Chronicles of a Nigerian Diaspora: Exiled to Nowhere, Unwanted and Unwelcomed

April 4, 2019 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

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By

Durodola Tosin

 

 

I chose to move away from the ordeals I faced in my homeland so as to reorder my life and pursue my dreams, in the hope that I might possibly return one day and help my people out of the quagmire that I left them. I have lived long enough in Ekiti to form an attachment to it, there was some sadness in my heart when I had to embark on a ‘forward looking’ aspiration that constructed home as a site of neglect; I never imagined that gloomy look, as the vehicle carried me away. At that moment, I was faced with uncertainty and no definite assurance of what awaits me outside the land-locked state. I was optimistic of a possible return, even though I set out from home with the mindset of raising ‘new life’ through tertiary education, without which my life would be miserable. In this essence, my original home (Ekiti) was nothing but a make-shift for facilitating transition into a ‘dream space’ in the new destination.

 

The experience of my exile has been both favourable and traumatic. Despite getting to my destination as a struggling nerd, I have been able to work towards realizing the academic goals of my voluntary exile in ways that have both benefitted the host community. However, the social and psychological costs outweigh the gains. My quest for acceptance in the new town implied the involvement and investment of my whole being and concentration of enormous energy towards the achievement of integration. In so doing, the socio-economic, cultural and political values of the original homeland was repressed in a desperate moment that represents new values of the new town as wholly tantalising and desirable. Like Isidore Okpewho said, “You might well make a good life for yourself when you settle down where you are going.”

 

In choosing to live in exile, I have been accused by stay-at-homes of being a coward, jumping ship, opportunist and several other shades of bad faith. Why? All I wanted was a better life for me and my family. What intellectual would have remained in a state where the honest pursuit of truth was either ridiculed or discouraged? How could anything have been set right when the charlatan who once governed us lost his sense of mission in his blind pursuit of power and privilege? When his government abandoned its responsibility to provide the resources for free and quality education in its schools and instead diverted them to ostentatious, insignificant schemes? When infrastructural projects became avenue to siphon money into private accounts and deceitfully acquire property inside and outside the state? When writers, scholars and journalists risked losing their lives for exposing the abuses of their leaders or get assassinated because they dared to criticize them and their misguided acts? The questions raised by my experiences in previous years are too numerous to be tackled in this article.

 

Let us be fair to ourselves. If conditions at home deteriorated to such an extent that you could no longer guarantee to yourself and family the basic necessities of life: when the book became an object so repulsive that the school bell sounded like an empty bell?; When a state once invulnerable parapet against political brigandage collapsed so calamitously? When toilet facilities in public schools breakdown completely so that, in our dire need to relieve ourselves, we picked up diseases floating freely in the severely endangered environment; when salaries were not paid for months, so that parents cannot afford to put food on the table, let alone put their wards in school? When dreams of the young ones were shattered by stone-bloodlessness of the heartless old order? Now who, under these conditions, would have resisted the urge to seek greener pastures outside the land-locked state just so the family can at least ‘breathe’ or keep the tattered dreams alive?

 

Unfortunately, my exilic journey was never simply a physical matter; it had a psychological effect on me. I have become a victim of schizophrenia which is ultimately the price I paid for taking the decision to separate myself from my homeland. I feel like the kind of exile Edward Said referred to as existing in a median state, neither completely at one with the new setting nor fully disencumbered of the old. The awareness about the necessity to return home brings up the double consciousness which complicates my life as an exile as I am torn between, among other things, allure and longing for home and duty to the new destination. Home, it goes without saying, offers a condition of stability, which migrancy cannot afford, let alone offer. This explains why my double vision which designates all forms of instability associated with migrancy cannot provide a sense of fulfilment in exile as long as nostalgia continues to flood my mind.

 

However, since the homeland (Ekiti) I once constructed as a site of neglect is getting better, can I go back home? How do stay-at-homes perceive me? Can I go beyond tentative returns despite knowing that the space in-between has been filled by stay-at-homes who no longer see me as one of their own? Retracing my way home comes with huge costs. In my subconscious mind those dangers that forced many of us into exile might have affected how stay-at-homes perceive Diasporas. Our exilic journey has created a kind of ambivalence at home. To stay-at-homes, Diasporas are cowards and opportunists who jumped ship, sold out and abandoned them to their ill-fated circumstances.

 

While I was lucky enough to flee the land and live in exile, stay-at-homes were confronted with deep-rooted problems. Their arms were tied, they couldn’t stir. Their legs chained like an anchored ship, they couldn’t move. They were confined within social and economic insecurity without a forward movement. They could not escape the dehumanizing circumstances whilst they watch the painful pinches of despair and poverty bit them like the evening fleas. Swansongs of beggars sprawled out in brimming gutters. Gold dreams were buried alive in hard, unfathomable mines. Document-laden graduates hankered after interviews without dates, school drop-out rates skyrocketed and the motor parks, marketplaces and other open spaces were turned into swarming haunts by desperate youths with ignorance in their heads and anger in their hearts, and anomy in their intent. As clearly stated by Prof. Niyi Osundare, some stay-at-homes were turned into the army for the enactment of wrong-headed, ill motivated civil disobedience, implementation of arbitrary political fiats and enforcement undemocratic edicts.

 

Worse still, every time depressing reports came from home, it was difficult to evade certain sense of guilt about the fate of those I left behind. But while I was not directly liable for those sheer displays of social and political misconduct by which the past government denied my people good governance, enabling environment and development, I could not help feeling that in fleeing my state I left my relatives and friends to their devices in increasingly unbearable circumstances. No doubt that some among us lost hope, sold out, expunged all memories and links to the homeland for a new life. But those of us that remained optimistic, constantly engaged with the homeland and later through diasporic links broke the enemies’ encirclements should not be treated as outcast.

 

In declaring that I cannot return home because I lack that “baggage”, stay-at-homes have reduced my hope of return to nothing short of a pipe dream. However much I yearn to reconnect with the homeland, the nauseating mentality that make Diasporas apologetic for being “too exposed” inevitably weakens my bond with it and, conversely, increases my struggle to achieve integration in the new land that could offer some nourishment to the body if not the spirit. The Ekiti I knew saw exposure and education as fortune-changer and tool of development, another way out of the non-coastal lot with its rustic adversity and narrow prospects. People worked for it, hoped and prayed for it. Sadly, those times have changed.

 

In choosing to live in exile, stay-at-homes accuse me of being a coward, opportunist, and too exposed, hence, declaring that I cannot return home. And in exile, I am viewed with distrust by members of the host community who are unwilling that I should be classified with them, because I am not a descendant of the great warriors who finally won their fight for a place in the land. So where do I belong? Home is no longer home, my travel has gone awry. I AM NEITHER HERE NOR THERE!

 

With all the plentifulness of my traumatic journey, stay-at-homes have shut their gates against me. I am stuck in-between, exhausted with no place of refuge. To generations hereafter, if my bones survive the sandstorm, bury them in the mountains to remind them of my wanderings. And force members of my homeland and host community to watch the eagle roam over my head and vultures leave my flesh.

 

 

 

Notes

The idea of “exiled to nowhere, unwanted and unwelcomed” is certainly tied to the logic of exile in the new African Diaspora.

 

 

 

 

Durodola Tosin

Tosin Durodola, writes from the Postgraduate School of Diaspora and Transnational Studies, University of Ibadan. He holds a Bachelors degree in History and International Studies from Bowen University.

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