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Danfos, Instagram lies and unemployment: What I wish I’d known before I moved to Nigeria

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A few days ago my sister asked me to advise a friend of hers who is planning to move back to Lagos from the Abroad.

Initially, I was hesitant. I knew how excited she was and I didn’t want to be responsible for killing her dream by serving her a hot cup of reality. Especially because if Nigeria teaches you anything, it’s that you’re wildest and most ridiculous dreams can actually be achieved.

Through the Nigerian lens, that crazy business idea you had when you were daydreaming on the bus, suddenly doesn’t look quite so crazy. Entrepreneurship and building something of your own isn’t seen as daring, it’s part of the national identity and its part of the reason why so many people want to move here in the first place. There’s the freedom to attain heights that are not possible in the same way as in The Abroad.

Don’t get me wrong, The Abroad is great, there’s nothing quite like structure, accountability and electricity, but it can get really boring and mind numbingly routine. Nigeria is the antithesis of that and will hot slap you out of complacency.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses (unless you’re a politician’s child then please ignore all this) and emailing her made me think back to how clueless I was when I moved here and how much I would have benefitted from some real advice. There’s the stuff you can’t really prepare or plan for like the infrastructural challenges, or the severity of the culture shock but there are some things I wish I’d known.

Like money, I wish I’d thought more about money. A lot of people think that having an accent means having a renewable, never-ending pile of money. Unfortunately for me, this is not the case. I had savings of course, but I really didn’t think about money, if I had I’d have bought a car. Driving was never really a priority for me before moving here, because public transport was so convenient and easy, saving up for season tickets was more important to me than buying a car. Then I arrived in Lagos where I had to choose between spending my hard earned savings on cab rides or learning how to ‘enter bus/bike/keke’ I quickly realized I’d have to do the latter, at least until I secured a stable job, which wouldn’t be too difficult, this was after all the land of opportunity so there must be jobs, right?

Wrong.

Well, wrong-ish. There were jobs in theory, but not the ‘apply-for-the-job-and-the-best-candidate-gets it’ jobs but the ‘who-do-you-know-and-I-will-fix-you-somewhere’ kind of jobs. And if you don’t know anyone, you join the end of the very long queue. A lot of returnees struggle with the lack of structure, the drop in salary, the almost laughable demands of the employer and then to top it off, salary delay. There is this is mind boggling instance where employers come up with bizarre excuses as to why after you’ve done your job, you don’t get paid.

I knew Nigeria would be different and tough, but I thought ‘Hey, I’m kind of tough too.’ I mean I’m an Arsenal fan, if I can survive the last 10 years of Arsene Wenger’s reign of terror, I can survive most things. It’s comical how little I knew back then. To say Nigeria is tough an understatement of massive proportions. I’m pretty sure when Darwin was devising his theory of the survival of the fittest he had Nigeria in mind.

The number one thing I wish I’d known? Two things actually, the importance of having an open mind and a firm grasp of the bigger picture. You’ve got to be prepared to be humble, otherwise Nigeria will humble you by force. You have to be prepared for the unexpected and know that you will end up doing things you never imagined—like hopping on an Okada going the opposite direction of traffic on the Lekki Expressway (sorry mum).

It’s really important to know what exactly you want to achieve in Nigeria, but you’ve got to be flexible about the means. It was a process for me, but now I know it’s what I hold on to. Does it mean that when I’m hot and squashed against a danfo window in two hour traffic on Third Mainland Bridge, I don’t ask myself who sent me to move to Lagos? No. But for me it’s worth it because I see the bigger picture.

I don’t regret for a moment moving here, every day is an experience, a challenge and a step closer to the dream.



55 Comments
  • Basketmouth

    So simplistically optimistic. I applaud your spirit and daring ambition. I feel you girl and I am thinking of taking a daring step like you did so help me God.

    • 21stCenturySlave

      Better stop that break dance and really think it through carefully before you take the jump. Otherwise, na inside koto wey you go land.

