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 moved to Ghana in 2009 after her family told her she would have a great time there. She talks about seeing xenophobia against Nigerians play out in many different forms and experiencing it herself, firsthand.
What was growing up like for you?
I grew up in Lagos with my two older siblings and parents who were lovers — they loved each other and everything about the world, like music. My parents listened to every type of music. It was a huge part of their lives, and soon, it became a huge part of mine.
Tell me about that.
My interest in music grew with attending church. My dad was a traditionalist who believed in his blackness above everything. He didn’t go to shrines, but he believed in his ancestors and in doing the right thing. My mother, on the other hand, was Catholic. They didn’t impose their religions upon us, but my siblings and I eventually went to church with my mum. Hearing the church’s classical music style made me fall in love with being in the church.
As I grew older, I fell more in love with music and out of love with the church.
Sometime after that, some of my family members visited Ghana and swore it was an amazing place to be, so I decided to visit first, and when I made some friends and saw it was a good place for networking that would help my musical career grow, I decided to move there too.
Nice. What was Ghana like?
Omo, it wasn’t amazing. The treatment of Nigerians in Ghana is so bad. You’ll see it in situations like simple marketplace transactions where once a merchant hears your accent, they shoot the prices up and when you complain, they’ll say, “You’re a Nigerian. You have oil money.” I heard news of Nigerians being beaten in street squares for the tiniest offences. People act harshly towards you once they know you’re a Nigerian. It was terrible.
One day, I was walking in Circle when I saw a newspaper headline: “Nigerian Man Caught For Stealing Phone”. I was stunned. Do you know the process it takes to have something on a national newspaper headline?
Weird question: why did you stay?
I was making really good musical connections and some good friendships, and I didn’t want to throw it all away because I was offended about the way I was being treated. If I was in the US, I’d probably have to be afraid of violent racism too, but that doesn’t mean no black people should step foot in the US.
Did you experience xenophobia in other forms?
I’ll tell you a few stories. One year, on the night of December 31st, my Ghanaian friends and I went to a bar to have some drinks. On the table beside us, some men were having a terribly loud argument. One of them was saying Nigerians were better than Ghanaians, and the others said he was absolutely out of his mind because Ghanaians were superior to Nigerians. They were all Ghanaians.
Apparently, the guy that was saying Nigerians are better than Ghanaians had been to Nigeria and his argument was that we did things better than them. It was so weird hearing such an unnecessary argument when I was just trying to have a nice time with my friends. You want to know the crazy thing that happened next?
Please tell me.
One of my friends stood up and joined in the argument, equally raising their voice about how Nigerians are in all ways inferior to Ghanaians. I just sat there and watched in awe.
Another time, I was being interviewed on live radio about my music, but we had to pause the interview once it was 12 p.m. for the midday news. As I sat there, the newscaster reading the midday news said, “The crime rates in Ghana are rapidly increasing and we know why — it’s because of the influence of Nollywood.” She then went on to talk about how Nigerian movies are the reason for a lot of the terrible crimes happening and Ghana and implied that if Ghanaians didn’t watch as many Nollywood movies, the crime rates would reduce.
The interviewer sounded so pissed. When the show resumed, she publicly apologised for the statement before we continued. Me, once again, I was stunned.
Another time, I was at a musical conference where some bigshot white guy was supposed to speak via a live video call that would be broadcast on the huge screen. But the organisers of the show had some technical issues setting up, so he had to wait for a long time. When he finally came on, he refused to speak because he said they didn’t respect his time. What made it worse was he ended the rant with: “You guys need to learn from the Nigerians. I had to speak with the Nigerians earlier, and it went very smoothly.” Then he hung up. All of this played on the huge screen for everyone in attendance to hear.
The president of the Musicians Union of Ghana was part of the audience. He stood up, took a microphone and began to rant, but his rant wasn’t about the guy that had just spoken to them. It was about Nigerians. “What is special about Nigerians, and why are they comparing us?” It was embarrassing.
When did you eventually leave Ghana?
I left in 2015, but it wasn’t because of xenophobia. I just needed to move on with my life and do better things, because I’d been in Ghana since 2009. Brazil was the next destination for me.
Do you think you’ll go back to Ghana?
If I have the chance, I will. It’s not like I swore never to go back there. It’s just time and chance.
Hey there! My name is Sheriff and I’m the writer of Abroad Life. If you’re a Nigerian and you live or have lived abroad, I would love to talk to you about what that experience feels like and feature you on Abroad Life. All you need to do is fill out this short form, and I’ll be in contact.