-called people of colour as they say in the West. A black person would have to work harder and perhaps be more qualified than a white person to attract the same attention and consideration. When a highly qualified African applies for a job sometimes he or she is told that he or she should not contribute to the brain drain from his or her country, thus an act of racism is couched as an act of concern for development in poor countries forgetting that everybody has one life and should be able to live that life to the fullest wherever he or she chooses to live.
Of course those who argue like this have a point in that people with highly needed skills should be encouraged to stay and foster the development of their underdeveloped countries. But what is usually forgotten is that the corrupt political leaders of our country make it impossible for people to function optimally thus leading to frustration and in some cases depression and even mental breakdown.
On a macro national level we are told Nigerians abroad send about $20 billion home every year. This is second to our earning from oil which is greatly endangered in these days of oil selling at $40 a barrel. No one can be categorical on the size of Nigeria’s diaspora. But it seems we may have about a quarter of a million in the UK and perhaps over a million in the USA and Canada. Some have foolishly suggested we may have up to 10 million in the Sudan. I disagree with this estimate. The so-called fellata in the Sudan were migrants from West Africa either left behind on the way to or from the hajj or those West Africans who went to work in the cotton fields of the gezira scheme. They are now Sudanese and have cut their ties with their ancestral homes and hardly send money which they obviously do not have to Nigeria.
On a micro level of individuals and particularly me, it is not very easy for me to get along with a situation where all my children are living abroad. I am sure many Nigerians will glibly say they will like to have the kind of problem that I have. I know some of our people in Edo and Delta states have had to sell their homes to send their female children into prostitution in Italy or to the Gulf states in the Middle East. I do not know why the incidence of this type of trafficking is pronounced in these two states but that is the truth and reality. Of course I sympathize with them and their parents. No one having seen these young people on the highways and city streets in Italy, will not be overwhelmed by this tragedy. Thank God my children do not belong to this category of Nigerians in diaspora. I suppose this digression is a different kettle of fish.
In my case I have to travel thousands of miles annually to see my children and their families at considerable cost to me physically and financially. I may be able to handle this but the fact that my children are all married to foreigners make my situation a bit difficult. I have no in-laws in Nigeria that I can socialize with. I have also not received the traditional gifts of yams and prostrations from the parents of my sons in law! My Igbo friends would have demanded the cost of educating their daughters from kindergarten to university from their prospective in-laws! There is also the fact that my grandchildren, sons-in-law and daughter-in-law operate on a totally different cultural level from mine. God knows of course that I have been exposed to western culture as a student and assistant professor within western educational milieu and I have had the honour to represent my country one way or the other at very high levels in the West thus bringing my living in the West cumulatively to 15 years but I remain an African essentially. My children unfortunately now share more with people in the West than they have with Africans. My children and their spouses all work making it impossible when visiting to be catered for appropriately. My daughter- in-law does not know how to cook and does not cook at all and unless my son cooks then I will either eat bread, cereals or bland food from restaurants. I have never complained and I really have no right to do so. I am a long-suffering civilized old man. My daughters do the best they can but combining the care of a visiting old father with work is also not easy. I am not sure the situation would have been different if my children were married to Nigerians abroad. The situation would only have changed if my children were married to Nigerians living and working in Nigeria.