    • MsFlakes

      Dear basketmouth, seems to me like you have made up your mind to move back home. I wish you all the luck. I took this same step, a year ago, now, I am in denial. refusing to acknowledge the fact that it may have been a wrong move.. Trust me, I earn good money here in Nigeria, although quite less than even when I was interning abroad…but for the Nigerian kind of standard of living, I’m earning good…but i’m sorry, this job, environment may be a DREAM KILLER. I am seriously considering relocating back to Europe. I would relocate first then think if it’s the best thing to do… Nigeria is not right!!!

  • pmagroup

    Well said. All this is a thing of a mindset, if your mind tells you that you can achieve it when you move back to Nigeria, you will. Another thing is what are you bring in the country and how you are ready to present and market your business in Nigeria, not the culture of doing things because others are doing it and profiting, do a different thing. Nigeria is a country that enjoys good things but how to bring in those good things in our country remains a very big hill, because we have it in mind that those good things are only made for “the Oga’s”. Nigeria is a country where if you can withstand all the obstacles while doing business in Nigeria, your business will profit. Nigeria is a country with a lot of individual entrepreneurship but the major challenge is our government lack of doing what a government should be doing for the citizens.

    • johnson olajide

      well said

  • AZZO

    In simple language, no place like home bad or good.

    • Rotimi

      @AZZO – what exactly is “home”. A guy who moved from Ubulu Ukwu to Ajegunle, is he “home”, or any more “home” than another who moved to London?

      And what people never migrated from another place? Ask! Could be a decade ago, could be a few centuries ago, could be longer, right?

      • John Paul

        “Home is where your heart is” – Gaius Plinius Secondus

  • emmanuel kalu

    very good article. The key to moving back to Nigeria, is massive preparation. if you believe you have prepared enough, start again and double your effort. if you purchase one vehicle, buy another one or two. Be prepared twice the amount of money each day.

  • Sam

    Nice piece Miss Yemisi Adegoke – Weldone! Guardian.ng Good read and good advice. I like that lime… “I’m an Arsenal fan” You touch on many thinks which I do relates. You did not mention how family, friends and relations thinks because you’re coming from
    abroad, so therefore, you must be very rich and have plenty of money to solve their problems. I do visit http://www.NigerianEnglish.com to learn Nigerian English.

    • Dejandon

      Hey Sam, that is a stereotype that has changed. Many people in Nigeria now know that coming from abroad is not synonymous to dollars any longer. Sometimes, they even feel pity for returnees, with the thoughts that something must have driven them back home.

  • The Abroad? ‘Hardly correct syntax, is it?

    • Bayo Harold-Sodipo

      She used this term because Nigerians generally refer to being overseas in this way

      • That’s not the point. You don’t put a determiner in front of ‘abroad’ as the writer has done. It’s basic syntax. You don’t, for example, say ‘the abroad’, ‘an abroad’ or even ‘every abroad’. Just abroad will do fine.

        • Dayo Osikoya

          I’m sure the author and everyone else knows this. Let’s just say ‘The Abroad’ is an inside joke Nigerians understand.

        • The Leviathan

          Actually, you can. By capitalising the word ‘abroad’, the author defined and specified the word (in this case, to mean the Nigerian idea of Western countries). Having done so, she could therefore proceed to use the definite article ‘the’ to refer to her newly defined and specified word.

    • Candace

      Typing “The Abroad” was not a mistake or a typo. It is a common phrase in Nigeria, and as you can see, both words started in caps. The only person who doesn’t get it here is “YOU.” How about you stick to what you know and leave us to our inside jokes. We get it.

  • Well said. It’s absolutely important to have the right mindset. That’s what I had to tell my friends who recently moved back. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of how much ‘fun’ Lagos is, but then you absolutely to be ready to humble and be ready to be ‘jump danfo’, if necessary.

    http://www.KacheeTee.com

  • Ikorodua

    DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS :- WHO AM I TO DISAGREE:- ‘Travel the world and seven seas, everybody’s looking for something: some of them want to use you, some of them want to get used by you, some of them want to abuse you and some of them want to be abused:- HOLD YOUR HEAD UP, MOVING ON’ (Eurythmics) . Boohari can’t stop you, the Fulani herdsmen cannot seize your ancestral home from you.

