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.
The subject of today’s Abroad Life left Nigeria for the first time in 1978. After staying six years in Italy, he moved back to Nigeria briefly before moving to England with his newlywed wife. He talks about living his best life, almost dying in London, and the worst decision he ever made in his life — coming back to Nigeria.
When did you first leave Nigeria?
1978. I left for Italy. I’d gotten an admission to study computer science. I was in Italy for about six years before I came back to Nigeria.
What was Italy like?
It was difficult to learn the language, but after some time, I spoke so much Italian, it began to affect my English. I had a great time in Italy. I went on a scholarship, and after I was done with my bachelor’s degree, I did so well that my school offered me another scholarship. I was top of my class. I didn’t accept the scholarship, though. I was ready to leave Italy. I needed a change. I asked for the monetary equivalent, and they gave me. I used the money to do some business. I returned to Nigeria in 1984 with imported shoes, belts and other stuff in bulk, and sold them. I made some profit.
What was Nigeria like for you?
When I got to Nigeria in 1984, my life changed. I met my wife. I was in Lagos, going to my village in Ondo with a friend when we stopped by a vehicle park to get something. I saw her trying to get a car, we stopped the car, and I went to meet her. Luckily, she was going to the village just beside mine, so we offered her a ride and she accepted. Along the way, we stopped for me to go from the passenger’s seat up front to join her at the back. I had jokes and it was obvious that she liked me.
We dropped her at her village first and then went to ours. The next day, we were back at her village. I knew I was in love with her. I met her mum and her sister and indicated my interest in marrying her. We started talking properly after that.
What happened after that?
I started making plans to leave Nigeria again. I wanted to go back to Europe, but I didn’t want to go to Italy. I wanted to go to an English speaking country, so I decided on England. In every plan I made mentally, I factored her in. We weren’t married yet, but I added her to my plans to relocate.
When I finally decided to move, we did a small traditional wedding, planned our relocation together and settled in London. A few years later, we had our church wedding in London. Our children were there.
What was it like moving to London?
It was the best thing that ever happened to me. We got a nice house in London. In the next few years, we would have five children and my wife would get a nice job near the house so she wouldn’t have to leave the children for too long. I also got an extremely well-paying job. It was a nocturnal job. The company bus would pick me every evening and drop me off at home every morning. We also built a very nice network with friends that really cared about us. I was a happy man with his wife and his children, making a lot of money and living above comfort levels.
Everything changed when I fell sick.
One day in 1993, I was driving and I suddenly couldn’t move my feet anymore so I drove into a wall. I didn’t have any major injuries from that incident, but when I got scanned, it was found that the reason I couldn’t move my feet was that I had a spinal problem from my neck downwards.
It was so bad that I had to have emergency surgery. I was technically almost dead. The hospital called my recovery from the surgery the miracle of the year because all the doctors were sure that the best-case scenario for me was that I would lose my ability to walk. Worst case scenario, I would die. I walked out of the hospital. I believe it’s because my family, in Nigeria and abroad, was praying for me.
After the surgery, I had an epiphany; I didn’t want to die in a foreign land. I didn’t waste any time processing the thoughts that were rushing through my mind or weigh any pros and cons. I knew I didn’t want to die there so I was sure my family and I were returning to Nigeria.
How did your wife take the decision?
She begged me with all her life, but I wasn’t hearing anything. She tried to tell me that I could get better healthcare and a better future for my children there in England, but I knew I wasn’t even going to consider her words.
When her friends found out, they came to beg me, but I wasn’t listening. Then my friends found out and came to beg me and told me to go to Nigeria but leave my wife and kids in London. That was never going to happen. It was me versus everyone, and I wasn’t backing down. I couldn’t imagine dying without seeing Nigeria. While all of this begging was going on, I got all our stuff, found a shipping service, and put them in a container to Nigeria.
Even with that, the opportunity to stay was still very available. My wife’s close friend had just gotten a divorce and was moving away from London. She had a fantastic house; much better than ours, a swimming pool and all. She said, “It’s fine if you already sent all your stuff to Nigeria. You can have my house.”
And so you left.
Yes. We got back to Nigeria in 1994, and somehow shortly after, I was new again. It didn’t seem like I was even sick before. I became perfectly fine, but Nigeria wasn’t what I expected it to be. Things got hard quickly. I had a lot of money at first, so I was shipping high-level medical equipment from Germany and selling them to hospitals in Nigeria.
At one point, I got involved with a popular Nigerian government hospital and after I’d shipped in the equipment and was ready to get paid, the “powers that be” started acting shady and tried to make money off the deal. If that had happened, I would have made a loss. I wasn’t going to let that happen, so I backed out of the deal and started looking for someone else to buy my equipment. I didn’t find anyone to buy until the equipment expired and I lost tens of millions of naira.
That’s where everything went south.
Did you try to go back?
We spent the next few years trying to go back to the UK. We spent tens of millions of naira processing our visas and paying immigration lawyers, but in the end, we couldn’t go back because we took our children, who were British citizens out of the country before the age of 10 without any special government authorisation, and now we were trying to bring them back in. There was a policy that worked against all that.
In the planning of it all, we took our children out of school because we didn’t think they’d be staying in Nigeria for long. They were out of school for two years.
At some point, we just had to stop and accept that we were never going back to the UK. Even our children were old enough to wake us up one day in the middle of the night and ask us to stop trying because they were tired of being in limbo. They were happy with being in Nigeria.
Coming back to Nigeria is the worst decision I’ve ever made. Things have only gone from bad to worse ever since. There’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t think about how terrible a decision that was.
How did the move affect your relationship with your wife?
My wife is amazing. She understood that the reason I wanted to come back to Nigeria was that I didn’t want to leave my family in a strange place if I died, and it wasn’t for a selfish reason, so when things got rough, she stood by me fully. There was no negativity whatsoever. It was for better or worse, and she stayed with me.
How’s your health now?
Two years ago, I had a mild stroke. It wasn’t great, but I’m recovering. At least, now, I can speak freely and do some stuff by myself.
Do you plan on trying to leave again?
I’m not actively trying. I’m settled here with my family and I’ve accepted that. If somehow, I got the opportunity to leave though, I’d grab it with both hands.
Hey there! My name is David 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.