Why I left UK to work in Nigeria – Ogechi Adeola shares her story

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Ogechi Adeola, an associate professor of marketing, head of department, operations, marketing and information systems at Lagos business school (LBS), Pan-Atlantic university, Nigeria has shared her experience when she decided to leave Nigeria and work in the UK.

According to her, it was a decision she won’t make again because it didn’t work out as she and her husband planned.

Read her story below;

Ogechi Adeola
Ogechi Adeola

IT WAS THE YEAR 2005, and there was crisis in the Nigerian banking sector – a period of reforms, mergers and consolidation. Coincidently, the UK Government had just introduced a new scheme called HSMP – the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme – to attract professionals to the UK. It was the buzz of the moment. Many young Nigerians were resigning from their jobs to pursue a new dream – the ‘Abroad’ Life – seeking greener pastures.

This was not the first time this exodus was happening in our country, and a source of concern for the government. Many years ago, around the mid-80s, in a bid to dissuade young Nigerians from leaving the country, the Federal Government commissioned a national orientation TV commercial, popularly known as ‘Andrew, I’m checking out’. The famous actor, the late Enebeli Elebuwa, played the role of the dapper Andrew, a young man who decided that all hope was lost for a future in Nigeria. It was during Buhari/Idiagbon’s military reign, and Andrew wanted to leave the country because of the economic downturn.

In a scene acted at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Andrew threw his large travelling bag over his shoulder and declared, “Men, I’m checking out…no water, no light….” Someone grabbed him and pleaded, “don’t check out.” A reluctant Andrew was eventually persuaded to stay back and ‘salvage’ the nation. Andrew didn’t ‘Japa’ again.

The word ‘Japa’ recently entered the Nigerian lexicon; a Yoruba slang interpreted to mean “to run, flee or escape”. However, this phenomenon is not new. It seems that every two decades, this exodus arises. I was part of the last wave and followed the crowd.

In September 2005, I found myself in the UK, cocooned inside No. 62 Springfield Road, Tottenham, London – a beautiful brown terrace house with a backyard to relax. Inside was a collection of 5 large one-room apartments with a kitchen. The monthly rent ranged from £200-£400 depending on the room’s size and location, including utilities (refuse collection, power, water, gas). Welcome to my ‘Japa Life’.

A few months prior to my adventure (misadventure), my darling husband came home with muted excitement. His friends had ‘Japa-ed’ under the reigning HSMP, which, as I had mentioned, was the rave of the moment. A lawyer by profession, his schoolmates, who had ‘Japa-ed’ were persuasive. ‘Come to the UK; it is Eldorado (the fabled city of gold). You will surely make money (pound sterling) leveraging the real estate boom. 

With some reluctance, I followed him as a dependent. There was uncertainty during that period due to the banking crisis, and I wanted some adventure, I guess. Though I had been travelling to the UK for other purposes over the years, relocation was a new ball game. I decided I wanted something different. A new life and an opportunity to eventually add another passport (a red one) to the distinct green one I had ‘been saddled’ with all my life. The UK Government was readily giving out the HSMP certificates to qualified Nigerians, and there were many young Nigerian families with the same dreams and aspirations as my family. 

Landing at London Heathrow on a foggy night, we quickly found our way to our first destination, where we had initially planned to stay, before moving out due to some circumstances that were not envisioned, to the house that would be our main abode. Settling down was tough. There were some Nigerians and a Corsican. Each occupant had his room, but with one kitchen, you had to wait for your turn to cook.

The Corsican, a chain smoker from an Island I had never heard of prior to my trip, filled the apartment with wafts of smoke that left an undeniable choking after-smell in its wake.

On one occasion, he taught my husband how to cook red meat with red wine, claiming it was healthy. He loved red wine. Most days, apart from Sundays, there was an eerie quietness in the house, till some residents of 62 Springfield Road stagger back from their routine day and night job roles, ranging from construction workers to cold room operators, though they are University graduates with qualifications from their native countries.

Nigerian No.1 had a lucrative job in the Nigerian oil sector. A young man, he had always wanted to ‘Japa’ and got his wish through HSMP. He sold all his possessions in Port Harcourt and relocated to the UK. He didn’t get a job despite his careful search. His money was draining fast.

Every morning he would go to a library near an Anglican Church close to the house to read so he could still be up-to-date in his career and, perhaps, contemplate his fate. At a stage, he reluctantly applied for a job as a Valet Attendant, thinking of the extra privileges that came with the role (aka tips from rich patrons). Salvation later came for him when he relocated to Glasgow through a cousin’s connection. The last I heard is that he had left for an Arab country and is doing very well in his profession (oil services).

