I was born in Nigeria and lived there for 27 years. During that time, I believed that my homeland showed all facets of life. This is because there are over two hundred million people living in Nigeria. Despite many ethnic groups, there are three major groups: the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. All other groups are discriminated against as minorities. Even in my home country, Edo State: This is my story.
A quick look back
As a Nigerian child, from the age of five, I had to simultaneously go to school and sell food on the street for my mother, who produced it. She owned a large farm that was farmed by the family and also by us children. My father owned a furniture factory where I worked regularly. I sometimes had to interrupt school for one or two weeks when I was needed in the factory. There were also interruptions in school attendance when our parents could not pay the school fees and we were then not allowed to attend classes until they were paid. My father had five wives at that time, today there are three. We were 21 children and I have seven brothers and sisters who came from my mother. Of course, my father had his favorite children who received gifts because the others were either not so successful in school or there were arguments with their respective mothers. My father sent us to private schools because they were the only way to get a good education.
Since there is no public transportation and therefore no school buses, most children have to walk to school or buy a ride on a motorcycle. Since there are no paved roads or sidewalks and helmets are not mandatory, both options are fraught with danger. Public schools have a bad reputation, as teaching staff do not take the teaching job seriously and are only seen in school at all on payday. However, the government, which is actually responsible for education, hardly cares about daily deaths, hostage-taking or kidnapping. Children who go to public school can expect no comfort at all; only walls are part of the basic equipment. Learners must bring their own desks, chairs and materials. There are no doors, no windows, and sometimes no roofs. Classes are cancelled there when it rains.
After I graduated from secondary school, I was a tutor for all course sections before I was accepted to the university. Being accepted to university is a big step and at the same time this stage of life is accompanied by the fear of the future that all young people in Nigeria have to go through. There are no real future prospects for graduates with good education. People who have completed years of education cannot find adequate jobs, forcing them to look for work in other sectors. Thus, many of them learn a trade to make a living. For the people who have not enjoyed higher education and whose only chance was a craft job, this overlay is very difficult to compensate, as they have no alternative options. They turn to other means of raising money and thus often to crime. Robbery, hostage-taking, extortion and killing are thus an integral part of their lives.
The government is aware of this problem and encourages the poorer part of the population to join terrorist groups. This targeted manipulation is intended to make people afraid and spend money to finance the fight against these terrorist groups. The money thus flows directly to the government, but the terror never ends. I have been living in Germany for four years now and in December 2020 I traveled to Nigeria.
I traveled to Nigeria on December 22 last year and planned to return to Germany on January 29, 2021. I saved up my annual leave so that I could spend Christmas and other family holidays with my family in Nigeria. During the four years in Germany, I also started a family here, got married, and took a full-time permanent job. I like life in Germany very much and could not imagine my life in Nigeria.
My good experiences here in Germany overlapped with the impression I had gotten about Nigeria from social media and internet articles.
But as soon as I arrived at the airport in Lagos, I realized that I was wrong. The hopes I had placed in the development of my country of origin were not fulfilled. The staff of the police, immigration and other areas of the airport asked me for money, even though they had jobs. So nothing had changed since I left the country in 2016. Friends advised me to arrange for a police bodyguard to ensure my safety on the trip. My destination was my birth region of Edo State, a state in the south of the country that is home to about 3.2 million people. On the way from Lagos to Edo-State, I noticed that I was having a hard time driving. There are no traffic rules to speak of, hardly any developed roads, and so many potholes so large that fluid driving is not possible. I drove more than 300 km and there were neither road designations nor traffic signs. At the more than 20 police checkpoints I passed, I was not initially asked for vehicle documents or driver’s license, but what I was asked for was money. Only after I denied payments were my papers demanded. When customs officials noticed that I had a police officer with me, they reproachfully asked my escort how they could possibly demand money from the drivers when they had their own bodyguard. It was then that I realized that the government knows exactly what the police are doing on the open road and they do not prevent this behavior.
Corruption of the authorities in Edo State
When I arrived in Edo-State after a long drive, I was advised to hire another police officer. So the precautions I had thought necessary only for driving on the unsafe roads had become necessary within the towns and villages as well. I could no longer feel safe in my own home. On the very first day of my stay, I heard from four people who, like me, had returned from Europe to visit their families. Three of them had been kidnapped and one had even been killed. In the town where my parents live, the Benin-Auchi Express Road was closed due to an attack by the Fulani herdsmen. This is a newly formed group of people whose jobs have been eliminated. They work primarily in agriculture, herding and caring for animals and herds and selling the animal products. Many of the Fulani do not speak any of the more widely spoken middle languages that exist in Nigeria because of the many different dialects and languages. Many of them cannot afford to attend school and can only communicate among themselves. In this region, attacks by the Fulani on travelers or locals traveling on the roads are becoming more frequent.
Arriving in my hometown of Ekpoma, I was also finally able to visit my parents. It was a surprise visit, as I told very few people about my trip for security reasons. The more people who would find out about my arrival, the greater the chance that there could be attacks on me and my family. This also led to the fact that I only stayed in Ekpoma for three days. During that time, I attended my old schools as well as my university. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, these were closed, but I could see through the fences. The condition of the buildings was worse than when I was in school and college. The hospitals I visited were also in disrepair. No money had been invested here for a long period of time. The private homes of local politicians were not only five times the size of a hospital, but also better built, fenced and equipped with large fleets of vehicles.
Security situation jeopardizes my plans
When I visited my parents again two days later, they were furious that I was still there. They made it very clear that they were worried about my safety and asked me to go back to Germany to my family as soon as possible before something happened to me. In front of the door of the small local airport of our region Benin there was a small disinfectant dispenser, but in the whole building neither water nor soap. When I wanted to document these circumstances with the camera of my smartphone, police officers approached me and forbade me to take photos or videos of the sanitary facilities. I had to delete everything.
During colonial times, the population of Nigeria was exploited and brought to Europe as labor slaves. And even today, ships are still sailing to Europe. On board are people who see no future in their home country. People who give up everything and are even willing to die just for the hope of a better life. People who give up their homeland and everything they know because there is nothing left for them there and nobody cares about them. The image of Europe is shaped by the promise of security, reliability, self-determination, equal opportunities, a future. Many only realize that this is a false image when they have risked their lives and put everything on one card. Only when they arrive in Europe and nothing of their hopes remains. If you were to give an 18-year-old school graduate the choice today of staying in her own country and studying at a university for a million dollars or getting a visa for a European country without any further help, the choice would fall on Europe within seconds. After all, what can you do with a million dollars in a country that has nothing more to offer?