I travelled out of Nigeria to Dubai last Thursday (December 18, 2014) on a training program organized by The Union for its top editorial staff. Aboard Arik, I met a young Nigerian named Michael (let’s keep his surname out for now, but he is from Ondo state). He sat beside me on seat 18. Michael was already seated when I boarded. Wearing unkempt whiskers which looked like bears, Michael is in his 30s. As I took my seat, I observed Michael being so nice. Humbly nice! He greeted me like he knew me elsewhere. I appreciated his niceties as we got chatting.
Michael told me he was travelling to Dubai for the first time. I inquired of his mission to Dubai. “I am going to hustle”, he said. Now, the word ‘hustle’ means different things to different people. To me, it could interpret to mean male prostitution (male prostitution is also a reality). It could also mean Area Boyism. It could as well mean criminal engagement. And that aroused my curiosity. Michael was travelling alone with just a back pack. He wore a black suit which seemed made out of Mungo Park’s wardrobe. He looked very hungry. And he also told me he was indeed very hungry.
As we got familiar, and talked in between bouts of snoring sleep, Michael told me he worked as a mobile phone repairer in Lagos but also did whatever job was available in order to raise money for his trip out of Nigeria. He struck me when he said he borrowed up to N500,000 to make up what he had saved cutting grass, working the soil, working as a bricklayer assist or even assisting bus drivers at the motor park, to make sure the trip became reality.
He also said he had made attempts to get a visa to the USA but was rejected. I asked why that failed and he said “no mind US people”. He got on telling me his story –a story of how he had suffered to make sure his dream of leaving Nigeria came through. He said the Dubai trip was just the first stage of his plans. According to him, “after sometime in Dubai, maybe when I have hustled and gotten enough money, I will find my way to the US”. Don’t mind my capturing Michael in plain English. He spoke none. He was fluent in Yoruba and managed pidgin.
I was already wondering how someone in Michael’s state of development would survive outside in the wild, in a fast-paced world that has little room for those that had acquired traditional education but left behind by technological advancement? Then, my moment of reality came. Approaching Dubai, a health form was handed out to every passenger to fill. Michael looked at me and said “how I go do am?” I urged him to simply fill out the open fields where necessary. He then said to me “I no fit write am o”. I was like whaaaat!
Then, I assisted him fill the form, telling him what to write on each field. He did. I watched as he wrote ‘naigiria’ on the field indicating which country he was coming from. I shook my head in disbelief. Then, I humbled myself to the understanding that not everyone fancied reading and writing. Then Michael said to me “if only I had learnt how to even write and read”. Then I asked: “Which school did you attend?” He said “e dey for Ondo. Na for village.” I pitied him while imagining the sort of future Michael was seeking in Dubai. “Did you write WAEC?” I asked further. He said: “Yes. I wrote WAEC. Even that one, I only copied what I was told to copy. They will write and give me and I will copy”. “But did you make you papers?”, I asked. Michael said “Yes, I made all my papers. I got eight credits”. I shook my head in disbelief. Here is a secondary school graduate, who made eight credits in WAEC, including English and Maths, as he told me, but could neither speak English, read nor write. As I looked at him in wonder, Michael said to me “I blame my father shaa”. I did not want to go into the details because I know that there are a lot of young people out there whose parents knew nothing of education but who grew to become well educated.
Michael was hustling for money, and borrowed up to N500,000 (by his own admission) to leave Nigeria, but never thought of borrowing money to even advance his education. While one may blame the society that created Michael, one realizes that so many of his type dot the streets of Nigeria waiting only to become tools for political adventure.
Michael told me he was leaving Nigeria and does not intend to come back until he had made enough money to liquidate his debts. Then I asked if his parents were aware he was out to Dubai. He nodded in affirmation. Then he told me that he was entering Dubai to seek a cleaning job. He said his contact, a friend he knew from home, had assisted him in securing a visa with which he intended to live in Dubai, secure a cleaning job where he intends to earn the equivalent of N70,000 monthly, through which he would pay his debts. “I won’t come back to Nigeria until I have hustled enough money to pay people I borrowed money from and also have enough to enter US because that is my ultimate destination”. I tried emphasizing a return to Nigeria but Michael looked at me and said “Nigeria…” then, he shook his head.
As we alighted at the expansive Dubai International Airport, Michael quickly disappeared from sight. I met him again at the passport/visa check point. He was walking back from the long queue. I stopped him to inquire what happened. He had been turned back and asked to go get the original copy of his visa. Within minutes, he had secured it from the visa point. When he showed it to me, it dawned on me that Michael was travelling on a tourist visa. Tourist visa means short stay. But as most Nigerians do in Dubai, the tourist visa means nothing but permission to enter the Emirate. What happens afterwards will be a run between law enforcement and the ‘tourist’. Hide and seek.
Hide and seek with the law is what a lot of Nigerian youths, who had found their way to Dubai, live with in this sprawling city that makes one very angry with those who had led, or ruled, Nigeria and Nigerians. Angry with the leadership for lacking in the will power to live and build a visionary legacy; angry with Nigerians for refusing to live a life of order, a life of cleanliness and a life of total desire for what is good. Like it had been sang, all thing bright and beautiful; all creatures great and small; all things wise and wonderful; Nigerians destroy them all.
*Uchegbu wrote this from his Auris First Central Hotel room in Tecom, Dubai.