I first journeyed out of the shores of Nigeria on the 3rd of August 2012, to pursue my master’s degrees in Ecology in Norway. Yes, Norway! My choice of Norway was due to serendipity and a curiosity to go somewhere a bit different from where most Nigerians like to go. I knew Norway was cold, but could not imagine exactly how cold, since we do not have winter season in Nigeria. At any rate, I did arrive in Norway in the Fall of 2012 and was greeted at Oslo Central Station by a Norwegian student who had volunteered to help me settle in to my new environment. It was my first significant encounter with a Caucasian, and I was impressed by his humility and kindness. We ended up chatting for a while and I lost track of time that I missed my first train and had to wait for another 30 minutes or so for the next one. In that moment, I learned my first lesson abroad – always be punctual! I quickly realised I was now in a different society where the rules of success are quite different, and time is of great value.
After some 40 minutes train ride from Oslo, I eventually arrived at Aas, where I would be living for the next 2 years. As if the beauty and wonder of the high-speed trains I had seen in Oslo were not enough, I was inspired by the orderliness and preparedness of the student housing office in Aas. On my arrival, I received my room keys and surprisingly at the time, a key to my mailbox. Whao! A mailbox to myself alone. So, even on my first day in Norway, I was beginning to get a sense of how backward and underdeveloped the country I left behind was . While I had seen these things in movies and read about them, it takes living those experiences to fully comprehend the damage that has been wrought on Nigeria. One is even more enraged in knowing that Nigeria was not always such a backward country, that there was a time, not quite long ago, when Nigerians were proud of their home and could hold their own in global circles due to the quality of education available at home and the country’s good reputation.
It was this stark and inescapable contrast between my new environment and my home country that led to being curious about why things are the way they are and what could be done about it. I must say that I received a great education in Norway without paying a nickel in tuition. I also had full health insurance coverage above an equivalent of about 36,000 naira. This meant if had any illness, I would be only be liable for an equivalent of 36,000 naira and the rest would be paid by the Norwegian government. I could not believe such benefits could be extended to a foreign student who bore no allegiance to the country.
My examination of the Norwegian system clearly indicated a few things that make things work in Norway. First, is strong participation in politics among the rank and file of Norwegians. I recall my Norwegian housemate missing classes to help campaign for the Green Party in a faraway part of the country. And she was not alone. It was common to see students and young adults participate in politics and drive the debate in Norwegian society. This is not as much the case back home, where we still have seventy- and eighty-year-olds firmly in control of the fate of our society. Second is a general acknowledgement that society works well when there is a minimum standard of living for all. I once asked my Norwegian housemate who the richest man in Norway is. And she shrugged to say that most Norwegians do not care to think about those kinds of questions, since everyone has a decent life at least. But she did tell me it is Olav Thon, owner of the famous Thon hotels where some of my International student friends did menial jobs like house cleaning to survive.
The disparities in living standards among International students from developed and developing countries further aroused my consciousness and I began to read materials and watch YouTube videos discussing philosophy and political economy in a global context. I was particularly drawn to talks and interviews given by the great American linguist and philosopher- Noam Chomsky. It was from Chomsky I learned about Anarchism and how constraints on freedom are mostly man-made. I believe his description of Anarchism, as a way of seeing the world in which all forms of authority, domination, hierarchy must justify themselves, to be apt. And if they cannot justify themselves, they are illegitimate and should be dismantled. In other words, power structures are not self-justifying, and the burden of proof is on them to justify themselves.
My experience interacting with fellow Africans and others from developing countries also aroused my curiosity on the race question. I can relate to this better now in light of what could be described as a summer of discontent, with the recent Black Lives Matter protests being staged all across the world. I did not realize I was black until I left home to study and live in a predominantly white society. That experience is inescapable for every man of colour. In some way or fashion, and at some point, you will feel prejudiced or even discriminated against on account of the color of your skin. I understand this is the current fate of most Africans, which I believe can be altered by rebuilding our societies across Africa and the developing world at large.
Each of the issues that I have raised in the preceding paragraphs, is what I intend to explore deeper in subsequent dispatches. The process of recollecting and writing this essay has been very refreshing and gratifying in realizing how far I have come since leaving the shores of Nigeria some eight years ago. I consider writing on my diaspora experience as a way of contributing to the intellectual debate on the way forward for Nigeria and how my interpretation of world events could influence young adults back home, whom I do believe are the hope for the future.
Damilola Eyitayo just recently completed his PhD in Plant Biology, specialising in Forest Ecology at Ohio University, USA. He is an Insight data science alumnus and an ex-banker. He likes to share his perspectives on history, politics, and economics.
Categories: Diaspora Stories