    • Victor

      Neither can the Niger Delta militants.

  • Dejandon

    This author got it so right, it was as if she was reading my mind. I returned home a short while ago, and believe me, it has been a great relieve to be back in this Country. I doubt one can achieve one’s full potential outside this country, but here, in the midst of the seemingly chaos, opportunities of a life-time springs up. After all, what kind of opportunities would come in a place with complete routine and orderliness, where it is possible to set your watch with your neighbors precise daily activities?

    I look at the challenges in this country and now I see opportunities, and I have successfully ploughed myself into a couple of such. Are there difficulties, you bet, but the success against these odds makes it sweeter. My friends wonder, how can you arrive from abroad last night and I see you on okada this morning? That is the spirit required to enjoy Nigeria.

    • Victor

      You definitely thrilled me with your take.

  • shegematics

    indeed , everyday is an experience

  • hahhhahhaha..I love Nigeria. This is the only country where you don’t need a teacher to learn the basic rules of survival..Experience will teach you for sure…welcome to 9ja!!!

  • Omooba A

    Well thought out writing. I wouldn’t consider it as the ‘holy grail’ or one size hat that fits all for those thinking or attempting to relocate back to Nigeria. Over the years, what I have learnt is that how one is raised have much to do with how patriotic one ends up being when grown up. The writing is about patriotism as opportunity is the gravy on the turkey. There are Nigerian that migrated after 50 years in Nigeria that did not want to visit that country again. There are Nigerian born abroad that are eager to come home to live and develop and there are those that don’t want to hear their tribal language or even understand it to the point of teaching their offspring. When this discussion comes up, as it does in every gathering, there are various versions to why and why not and it all depends on how one was brought up or made to understand the country. My own ‘toro’ be say, a yearly visit home will help anyone during the decision making of ‘to move or not to move’. The type of family you came from is another factor that could help or harm you after relocation. Periodic visit back to ‘abroad’ could also reinforce what you didn’t regret that you left behind.

  • Kofi Mensah

    Nigeria, nicely put

  • femi

    . Good write up! We have many things in common: I am an Arsenal fan, endeavoured to relocate to Nigeria (at lease I was in Nigeria for four years after more than 10 years abroad), love Nigeria with my soul and blood etc. But my advice to anybody trying to go back to Nigeria is to have Plan A, B and C. If you believe in God pray so hard; and never trust anybody except God. Even though I come home regularly, I am still open to advice too to come back again!!!!

  • Bayo Harold-Sodipo

    I moved back home in 2009 after having done primary school, boarding school, university and work in the UK. If I was offered substantial amounts of lucre to move back to London in true Nigerian style I’d take the money and still stay here. This is my country in whom I am proud.

    • FultonSheen

      @ take the money and stay!! That made me laugh.
      Sigh. I dont know. I am such an anglophile, moved back home 5 years ago, whinge everyday about ” this country” , but I just can’t bring myself to move back to the UK.
      For all my phonee and posh ways!

      • @ImpurfectHer

        I’m confused. What is so bad in moving back to the UK? Why won’t you consider moving back?

  • 160millionfoolsandrising

    Life’s too short to let it go to waste. Thinking of relocating to Nigeria? Simply said “GOOD LUCK”

  • Bayo

    Nice article Madam Yemisi. Nigeria is a good country but the major problem in Nigeria for me, is a bad family and friends from my own lesson in Nigeria after 15 years abroad. I am lucky to still be alive today because of the Grace of God. Spiritually if you are not sound in Nigeria, your dream might die with you. Danfo, Keke, Okada and the rest are the least of problems in Nigeria. The major secret to live in Nigeria is for you try and live holy and God will reveal the deep things for you. I am not talking nonsense I can give you a list of many people that relocated to Nigeria with fortunes but have been made penniless by the so called families and friends.

