‘Japa’: Nigerians living abroad recount struggles

Studying at home or abroad? – The choices before our children

Many Nigerians see relocation to other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States as an achievement that is worth celebrating.

For some of those who left the country in pursuit of a better life, their experiences are fraught with struggles.

Giselle Okorie, a US-based Nigerian, said relocating abroad opened her eyes to the harsh reality of surviving in a foreign land foreign.

“Upon my arrival, it almost felt like I had made it in life. It wasn’t until the reality of paying bills and standing up for oneself kicked in. No one advises you to brace yourself for the amount of hard work you have to put in to make ends meet,” she said.

Okorie lamented the tuition international students are required to pay. “My research shows we get charged at least 2.5 times what people born here are charged,” she said.

She complained that “racism is very real”, saying: “The racism didn’t hurt till it started to hurt. People are of the extreme, they either overreact or underreact. I wouldn’t say I haven’t had good times; they just come at a price.”

She added: “The price of working endless shifts so you can afford to be where you need to be. Time waits for no one, being punctual is part of the country’s system. So far, I would say I have managed to make those ends meet but at the cost of working while going to school, to me that counts as a success but at the price of me coming back home every day and feeling extremely tired.

“Some days, I get home so tired I fall asleep with my shoes on. Meanwhile, most people my age (23) back home aren’t stressed as much because our culture permits us to relax at our parents’ house and not be bothered by anything.”

While some have been able to weather the challenges experienced abroad, there are some who have found themselves drowning under the weight of one pressure after the other.

Gladys Okoroafor, who relocated abroad with her entire family to the UK, also shared her experience with BusinessDay.

She said: “We secured a single-room apartment in Southern Wales within a shared flat where we had other residents. At one time, we were told by our old co-tenants that we could not use some of the appliances.

“My first job was as a caregiver in an old people’s home. Yes, many people back home thought we were rich because of the exchange rate gap between the dollar and the naira. However, the truth is that even with the income of my husband, we found it hard to make ends meet over here.”

Some Nigerians work as hospital volunteers where they have to wheel out bodies from the morgue to the chapel of rest for families to view. Others do menial jobs such as security guards, caregivers, and cleaners to survive.

Despite the odds, many Nigerians are managing to pull through by dint of hard work and determination.

William Ajayi, who got admitted to a tertiary institution in the UK, was also given a work permit that enables him to work while schooling, and his children were admitted to high schools free of charge.

“Though there are bills to pay, what I earn in a week when converted runs in millions of naira. If you don’t have someone over here to assist, it could be difficult. But with determination and focus, I tell you, it is far better than living in Nigeria,” he said.

Another Nigerian who migrated to the UK about two years ago, described her experience so far as “the most interesting challenging experience I have ever had.”

The young lady said: “As an immigrant in another country, you are not considered a priority; you are not a citizen, so do not expect it to be rosy.

“I found it very challenging trying to adjust when I came in. With the opportunities available at the time and then combining them with school, I would rant that if this was not what I wanted for myself, my country would have been much better.

“But the challenges so far have changed me in so many ways. These challenges sort of build you up, it changes you, it toughens you up, it is a whole lot of different experiences.”

She said she decided to leave Nigeria because she wanted a different life for herself.

She said: “Moving abroad does not have to be something you do because you are seeing every other person doing it, it has to be something you want for yourself because it makes it easier when these challenges come.

“So far it has been great. I have had good and challenging times and other times I have been confused. But at the same time, it has been very rewarding and I look forward to more to come.”

According to a recent Philips Consulting report, the top three reasons Nigerians relocate to another country are better job opportunities, insecurity challenges, and higher education.

Omoniyi Ade, who relocated to Canada, could not hide his joy for the opportunity to give his children a quality education and a good life over there.

“There is life in Canada; I mean, there is a complete peace of mind here,” he said.

The rising cost of living and insecurity are seen pushing Nigerians to relocate to other countries for further development, employment prospects, and a bright future.

Most of those surveyed by Phillips Consulting indicated plans to relocate to Canada, the UK, and the US.

Tunji Adebiyi, a Nigerian based in the US, said life abroad is not all freedom from challenges as there are hurdles to scale through.

He said: “In the US, one major challenge is accommodation. You must not allow your rent to expire, if not you will land yourself in court, and that will earn you additional interest on your rent.

“And if for any reason you fail to meet up with the grace period given by the court to pay, the fellow will be made to forfeit everything in the apartment. Accommodation is a serious matter here.”

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