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 Ethiopia in 2019. After almost getting stranded there due to airport restrictions, he finally came back to Nigeria during the #EndSARS protests. He talks about moving from Nigeria to Senegal in 2020, overcoming the language barrier, and witnessing protests every month. #FreeSenegal though, is the biggest he’s witnessed.
How long have you been in Senegal?
I came here in 2020 after I nearly got stranded in Addis Ababa. In 2019, I was selected for the AU program, so I was in Ethiopia for some time. When the program ended, it was time to go back to Nigeria, but COVID hit and one day, it was announced that the airports were getting closed the next day. The other Nigerians who were there with me bought their tickets to travel home that same day, but I didn’t have that type of money, so I just stayed. Ethiopia is not a place you want to stay as a foreigner.
Apart from the cold weather, Ethiopia is very similar to Nigeria on issues like government competence and social amenities, so the people there protest a lot. That’s not an environment you want to be in.
When did you leave?
Thankfully, because of the pandemic, they kept extending the deadline for airports to close, so I was able to get some money to leave. I went back to Nigeria during the EndSARS protests for two weeks, and then I got a Senegal job and left.
How were the EndSARS protests for you?
Before I left Ethiopia, I didn’t understand what people were clamouring about. My friend had to explain the gravity of the issues and so I started protesting online.
My younger brothers were also protesting in Nigeria, and that was scary. I was worried about their safety. It was shortly after the Lekki Massacre happened that my friend and I arrived in Nigeria. Even from the airports, it was scary.
I arrived in Abuja, and he arrived in Lagos. We had totally different experiences. In Abuja, the security guys kept asking why I was coming back to Nigeria at such a time as that. I don’t know if they were doing their jobs as security guards, or they were just confused about why anyone would come into a country that was going through hell. But I moved past it.
My friend, however, had a totally different experience. Lagos was on lockdown, but they let him leave the airport. When he got out, he encountered police roadblocks. They would tell him he couldn’t pass and that he had to find a different route to get to his destination. On the different route, he would meet another police roadblock, and the officers there would tell him the same thing. At some point, he ran into thugs. He had to go back to a police roadblock to beg them to allow him to pass. He showed his passport and all that. Even when he found a route to pass, he still encountered thugs. I couldn’t reach him for days. It was really scary, but I’m glad he was okay.
And then you moved to Senegal.
The language barrier was the first problem I faced when I got there, so I had to quickly learn some french phrases to get me around. I also started a French course that took two hours from my working hours every day, and it wasn’t remote. I would take a break from work to go to school every day. It got stressful, so I dropped out after two months.
Another potential problem was accommodation, but I quickly got an Airbnb. I shared an apartment with an Italian couple for a while before I found my own place.
It wasn’t long after I got to Senegal that I noticed the protest culture. But they don’t call it protesting. They call it “manifestation”.
Why do the people manifest?
For different reasons. One day, I was on my way back from French class when I saw stones and glass all over the roads where I’d passed only a few hours ago. I was so confused. Apparently, there’s a system where students are paid to go to school here. When the government delays the money, they protest.
I heard gunshots, and I had to wear my headphones and walk through the chaos. It was super scary. I couldn’t go back to work that day. That was in December. There has been at least one big protest every month ever since.
This recent one was for something else.
In my opinion, these protests critically underlie the bigger problems in Senegal: the people are frustrated with leadership. The ongoing protest feels bigger than everything I’ve ever witnessed. I haven’t been able to go to work since the protests started. I’ve been holed up at home. The protesters came to my area, and I had to stay low in my house just to keep safe.
There have been killings and people have been heavily looting, but after Ousman Sonko’s arrest, you can tell that the people want a change of governance. I hope people get what they want.
Do you see yourself staying in Senegal?
I see myself staying for the next four to five years depending on how well I do at my job. It’s a really nice place to live. The people are free.
What do you mean free?
Senegal is a Muslim country, but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by being here. It’s a very progressive place. People don’t let religion hold them back from doing what they want to do or from expressing themselves the way they want. They party, they smoke, they drink, and they do these things in the open.
Nigerians are not like that. We’re more conservative in the open because of our beliefs and then we do the things we really want to do in the secret.