Nigerian No. 2 did not plan to ‘Japa’ forever. He travelled out for a master’s degree in Computer Systems and Networking. In the course of his studies, he worked part-time with PC World and then TK Maxx, Wood Green, the fashion store, picking up clothes carelessly dropped by eager shoppers and rearranging them in his role as a ‘hallowed’ Shop Floor Associate – a more dignified name for a Shop Attendant, he would tell us, in mock disdain. This is a huge cry from a lucrative job as a Petroleum Engineer in Lagos.

He, like Nigerian No.1, was always looking pensive. He is back home now. I knew he would be back cos he was always making Nigerian meals with assorted and uncoordinated ingredients purchased from Lebanese and African stores around Tottenham. The popular Finsbury Park, where fresh Nigeria foodstuff was sold, was too far and too expensive for his meagre budget.

Nigerian No. 3 is a graduate of Estate Management from a prestigious Nigerian University. He worked very hard. He worked in a cold room. Cold, means ‘freezing cold’, not designed for the best of human endurance. He was always decked in very thick coveralls and gloves, looking tired and sickly.

He would not eat well; always saving money. His handshake was always cold and weightless. He would happily count his wages (about £6.50 per hour); revelling in his ruthless night shifts – not less than 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

His supervisors loved him; he was a hard worker, stepping in when others fell ill. We were worried about him. He also held another job, providing security services (aka security guard) for a building renovation project, a less stressful job where he could take a quick nap.

Nigerian No. 4 is my darling husband, the new entrant, who decided to take our baby and I and relocate to the UK. He didn’t get the job he was promised, and he didn’t want to settle for less, so ‘no menial jobs’ for him.

Some people advised him to bring out only his secondary school certificate when looking for some jobs.

Every morning, he will read his Bible and head out to look for the elusive real estate deal. He didn’t find any. At a point, he needed some medication easily obtainable at a local pharmacy in Nigeria, and it was challenging to access National Health Service (NHS) and get a doctor’s prescription – some bureaucracy, I guess, but that’s a story for another day.

Most mornings, I would rouse early from a dreamless sleep to look after my baby and contemplate my fate, too. I had left my comfortable home in Nigeria and a job where I called ‘the shots’ to some extent to settle in an ‘unknown land’ with the promise of Eldorado, now looking like an unending mirage. Amazed, I would watch the residents of No. 62 Springfield Road leave for work in joyless motion and return late, literally staggering back.

I heard daily tales of Nigerian graduates struggling to survive as the UK was also preparing to face the global economic crisis. Some migrants from Nigeria, I must confess, no doubt, achieved their goals, particularly those into trading (imports/exports), IT professionals and lawyers that made profits from leasing out properties.

The majority didn’t, I reckoned, wondering if they had made a dreadful mistake. It wasn’t the Eldorado they had hoped for.

One day, in the blisteringly cold weather of December 2005, I made a decision. My husband and I looked at each other, numb with cold; it was time to make a move. My eyes said it all as we fell into companionable silence. I wanted to go home. I had to return to Naija (Nigeria). He agreed.

A few days later, I took my baby and cheerfully bade the residents of the Springfield house that had been my home for a short period, though it seemed like a lifetime, goodbye. My dear husband escorted us to Heathrow Airport. Upon my return to Nigeria, I decided to go back to my employer. I took a chance.

I booked an appointment to see the Managing Director. He looked happy to see me; he took me back. “What did you plan to achieve abroad?’ he asked me. I looked down forlornly. Confidently, with a look that I can imagine of a fiery Old Testament Prophet, he declared, ‘You may not attain the height that you can achieve in Nigeria over there.’ He called the HR Director to let her know that I would be withdrawing my resignation letter. I did so that day. I replaced it with an application letter. My husband returned two months later to Nigeria, never looking back.

This is my story, and I have three key lessons on ‘Japa-ing’:

(i)  ‘Japa-ing’ might work for some, but it didn’t work for my family and I. My advice is that if you ‘Japa’, and it doesn’t work for you, perhaps like my family, consider ‘Pada-ing’ (returning). Count your losses and return. My hope is that the upcoming election will usher in a new era that will fix the nation and make it profitable and comfortable to stay back home if anyone desires.

The next decade and one beckon, as life goes in circles (and in seasons), and it will be yet another time for an exodus. The UK and other foreign governments will introduce another scheme, and perhaps then, Nigerians will stay back home if only we would have fixed our nation by then.

(ii)   Don’t burn your bridges when leaving the country. Don’t take pictures and ‘abuse’ Nigeria and your fellow citizens when you are going. My former employer took me back; I withdrew my resignation letter. It might not be a resignation letter in your case, but you might need some people you gleefully left behind.

(iii)  Everyone’s destiny is different. You can make it at home; you can make it abroad. Whatever you do, make sure you fulfil your destiny.

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