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The ‘Returnee’ narrative is rooted in the idea of success, and it’s wrong

“Success has many parents, failure is an orphan.” Growing up, this was an adage I heard a lot and it’s one that has resonated with me. Everyone wants to be associated with success. It’s the stories of the successful we want to hear (albeit the Cliffsnotes’ version with the struggle edited out) and it’s the paths of the successful we want to follow and eventually emulate.

For many people who move to Nigeria of their own volition, it’s the stories of the successful that lure them here.  And there are lots of them. The abstract ones like Aunty so and so’s daughter who was a secretary in London and is now an SSA to a Governor, then there are the ones you see. The singers, directors, rising stars in multinationals, the entrepreneurs who have ‘made it.’

These success stories feed into the ever growing ‘move back movement’ encouraging Nigerians based in ‘The Abroad’ to move back. Move back and fix Nigeria! Move back and pursue your destiny! Move back because you should be building your own dream, not someone else’s! Move back, because, well, it’s fun.

I can see why it looks tempting, after all, I fell for it myself.
According to quite a number of my friends in the Diaspora, the narrative looks even more attractive in this climate, where the places many of us call home overseas, starts to look more and more unfamiliar.  In the US, Donald Trump’s war against immigrants (legal or illegal) shows no signs of slowing down. In the wake of Brexit, there’s an air of uncertainty over the direction of the country. If moving back had ever been on your mind before, the pull to do it might feel stronger now.

But here’s the thing.
We are only consuming one narrative of ‘moving back’ to Nigeria: the successful one.  The problem with that is success stories are incomplete. Yes, there are returnees that ‘make it,’ which in itself is subjective because not all goals are money/G-wagon related, but for everyone that does, a lot more don’t.  Just as the ‘move back movement’ is growing, the complexities and difficulties of Nigeria have a lot of returnees packing their bags and `moving back to the Diaspora.

And it’s not necessarily because they didn’t work hard enough or they weren’t ready to hustle. Another problem with the ‘success narrative’ is that a lot of the time it skims over, or in some cases, totally, the fine print like the how; how did you go from ‘nothing to something?’ This narrative also has a tendency to downplay some of the realities and difficulties of relocating here, when honestly living in Nigeria ‘is not beans.’

I know a decent amount of returnees who were filled with excitement one minute and hurriedly packing their bags to leave the next. I always find their stories intriguing. Some have tentative plans to come back ‘sometime in the future’ after they’ve saved up enough foreign currency to chase their goals. Others have realised for them, Nigeria is better in small doses, the culture shock and general ‘wahala’ is too much to deal with on a full time basis. Some of them have had extremely unpleasant experiences, everything from salary delay and chronic underemployment to armed robberies and kidnapping.

The stories of those who try and don’t succeed are almost as important as the people who move and succeed. Not only to better inform those thinking of trying it out for themselves, but to provide a clearer, more balanced and more nuanced narrative about the realities of living in Nigeria.


In this article:
returneesYemisi Adegoke


  • Ibi

    Well written. This resonates with me so well, as a Nigerian-American trying to make here in Nigeria.

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