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 didn’t know a country like North Cyprus existed until 2018 when he met his wife. One year later, he moved there to be with her. He talks about how Nigerians are treated in the country and his big plans to help people get tech jobs.
When did you realise you wanted to move abroad?
The first time was in 2006 when I was doing A-Levels. Some people came to my school to tell us about the opportunities to study in Russia, and they convinced me enough to be interested in them. When I told my parents though, they didn’t agree. Their only son couldn’t just wake up one day and say he wanted to move to Russia. I didn’t put up a strong fight because even I knew it was a big deal to move abroad. I just let it go.
In 2018, I got my first job in Surulere, Lagos. As a kid, my mum had worked in Surulere, and I would follow her from time to time. When I started going to work on my own, I found myself facing the same struggles we faced when I was growing up — dirty canals, unnecessary traffic, bad roads filled with dirt, etc. Nothing was better. I think that’s when I decided I didn’t want to stay in Nigeria?
Did you make any active plans?
Nah. Shortly after that epiphany, I met my wife on Instagram. I didn’t know she wasn’t in Nigeria until the first day we spoke on the phone, when she said she wanted to go to bed because it was midnight.
I was like, “Midnight?” And that’s when she told me she was in North Cyprus. At first, I thought she meant the popular Cyprus, but she explained that it was a totally different country. A country I’d never heard of before.
So you moved there to join her?
I saw her for the first time when she came to Nigeria in June 2019, we got married in August, and I moved there in October.
Was the plan always to join her?
We had three options — I could join her in North Cyprus, she could move back to Nigeria, or we could move to a different country together. We decided on the first option because she was doing her PhD in North Cyprus, and it didn’t make sense for her to drop it because of me. I decided to just go ahead and get a master’s as well.
You went from not knowing a country existed to moving there in one year?
Thankfully, my wife told me everything I needed to know about the country before I moved. I do the same when I find out people want to come here, just so I can prepare their minds.
“Prepare their minds” makes it sound like a scary place.
It’s a scary place for the unprepared. It’s even scarier for Nigerians. In March (2022), the drug law enforcement agency at the Ercan International Airport got a tip that some Nigerians were bringing drugs into the country. Their solution was to stop every Nigerian student coming into the country for the next three days, and throw all their food away. I’m talking 40kg of food per person.
For context, I brought 23kg of food into the country, and it lasted my wife and me six months. There was no explanation, no apology, nothing. As long as you were a Nigerian coming into the country, they’d take your food and dump it. They eventually found the drugs, but at what cost?
Also, a rule here is that if you bring in new looking gadgets, they’ll either seize them or make you pay import duties because they believe you’re coming here to sell them.
Many times, students land in North Cyprus and are taken to jail immediately.
Schools are supposed to send a list of the students who are coming into the country to the airport officials. If the school forgets to send this list — which happens more often than you’d imagine — it means you’re an illegal entrant into the country, and therefore, will have to stay in jail until the school can clear you.
What about tourists?
The only two visas available to Nigerians in North Cyprus are student visas and work visas, and with work visas, the company hiring you has to specifically apply for you to come into the country. It’s rare for anyone to come here on a work visa. Most Nigerians in this country are students.
Why do people keep going there then?
First of all, university fees here are generally affordable. Then, there are agents. These people make money by convincing people to go to university in North Cyprus. For every student they successfully sign-up, they get a commission. What this means is that they’re going to lie and paint the country as a beautiful place to be. Many people don’t do their own research, so they fall prey.
Also, until recently, the universities don’t reply to inquiry emails because they don’t want to get in the way of the agents’ business. So people only had whatever information they got from agents.
Did you use an agent?
Yes, but because my wife had been here for three years before me, she knew everything I needed to know and helped with the process. I didn’t experience any hiccups.
You’ve told me what you expected of North Cyprus. What was it like when you got there?
Two days after I got here, the electricity and water in our apartment stopped working. Apparently, the person living here before us didn’t pay their bills, and to regain access, we had to pay ₦150k.
If you have money, you’ll enjoy yourself here. You’ll get a good apartment, have a nice car, eat good, go to the beaches, etc. It’s a peaceful country. You can live in a nice neighbourhood and go out by 2 a.m. without any hassles. That’s the good part.
What’s the bad part?
It’s difficult to make money legally as a foreigner. Therefore, many Nigerians don’t enjoy the things I’ve just spoken about. Employers are looking for slaves. They pay foreigners way less than minimum wage, owe salaries for months, treat people poorly and don’t fear the repercussions. To work as a student, you need a student work permit, but employers don’t give Nigerian students the permits because they want to treat them terribly. What this means is that no matter how badly they treat people, they can’t be reported. If you report a wicked employer to the police, and you don’t have a student work permit, they will arrest you.
How do you survive financially?
Most of my jobs since I started working in 2014 have been remote. That didn’t change when I moved here. I write, design, take on some advisory roles and do some data-related work. Right now, I have jobs in Nigeria and Europe, so I don’t need to look for work here.
Tell me a bit about the people.
They’re called Turkish Cypriot. Muslims make up about 99% of the Turkish Cypriot population, but they’re very accommodating of other religions. During Christmas, there are Christmas trees everywhere, and some schools even give holidays to Christians like me.
Are there a lot of Nigerians there?
Nigerians are everywhere here. Everywhere. Most are students. In very rare cases, you’ll find Nigerians who stayed back after their studies because they found very well-paying jobs.
Over the years, people have begun to accept crypto in payment for goods like cars and laptops, especially from foreigners who would rather not hold the weak Turkish Lira. When you walk into shops, people accept e-Naira and even naira. It’s interesting to see.
What’s your favourite part about living in North Cyprus?
The people — Nigerian, Cypriots, and people of other nationalities. I’m extroverted, so mixing with people from other countries and learning from them is exciting for me. I also like the fact that it’s very peaceful here. The police work really hard.
What are your plans for the future? Do you want to stay much longer?
I’m currently working on a non-profit project, helping Nigerians here access tech-related classes, and for people who already have the skills, tech-related jobs. Last year, a Nigerian was thrown in jail for stealing bread and coke. Stuff like that saddens me, so I’m working with like-minded people to create a community where Nigerians in North Cyprus can have access to education and job opportunities. That’s my plan for as long as I stay here.
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.