    When my book comes out about life in Nigeria after 15 years abroad (true life story), I will send you a copy. Many people go to Church and Mosque but believe me they are not who they say they are. So my advise for any one moving to Nigeria is to first pray and fast .We now live in a very wicked and deceptive world.

  • 21stCenturySlave

    So what we really want to know is…have you found your husband in Lagos yet? LOL.

  • Wetin Naija

    If you have a good job abroad, stay where you are. I have seen more than 3 guys with great profession in the US quit there job came back to Nigeria, and after few years came back to the US empty handed. One of them had a great and sensitive job with the US government and now he is jobless. Nigerians are looking for way to come abroad, so be sensible

  • Omobolanle Sam Nuga

    This is very true. Moved back to Nigeria 5years ago as well, I had to humble myself quickly as well to getting on Danfo and Nepe humbly after I realized taking cabs was just too ridiculous and sometimes trying to leave up to same level you were use to before moving back can run one into debt. So the author is spot on, the comments from all other returnees SPOT ON, felt good to know a few others also went through same. If you thinking of moving back, my advise; please please dont rely on ANYONE’S assurance even your blood’s, pray PRAY PRAY about it until you have that conviction, you will be on your OWN for a bit before you find your foot, be READY to STAY STRONG, Nigeria is good you just need to have money so pray (my every second prayer), whenever u put your hand in your pocket, God let there be money and take into consideration others commentators advice and then again IT WILL END IN PRAISE.

  • Nkeiruka

    Please be very sure before returning. Pray about it, talk to God , talk to your parents, talk to friends and elderly ones in Nigeria and in abroad they might give you the right counsel. There is nothing like ”too much information”. At the end the decision is urs to make. It was not easy for me but am coping and God has been there all the way. I talk to God about everything in return he makes it easy for me to go through things or just gives me the strength to face it. Don’t put ur hope or trust on anyone not even ur blood, some are out there to milk you but when they see there is nothing to milk u become a nobody to them. God can raise anyone to be of help . don’t limit God. U got to be courageous, see the giants step as an opportunity, humble urslef to go through the changes, need to learn to adapt ( blend in hahaha). Don’t spend carelessly, is not a time to start looking for way to be Mr and miss popular but to be focus, have a sense of direction , work with a plan, strategies and also be patient to see ur effort brood fruits. U don’t plant and harvest the same day not even the next day … You will ve to be patient and Trust God more, keep the right association, read the word of God and always get the right information. I wish u the best … The decision is ur, everything in life is a risk and we need faith to operate . Psalm 112. Even in the midst of darkness , light will shine for the upright. Stay blessed

  • Dim. O.Uzo

    Nice article. Before I graduated I was thinking of relocating to Nigeria a year or two after graduating. I called people at home, I tried to fix me up with Nysc. The wahala too much registering a foreign graduate with nysc, I missed that chance then oil came crashing to 30$B. Buhari said we were broke, economists predicted it will be hellish, agitations in the south east, BH in the north, avenges in the SS. All these made moving “now” less appetizing for me. Maybe it’s me that just became reluctant for the wrong reasons. And as the writer put it, one has to have a clear mind what one is coming to do. I’m “watching” things at home while I make some working experiences that may be valuable home.. and maybe along the way I pile up some “these are people I know” names to aid that CV hah.

  • Kenneth

    You won’t achieve anything until you leave your comfort zone. Successful businessmen/professionals/entrepreneurs achieve their success by ‘rocking the boat’ not staying put in comfort.

    • akinola adetayo

      Nigeria is still a land of opportunity. Nigeria’s GDP is currently $1. 1 Trillion (2015) the biggest economy in Africa and the 22nd largest economy in the world. GDP was only $46.4 billion in 2000. Don’t confuse the tree for the forest. The current APC government is assiduous and responsive. They are blessed with a talented team of consummate professionals and they get it. Never mind Boko Haram and Niger Delta Avengers terrorists they don’t have a future in Nigeria. If you are planning to settle in Nigeria.
      Be prepared—have a plan and at least one year savings
      Remember it is not what you deserve, it is what you can achieve and negotiate.
      Be humble, because greatness lives in humble folks.
      Pray, because prayers change things
      All the best and may all that is good get better.

