I have known Lawrence for over ten years: certainly enough time to claim to know him well. Before last week I would have claimed to know enough about Lawrence to call him a friend. Lawrence works in a chocolate factory (and sometimes brings me some chocolates from work.) He has four children. He is Nigerian. He is not loud. He is clean shaven. He looks like Two Face Idibia. It never occurred to me that I knew nothing of Lawrence’s past. My knowledge of him began and ended with his life in Belgium.
Last week when I moderated a panel discussion/debate with the Ambassador of Nigeria and two other Nigerians, I invited Lawrence to sit in the audience, because I thought he might enjoy it. It was a lively discussion especially as one of the panelists , a former professor of engineering, a passionate but disillusioned Nigerian decided to make it interactive and asked the audience, “If you stood before your maker today and He asked, what would you tell him that your country did for you?” When Lawrence spoke, his voice carried his frustrations and the weight of dead dreams. He said, I am very disappointed in Nigeria. I’ll tell my maker that. As I stand before you I am an architect. But my profession is dead to me here. I can’t even draw a straight line because since I left Nigeria almost twenty years ago, I’ve never worked as an architect.
Lawrence’s story is sad, but it is the story, tragically of many Nigerian migrants here. They have university degrees, but are forced to become economic migrants in a society where nothing they know matters anymore. They staff bread factories and chicken farms, watching their dreams die so that they can put bread on the table for their families. Lawrence knows that the longer he stays here, the lower the chances that he’d ever be able to draw a a straight line again, but Nigeria is a not a home he is willing to return to right now. That is also the tragedy of Nigeria