In certain cultures, adulting is marked with rituals, tests and celebrations. But when you’re Nigerian, adulting often comes at you without warning. Adulting comes in different forms; bills, family, responsibility, and you guessed it, a child.
Everyone who’s crossed that bridge has a unique story. Stories that can help you see you’re not alone. That’s why every Thursday at 9 am, we’ll bring you one Nigerian’s journey to adulthood, the moment it happened and how it shaped them.
The question we’ve been asking is, “when did you realise you were an adult?”
The 26-year old woman in this story has never had to worry about anything that matters. Just 26 years of pure cruise. She’s a baby girl, shuttling between Lagos and Abuja, with a comfortable life. Nearly everything simply falls in her lap. It’s why she feels like there’s a big chance that she never got the chance to grow up.
It’s weird but Abuja reminds me of how most people like to think they can determine their fortune. I don’t know the exact details of how my parents moved there. My dad often talks about it as a story of him taking a big chance by buying land here and trusting his business acumen but I think he thinks too much of himself. It was just luck. He was just in the right place at the right time when someone offered land in what would become Gwarimpa. Just luck. What if he hadn’t been at the place when whoever it is first told him about land in Gwarimpa? What about the people who weren’t?
I’m part of a generation that doesn’t know what our parents like to call ‘home’. Both my parents are from the South; my mother has a bit of Yoruba in her, I think, but I hardly ever go “back home”. When I was born, my father had been on what I like to call a winning streak. He’d been in finance for a while; then he saved up.
With the help of one of those old friends he calls his brother, he got into importing in the 90s. Now, they import cheap things from China; shiny, cheap things that people have to buy. They had me when his money came. I have two older brothers. The gap in years between me and my immediate older brother is big enough to make me look like an afterthought.
One time, when I was about 9, my entire extended family travelled back to Agbor for a burial. Someone in my father’s age grade had died and I assume he was the wealthiest of his peers. So I guess he felt responsible for the whole thing. The Lagos People travelled in one convoy and us Abuja people travelled in ours. We spent the night after the first half of our journey in a hotel in Enugu.
What we did could have been called a complete takeover. My uncles, cousins, everyone was somewhere in the hotel; in the kitchen, at the bar. Except us. We were in the room; me, my parents and my two brothers. My dad told to order whatever we wanted as long as it wasn’t alcohol. But we couldn’t go out to be with with everybody else.
That’s what my childhood was like. We had everything we wanted but we couldn’t share it with anyone else. Mondays to Fridays were for going to school, watching television and playing with whatever. Weekends, we’d go shopping with my mum and on Sundays, church. Nothing else, ever.
Of course, my brothers figured their way around getting out of the house. I was allowed to have friends over but every time I suggested going to their houses or anywhere else, I was reminded that our compound was big enough to play. And it was. But nothing is ever big enough. I got in trouble too much for literally harming myself or doing silly things like climbing the stairs on the short end of the railing. I have a chipped tooth because of that one.
I learned very on that if I wanted something, all I had to do was ask. My dad was the one who could hardly ever say no to me but it didn’t matter who I asked. Everything was just always so easy. When I was a lot younger, my favourite status symbol was having a driver who took me everywhere and waited until I was finished. As I grew older, I didn’t worry about the things I imagine people my age were worrying about. It’s almost like there was a script I was acting. I remember this one time in secondary school, I had a friend who kept talking about a phone so much, so I bought her one.
I thought it was ironic that my parents were so restrictive but they’d give me money when I asked for it. So I started asking the help to buy me things I was really interested in; like
University was always meant to be the escape I first found in books, the place where I’d eventually see ‘life’, something different. It wasn’t. I didn’t realise it till I’d left but I went there and did exactly what I was supposed to do.
My parents and I had fought over my supposed desire for distractions. I could have gone to Atlanta or some random school in the UK easily but it was ‘unnecessarily far’ for them.
So I went to the American University of Nigeria in Yola. It’s exactly all that it’s made out to be. But all I did was eat, swim, read, go on trips with my girls. The only consolation is that, at some level, I did some of the more absurd things I always wanted to do. That’s where I went wild. I would go to Abuja on a whim just to do something as random as getting a back tattoo. I even had a car parked in the town at some point. But I flunked my courses like hell while I was there. I like to think I’m not entirely stupid but I couldn’t be bothered to make the effort. It didn’t count and I knew it. Everything was already set. I barely even graduated. I loved Yola. I still do. But by the time I left, life had begun to feel very hollow.
Are you an adult if your parents still provide everything you need? How can you defend yourself or anything you stand for when there’s a blanket waiting to catch you and all the consequences of your actions? How can you earn a life that was always literally handed to you?
There’s this poem called “Convenience Stores” by a spoken word poet called Buddy Wakefield. I think it describes what I feel like on most days. This driver walks into a shop and throws some life-shaking questions at a sales girl. And at a point, he asks her, “Is this it for you, is this all you’ll ever be?”. I’m not a salesgirl but I’ve always felt like everyone was asking me that question.
“Your father has money, and then what? What about you?”
Most people are judged by how they’ve overcome their challenges but apart from the odd hectic week at work, I can’t say I go to through anything that qualifies as ‘gruelling’. It’s not hard for me to admit my privilege or say I’ve had more room to make mistakes than others. I don’t feel bad about it. I’ve enjoyed it. I wouldn’t change a thing. But where are the mistakes? I’ve not even gone out and made those.
What I am now is what you would call a bad bitch.
My dad put me on the books at his firm as soon as I returned to Abuja, same as my brothers. I did my NYSC there and got paid my first salary. It was rather uneventful at first but because of the mess with the new tariffs at Apapa, the Lagos end of his business is more important. He’s getting older so he sends me down sometimes. I met my boyfriend on one of those trips.
He’s one of the few things I enjoy about my life. Everything else is the same as it has always been. People introduce me by my father’s full name and then say I’m his daughter. I do it too. It opens doors. But I’m worried that if we all do it enough, I’ll forget who I was supposed to be, whoever that is. I don’t think I ever figured it out. And I’m running out of time to.
I’ve told my mother that I want to quit and move to the UK. She always forces her hand over my mouth when I mention it.
“Don’t let your father hear. He has big plans for you.”
I’m 27 in July and I live in the family guest house at home. Life is good; I have a well-paying job with money that I don’t spend. My parents make faces when I’m travelling “too far”. My boyfriend mostly buys me things because he thinks he has to. So he buys things I already have; like an extra bottle of perfume. He should take the hint and buy a big, shiny ring soon.
I have a few investments of my own here and there; money in a friend’s business, some mutual funds. I give a lot to causes on social media too. But it sucks to have come so far and still feel like there’s something I’ve not done.
Maybe my real fear is that Nigeria could happen to us and the family business–our source of security somehow ceases to exist. I worry that I won’t know how to handle a life where everything isn’t at my fingertips. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.