  • primecover

    I believe so much in Nigeria despite her numerous problems. There is nowhere you are that you wont pay the price, it depends on which one you prefer to pay. Over their in abroad there are challenges not that all are rosy and here in Nigeria too there are challenges. I ve heard different experiences of people who have traveled abroad. As i write there is a colleague in office who had to come back with his family due to problems. One of my friends in US told me how difficult it is to get even menial jobs. Wherever you are, you can make it depending on how tough you are. I was affected by job loss in the banking industry years back but I never stop believing I will make it and I bounced back. Nigeria is a land full of opportunities only if you can think and ask for God guidance.

  • Saminu Eedris

    Very nice Yemisi,

    One of the reasonable article about Nigeria I’ve read so far.

    God bless you dear.

  • Faloye-Leroi Halcyon-Olatunbos

    @All those who quit their jobs and came back to seek for one, and found none hahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahhahahahahaahhahahahahhaahahahahhahahahahhahahahahwyaayayahahhqhahqhqhqhhwhahahahahhahahahahhahahhaahhahahahahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaahaahaahahahhahahahahahhahàaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhahahahahahhhhhhhhhahhahahhaahhhhhh

  • Numero Unoma

    Years ago, when their country had similar economic challenges to our current Nigerian woes, scores of diaspora Brazilians returned home to build their nation…and look at them now. Let’s come together to alter the critical mass that determines our status quo here in Nigeria – those of us who never left…those of us who did and came back…the old and the young…the rich, the not-so-rich and the poor…it’s not a perfect world, no matter where you are.

    • kayalade

      I hate to tell you this, coming to help build a country that refused to allow it to be built will be your pitfall. I am an inventor, runs a publicly traded company in the US. I set up a private company to invest and create solution in Nigeria. Business solution, Security solutions etc. I have my own resources don’t need any government contract. Seriously I am now packing it up. Found our Nigeria cannot protect my inventions, no patent rights for software invention. Software runs the world, digitizing Nigeria will be the key to its growth but if people like myself cant get protection of our intellectual property what is the point.

      I was not planning to move back but I was very motivated to invest here and hep my country, but this country ain’t worth the damn effort required. All the politician want to add their name to your CAC registration to own part of your company for which they invested no money just for you to come in to invest your own resources to help the county.

      For the guy above who said APC guys are smart and they get it, keep dreaming they are bunch of cronies with no idea on what to do. Administration is full of lawyers who are simple paper pushers and professors who only know how to theorize. No wonder the country is in a mess.

      For the writer if you are willing to suffer for 2 years, endure hardship of the worst kind, see men pull down their pants on the side of the road to use the toilet, willing to bribe and be bribed, seat in endless traffic, live in exhausting heat due to lack of power or massive pollution by generators. Welcome back home and good luck to you. Fr those who came back home to ride Okada I am struggling with that, you could no ship your cars back when you moved back?

      Abroad has been good to me and I have been blessed, never moving back, but will invest and travel.

  • Tunde 形容词 Ik

    I absolutely agree with you. I’ve been here a year now and I refuse to get a white collar job because I see the effects on my siblings/friends. The workload is unreal, the pay can be laughable and employee rights is non-existent. Unless you have some millions stashed somewhere to run a business or like you said your papa is a politician, Nigeria isn’t really the place for someone that grew up abroad.

  • LActor

    I kind oliked the part that she says if you don’t humble yourself, the experiences in Naija will humble you. So true! Good thing these experiences also tend to draw lots of folks to God. I mean how else would you explain the kind of coping mechanisms one needs to go through an otherwise straightforward routine of living day-to-day? I’m actually on the reverse side of things…moved over to UK for 3 years now, after schooling and working in Nigeria for close to a decade. I do miss home, to be honest, but I am always back every 3-6 months. Truth is, if one can manage it, try and keep up with both worlds. That way the cultural and economic shocks are minimised. Great write-up!

