When I first returned to the UK in the late 80s, I actually wanted to cross over the US. Like many of my contemporaries who grew up during the “Old School” days, I was entranced by Dallas, Dynasty, Alexis Colby Carrington, Michael Jackson, Grease, Shalamar etc and everything American. I loved the dressing, the music, the movies and my dream was to get to California and probably to make it BIIIG in Hollywood (please don’t laugh now!!!)
Even though I was born with my younger sister in England, I wasn’t particularly fond of Britain. I thought it was too cold and too grey and un-funky. So I came up with the plan of coming first to the UK as many of my friends were at that time, do my Masters Degree and later make my way to “Akata”
But things didn’t go according to plan. I got to London and within weeks, got a job and soon after, met this very handsome Ibadan guy.. and that was the end of that plan. Almost 25 years later, Im still stuck in good old Blighty!
Back in the 80s and early to mid 90s, as many as we Nigerians were in London, nothing could have prepared this nation for the Nigerians who flooded the UK in the 90s thanks to the Labour Party’s open border policy under Tony Blair. Suddenly, the UK was open to anyone and everyone. As long as you could get funds together for your flight Ticket and VISA, you were good to go (or come in)
Now, contrary to opinions you probably might be forming in your minds right now – I have nothing against anyone wanting to relocate for a better life or for better opportunities which frankly, were grossly missing in our home country in those days and still are for many people back home.
But what NEVER CEASES to amaze me is the crassness that people bring to the UK with them and never seem able to leave behind at Murtala Mohammed Airport. Daily, I come across folks that I ask myself – how did this one get a VISA?
A lot of people either born citizens or “illegals” that come over and get lost in the system – get here and do all they can to add value to themselves. Either through further education or behavioural adjustment. But many others, speak, act, even drive like they are still in Lagos – and not even the posh areas of Lagos – and other regions! One of the popular jokes of the last decades was about Nigerian women living in Peckham. These women would come out of their homes with shower caps on their heads and bathroom slippers on their feet and shout very loudly across the Estate to “Iyaa Salewa – se e ni toothpaste?”. Some people have even spoken of others with “pako” (chewing stick) in their mouths walking along Peckham Rye on their way to “early momo” or early school runs.
While I would neither class my self as Posh or Pako – I can fit and adapt comfortably to either situation. In the comfort of my own home. I can be as sloppy and as rugged as I want to be. But when I step out, Im different. I endeavour to comport myself with decorum and class. But some people you encounter, you wonder just how crass they are at home with the level of classlessness they display out in public. A few years back, a Woolwich hairdresser engaged in a public brawl with the wife of a guy she had been sleeping. Both ladies engaged themselves in a fight to the extent of almost stripping themselves naked – in Woolwich town centre!!!! The police had to be called to intervene. Such shame!
The men are not left out – some guys drive like they are trying to battle a traffic jam in Mushin or Uselu: and the road signs, traffic lights and traffic laws are taken by some as mere suggestions that can be disregarded and not laws that must be obeyed.
A lot of these class of folks – educated or not – will not hesitate to start or pick a fight with anyone, anywhere – parties, hospitals, bus stops, post office queues, hospitals etc. Some will even start a fight with a policeman if just routinely pulled over.
We Nigerians love to wear our Bad Behaviour tag as a badge of honour. I was appalled by a grown Nigerian man at an event I MC-ed a while ago. Usually, at dinner time, the guests are called according to their table number – usually from Table 1. On this occasion, this guy on Table 12 decided we were wasting his time and got everyone on his table to proceed with him to the buffet table – even though we were still at Table 7. When asked nicely to return to his seat, he started shouting “Do you know who I am? I am like a brother to the celebrant, you cant tell me what to do!!!”
A lady attended a private event uninvited and decided to install herself in the VIP area. When asked to leave the area, she threatened to “Glass anyone who touches or talks to her” This is a lady who graduated from one of the major Universities in the West of Nigeria and presented news and programmes on one of our national Television stations.
At another event, a publisher of a semi-defunct Nigerian Publication simply walked in without an invitation and decided to sit at one of the Pre-allocated VIP tables. When the organisers tried explaining the situation to him and politely asked him to move to a different table, this Yoruba man unashamedly refused to move from the seat.
Some Nigerian men in London have found themselves on rape charges and in jail because of the disrespectful attitude held by many Nigerian men towards women.
Many men driving outrageously flashy cars even though they do not have the right immigration status have unfortunately ended up being deported back home as a result of being randomly stopped by the police and when asked to identify themselves, have been unable to.
Many people refer to London as a leveller. Because you who went to nursery school, attended a private Primary school and a major Federal Government secondary school topped by graduating from a major University, will end up in London taking the same bus, same underground train, use the same hospitals, attend the same parties, send your kids to the same school and even live in the same neighbourhood etc as some who never saw the inside of a University Campus or who lived in homes where there was no indoor toilets or shower or that you would have never associated with back in Nigeria. Many who are from this background, leave the shores of Nigeria and take maximum advantage of the freely available opportunities for self improvement and re-branding and re-invent themselves. Others simply carry on without doing one single thing to changinge anything about themselves. I know folks that have lived in London for over 20 years and still speak English with the same deeply regional tone and accent they spoke back home, heavily laden with poor grammar and awful pronunciation.
I know hundreds of people who came to the UK with just their first Degree or even just their GCSE. But several of these have gone on to obtain second degrees and Masters Degrees and in certain cases PhDs. Others have enrolled in schools and colleges, obtained their qualifications and are now gainfully employed professionals. Some folks came in in the 80s or 90s and got jobs as care assistants, cabbies and security guards. Almost 30 years later, they are still doing those same menial jobs. Many of these folks cannot tell their kids what work they do out of shame and embarrassment.
Out of the over 1 million Nigerians living in London alone, many hundreds of thousands of us are hard working, achieving, law abiding citizens. But a small majority of us are unemployed, idle, unruly and criminal minded. The types that give Diasporan Nigerians the label and tag many of us are working so hard to eradicate.
If not for the established organised way the system of this country was set up, and the stringent checks and balances to safeguard it, Nigerians would have broken the system long ago. Most procedures such as Welfare benefits, Social Housing and even Credit Cards put in place to help the poor and vulnerable in the community was grossly abused by Nigerians and almost wrecked by our people. Many Naijas turned the homeless people’s housing program into personal money making businesses. They would visit different council’s homeless persons unit around London and declare themselves homeless. Such councils would then provide suitable accommodation for them which they will in turn sublet at exorbitant rates to illegal Nigerians and pocket the money even though in most cases, such people pay very little or nothing to the council.
Some people have been known to own up to 5 or more of such fraudulently acquired properties denying real victims of homelessness chances of being housed.
Many Nigerian in London have never worked a day in all the years they have arrived in London. Many babes rely on guys especially the married ones to pay their rent and top up their phone credit and many guys seek out vulnerable single mothers who are are already struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their kids and still wickedly screw then out of the meagre funds they have. Some guys will visit such single mothers, have unlimited sex with them, eat their food, sleep in their beds and even drive their cars – and still “borrow” money to send home to their mum. I tell you, many London blokes have forgotten how to be real men!
But as proliferative as such badly behaved Nigerians in London may be – I give massive kudos to the hundreds of thousands of proud hard-working, entrepreneurial and professional Nigerian men and women living in London – many of them living quiet moderate lives and contributing positively to the community.
From the Column “London Digest” by BaronessJ
City people Magazine