Off to Nigeria

So I am off to Nigeria today. I am looking forward to going home after what seems like eternity because the last time I was in the motherland was August 2011. I put off my trip home severally last year, and in the interim, I “endured” concerned, cheeky and some downright snide remarks such as: ” … it seems you have no intention of coming back home” “…you are busy ‘enjoying’ and you have abandoned your country”. In fact, one concerned and angry fellow a few months back, in an email, accused me and other “Nigerians in the diaspora” of “…staying abroad and abandoning the comrade struggle in Nigeria…”

As most Africans in the diaspora will confirm, “going home” can be quite the ordeal for one major reason — Souvenirs! One is expected and/or obligated to get gifts from “abroad” for legions of immediate, extended, and distant relatives. Add neighbours, friends, acquaintances, former colleagues and many others to that list.

Now, getting a gift or souvenir shouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, if most people would appreciate thoughtful items such as beautifully worded and crafted greeting cards, little ornaments and miniature depictions of famous land marks or flags, vintage books, exotic scarves or funky embossed mugs. Few appreciate these things — maybe the elderly. Many expect designer-brand perfumes, shoes and bags, shirts and apparel, wristwatches and jewellery among other things.The mind-set behind these expectations is that since one is based in a rich, developed, and industrialised country, then one is also “rich” with easy and affordable access to all the developed and industrialised goodies.

Even if these items are as ridiculously cheap as many erroneously think, consider a student or a young professional with an immediate family of four back home, plus two parents, making six people.Then add at least four cousins, four aunts and uncles, minimum of four close friends, four neighbours, four acquaintances and four in-laws. That’s about thirty people. Typically, the people expecting or those who one feels obliged to get “stuff” for exceed this estimate. I didn’t even factor in extended family in a polygamous setting or “significant other(s)”. Woe betide those who play around with several “significant others”.
So if one is to get designer brand or at least decent quality “stuff” for these thirty people, then do the math.

Now consider a single student on a restricted budget or a young professional on a comparatively fairly decent budget, with monthly bills such as rent, all sorts of insurance, telephone and Internet bills, layers of taxes, feeding, transportation and entertainment. More deductions apply if said person has a spouse with children. Now consider that travelling back home means paying thousands of pounds for the air fare.

If the person is expected to bring souvenirs for an average of thirty people as outlined above and if one spends an average of £20 (N5000, taking the exchange rate as £1:N250) per person, then £20 multiplied by thirty people equals £600 or N150,000. Assuming one gets their flight ticket for an average of £700 or N175, 000, plus £600 or N150,000 minimum for the souvenirs, it all adds up to £1500 or N375,000.

Depending on one’s responsibilities, when one finally makes it back home, there is likely to be legions of country folk expecting hard currency because living abroad means you have an endless supply of forex to freely distribute. In the end one budgets about £1500+x minimum, x here being a variable, to get a true picture of what going back home costs.

The expectations and the sense of entitlement they create of what the traveller should bring account for only half of the story. There are also obligations, mostly self-imposed, due to the norm of giving gifts in many African societies especially when one is away for a while. This obligation also is a way of expressing appreciation to family and friends for invaluable love, support, friendship and advice in times of need which no amount of expensive gifts will ever make up for. It is one way of showing them that they have not been forgotten. For some, this obligation is also a “yes-you-can” attitude.

These expectations and obligations borne out of our African sense of community have been further enhanced by the trappings of global capitalism. People want you to get them what they see in ads on TV, magazines and on the Internet since you’re in close proximity to these things. Thus, the few days before one goes back home are usually extremely stressful, entailing a lot of running around, endless shopping and hunting for souvenirs. Some people start this gift hunting months before.

So dear Nigerians and fellow Africans, please give your sibling, cousin or friend a break next time they are visiting “from abroad” by appreciating whatever they get you. Whether its just a not-so-expensive shirt, a single bottle of perfume, a vintage cookery book or a Gypsy inspired exotic sarong, consider the time, effort and hard-earned resources that went into obtaining that. And I am not just speaking for myself. Seriously, money doesn’t fall from the sky here, few people are super rich and Queen Elizabeth doesn’t give migrants a hefty monthly allowance to splash around.

That said, I can’t wait to be home.

28 thoughts on “Off to Nigeria

  1. You are so absolutely spot on. Thinking of what to get people, running around, and buying all these gifts on a small or nonexistent income, and figuring out how to fit it all into your luggage is so stressful! Even when people offer to pay for their requests the running around and buying it all (usually on credit) is a nightmare. Good luck with it all, and have a safe trip.

  2. Wish you a safe trip home and I pray you meet family and friends well. May your stay be pleasant and successful and your return trip safe.

  3. Looking for excuse not to buy anything for your people? Stingy girl, this is nija you wan chop d gritin card? Better buy your people a reasonable gift & wishing you safe trip back.

  4. That’s typical analysis of what we call “Yan Boko” it is widely believed in Northern Nigeria that whenever a person is well schooled,his/her generosity decreases,take for instance our aged parents that are fortunate to perform pilgrimage,despite their age,they are always willing and happy to bring Souvenirs to relatives at home,Wish you Safe trip back home

  5. Lool! I can’t help but laugh. Howver you have just stated the obvious. Some of the items they request for are even beyond your own reach. Someone once requested I get him a Manchester United shirt which costs about £60. I’m a die hard ManU fan who couldn’t afford that same luxury my friend asked for.
    Just do the bit you can. Go to Primarks and pack some cheap but also nice stuffs.

    Allah ya kiyaye hanya.

  6. You still have to buy me my expensive gift, this writeup notwithstanding. I would remain anonymous so i dont give u clue as to who I am but kin shiga ukku idan baki bani tsaraba mai tsada ba!

  7. Well understood Zainab,but just do the little you can. You can never satisfy all. Humans are insatiable.

  8. hi,
    Wannan shi ake cewa kukan dadi.
    Ki godewa Allah da yasa ma kina turai.
    Akwai dubunnai masu son zuwa matsayin ki a rayuwa
    Allah ya kiyaye hanya

  9. Zainab Ure rite in ur message, this is what everyone experience when he is visiting home even within Nigeria, there is high demand and expectations from relations, friends and towns people. Notwithstanding, you have to do your best, be kind and generous according to your means, don’t exaggerate in your generosity, i wish you safe flight home and pray that you meet your family and friends in good health.

  10. Actually for most cultures – including many of our own in Nigeria – after a visit to far off lands, a welcome home party and celebration is expected. In short, there is an element of reciprocation. Anyone who throws me a party gets a gift from abroad, the rest can use the Internet themselves – it is that simple.

    Welcome back and keep your expectations low.

  11. Hehe…..just de laf. You are a Postgraduate student with all the research grands, scholarships, research assistantship pay and conference allowances boxing your pocket! No exquises. Anyway you are welcome home.

  12. Welcome Back…………….We anxiously await your Article on: those things you see as you arrived and the changes you are experiencing, If any. A huta Gajiya.

  13. Yes Malam Nasir El rufai is right. I could not stop appreciating the high level of creativity the Author put on this piece. Yes Zainab is with a gifted hand.

  14. This is spot on! The trick is to buy just chocolates,or don’t buy anything at all:-) They will call u stingy for a while but everyone will get over it eventually. Just keep apologizing and saying that you do not have money. Sometimes it’s better not to buy the cheap primark stuff because some of them will still yab you. Great blog and lovely post as always.

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