NIGERIANS IN LONDON The Never Told Stories
TAIWO ALIMI, who recently visited Britain, captures the untold stories of Nigerians living legally and illegally in London.
Clad in chunky overcoat and stretched fitting jeans worn over tight to keep away the biting London cold, Bunmi Adedapo (Not real names), dashed out of his one-room home at 4.30am to catch the early morning bus to his place of work. Adedapo works in the one of the biggest superstores in Bexleyheath, a quiet neighbourhood, 25 miles (about 40km) from London.
After a quick check on his wristwatch, he realised he had only a minute to spare so he broke into a run. What happened next surprised the 48 year-old Nigerian, who arrived in London three years ago “I heard the blaring Police siren first; then, their unmistakable brightly coloured car with two officers crawled slowly alongside me. Instinctively I stopped and they jumped out with barrage of questions from where I was coming from to where I was going and why was I running?”
Calmly, Adedapo answered these questions and more that came as if they have been rehearsed a thousand times. In between, one of them returned to their vehicle to punch in some information and after about 30 minutes-that seemed like eternity to the English graduate-he was allowed to proceed.
“I wasn’t the only person on the street that morning. I was stopped because I am an African migrant and running at dawn. They assumed that I must have committed a crime or living in the U.K illegally.”
Anthony Ayodele holds dual citizenships of Nigeria and U.K, and he has been living in Central London area for 10 years, yet he is not immune to the prying eyes of overzealous law enforcers. “I was on my way to office one morning. As I descended the underground station, I decided to video myself -something many people do every time. As soon as I reached the ground, two plain-clothes detectives pounced on me asking me to show them my video clips while identifying myself at the same time. I obliged them and after looking at the clips, insisted on seeing all videos and pictures on my phone. At this point, I declined asking if it was illegal to take pictures in the public. I quickly pointed at some people doing Selfie at that particular time.”
Ayodele noted that they became more aggressive and if he had been an illegal migrant, he would have been arrested that instant.
“I gave them my document and they had to ‘triple-check’ before apologising and allow me to go on,” added Ayodele, a seasoned journalist, who practised in Nigeria for two decades before relocating to the U.K.
The treatment meted out to Adedayo and Ayodele by the U.K system is not uncommon for Nigerians living in London. “It is like the London weather: Erratic and unpredictable,” chipped in Adedayo.
Two million Nigerians in Britain
According to statistics obtained from the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom (CANUK), it is estimated that about two million Nigerians currently live in the U.K and a sizable number of them, live in London. Their main abode is Peckham, a lively community in north London.
Incumbent chairman of CANUK, Babatunde Loye confirmed that Nigerians daily live at the mercy of the U.K centralized system. He noted that Nigerians troop into the U.K ignorant of the immigration laws and regulations.
“We have a system here where everything is concentrated on the government, in collaboration with the private sector. Therefore, you have to understand what workings to fit in. You cannot come here and think you can start work without securing work-permit and no organization will apply for work-permit without confirming you are residing here legally.”
Loye is a manager in a leading insurance firm in London and he has been living in there for 15 years.
“We try as much as we can to get all Nigerians under our umbrella so that we can cater and fight for them. I can confirm that we have over two million Nigerians in the U.K and there have been issues ranging from work problem, housing and feeding related issues. We try to pool resources together and address these problems. The reality is that many of our people come here without proper planning and they are stuck here. Some end up in prison or face deportation. We have a programme where we feed our people that are unemployed and homeless. Nevertheless, we can only do that for those who come forward to identify and register with CANUK.”
From unofficial statistics gathered by this reporters over five weeks in London, it is observed that 90 percent of Nigerian migrants in the U.K are there for economic reasons. They come to search out the proverbial Golden Fleece and to improve their financial base back home.
On the reporter’s first night in London, Fabian Eke, 51, an Economics graduate from a Nigerian University, was waiting for him at Heathrow Airport, to take the reporter to his hotel at Holborn – Central London. The Edo-born said he arrived in the U.K in 2000; and had worked as a store assistant and security guard. He now works as a cab driver with a major transport company with chains of businesses all over the U.K.
“I am doing fine here,” Eke started. “I have worked as an assistant in a big store, then as a security and for four years now I have a stable job in a taxi company. I earn well to take care of my family and go to Nigeria once every two years. We have bought a house in the high profile Lekki in Lagos and I send money home regularly to my aged parents.”
Asked if he is not troubled by the kind of job he’s doing? He snapped back. “You get paid well and on time for whatever job you do here. It is easy to plan knowing that you get paid. It is better than working in a big office in Nigeria and you are poorly paid.”
Before the reporter alighted, Eke added quickly. “I hope (President Muhammadu) Buhari will fix Nigeria very soon, so we can come back home. Until then I will continue to drive taxi here so I can feed my family.”
Adedayo, 47, decided to ‘bail out’ of Nigeria after 15 years in three media houses without financial fulfillment. “I am a graduate of English and I had to come to the U.K for greener pastures. I loved my job in Nigeria but it was not financially fulfilling. I’ve been working in a superstore as sales assistant for two years now and I’m fine. I send quality money home to my family and also planning to bring them here too.”
As far as Adedayo is concerned, job fulfillment comes with financial growth and he is getting that as a sales clerk in the U.K.
