Ike Ogben writes from Luton, UK
What are the pros and cons of living abroad? Having read articles written in different styles, language, form and content by different people from different walks of live about those living abroad as against staying at ?home?. I think it is up to an individual. After all, what and where is home? Jim Reeves, the popular 1960s musician does not see this world as his home, but a sojourner through a troubled land. Or like a troubadour traversing the land. I looked at the dictionary meaning of home and it says: ?the flat/apartment that you live in, especially with your family?. It could also mean a town, state or country where you come from or live.
It?s not particularly where you are born or your parents or great grand parents where born or live. It?s particular about you and peculiar to you. It?s the singular pronounce ?you? as the collective pronoun ?you?. But can we ever pin down where we are from by tracing the family tree? Considering emigration of immigration and inter-marriages that started centuries before we where born? And, thinking of the new trend or the ?coming change? of globalisation which portrays the world as a global village. Where then can we boldly claim that we are from? Where then can we call home or say we are from without secluding some and alienating others? Without a few privileged ones claiming superiority or legitimacy over others. My paternal grandma was from ?Isan? (Ishan?) while my grandpa was from Agbor-Obi Ohumere precisely. My maternal grandpa was from Ogbomudein quarters in Ime-Obi. My father?s younger brother (what would I call him, uncle? I think, please pardon, my English is not very rich) married ?Onye-Owa?. So, where will my uncle?s children (cousins?) claim to come from?
Hadiza?s mother is from Imo, her father is from Niger State but she was born in Lagos. Where then is Hadiza?s home? Koffi?s father is from Kumasi, Ghana, his mother is from Plateau State in Nigeria but he was born in Abijan, where will Koffi lay claim to be home, please? Desiree is 22 years old woman, born in Britain and she has never travelled outside Britain all her life. Her mother is half-Canadian and half-Nigerian, her father is French, could someone please point the way home for Desiree?
Shortly after my friend left Nigeria for Germany in 2004, barely three months, he called me. I was still in Lagos. As we were discussing I shouted, he asked, ?what was that?? I told him, ?NEPA don take light?. I heard a very loud and clownish laughter from the other end of the receiver. When I asked him what was the matter? He chuckled and asked if ?them still de cease light for there?. I was mad when I asked him, when did he leave Nigeria that he was forgetting so soon? He told me I will understand better when I get to UK. I can think back with a smile to see how right he was. We forget too soon. I know you must be thinking, oh you won?t forget where you are from and whose son you are. I hear you. I can?t imagine where Gbenga will call home.
One of the greatest banes of life in Nigeria is acceptance – acceptance of a people by a people. Femi was born in Port Harcourt to Yoruba parents. He lived, schooled and worked in PH as a lecturer in Uni-Port. While he was doing a PhD programme in UI I was studying for an M.A. We used to come out in the evenings and weekends as PG hall was very quiet almost lonely compared to the undergraduate halls full of activity, live and zest. Femi was always constantly complaining about Yoruba people and their behaviour he was not used to experiencing in PH. He used to tell me, oh boy! ?This Yuropeans de crase oh, if them try these things for our area I go just shoot person?. I will reel with laughter and ask, Femi, where are you from? He will say PH. I will sneer at him and say, ?I wish?. I obviously did not accept his claim as a son-of-the-soil in PH. This is quite sad. I guess most of us are guilty of denial of this legitimacy. This discrimination is not very common in other parts of the world but so rift in Nigeria. It gives way to tribalism which is killing our economy more than AIDS have done in South Africa.
Chuks was a bright young man, intelligent, unassuming, humble, quiet, amiable and amicable. He went to University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the 80s at 16 and graduated before his 20th birthday while I was still trapping weave birds (efyeh). He did his NYSC and started working as a banker. Barely one year as a banker he travelled to Sweden but ran back because it was too cold and some other issues. He went back to Citi Bank (NIB) where he was working. Chuks won every award there was at Citi Bank. He is good and a true professional banker in every sense of that. Today, he is one of the top bankers in Nigeria. He has a cosy house in Agbor and a beautiful one in a posh area of Lagos. He was in UK on official trip I was honoured when he left his 5star hotel to put up with me for one night. Chuks, where is home, please?
