By Ajayi Dada

Several years ago, it used to be a thing of joy for families and even communities to hear that their loved ones who had been opportune to travel to either the United Kingdom, America or any of the European countries would be visiting home. Some of the relatives would have prepared themselves to receive their ‘been tos’ that had wined and dined with the white man in his own country at the designated airport of arrival. Similarly, a more colourful and grandeur reception would have been organised for such an illustrious son or daughter of the soil on the fateful day of his or her arrival in the village by his of he supposedly kith and kin.

The community members would, in their best attires, line the road leading to their community to give a rousing welcome to the Londoner or the Americana depending on where he or she was returning from after seeking greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria, our fatherland. Such were usually accompanied with drums and danceable songs as well as the chanting of the panegyrics of the expected guests.

Such communities were not always after whatever their sons or daughters that had just returned from overseas would give them either in cash or material things. The preoccupation for celebrations then was that one of them had done the community proud by travelling overseas, protected their community and family names by diligently pursuing his mission , usually successfully studying and completing such endeavour in the ‘ Oyibo’ man’s land and returning home safe and sound.

To them, such ‘ been tos’ have through personal sacrifice and dedication to duty placed the name of their community on the world map for  national  and international recognitions. Depending on the faith or Creed professed by the family and community of the Londoner, they will offer Thanksgiving and praises to their God or ancestors for such invaluable achievement.

Also, the people were of the belief that such returnees armed with good academic laurels, proficiency and knowledge would secure better employment opportunities in government establishments or blue chip companies and whatever fortunes cascading from such would rub on them as a community. There was also the implicit belief that such a person with a cosmopolitan view of life would assist the up-and-coming ones from his or her community to become better and resourceful men and women in later years. Through that, such communities can gradually begin to say bye- bye to poverty, unemployment, child abuse and other social vices that were scary to them.

From shared experiences and notes, most people who travelled overseas then went for further studies to become proficient in medicine, engineering, architecture, sciences, social sciences, aeronautical science and a host of others, with the sole intention of using knowledge acquired from such fields of study to  transform their society for the better on their return. They were propelled by nationalistic tendencies that worked favourably for them and their country.

Can the same experiences be said of our ‘been tos’ of contemporary times? That is a question begging for answer from all and sundry. What is the level of acceptability of Nigeria’s green card or international passports by the international community nowadays compared to the days of yore? A sizeable statistics of Nigerians travelling abroad nowadays do so for one business or another whether legitimate or illegitimate. This has made most Nigerians a laughing stock before their foreign hosts that are always suspicious of any moves by their Nigerian guests.

Only a handful of our youths now travel overseas either in search of the greener pastures or to acquire academic knowledge. Rather it is either for quick money syndrome by indulging in commercial sex or prostitution, cybercrime, human trafficking, drug trafficking or money laundering. Some have formed the habit of subjecting themselves to going through North Africa via the Mediterranean Sea with the intention of getting to Europe not minding the humiliations and traumatic experience they had gone through.

However, the outbreak of COVID-19 late last year in Wuhan Province of China and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world has made the desire to travel abroad at all cost less attractive. Europe, Asia and America have since the outbreak of the pandemic in their countries begun treating foreigners with disdain.  The situation became so terrible at a point that many Nigerians living in the Diaspora began to appeal to the Federal Government to evacuate them to Nigeria. Where they ran away from has now become the cornerstone they cherish and adore.

The maxim: “East or West, North or South, home is the best” is, indeed, apt here to justify their actions. They must have concluded that the stigmatization against them and the level of dehumanization by the governments of their host countries they initially thought to be their Eldorado are too much for them to bear. They buried their ego like the biblical prodigal son and appealed to their home government to evacuate them.

Unfortunately, they experienced a dose of what befell them in those foreign lands on arrival in Nigeria though not of the same magnitude and dimension. No thanks to COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging Nigeria also like the harmattan fire. Besides the fact that there were no family members to welcome them home at the international airports due to the lockdown and restriction of movements, they were subjected to self-isolation for a period of two weeks before they could be reunited with their families and loved ones.

I am sure that this experience will remain a gory one in the minds and hearts of most contemporary “been tos” for years to come. To some, the reverberating question is where will they start life from after several years of waste and seemingly unproductive lives overseas? To others, will they resign to fate believing that, that is how they have been predestined?

When there is life, definitely, there is hope. Our brothers and sisters just returning home from abroad sequel to the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic need to gird their loins and take their destinies and fortunes into their hands. They should think of their survival as fittest of their rivals and device the best way to realise their individual lofty dreams.

Let us all join hands to develop our country (Nigeria) and thus make her attractive to foreigners to want to visit and live -in. With that, we will be putting an end to the urge that we have to travel overseas before we can become successful in life. Assuming the citizens of those foreign countries where we run to for succour did not at one time in their history team up with their various Government’s to develop their lands, will they have become attractive to us for us to want to live the rest of our lives there?

The proverb: “Rome was not built in a day” should be our watchword now having experienced the other side of life courtesy of COVID-19 pandemic. And since a step is the beginning of a million miles, let us put on our thinking caps and start something positive today because procrastination is the thief of time.

Investment in agriculture will do us good .There are:  poultry , cassava, piggery, maize, fishery, yam and cocoa yam  cultivation  and several others that  will not require bogus finances to service with quick turnover on investments. I am sure that the country is replete with various institutes of agriculture that we can consult for high yielding seeds that will in turn generate bumper harvests.

Salman Rushdie described contemporary times as “Age of anything-can-happen”, which succinctly summarises what we are currently experiencing in the world.

COVID-19 pandemic has brought its own stigmatization to our modern day “been tos” because nobody expected or prepared for.  It came like a thief or a marauder at night. Must we allow ourselves to suffer the negative effects of post COVID-19? No to that stigma because a stitch in time saves nine. Welcome back home to our fatherland all our brothers and sisters who in the cause of seeking greener pastures outside the shores of Nigeria, had been bitten and traumatised by the bug of coronavirus disease.

Thank God for always giving us the grace that after every fall, we can rise again.

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