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