By Babatunde Denton
I, like many before me, relocated to Nigeria two years ago after 13 years in the UK. Let me tell you, it is not an easy journey. It is a rough and bumpy ride. Think of it as being in a rollercoaster. You do not know what to expect. Over the years, I had visited the country on numerous occasions but that was not enough to prepare me for ultimate decision to relocate to Nigeria. This article is not aimed at putting the country in a negative light but it is a note of caution. It will not be sugarcoated like a lot of similar articles. People should know the truth of the situation on the ground. I shall highlight the key issues in the country as follows:
For any potential repatriate who wants to take the plunge, it is very important that you have your finances in order. Nigeria is in a recession folks. A bag of rice now is N22, 000. The exchange rate between the dollar and naira flips like a yo-yo. Rent has increased while salaries have remained stagnant. Inflation has run rampant. In short, the cost of living has increased.
Where did you live before you moved abroad? Is it Lagos, Benin, Abuja, Ibadan? What is your budget? There is a key difference between coming to Nigeria for holiday and living in Nigeria. In Lagos, I have spent N20, 000 on a monthly basis on transportation alone. You need to spend a few months in the country in order to research and plan for the long-term goal of relocating to Nigeria. Do not believe what others tell you. “Don’t worry about the money, you will recoup your money in three months”. Sorry mate, don’t believe the hype.
During my parents’ time, if you obtained your degree from a foreign country, especially the UK and US, you were definitely guaranteed a job. Indeed, as of 15 years ago, if you were a foreign graduate with a Masters degree, employers would grab you as you landed. Nowadays, there are many foreign graduates. Even those who qualified from neighboring Benin Republic are seen as “foreign graduates”. Employers are on to you now my friends. They are no longer impressed with your foreign accent. Everybody has an accent. Blame E! for that.
My people, the job market these days is all about connections. Man knows man. There are many foreign graduates with extensive work experience who cannot get jobs. A family friend of mine, who is a US citizen and has work experience with Hewlett Packard and UBS, the Swiss American Bank, could only get a job through her uncle’s contacts. Which begs the question: do you have any connections? And without connections, you need to make a thorough research for the type of jobs available before taking the plunge. Does your employer have any operations in Nigeria? Can the job match/exceed what you are earning abroad? It is important that you take this issue into consideration before moving back. What skills do you have? You need to have the relevant skills/degrees in order to survive in Nigeria. A degree in graphic design, Russian, Philosophy or Graphic design does not cut it in Nigeria.
Can you deal with Nigerian drivers? Whoever coined the phrase “road rage” must have had Nigeria in mind. The drivers are often impatient, ignorant and reckless. Not only that, I believe that they must be stoned as there no other explanation in regards to the way they drive. The worst offenders are okada (motorcycle) riders, keke drivers and danfo (commercial bus) drivers. These guys are extremely reckless and often endanger their lives and the lives of their passengers. They will hit you and offer no apology for their behavior. No, they believe that they are in the right and you are wrong. You really have to be patient with them for your own sake. Or concede the right of way (even when you are right) to them.
The issue of power, water and other amenities is a well-known problem. Depending on where you are, power supply is either inconsistent or non-existent. Let’s just say that you need to have your own generator, inverter and water borehole. In my workplace, we have an inverter that works 24/7. This is due to the fact that we rarely have light. Cell phone reception is awful. At most times, I have to leave the office just to make or receive a call. Internet is very slow. It goes on and off. I had to bring my own Internet broadband in order to function at work.
Do you intend to travel domestically by air? Bear in mind that many flights do not leave on time. Arik is the worst culprit. I was delayed for over four hours by Aero on a flight from Abuja to Lagos. Do you intend to travel by bus? Well, if that is the case, my advice would be to take the morning bus. Night buses are a risk. A colleague of mine from Law School was robbed on his way to Anambra from Lagos. Armed robbers commandeered their bus at the dead of the night and robbed all the passengers’ blind. Imagine that. But thankfully, they lived to tell the tale.
Listen boys and girls, you must accept the fact that you cannot roam about at the dead of the night. In fact, you must forget that you are not in the UK, US or other developed societies where there are trains, buses or reliable taxis that will take you from point A to B at night. In Nigeria, there are no CCTV cameras to monitor nighttime activities. A lot of the streetlights in the major cities are not functional. You are on your own. This does not stop one from clubbing /other nighttime activities. It is important to move in groups. If you do not have any personal means of transport get a friend who does. It is advisable to use UBER as opposed to regular taxis for your own safety. Are you the flashy type? That attitude will get you into trouble here, as there are a lot of armed robbers roaming about. Get a simple car that will not attract a lot attention.
Healthcare in Nigeria is nothing to write home about. Public Hospitals lack equipment, staff and quality doctors. Doctors recommend all sorts of fancy medications for something as simple as malaria. I became allergic to outside food such as small chops. That is not to say that everybody else had the same problem. My body system was not strong enough to handle food that was not regulated/well prepared. You need to know what your body can handle.
The problems with the medical sector in Nigeria include doctors who may not be really conversant with ills beyond the usual (typoid and malaria), wrong diagnoses as a result, occasionally expired medication. Private hospitals are a better option. It is advisable to keep in regular contact with your GP (General Practitioner) or personal doctor where you are based. You must be careful with what you eat.
The customer service in Nigerian Banks reeks of incompetence. A lot of the banks are short-staffed. This is partly due to continued layoffs. I had to make a payment to Eco bank in Abuja in order to register for NYSC. It was a small branch. There was no form of organization. No sign of orderliness. Customers were in different queues. The air conditioning system was not working and we were sweating like pigs. The staff had a lackadaisical attitude towards customers. It took me 5 hours to achieve my objective there. But on a positive note, there is an accelerating move to cashless transactions.
You must also ensure that you have a certain amount of cash to conduct your daily activities. I learned the hard way that I must have a minimum of N30, 000 at home at all times. Cash machines are not always reliable. I had the horrible experience of not being able to withdraw money from 8 ATM machines during one weekend due to network failure. This meant that I could not conduct any business that particular weekend. Can you handle this?
When all is said and done, it is true that there is no place like home. With the current wave of right-wing politicians coming to power in the west, it is important to look at Nigeria as an option. Not everybody can adapt to the conditions in Nigeria. That is why it is important to weigh your options. A contingency plan must be in place in order to avoid disappointment. If you are young and single it is easier to take the plunge. Do not make such a move if you have a family to cater to. It is a dangerous risk. What works for me may not work for you. It is better to be safe than sorry. Hopefully, this article has provided the reader with a glaring picture of the situation in the country.
Babatunde Denton is a Public Policy Analyst.