By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Mrs. Dolapo Ajakaiye runs a human resources consultancy firm in the United Kingdom, where she trains Nigerians in the Diaspora and other foreigners.
Her book ‘Searching for Greener Pastures’ is a reflection of the challenges she passed through in life.
In this interview, she explained the conflicting value, cultural shock and psychological effects on children raised by Nigerian parents in the Diaspora and the legal battle they face before they become stable in a foreign society.
Give us a snapshot of yourself?
I migrated from Nigeria to the United Kingdom about 20 years ago with my family, and it became very difficult to settle in the place due to the different culture and society practice that was different from Africa. In the UK, I started as a student and then went to the university to obtain my first degree and later a Master’s degree. I raised two children, went through so much, but I’m really glad that after everything, I now manage my own business in the UK. As a traditional African child there were values and a lifestyle I was accustomed to, but I found myself in a strange environment, where the culture and lifestyle was totally different. This gave me a cultural shock. I faced racial discrimination among other hurdles the average person living in foreign society would experience.
Why did your family relocate from Nigeria to the United Kingdom?
At that time, life was becoming tough for me. The policies of the the government were affecting what I was doing because at the time I was running my business. I would go to the UK to get goods but by the time I came back, the policy would change, the exchange rate and everything would increase. It became frustrating because I was losing money. I got the goods at a cost and I could no longer sell them. Communication was extremely hard as telecommunication was difficult. We did not have the GSM access we have now. So, the head of the family was always abroad most of the time and when he was away, he could not communicate with me and the children, and this was becoming very tough and frustrating. It became tough on the children. So we decided to relocate, to be closer to the head of the home, and give the children a better life and for me to get more education.
In what way did the cultural difference affect you?
It was a very big shock from what I expected. Over there you don’t get favours as in Nigeria where we have a family network, comprising your mother, mother-in-law, cousins, friends, etc, can assist you with normal domestic issues and that is a normal thing. The first shock I got was when I wanted to go for a job interview and asked my neighbour to look after my three-year-old daughter. She said I should pay her five pounds. I was shocked. It was a cultural shock because normally I will do it without hesitation, free. But the society is different from the African society, where there is a network of people you can approach to lend a hand. Surviving in the UK was extremely difficult cause of the cultural practices that portrayed a different environment and belief. My 13-year-old daughter took her baby sister to school and the impact was truly challenging, because I was told outright that she is not a caregiver. She was already raised to take care of her sister in Nigeria but was not allowed. Most children are taking into care once you are reported. I had to battle legally, saying that our Nigerian parents raised their children the only way they know. The conflicting value system of foreign culture had psychological effects on the children, and one had to comply with the law of the land. Gradually, your values are eroded and you lose them. It is painful because what you teach your children at home is different from what the environment teaches them. Your child says something and they get into trouble because it is seen as abuse. Most times, these children are taken into care. Once a child is taken into care, you may lose the child for life, because they regard you as an unfit parent. When a child is taken into care, at 18 the government is no longer responsible for them. The child becomes responsible for her upkeep. African children are lost in the system once they are taken into care because they are raised in a value different from the African culture. They become absorbed into the system and once the government stops taking care of them some of them become drug addicts and get involved with gangsters.
How were you able to cope with the situation and manage the shock?
I had to pay from nothing that I did not have. I started learning.
Was there a time you felt like returning home to Nigeria?
Yes. Initially felt like returning home to Nigeria and it was just less than three months living in the UK, because what you expect is not what you see.
Can you throw more light about your book, ‘Searching for Greener Pastures’?
It talks about the trajectory of what most migrants face in the UK. I wrote the book at a point in my life when I was really down. I went in as a student, complied with all the rules but I got to a stage when my visa was to expire and I had to renew but I could not renew. And you find yourself in a situation where they tell you, you can’t renew. I was very morose thinking about my life. And they thought I had lied, because to the white man it’s your body language they study. I was asked some questions but I didn’t have any other answers except what I was giving him. I had to study the migration law myself not being a lawyer. I was the one who applied and I had to be reporting at the detention home. I was in a dilemma, in the middle of being thrown off the country. I had to fight deportation, because we still had the chance to stay in the country because we were still counted. Some Africans lost in the system and can’t go back home cause there is actually nothing to return to. You have no life to go home to. Staying in the country, you have to fight the legal battle to the end.
Eventually, we got everything settled; if we weren’t able to achieve that we would have been deported. Each time we were at the detention centre, we were not sure of coming back home. My kids had to stay and wait in court. We got back one day and I examined the children. I said to myself, I need to share my experience in a book. Nobody saw this coming. I have lived an exemplary life, how did I find myself in this situation? When I went overseas, my plan was to live there for five to six years, and after I was done with school I would go home, but these children, you can’t easily relocate them, after they have spent five to six years here.
