The exodus has begun. One by one, friends have begun to trickle back to the motherland, foreign degree in one hand, green passport in the other, in their back pocket a British or American accent to be pulled out wherever and whenever needed. Some hold dual citizenships. Should things not work out as they planned, should their salaries not be in the millions by their third year at home, they will pack their bags and return to their second motherland. For many though, going back home is burning a bridge. They may have lived in England for four, five, maybe seven years but once they move back to Nigeria, it will be like they never set foot here. The embassies give no special treatment to those who have spent a sizable chunk of their lives abroad. You are either one of them or you're not.
I think one of the bigger shocks for people who have made the move is returning to their old haunts on 'holiday.' For years, Nigeria has been the Christmas, spring break or summer spot. Suddenly it is England that becomes the vacation destination. When the returnees come back to visit, everything is familiar to them. They know exactly what bus will get them from Woodgreen to Clapham Junction. Yet, they look at things that were once familiar with puzzlement. One recent returnee told me during her 'holiday', "Nobody has a life in England. They just go to work and come home. In Lagos, nobody goes home after work. I don't understand how you guys do it."
Like most people, I am sceptical of sweeping statements that begin with 'nobody.' However, you do find that many of the returnees come back with vast judegments like: In Nigeria, people are so impatient. In Lagos, everybody forms. All Nigerian men are cheats. They are too English or American or Austrian not to be shocked by their new lives in Nigeria. Yet, by the time they return on 'holiday', they are too Nigerian not to be shocked by the old lives they once led abroad. It seems the plight of the cosmopolitan is forever to be shocked.
There is a myth that goes round the Nigerian undergraduate circles over here. Legend has it that once you return to the motherland clutching at least a 2.2 degree, a top job in the financial sector, the oil and gas sector or the telecommunications sector will be waiting for you. If you are a girl, added to this is the fact that at least 5 men will want to marry you no matter your age or level of beauty. At least two of these men will propose when you step off the plane at Murtala Mohammed airport.
I was speaking to a friend of mine about the first part of this myth. He did his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos and there were a lot of returnees from America, London, Johannesburg, Accra. According to him, they came expecting the best jobs but many were disappointed, for two reasons. First of all, the market is saturated. There are only so many jobs to go around, no matter how many overseas graduates descend on V.I looking for a start up annual salary of at least 2 million. Secondly, in his opinion, the foreign trained graduates were not such great employees anyway. They were arrogant, they spoke funny and many of them had not gone to first rate universities abroad.Thus, in employer's eyes, their 2.1 from a low ranking university in England, was no more valuable than a 2.1 from the University of Ibadan. My friend saw many of those who had come from abroad in search of Eldorado, returning to where they came from, their dreams dissolved to dust.
However, I hear stories which make me wonder how much of a lie the myth is. I have another friend in England, who has just finished a Masters here. She is currently looking for work but only halfheartedly because she has two job offers waiting for her in Nigeria. The first is from a large bank, one of the so-called 'new-generation' banks. The second is from an oil company. These are the kind of jobs that people fast and pray just to get an interview for. To give you an idea of how prized such jobs are, about a year ago, when a multinational oil company advertised a job opening in a national newspaper, over 90, 000 people applied. 90,000. I can't even get my head round such a number. Even if only a tenth of those that applied were eligible, that still means that whoever got it, would have beaten 9,000 others to get that job. I don't even think my friend had an interview. I know for a fact that she has no background in finance yet she has a banking job waiting for her in Nigeria. Is she an exception? I don't think so. I've heard too many stories like hers. Is she the norm? I don't know.
No-one is quite certain what Nigeria will hold for us returnees when we get back. I've heard amazing success stories. I've seen people who could barely afford to load their Oyster cards, come back to England on 'holiday' with more money than they had in all their years here put together (and no they are not doing 419). I've seen others who go back and make it by Nigerian standards. They have a job that pays well enough for them to afford a car with air conditioning (my humble reckoning of success) but still they are not content. They see their fellow returnees buying houses in Lekki and flying first class and they crave that lifestyle, they feel entitled to it by reason of their foreign education. And of course, there are a few who go back and don't make anything of it at all. Again, they are by no means starving but they always feel that things would have been better if they have stayed in England. No matter if they moved back last year of twenty years ago, they will always mention in conversation, "When I lived in England..." Some will spend their lives, looking for ways both legal and illegal to make a second exodus.
As my friends return, I wish them well. I pray they come back on holiday with more than they have left with. I pray they will be safe. I pray they will be strong. May they go with optimism. May they never stop believing that things can change. May they never say like our parents did, "We are managing." The exodus has begun in my generation. The children are coming home.