Going to the American Embassy Abuja was fun indeed. I was just tired of all the noise around me and the craze and clutter for things that don’t matter that consume most of our time—things that I consider as fineries and fripperies. And so, I decided to dock at the embassy for a change, May 14.
It was my first time, and I did not know how to locate the venue. The man I asked pointed to a street before me, and told me to walk down till I get to where I will see a mammoth crowd gathered. I followed his direction, and I can say I was not disappointed one bit.
I walked down, do I say, to the road most travelled. It was fun seeing people, some grannies and grand daddies queuing up for visa. Some came with the whole family, some with a whole village, so to say. It was fun seeing the young and the young at heart, some grey haired like me, mamas and papas, struggling for a chance to feel the American sun. I sat in a pensive mood outside the pavement near the embassy, ruminating over the rowdy scene before me. There were other embassies around, but all were virtually empty.
I began to think. Why are our people leaving in droves to America? Why are the skilled and the less skilled trooping to this land that has been forgotten by God? A land that has been Sodomized and Gommorahized in the name of freedom and liberty? Why are we running away from our land, this land of the rising sun, as if we are fleeing from Dante’s Inferno? Why are we still leaving our shores even upon the loud sound of freedom and the clanging cymbals of CHANGE in the air? I was sure these people are not among those President Buhari was looking for, I told myself. I was nonplussed; I was in monologue, perhaps!
I have travelled to many other countries but America has never caught my fancy. But here I was, applying for visa to visit America, what they called God’s Own Country. And I wonder if that sobriquet still holds true today with the recent Supreme Court ruling! Sometimes, in my happy moments as a landlord, I hear the echo of that popular Ghanaian song: ‘Landlord travel and see’ I laugh! Perhaps, that’s why I want to travel to America. To see, to touch and to feel this land of the Pilgrim Fathers!
Apart from when I was given admission to study at the University of Alabama A &M after my secondary school days, a dream that was shot down by my in-law, and I thank him for that, America has never held any attraction for me. My disdain for the country is worsened by the words that echo from within—cloning, transgender, lesbian, gay—words that tend to immortalize us, demean our humanity and drive us farther from our God.
Here at the American Embassy, I went through the documentation process even as tedious as it was. One by one, we filed out from the entrance gate to the expansive building, like a lamb led to the slaughter! When I came back to my senses, I recollected my humanity; my mind raced back to the slave trade and I asked myself if I was not thumb-printing away my freedom. But here was not Badagry or the Slave Coast in Ghana, I consoled myself. I was here on my own volition and no one was bundling me across the Atlantic.
After all the formalities, I was now face to face with this charming babe, my interviewer. It was fun standing before an American in a question and answer jab. But this time there were no questions but all answers!
When I remembered a professor, a friend of mine who was denied same visa many years ago, and told in his face he was running away from the ruined economy of his country, I thought if same could be my fate; my countenance changed, but I was not fazed in the least. My appearance was dainty and dandy. As she saw me on my neat and crazy African outfit with a white hair to match and smiled at me, I knew the deal was sealed. As a compliment, I smiled back. For the two minutes the interview lasted, we spoke in symbols and gestures. Even the truck load of documents I was advised to go with as evidence I was deeply rooted in Nigeria, to convince them I was not running away, were unnecessary. That’s the power of attraction!
When I was handed a form to choose where I would have my visa delivered, I knew the interview was over without a shot and the rigours and trauma others undergo. As a journalist, we are often treated with respect in diplomatic circles, but I do not think that must have been the reason here. Then I thought of my white hairs. But that could not have been the reason too for this American hospitality, for the man who sat next to me with more age and grey hairs on his side was turned down. My resume which I submitted online must have overwhelmed her, so I thought.
Sometimes I get upset when I see some respected professionals leaving Nigeria. What are they going to do in a foreign land? Work! But we have that in abundance here. We have a goldmine starring before us, we have a land flowing with milk and honey waiting for the genius in us to tap, and I believe that if the spies (Caleb and Joshua) Moses sent out to spy the land of Canaan had been sent to spy Nigeria, they would have come back with more flattering reports and described it in a more superlative form!
As I prepare to spend my annual vacation in America and take part in the 40th Convention and Career Fair of my association, the National Association of Black Journalists NABJ holding at the Hilton Minneapolis and Minneapolis Convention Center, some of my friends express fear I will not come back. They miss the point. What is there in America that will hold me back? Is it the skyscrapers or the neon lights that dot every landscape and street corners? But I have seen them all.
There is no place like home. People that leave the country are those who have been blinded and blighted by the street lights in America to look down and see that what they are looking for in America is multiplied several folds in Nigeria. Nigeria is the land of opportunity. When you work hard and think straight, you can always get the best in Nigeria. Upon the poor leadership structure, Nigeria still has the highest number of billionaires in Africa, and the richest Pastors in the world. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote clearly typifies this. He couldn’t have been the richest man in Africa if he had invested elsewhere. Anyone who makes a decent income has no compelling reason to leave Nigeria.
Nigeria is the land of freedom too, the freedom we enjoy here is more than what you can get in America or any other country in the world. We close major roads to hold our parties. We pay godfathers to give us party nominations. When we get caught in traffic offense, we give police N20 for kola. We beat our wives and divorce them without even a pocket money. Our legislators tell us we can engage in amorous dalliance with any girl of our choice so long as she is not below 11 and no one will charge us for child abuse. What else do we want when we celebrate fraud and our friends and accolites hold party to welcome us back from prison after serving our sentence? Where else in the world can one buy over a judge to rule in his favour, or one become a millionaire overnight without paying tax or people question his means of income, if not in Nigeria? What is it in Nigeria we cannot do and get away with it? A ruling party can become a minority party in the National Assembly. We import what we have and pay subsidy and export what we don’t have. We can import the whole rice in Thailand and all the toothpicks in the forest of Babylon without paying any duty. All you need to do is to know someone who knows somebody that knows somebody in our corridors of power. It doesn’t matter if the person is a cleaner; all is well so long as he has the ears of the big Oga. Which other citizens of the world enjoy such rare privilege if not Nigerians?
It will be fun interacting with world class journalists at The NABJ Convention. It will be fun seeing the big names in the profession in flesh and blood. It will be fun to partake in the various activities lined up for the event and to have Obama declare the event open, if possible. It will be fun if after my stay in America I have a different weltanschauung or worldview about this country of contrasts. But the greatest fun, for me, is when I will enter into the majestic Minneapolis revolving theatre, venue of the convention, with my tag dangling on my neck, with an unusual and unheard name on it: LARRY OYIMS, EBONYI STATE, NIGERIA. Ebonyi, definitely, is the winner!