Also, we shielded them from what was going on, because if we didn’t, they might go back to school and tell stories of their experiences. Despite the hardship they were faced with, the British government would not have sympathy for you. There you were, raising them thinking everything was fine. I made up my mind to do this according to the law. I kept studying making sure everything was right. I started to think about others who were in the country and were faced with similar situation but didn’t have money to pay for a lawyer. So what happens to them is that they become lost in the system and no longer exist; it becomes difficult. Bu my family and I were still counted in the country because we had a legal issue going on, we were still in the system.
You got a lot of people back home in Nigeria believe that life is rosy overseas. A lot of Nigerians go to the internet and post make believe images that create the false impression that things are going smoothly which is not actually true. So, I made up my mind to share my experience. I felt that I had to tell the story now, to educate people seeking greener pasture abroad and help prepare them on what they will face in the society once they get here. Nobody tells our African stories. If you look at a lot of things, you won’t see it in history and if it is not written down, it becomes difficult to share our story. I decided to say it the way it is; if my life story can touch the life of one person then I will be contented. We need to stop this attitude of just relocating abroad without proper planning. The situation is delicate and more shocking due to the various challenges you face in a foreign country. If a friend wants to visit me abroad, I can only accommodate you for a month, we start losing friendship because you have to pay the bill. I can only afford a month and you must inform me ahead so I can plan for it. I resigned myself to life and made things work out for me. I got through with school and I was encouraged by Consular Aminu. The area where we lived had a dominance of white people.
One thing they do in the UK is that you are given opportunity if you are willing to make impact. When you have that opportunity, you must have self-confidence to pilot the affairs. I applied to join the Labour Party. I paid the fee for membership and became a card carrying member. When it was time to contest, I put forward my name. I faced a panel and wrote my personal statement and defended it. I was shortlisted after I was examined.
I was handpicked as one of the candidates in Barnet. The 2014 Barnet Council election took place on May 22, 2014 to elect members of Barnet Council in England. It took place on the same day as other local elections and it resulted in the Conservative party holding on to overall control of the council. There were three of us – a white man, an Asian lady and myself. It was a good representation but we lost with a small margin. During elections, about 65 per cent of women vote, yet the key positions are not given to females.
How do we change the situation considering the impact women make?
Encouraging women to take leadership position starts within us. Globally, there are collaborations for women to handle tough management position. Nigerian women should fill in key positions; they should get support from women by collaborating. A lot of education and advocacy need to be done so women can take up key positions. They have to be available and ensure the home does not suffer. Awareness should be created by the women folks. Once women unite, the orientation would change and key leadership positions would be given to women. Women should stop being emotional and should not mix up things.
The men don’t work that way, a lot of women ask for opportunity and want to make use of sentiments; they think it’s their beauty or dress sense. If you want to work with the men you have to be serious and engage them with intellectual issues. When I go out with my husband and meet with his friends, I don’t see myself as a woman in their mist. I try to engage them intellectually. I discuss intelligently, I have got confidence within and I appeal to women to be more engaging. They need to be rational and should stop mixing up business with pleasure. Once we can prove to the man that we can, women need to support each other. Why are we not going to support the females? The women should learn the skill of the men to achieve leadership position in Nigeria. Girls should be raised to be useful to themself. Women need to change the attitude, and stop fighting ourselves. Politics is a game of numbers. We do not need night meetings to gain political power. A lot of enlightenment is needed; we should respect men but must still aspire. Women should work together; no one can change the men. A male child is raised without emotions, when he wants to cry, you say he is a boy and should not cry, so they grow up without emotions. Male and female should be their selves.
As the girl-child advocate, how do we eradicate the cultural practices that affect girls, especially in Northern Nigeria?
Education and empowering the girl-child is the key. There is something going on in the UK COVID-19 vaccination. When it started the government had to educate people and they engaged the community. The churches and mosque and things started changing. I was born and bred in Lagos. The girls who were mutilated became promiscuous. Nigerians are so attached to certain traditional practice and changing this is pretty difficult. In order to change things we need to educate parents and the caregivers; they should stop it. Medical professionals, doctors and other health practitioners should come out. They have to lend their voices, they should come up and create awareness, people hold onto traditions because they have not understood the scientific effect. If they are educated about the harm it would cause, then people will agree to put an end to this harmful tradition of female genital mutilation.
Would you say that negative economic impact leads young ladies to interact with drug barons?
Poverty is an issue to be addressed. Although the girl-child is vulnerable but the entertainment industry has created this problem. The way they project immorality, once these children see it they feel it is the best way to handle it. They do not pick values from their home but on the street. They are not proud of their parents; we grew up in a Nigeria where we were proud of our country. Most of them were born into a Nigeria where they did not see the good of the nation. As a society, we killed our culture, and now killing our values. We need to raise children to conform to the society. The white man who brought education is now using skills acquisition to develop their society. It is a woman that needs to change the socio-economic values needed to build our society. There is demand for craft, let us stop being ashamed. We do personal care job, personally I handle client if there is nobody, and once I am done, I washed my hand and I am fine. Nigeria is a great nation. They should start thinking differently and create employment for themselves. There is dignity in labour.