For Prince Efe Ereduwa, who has lived in the U.K for 31 years, he travelled there to study as a young man. He is now retired with a consultancy firm and a home to show for his stay. “In our days, we come to London purely to study and we stayed back if we get a good job where you are fulfilled as a young man. Today, it is a different story. Young Nigerians come to London for easy money and they are disappointed when they get here and see that you have to work extra hard to make money. Many have wasted their time and ended up in jail because they thought it is easy in the U.K.”
He observed that Nigerians no longer work as hard as his generation again, hence the craze for London. “If you work hard and plan well for your coming it would be easier and you may get to do a better job that will be fulfilling for you. But, if you decide to come for the money, you will only end up like many Nigerians here; working in the store or as cab drivers and other unskilled jobs.”
Uche Kingsley hails from Anambra and recently marked his 34th year in London. He was a top-ranked civil servant before jumping ship in 1981. Today, Kingsley is a ticketing officer in a superstore in London. “I came to London as a student, but it is very expensive now to come here for study. But it remains the best option; otherwise you are coming to London to suffer.”
Aside the feeling of second-class citizen, that permeates the air among Nigerian immigrants, sexual and emotional distress is also rampant.
Mrs Rita Dimeji, 40, has been in the UK since 2007, she is a qualified nurse, and so getting a job was not so difficult. She works for a home that specializes in the care of the aged and she said she is fulfilled in her chosen field
Her challenge however, is emotional. She lives in Peckham, alone, with her two sons; Labi (14) and Doyin (11) without their father, who has refused to join the London train. “It is not easy to live as a single mother in U.K. I have to work hard to train my boys because UK Welfare Service is watching, looking for the thinness of excuse to take away your children.”
She also misses her husband’s intimacy and pays through the nose for the two tiny rooms they live in. “You cannot rely on a man here. Their goal is to reap you off as a single working mum.”
Adedayo confided that since he got to the U.K three years ago, he has been under pressure from single mothers for sexual relationships. “I’ve been getting open invitations from women since I started work. Some of them are regular customers making passes at me. They are not genuine but only interested in your money. They have children from different men and are only interested in the child support benefits they get from government. It is another way women reap off men here and it is rampant among African and Latino women in the U.K.”
Therefore, how does he ease off sexual heat in an extremely chilly climate? “I speak with my wife on phone every hour to keep me focused and reassure her because she is also under similar pressure at home.”
To affirm Adebayo’s claim, the reporter went searching and met a Nigerian woman, who opted out of marriage for regular flow of child support settlement.
Sade Williams (not her real names) booked her passage to London through her husband, a Nigerian with British passport. On getting to London, she became uncontrollable after having a child and within a year was out of the relationship. She became entangled with another unsuspecting Nigerian, got a second child out of him, and dashed out again.
She now smiles to the bank every week to catch off her child support settlement.
“I was treated badly by my men,” she stated, “and I don’t think I should stay put. The law here protects women, children, and the elderly and I’m much better without them (men).”
High cost of living
If Adedayo has a clear purpose of his coming to London, and would not part with his hard currency to women of easy virtue, he cannot beat the high cost of living in the U.K capital.
For a single room that he lives in Bexleyheath, he has to cough out £100 pounds per week. That is £400 pounds (N120, 000) every month. In a year that amounts to N1.4million. Back home, Adedayo boasts of a three-bedroom apartment inhabited by his wife and only child.
Mrs Dimeji shells out £150 pounds a week; £600 pounds for one month (about N180, 000) for two rooms in Peckham.
“That is exclusive of water bill, electricity, gas, central heater, transportation, and other municipal charges. If you come to London and you are not working, I’m afraid you will have yourself to blame,” she added.
Ayodele lives in Central London and pays higher than Adedayo and Mrs Dimeji. “I pay £200 pounds (about N60, 000) every week for my house,” he said simply while looking into space.
He needed not to add that the astronomical standard of living is killing him and has deprived him the joy of bringing his family; wife and three children, to London permanently.
The U.K system he complained bitterly has not been fair to young entrepreneurs like him.
“I hold a British passport so I felt I would be given the enabling environment to excel in my line of business here. I relocated to London with the hope that I would be able to flourish my entrepreneurship. I have been here for 10 years, I have applied for several start up loans, filled many applications, written series of proposals, and attended several defences, but it has not yielded a pound. The system does not support Africans whatever the colour of your passport. It only takes what you bring and swallow it. It is either you conform to what they have to offer; which are menial jobs that their children pass off or nothing.”
True to Ayodele’s assertion, most of the superstores in London; the like of Primark, Tesco, M&S, ASDA, and others are manned by Africans, Latinos, Indians, and Arabs.
Mrs Ebun Folorunsho, 68, is battling rheumatism and ill-health from the extreme London weather, yet she told me she has to go to work to fend for herself. “I came to London 30 years ago with my husband, who passed on three years ago. My challenge is the cold and for some time I cannot move my legs. They get so stiff that I move around with great pains.” Mrs. Folorunsho plans to relocate back home in Ogun State this December.
On the reporter’s last day in London, Eke (the taxi driver), sent him off with a parting shot as he drove him to the airport, “The reality is that Nigerians in the U.K work extra hard to make ends meet under a harsh weather and system that look down on them. Underneath the façade that you see when we come home, is a heart willing to return home. I just wish they (Nigerian government) would make our country better.