  • akinola adetayo

    Nigeria is still a land of opportunity. Nigeria’s GDP is currently $1.1 trillion(2015).It is biggest economy in Africa and the 22nd largest economy in the world.GDP was only $46.4 billion in 2000. Don’t confuse the tree for the forest. The current APC government is assiduous and responsive. They are blessed with a talented team of consummate professionals and they get it. Never mind Boko Haram and Niger Delta Avengers terrorists they don’t have a future in Nigeria. If you are are planning to settle in Nigeria:
    Be prepared- have a plan and at least one year savings
    Remember it is not what you deserve, it is what you can achieve and negotiate
    Be humble, because greatness lives in humble folks.
    Pray, because prayers change things.
    All the best and may all that is good get better.

  • Paul Nwaija

    My dear sister,
    I hope you would read my contribution to your emotional essay about relocating to Nigeria. Like you, this is a dream I have kept with me the first day I landed in American soil. But unlike you, I was born and grew up in Eastern Nigeria, you know, the Igbo land. We are are the Igbos, we fought the Nigerian Biafran civil war, we tried our best, but at last we lost the war. At the end of that war, we had nothing in Igbo land. No jobs, no government, no social services or unemployment compensation. Basically, the rest of Nigeria, including the Yorubas and the Benins were laughing at us. But in a short while, right after the war, our brothers and sisters started doing wonders, rebuilding, not only the Igbo land, but the rest of Nigeria. Luxurious transport buses, including those of IZUCHUKWU, EKENE DILI CHUKWU, and many others started moving the Ibos from the shackles of the lost civil war to the Shanty towns of Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Benin, and other cities. Before long, the Ibos, were back on our feet, through no civil or military service jobs, but through self help activities, buying and selling and being champions @ self employment. So, you are right, if you relocate to Nigeria for the purposes of civil employment, you may have gotten it wrong! Please stay put in Nigeria, have open horizons, consider some kind of entrepreneurship, you don’t have to do the actual work, but you can use the experiences you have gained abroad to succeed tremendously, that is, if you are inclined towards business. I can give you more advice if you inbox me, no ulterior motive here and you don’t have to!

  • Raphael O’Que-Guale

    I was in your shoes so I can relate. I empathize with you and I can pretty much tell you that your mind is in the right place – You will get there and after you do and when you look back, it’ll be joyous. Believe!

  • Mariam.S

    Omg yes I can totally relate! Even though I haven’t moved back entirely. I’ve taken a year to “serve the nation” for some experience before making the big decision and Its been a roller coaster ride so far. There’s just so much you cannot learn from talking to other people. I believe everyone has to experience it to decide if this is the right decision for them.

  • Bako

    No doubt that your life’s span is only 45 years and 50 years means you are old 60 too old. While in Sri Lanka of no resources their lifespan is 74 years. Yes, dying at 60 is a terrible thing even 80 well because you are one of the few who stressed much while growing up. There is no sun here in 9ja – yes we agree on one thing – i.e. the sun shines on the politicians. Period! The decision is yours, you may be kidnapped, before you think any thing because someone think you have dollars!.

  • ukoette ibekwe

    This person writes like someone who has lived his or her entire life in Nigeria or another backward country and to present this article from the lens of someone who lived in a Western country is not only idiotic and misleading but an impersonation.

  • Tunmishe Oke

    Having read all the threads here, I have only one contribution: “I am not going back home”. Was one of the last people to think of ever living in a foreign land, but I had to conclude one day that it was a lost cause, the entity called Nigeria. One briefcase and I was out. Got on a plane, left my home, business, life assets everything almost 10 years ago. Haven’t looked back. Didn’t forget anybody or anything. I will read all the newspapers, hear all the gist, et cetra. Don’t even bother to put my body or ashes on a plane or ship back when the time comes. Bury it wherever it drops dead.

    • Naijaman

      Boy!! You must despise Naija like a plague!!

  • Naijaman

    I get the Danfos, the Unemployment! What about the InstaLies? Am I missing something here?