Wednesday 30 December 2015

Thought Picnic: Twenty Five Years from Nigeria

A decision for change
Twenty-five years ago today, I boarded a Nigeria Airways flight with a one-way ticket from Nigeria to England. It is strange that I came to such a decision in the space of not more than seven weeks.
As a partner in a desktop publishing firm, I had only returned from the UK, 4 weeks before, after a two-week business trip that was more than an eye-opener about the opportunities I could have in the UK.
Of the many exciting jobs I was doing in Nigeria, most of the people I sealed contracts with, gave me the comfort of appreciating the skill I brought to bear within their businesses and in that acknowledged that expertise with a commensurate and sometimes generous compensation.
A law onto himself
The one person I had issues with was an egotistical, megalomaniac of a lawyer who through whatever levers he was able to pull was a director of the United Bank for Africa and besides his legal practice had a traditional printing press, my role was to introduce desktop publishing to reduce the turnaround time from orders to finished product.
However, for all that was able to offer in that setting, for which I owned 30% of the company, he just could not get his head around the fact that I was half his age, never obsequious and though respectful, quite irreverent.
This caused unnecessary tensions between us that he callously took out on my staff that for me the situation became untenable. Beyond that, I had to run the gauntlet of rent-seekers who always thought they deserved a cut from contractual fees, for just knowing that I had won a contract and I was getting paid.
A tumultuous existence
In another area, I was being blackmailed for who I was, then elsewhere, people seemingly pulling strings on my behalf to continue my education in Nigeria, got them tangled in unexplained processes, it began to look like I could jettison everything I was doing in Nigeria and seek to start a new life abroad.
I guess, it all came to a head when my so-called partner threw money across the table towards me, I took exception to that disrespectful behaviour that I told him, “You don’t give a 24-year old 30% of a company and then think that is the pinnacle of achievement, I will throw it away and start all over again.” That is what I did.
The action plan
In the four weeks of December leading to my departure, I obtained the Entitlement to the Right of Abode, which took three weeks to obtain considering the waiting list for a full British passport was 18 months long, got my one-way ticket, handed over my contracts to my deputy and bid the people who mattered goodbye.
I had in two weeks towards the end of November during my visit to the UK, learnt that I had knowledge and skills for a market hungry for people who knew what they were doing. I could think of the number of times I demonstrated the utility of a product to sales staff who were supposed to know better.
How I viewed it
On that day, the 30th of December 1990, I left home with a bag and probably about £20, gathered my closest friends who saw me off at the airport and waited to board my flight which was to take-off at 11:00 AM, it was delayed, we eventually lifted off at 3:00 PM.
In many ways, that trip meant different things to different people, and whilst their concerns were valid in the context of their opinions, mine was simply this, I am returning to the land of my birth, I am more comfortable in the England about what I know and can get a headway with that and that there was a future ahead of me, if I was determined enough to seize it.
Where my mind was
My arrival in England was met with conflicting advice from different quarters, however, I am happy that I joined up with a crowd that not only believed in me but did everything to encourage me in getting on my own two feet and making a successful life in the UK.
It is interesting that I left Nigeria with literally no sense of nostalgia except for certain cravings for the cuisine many years later. Yet, the truth is for all the time I spent in Nigeria, I was always treated like an outsider, in a way, I never followed any of the rules, the norms or the customs, invariably, it also meant I was excused from adherence in certain ways, except where elements of coercion came into play to force me to toe the line.
Of freedom and independence
The greatest freedom that came with my leaving Nigeria was the ability to stop the interference of many who seemed to hold sway over decisions I wanted to make. That sense of independence that came with leaving Nigeria and starting all over again has been a constant refrain in my life, either in moving countries or surviving cancer.
In all those years, I am thankful to all that have held me in their thoughts, in prayer, in action, in advice, in support, in friendship, in mentoring and many other innumerable areas. Things have not been perfect, but I cannot relive the past with a future ahead of me. I cannot live a different life from what I have now, but I can live what I have to the best of the abilities and blessings that come my way.
Chart your course and make it sure, then come back and tell a story.

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