Malick was a teenager in Agbor in the 1990s. He was pleasant, respectful, handsome, tall and well-built. He just dropped out of secondary school either for academic reason or he could not fund his education (my sisters will know, abroko is their hobby). He became a bus driver plying his trade from Agbor-Obi to Orogodo. But the bees popularly known as okada came and took over the space. There was no room for Malick and his bus. I think he tried plying Agbor/Benin route. Then Lagos later but he was now looking very lean, hungry and haggard before he had an opportunity to travel to Germany, I guess from the money his father borrowed from meeting. I didn?t know when he borrowed it. I only heard when he could not pay. When he did, I was told when his father was about to return the money to the meeting, he paid the interest with pride. He slaughtered cow to announce his payment. He put his money on the right horse, I tell you. So he can afford to drink beer with a sigh. Malick father carried handkerchief to wipe his foamy mouth when he drinks beer no longer the back of his palm when he used to drown his sorrows on a keg of wine. Just after 2 years, Malick sent some cars and started renovating his father?s house. I don?t know if they were rickety, my sisters (oha-ele) will know. We leant that he got married to a Deutsch woman and they had a child. When he visited, his hairs were curled he was looking quite fresh and good. Would you, please tell Malick to come back home?
Samson had a store at Iregwa/Isedeh, he was doing quite well. He built a house in Agbor and married a young pretty girl (my tatafo sisters know, ask them). He bought two cars, one pick-up and the other a Toyota product that he cruises the town with. One day, abroad fever caught up with him. He said he was travelling. He sold his two cars. He was duped at the first attempt. The second time he sold his store, this time his angelic wife was pregnant (please ask my parrot sisters). He failed again. As of the last count he was on his fourth missionary journey. I wouldn?t know if he eventually travelled or settled down with his precious family and lucrative business. Please, tell Samson to come home if not we will roast yam for him to come and eat (onunu).
When I was given an opportunity to teach in High School in Luton as a volunteer, I was almost always wont to ask the blacks where they are from. They always have a bewildered look about them, wondering how on earth, could an educated person and a teacher at that ask such a dumb question. The polite once always answered, Britain of course, until I got the rude shock of my life. One frosty morning, I was teaching GCSC class, that is, Year 11, as I was calling the register, the cold winter did not allow me to think well. I called a name Irene Agbonlahon, I paused to ask the girl if she was a Bini-Girl. The class burst out in uniformed laughter as if I was a choir master in an opera-house. The girl flared up like a petrol tanker ignited with a match stick. She fluttered like a hen that was locked up in a pen with a kite. She pulled and plucked her half-caste hair as if she was an Igbe priestess lost in a trance. In the frenzy and moment of this inexplicable idiocy I started nodding my head like both of us were programmed by the laughter of the class while she took the steps, I took the cue and the class prompted. With the corners of her eyes she saw that the script has turned into a play, where everyone was an actor/actress and audience at the same time. I was relieved when she uncannily started laughing I was forced to show my remaining 30-tooth instead of the 32 I once had to let her know we were co-star in this ritual. I was honestly relieved that she did not take the case up before I will be charged for an abuse of office because I was trying to trace someone else?s ancestral home.
During my first year in Britain late 2004, I met a couple of pleasant English friends. My friends and I usually meet every Wednesday in anybody?s house who wants to host when we are not hanging out. I remember Christina used to ask everyone, where is home for you. Iyyette will tell us she was born in Southampton, went to the university in Leeds that she has worked in Luton for 5 years. So, Luton is home for her. Amy, will say she was born in Australia, lived in Hendon (London) for 34 years only came to Luton last year as a consultant to NHS, for her Hendon is home. Ike where is home for you? I will heave a heavy sigh to stress and emphasise that Agbor is home. I will add that it doesn?t matter where I live and how many years I lived there, Agbor is, and will always be home for me. Well, that was based on the mentality and my attitude then in the first one year of my stay 2004/2005. In 2006, during my second year, I and some friends went on 2 weeks tour/holiday in Europe. We started from England, 2 nights in France, 2 in Belgium, 5 days in Holland and 5 in Germany. After the second day in Germany, I was craving for ?home?. I was really uncomfortable despite there were many historical places to visit in Germany considering their relationship with England and the World War II. My friends were calling from Luton, I told them to tell Christina that I missed ?home?. Where is home? Ben teased. I told him Luton is home and he laughed hysterically like an ?ogbanje? with a very high tone of sarcasm. I understood his contempt. Ben is a Nigerian born British. I used to tease him, that he was lost the way he talks about Britain, trying to be more British than the English. I used to enthuse. Now I see (Ndi Ika sei ni onye gen zuka ohun zika).
To be continued ….