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Dreams on foreign shores

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
19 December 2020   |   4:11 am
“I want to be grateful that I’m alive, but at the same time, I feel awkward that I’m alive,” she says, calling those who died in the protests the real heroes that Nigerians need to keep fighting for.


DJ Switch

“I want to be grateful that I’m alive, but at the same time, I feel awkward that I’m alive,” she says, calling those who died in the protests the real heroes that Nigerians need to keep fighting for.

“I will not waste this second chance to live by being a coward or hiding, even if it rips my dreams to shreds.”

These were the words of Obianuju Catherine Udeh, better known as DJ Switch, who spoke to Time this week about how her world changed in a matter of weeks following the Lekki Tollgate Massacre on 20 October.

In the days leading to the army shootings in Lekki, it had been a tumultuous few weeks in Nigeria as anti-police brutality protests swept the country. The leaderless #endSARS movement led to thousands taking to the streets of Lagos, Abuja and Ogbomosho, calling for an end to the SARS police unit.

As the movement gathered force, DJ Switch, a Lagos resident, shared more social media posts encouraging her 1m+ to march in the streets in peaceful protests.

“I remember taking a picture on one of the days to say to my fans: if you have the opportunity to come out, do it, if you can’t, just do it online, but whatever you do, you must speak up, because this affects all of us,” she says in her Time interview.

Inadvertently, the 36-year-old became a target for the Nigerian government and fled the country for fears of her safety and is currently traveling between undisclosed locations. The inadvertent hero of a national movement, which first gained momentum in 2017, still uses her voice in the fight to end police brutality, while her career and her dreams have taken a backseat.

DJ Switch wasn’t the only rebel with a cause targeted by the Nigerian government in the aftermath of the shootings. Other protesters have also been targeted too; in early November, a high court judge ordered Nigeria’s central bank to freeze the accounts of 20 people linked with the protests. Immigration officials also blocked one activist from leaving the country, and temporarily confiscated the passport of a lawyer who was helping activists, preventing her from traveling too.

Who knows how long DJ Switch will have to shelf her dreams for and how long she will be on the run? Kudos to all young Nigerians who want to stay and fight the system of oppression and corruption until they can elect the leaders they deserve in the next elections, but there are as many, if not more, who are desperate to flee the country and seek their future in countries where they don’t have to fear for life, limb or loved ones.

I am spending the festive season in Turkey, as I do every other year, and every other year, I hear of more and more teens planning to study abroad, millennials who’ve already made the leap and set up lives overseas, and people my age planning to leave the country in the hope of a better future, if not for themselves, at least for their children. A niece, who was adamant she would not stay a day longer when she graduated from university, is now a student in the Czech Republic, while another’s dreams to study in the UK was only recently crushed by the pandemic.

Every day, we hear news from the UK of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, created by the Turkish-German husband-and-wife team, Dr. Ugur Sahin, and Dr. Özlem Türeci.

Dr. Sahin, 55, was born in Iskenderun, Turkey. When he was 4, his family moved to Cologne, Germany, where his parents worked at a Ford factory. He grew up wanting to be a doctor, and became a physician at the University of Cologne. In 1993, he earned a doctorate from the university for his work on immunotherapy in tumor cells.

Dr. Türeci, now 53 and the chief medical officer of BioNTech, was born in Germany, the daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul.

Children of Turkish immigrants who left home for a brighter future whose footsteps a new generation of Turkish youth are following to leave a country where this week a university professor had the audacity to claim “universities are brothels”, where being a woman is akin to being a second-class citizen, where to voice an opinion out of line with the ruling party can land one in jail.

Whether it is a young woman finding safety and the courage to call out her government on foreign shores, or brightest minds who contribute to their adopted country rather than their own; all definitions aside, I believe you can tell whether a country is developed or not, by the number of people who seek safety or dreams in another land. The more our countries fail their youth, the more our brain drain becomes another country’s gain.