The military coup had succeeded and the scales of justice were tilted in favor of the rich and connected. All the billions of dollars from the oil produced in the ruins of my backyard were siphoned to bank accounts in Switzerland, London, and other developed countries. I couldn’t return to my homeland in the east because of the extreme anxiety I suffered whenever I drove on the eroded and potholes-filled highways. My mind would constantly replay the tale of the family of 6 who died in a ghastly roadway collision with a trailer. At other times, it would play the video of the horrific luxury bus crash, which killed all the passengers. The kidnappers and armed robbers only added to the torture of road trips. Unfortunately, the skies offered no relief. I knew the state of disarray the aviation industry was in. The stories of incompetent pilots and outdated infrastructure abounded.
Besides, Ogoni had nothing to offer me. The rivers and streams, which I had frolicked and fished in as a boy, are now covered blackened with oil slicks and the blue skies are darkened with smoke from gas flaring. The plethora of birds that nestled in the trees of the Niger Delta have long since permanently migrated, and the ecosystem is unbalance. The acres of farmland, which had made my grandfather and my father respected farmers in Ogoni, now lay barren, unable to produce the big yam tubers, cassava, and palm oil they once coughed up with ease. And this is true through all the Niger Delta. Food is scarce and people are hungry. Maybe I would have found solace in the company of my people if asthma and other air pollution related health illnesses had not enervated them.
Unfortunately, the healthy ones that remain are too busy wrapping their muscled chests with bullets, touting AK-47s’, and recruiting the next generation as militants. They say they are fighting the oil companies and government for our rights, but I don’t think they are ameliorating the situation. The last time I checked, they perpetrated the state government election fraud; they raped our young girls and forced our boys into violence; they kidnapped oil workers and held them hostage, only to release them after huge million dollar ransoms were paid; they murdered Chinedu, my brother’s son, because he refused to be drafted.
So I searched aggressively for a job in Lagos. Government policies had stifled economic growth and unemployment had soared to unprecedented levels. My futile 3 year search culminated in entrepreneurship. I started a small IT firm, which posted a net loss in its first 5 years. I accrued debt and my large family suffered. We had little food and we shared a one bedroom apartment. On more times than I can remember, I was harassed by my landlord for failing to pay the rent. My electricity was disconnected for 2 years by NEPA, and my neighbors delighted in my plight. They mocked my family. They commented on the secondhand clothes we wore, the school my children attended, and my failure to provide adequately for my wife, whom after 5 years of job hunting had resorted to selling snacks in the market.
The year my company registered its first profit, a dismal 0.05%, was also the year when my neighbors and landlord began singing my family a new song of praise and respect. I had gotten a H1B visa, otherwise known as a workers visa, to America. I relocated to California where I worked as an IT consultant with a startup computer firm. Although I was paid an enviable salary, I lived an extremely frugal life in America. I drove a very old Honda Civic and I shared an apartment with 3 Indian co-workers. I invested a year’s worth of savings in a plot of land in Lekki. My destitute days were finally over, or so I thought.
There was no more embarrassing days filled with nagging debt collectors; my children were in good schools, and life was good. However, my upward mobility came to a screeching halt after just one year of prosperity. I lost my job in the dotcom burst. I was disappointed, but hopeful. I knew I could survive in America with odd jobs. I quickly got a construction job and labored from sunrise till dusk building the mansions that sprouted around California. I spent my nights glued to my computer sending out resume after resume, because the clock was ticking. I had 180 days to find a new professional job before my lost my skilled worker status.
Today is October 1st, and my country is celebrating its 50th independence. But I am not celebrating. There is nothing to be joyous about. I am typing this journal entry from an immigration detention center in Los Angeles because of Nigeria’s failure to provide for its citizens. My deportation was scheduled 3 months ago for later this evening. By the way, I am not sitting here by choice. I’m sitting here as a result of my desperation. I attempted to legalize my status by doing the so called “green card marriage.” It was my only option if I ever wanted to work a professional job in America. I was very hesitant about it, but I was urged on by the success of other immigrants.
My Ghanaian friends had done it. Mr Jimoh, my Nigerian friend, did it as well. He makes a six figure salary as a neurosurgeon in Orange County. I just happened to be unlucky; the African American woman I had paid to marry reported to the authorities. She claimed her conscience disapproved of my action, yet she never refunded the $5000 I paid her for the deal. In the summer, men in black uniforms stormed my job at the Cheesecake factory and hauled me to this detention center in handcuffs. I have decided to tell my story using my allocated 30 minutes of weekly internet time.
When I land in Nigeria later tonight, 17 Billion Naira would have been spent on the independence celebration while our country lies in ruins. Our educational system is broken; we have no health system is nonexistent; HIV/AIDS is prevalent; innovation is low; electricity is absent; corruption is rampant; and the future of our youth is uncertain. I will arrive in Nigeria with nothing, and I have nothing there. My fragile Nigeria, I hail thee