Welcome to London

 Published in THE PUNCH on 24 December 2006

Casmir Igbokwe

Last Sunday, Ifeoma and Ebube came on a holiday to the United Kingdom. Every advice for them to hold on until about March or April when the winter season will have gone, fell on deaf ears. To them, nothing, not even the extreme winter cold, can delay their coming immediately to experience this land where most Nigerians are dying to visit.  Now, the woman hardly steps out of the house. And whenever she does, she wears three layers of woolen materials, with stockings as thick as a camel’s skin. 

Before Ifeoma, my wife, and Ebube, my third child, left Nigeria for the
UK, many people had asked for their clothes. “You will buy better ones in
London,” they said. On telling them that they would still need the clothes on their return to
Nigeria, the people’s response was, “You mean you want to come back to this country? Is anything wrong with you?”

Like Ifeoma, 95 per cent of the advice I got before I left home last September as a British Chevening Scholar was that I should bid a final goodbye to
Nigeria. To my advisers, any opportunity to leave the shores of this most populous country in
Africa is one that must be grabbed with two hands.

This type of feeling is understandable. In Nigeria, the standard of living keeps dropping everyday. Light is not constant. In some places, you need to walk up to a kilometre to get borehole water. Life is so cheap that people are being killed like fowls. Right now, I understand there is fuel scarcity in most parts of this eight largest oil producing country in the world.

Consequently, frustration has taken over the greater part of Nigerians. Nobody wants to remain in the country anymore. The situation is worse now than a few years ago when the Nigeria Television Authority ran the “I am checking out” jingle, which advised Andrew, a frustrated Nigerian, against checking out of his fatherland.

Last week, media reports had it that Nigeria was the second country with the largest number of applicants for the 2008 United States visa lottery. The country is said to have a total of 684, 000 applicants. This number is second only to
Bangladesh, which reportedly has more than 1.7m applicants.

Everyday, thousands of Nigerians keep vigil at the embassies and high commissions of the US, UK and other major Western countries to get visa. Some are ready to pay any amount of money. At the end of the day, most of them don’t get this visa. They become more frustrated. Some join armed robbery gangs. Others turn themselves into stowaways.But, citizens of a fellow African country like Botswana don’t need any visa to visit the
UK if the visit is for six months. It was only of recent, I understand, that a visa was introduced for those coming to stay for more than six months.

This mad rush by Nigerians to come to London resulted in some restrictions being placed on those below the age of 30 from visiting the
UK sometime last year. Immediately the ban was lifted, the rush doubled. For those who eventually succeed in coming, the struggle continues. Except for a few of them who are into drug business, the majority may not even find any meaningful job to do. If it is not waiting/bar work, it is security. Some even work where they rear pigs. But give them such a job in Nigeria, and you will risk their verbal bombshell for insulting them.

A relation of mine struggled to come to the UK last June. “I want to go and make some money,” she said. I simply told her that a lizard in Nigeria could never be an alligator in London. She dismissed me with a wave of the hand. This December, she came back to Nigeria. The little money she made from babysitting went into buying of gifts for the people at home. Of course, you cannot come back from a place like London and tell your loved ones any cock and bull story. You must “perform.”

Which reminds me of the fate of a young Nigerian at the Cardiff University. The guy didn’t just come to the university to study. He used the school admission as a ploy to get into the UK. Many people in his community contributed for his visa and travel expenses. Their hope was that once their man got into the UK, they would recoup their money in many folds. A few months after, the guy has not sent anything home. Now, his benefactors are piling pressure on him to send back their money. Confused, the man is thinking of leaving Cardiff for London where he believes he will make easier and quicker money.

One group that is reaping bountifully from this love of Nigerians to travel is the airline industry. If you visit British Airways website to book a flight, the first country you may likely see its schedule is Nigeria. This season, the average cost of travelling to London on economy class is $1,053.40 (N136, 415.3). This is what shouldn’t have cost more than N80, 000 under normal circumstances. In some cases, there may not even be availability of flights at all.  When I visited the British Airways website last Tuesday to check the schedule for December 23, I discovered that travellers had taken all the spaces on the economy class for flights between London and Lagos. The available option the airline offered cost £2,650.50 (N668, 692.13). A similar trip from Beijing to
London, which is almost two times farther, is $651.41 (N84, 357.29).

Nigeria needs redemption. Our countrymen who manage to check out sing praises to God. Those who are unable to do so resort to prayers, hoping that one day, miracle will happen. This is an indictment on our leaders. Can Umaru Yar’Adua, Muhammadu Buhari, Pat Utomi, Atiku Abubakar, Chris Okotie and all those who are jostling to become Nigeria’s president in 2007 turn
Nigeria’s economic situation around? Let us pray.  



1 Comment »

  1. 1

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about list of adjectives.

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