My move back home to Nigeria from South Africa was more accidental than intentional. I’d planned to return home for four weeks to enjoy some quality time with my family whom I don’t see very often and to renew my visa but things didn’t go quite as planned. Twenty weeks later, I find myself still in Lagos eagerly anticipating my return to South Africa, a country I also call home.
For some, the move back home after years of living overseas is not coincidental but carefully and thoughtfully planned. Many Africans study abroad and eventually return home in order to utilise the skills they have learned. The untapped potential in Africa is unparalleled and those that know this use it to their advantage. However, as with any developing country, you can’t reap the fruits of your labour without toiling and toil you shall.
Since I’ve moved back home, albeit indefinitely, I’ve had some difficult times. There have been highs and lows but most of all, what I’ve discovered amidst the challenges I’ve had to endure is that some of my ‘suffering’ could have been avoided if I had been forewarned.
I wouldn’t have changed my mind about the move back but I would have at least been mentally prepared and not wasted four months of my time being angry, upset and feeling helpless. I still get upset from time to time but what I’ve gone through has strengthened my character and I hope that by sharing some of what I’ve learned with you, it can prepare you for a more realistic expectation of what life is like in Nigeria.
Here is a list of 10 things I wish someone had told me before I moved back home.
1. Sit down, be humble
You may have all the accolades and qualifications known to man but that alone won’t land you a job – not in Nigeria anyway. Do your research and make sure you have something set up in the form of a job. Don’t get into the country all high and mighty thinking everything will fall into place because it won’t. Do some homework and secure a job beforehand.
2. It’s not what you know but who you know
You can’t do anything here without having connections. You have to ‘know someone’ to get a drink of water. I exaggerate for emphasis but I’ve found that if you want to get ahead in Nigeria, you HAVE to be well connected. No one even glances in your direction if you don’t name drop. I have a friend who graduated top of his class with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering and despite sending his CV to pretty much the whole of Nigeria and even with a few contacts helping him here and there, he remained unemployed for years. Don’t expect things to work the way they do in developed countries, you will end up frustrated and depressed. So, go out there and make friends, use familial connections if you have to. You don’t get far in Nigeria on merit alone.
3. Expect the unexpected
So, get this, when I landed at the Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos, I had to use the toilet. Upon entering the toilet, the first thing the cleaning ladies asked me was “aunty, what did you bring for us?” I’ve heard this many times since then. EVERYONE is always asking you for money – even family members. Give what you can when you can but don’t feel obliged to do it often otherwise people begin to use you like they would an ATM machine. Don’t be people’s cash dispenser, help when you can but also learn to put your foot down.
4. Never Expect Power Always (NEPA)
The acronym doesn’t actually mean that. NEPA stands for Nigerian Electricity Power Authority and it used to be the power holding authority in Nigeria until it was changed to PHCN, Please Hold Candle Nearby (I kid about that too). Irregular power is the norm in most African countries, particularly Nigeria. The loud sound of the generator is something most people have had to accustom themselves to. Because power isn’t constant, you have to make sure you have a good generator when there is no electricity. Be prepared to spend money on petrol or diesel for the generator and or service/maintenance fees – the struggle is real.
5. Wisen up
In this city called Lagos, someone is always trying to pull a fast one on you. Mechanics, waiters – everyone! People out there have figured out ways to make money off unsuspecting victims, whether it’s to clone your ATM card, overbill you for a service or whatever – there are fraudsters everywhere so keep your eyes open and your brain sharp.
6. Adjust your expectations
For me, one of the more difficult challenges has been adjusting my expectations. I’m not one of those people who’ve lived overseas for most of their lives and have no clue what home is like. I come home every few years, so I pretty much know what to expect. I always try to make my trips short to keep my sanity but my current visit has been unexpectedly long. I will say that the one thing that has helped me and prevented me from completely losing it, is letting go of preconceived ideas on how things should be. You have to mentally adapt and lower your expectations. Avoid comparing your life overseas to your life at home. Be humble and accept that you’re in a new territory and you have to adjust your mind accordingly without falling prey to the country’s shortcomings. Every city or country is unique and you’ll cope a lot better if you look to the locals or others who have lived in the city longer for guidance and advice.
7. Make a list of things you’re most grateful for
It’s tough AF being back home. To say it isn’t would be an outright lie. But what’s the point of crying over spilled milk? Whether you came home willingly or unwillingly, the fact is that YOU ARE HOME so why not make the best of it? Make a list of things you are most grateful for so that when you’re down in the dumps about traffic, mosquitoes, pollution, fraudsters and such, you can at least remind yourself of the positives. It can be as simple as the fact that you’re breathing and alive, just something to keep things in perspective.
8. Money talks
Ever heard the saying “money talks?” To live comfortably in Nigeria, you need to have money and lots of it. They say Nigerians are aggressive but you will be too if you had to face all the challenges here while living hand to mouth each day. Life in this country, particularly in Lagos is damn expensive, and people only respect you when you’ve got plenty nairas in your name. There is nothing you can’t get anyone to do for you if you have money. It’s actually one of the many things that frustrate me about living in Nigeria. Who you know and how much money you have will open many doors for you. I mean, I know it’s a given in this world we live in but it’s more overt in Nigeria. There’s hardly anywhere in the world that affluence and connection won’t open doors for you but it’s 100 times magnified in Nigeria.
9. Set boundaries
Being nice is great, everyone should aspire to be nice. However, in Nigeria, if you’re too nice people will take you for a fool. Setting boundaries with people is key, especially people who work for you. If you give them an inch, they take a mile. Be nice but also stern so that way they know they can’t just walk all over you.
10. Patience is a virtue
I used to get riled up by the smallest things but I’m learning to be a bit more patient. Customer service is abysmal in Nigeria and you’ll be shocked to learn of some of my experiences. I used to get really upset and would passionately vocalise my feelings but I soon learned that my wails fall on deaf ears. To prevent myself from being angry and upset 24/7, I’ve adopted an almost zen-like attitude. The saying you can’t control what other people say or do but you can control how you choose to react is something I constantly have to remind myself of. Be patient, overlook certain things that you may not be able to control and you’ll be fine.
I have experienced intense moments since moving back home and I have been very anxious and eager to leave and return to my “better life” in South Africa. However, since I started practising patience and letting go, I’ve got to experience a considerable measure of peace. All 10 points listed above are some of the things I wish I’d known before I moved back home. It would have helped me settle in better.
Overall, my time here has been fulfilling because it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and I have learned a lot in the process. You may hate it, you may love it but I would definitely recommend the move back home. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I am so much stronger from my experiences.