Ifeoluwa Adedeji: The Nigerian who escapes [NEW VOICES]

by Ifeoluwa Adedeji

There is a soft, serious question that many Nigerians who leave the country – in most cases for the first time – have to contend with: when are you coming back or hope you’re coming back? Whatever answer is given, there is a high tendency for the poser to follow up their question with why it makes sense to ask that question in the first place. Nigeria needs you, don’t you know? This simple, harmless question is by no means simple.

The Nigerian who leaves Nigeria for the West stands at a difficult crossroad: he is confronted with the choice of returning home or staying, fixing his country or doing nothing, going back to figure out an existence or building a life where he is. This binary categorization – between going back and staying – forecloses the possibility of other ‘roads’ and, in fact, interactions between the constructed divides, and fails to recognize the complexities, paradoxes, and uneasiness that surround any given choice. The Nigerian who escapes is at all at once a hero, an Americana who has left for good, a lucky bastard who is living an unimaginable life of comfort far away from the ‘state of things,’ a selfish individual who does not send money home (yet), the unpatriotic one who may not come back home, the lost sheep who has forgotten the wise instruction not to forget the home where he came from, who now wants to die in another man’s land. He is praised and ridiculed. His people have constructed an enigmatic character of him, sometimes even before his plane lands on the ‘other’ side.

Efosa Ojomo, a Harvard Business School graduate who does great work on Africa and economic prosperity with the Christensen Institute declared, in a recent post on ‘How HBS Changed My Life,’ that sixteen years ago he “escaped Nigeria.” He went on, “I intentionally use the word escape because Nigeria, to me, was like a prison – an emotional, psychological, physical, and intellectual prison. Consider this, I always felt like I was one mistake away from a whooping from my teachers; as I got older and more aware, I increasingly felt less safe when I went out at night; and I failed the entrance exam to university twice because I had little to no desire to gain admission to a university where a four-year degree could easily take six years due to teacher strikes.” This is one Nigerian who escaped.

There is the Nigerian who leaves at any possible cost. He could be employed or unemployed – it really doesn’t matter. He could leave through a visiting visa or a study visa – it doesn’t matter. He may have been planning his exit for years.  Once he lands, he starts to explore means of settling down. For him, the date of expiration of his visa is a ticking time bomb, the beginning and end of wisdom.

To be sure, his family looks up to him. He has won them a feather in the committee of relatives. It is even sweeter when he joins his siblings – he has consolidated the position of his family in the network of families. Immediately he crosses over, he is expected to send hard currency back home. He cannot be imagined to work, sweat, toil like them. If he takes longer than expected, his youngest sibling, a girl of 14, will call him to ask ‘how far?’ Even his Facebook and Instagram pictures get three times more likes.

Meanwhile, from a young age the Nigerian had been fed with all kinds of imaginations of the ‘other.’ He learned to sing “London Bridge is falling down my dear lady.” He had always wondered why pussy cat had gone to London to see the queen. He had feelings for Oyibo pepper and wanted always to sound more than himself in the presence of the Oyibo by asking every sentence as a question. He had all along been socialized into a world of constant surprise and amazement. He grew up despising ‘vernacular’ and embracing the language that the school curriculum elevated greatly. If he ever came in contact with vernacular during school hours, he could not sit in the class with his peers – either he knelt down under the sun or he was flogged. He had fallen in love with an institution that came to be through violence.

Escaping is in itself a form of demonstration, a substantive protest similar to the organized ones that different groups lead against the state. The state and everybody complain about brain draining away, but why do brains drain? Is a Nigerian who doesn’t live in Nigeria unpatriotic or lesser simply because he isn’t physically present? How do we better organize the discourse around ‘escapists’ and other categories who constitute the African diaspora?


Ifeoluwa is a graduate student at Ohio University’s Centre for International Studies where he engages research focused on Africa. Prior to this position, he has taught government studies at Nasarawa State Polytechnic; done policy research at the African Policy Research Institute, Abuja; and worked in Public Relations at Red Media Africa. In 2015, he was selected by the British Council as the Nigerian delegate on the Going Global 2015 Conference panel on graduate unemployment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, and recently was shortlisted for the World Innovation Summit on Education Learners’ Voice Program. He has a degree in political science from the University of Ibadan.


Ifeoluwa is a graduate student at Ohio University’s Centre for International Studies where he engages research focused on Africa. Prior to this position, he has taught government studies at Nasarawa State Polytechnic; done policy research at the African Policy Research Institute, Abuja; and worked in Public Relations at Red Media Africa. In 2015, he was selected by the British Council as the Nigerian delegate on the Going Global 2015 Conference panel on graduate unemployment and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa, and recently was shortlisted for the World Innovation Summit on Education Learners’ Voice Program. He has a degree in political science from the University of Ibadan.

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