“I Don’t Regret Returning To Nigeria After 16 Years Abroad”

October 2, 2020

The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.


Today’s subject on Abroad Life is a 19-year-old man who left Ireland three years ago after living there for 16 years. He talks about how he didn’t want to come back to Nigeria, but the gang activity around his friends back in Ireland made him accept Nigeria as his new home.

When did you get back to Nigeria?

2017. I was sixteen. I was born in South Africa. My mum stayed there for nine months and then we moved to Ireland, where I stayed until 2017. 

And what was the expectation vs reality?

My mum watches a lot of Nigerian TV and there, the idea of Nigeria I got was mud houses and village settings. I stay in Owerri, and I can confidently say it’s not a village. 

Why did you come back to Nigeria?

My mum wasn’t happy with me being in Ireland anymore. She sent me here because she felt I needed a man to take care of me. My dad didn’t live with us in Ireland, only my step dad. He lived in South Africa because of business. 

Did you want to come to Nigeria?

I had no choice. The initial plan was to go back to South Africa and stay there. After a very short time there, my dad said he wanted to relocate to Nigeria. There was nothing I could do, so I came with him.

And how’s Nigeria so far?

It’s nice to be here. The stories I’m hearing from Ireland are crazy. I’d rather be here than caught in that lifestyle. 

What stories are you hearing? 

Gang shit. My childhood friends are in gangs, doing drugs and all that stuff. 

When I was there, I had a few friends that were in gangs, but none of them could influence me. But from what I hear, the number of my friends living this life has gone from “a few” to “almost all.” I know that if I was there, I would probably be about that life as well because your circle of friends influence you greatly, especially when they’re your close friends. 

Is gang activity really popular in Ireland?

It’s very popular among black youth. Almost everyone wants to be in a gang. In Ireland, Nigerians and the Congolese run the gangs. 

Are there a lot of Nigerians in Ireland?

Yes. You’ll find Nigerians everywhere. I met some Igbo people and some Benin people, but Yoruba people are everywhere. And I’m not saying they’re the ones doing all the illegal stuff, no. Generally,  Africans in Ireland are known for moving drugs, doing fraud or doing something illegal. 

How did that affect people’s perception of you, an African?

People were scared of me, but not because I was a criminal. I used to fight and beat people up in school. I also didn’t take school seriously, so maybe they just saw me as unserious and troublesome. When my friends and I got stopped and searched by the police, I would be the first to say, “I know I’m moving with these guys, but you’re not finding anything on me.” I was also a boxer, so that was fun. 

What’s a typical police stop and search like in Ireland?

When a group of over five black boys is walking together or in a public place for too long, the police pull up.  

Typically, two police cars will come up and tell us to stand in straight lines, ask us where we’re going or where we’re coming from and all those types of questions. They also make calls on their radio to see if there’s been any robbery or anything like that in the area for the past hour or so.  If they’re not satisfied, they tell us to turn around, place our hands on the wall and then search us, but they never search our phones. They’re looking for drugs or a weapon.

Do you have any friends that went to prison?

I heard a few people went to prison after I left, but when I was there, nobody went to prison. I have been arrested though. 

Why?

I was with my girlfriend and a couple of other friends in the city centre one summer afternoon. Gang activity was very high that summer. Out of nowhere, I just saw my friends running. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I had to run with them. That’s how fights usually started. A gang from the other side would come and a fight would break out. 

I’m normally the fastest when we run, so when I made good space, I decided to turn back to see what was happening. I saw this regular white man wearing a pair of jeans and running towards us and I’m like, “Is this why you people are running?” So I stopped. 

He ran up to me, grabbed me by the neck and started asking for the phone. I’m like, “What phone?” At this point, I thought he was robbing me so I brought out my phone and gave him. He returned my phone and asked me to provide the actual phone. I was so confused.  I saw some policemen try to grab two of my friends running by, but they escaped. 

They put me in the police car, and then they were talking on the radio about how they’d gotten a suspect of the attempted armed robbery case. That was when I understood what was happening. I told him, “Sir, I don’t know anything about any robbery” and he went “Well why were you running?” on me.  

Anyways, they took me to the station, got my statement, then held me in a cell.

Action film. How long were you in the cell for? 

I got in in the afternoon and came out at night. My mum was working a night shift that day so there was no way she was going to leave to come and get me. She called my stepdad. 

When they said my dad was here to pick me up, I got super scared. I thought he had come from South Africa to bail me out. I wanted to die. Turns out it was my stepdad. In retrospect, why would I even think that he could book a flight and fly from South Africa to Ireland?

They took my mugshot and said they’d follow up in court. 

Did they follow up?

Shortly after, I left for South Africa. They came to my house to serve some papers to my mom for some court dates, and she got super scared. She said I wasn’t going back to Ireland. 

So you’re wanted in Ireland?

I don’t know o. Because when I asked my other friends that had been arrested for things like that, they said they got off with a warning after they got served papers. I think they just did that to scare my mum, and she took it seriously.

I’m curious. In that story, where was your girlfriend?

I left her and ran. 

WOW

What I knew for a fact was that if it was anything gang-related, nobody would touch her because she was white.

Are you guys still together?

We tried, but we broke up in 2019, two years after I left. She was the kind of person that needed physical affection and I too was losing feelings because I couldn’t see her. When we were together, I could literally walk to her house at midnight. It was about two minutes away. But when I left, it just changed.

You said you were a boxer. Were you going pro?

That year, my boxing club scheduled me for like five fights, which I won. I think I was going pro. They took black people more seriously for things like boxing, so they gave me a lot of attention. But I left shortly after. I’ve not boxed since I left.

What do you miss about being in Ireland?

I miss the 24/7 electricity, I miss my friends and also the freedom to move about. In Ireland I got my ears pierced, and I could walk about without anyone looking at me in a strange way. 

And for some reason, I miss the cold weather. 

Would you go back? 

The death of a really close friend will take me back. The year I left, one of my best friends passed away on a football pitch, and the fact that I couldn’t be there broke my heart. I told myself if any close friend passes, I must go.

Sorry about that. What’s one thing you prefer about being in Nigeria?

Again, it’s freedom, but in a different way. Being an immigrant in a white man’s nation is not easy, so there were limitations to how we lived our lives. We were the only black family on our street. I had to constantly speak to white people in a way that showed that I was not like the other Africans notorious for crime. 

You couldn’t joke about certain things — like your mum hitting you. Someone listening in could report your mum to social services. Next thing, you find yourself in a foster home. 

Wow. So do you identify as Nigerian?

I identify as Nigerian, South African and Irish. My mom is South African and my dad is Nigerian. But I’m an Irish citizen.

Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.

David Odunlami

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