By Obi Odenigbo
On the day I got my visa to the United States; I was stunned at the number of people crowded at the US embassy in Lagos- gunning for the “American dream”. My taxi dropped me off at around 6:30 am and it was mind blowing to see how many people were already forming lines- waiting in queues for the embassy officials to arrive.
At that moment; any little hesitation I had about leaving my country dissipated. I was like, “My God, all these people? This adventure of mine to the US must be worth it.” But years later; I realize that “Must” was too strong a word.
There is no doubt that America offers opportunities that African leaders intentionally and greedily deny its people, but make no mistake about huge benefits that Nigeria offers- which the USA in its glory cannot match.
- Tuition: It’s common knowledge that American universities are more equipped than Nigerian schools, but that does not mean that the determined average American student is smarter than the determined average Nigerian scholar. And yet, Nigerian University students pay roughly 1/100th of what schools in America charge you for education. And this is no exaggeration. It is chiefly due to the fact that most Universities in Nigeria have tuition subsidized by the government (Federal or State or both). To put this in perspective; students in Lagos (LASU) are- at the time of writing this essay- protesting on the streets and have shut down activities in the university due to an upward revision of their tuition. The new fees will for example have students in the Arts, Law, Management and Social sciences paying N90,000 ($562) per year! The same students in Faculties in America pay around 3.5 million Naira ($21,000) per year for the same degrees! If that doesn’t paint picture; I’ll go a step further with my personal deal breaker. In my four years at the University of Nigeria; my total tuition was less than N100,000 (approx. $600). Considering that that will not be sufficient to pay for a single semester in the United States; it shows how ‘blessed’ a hardworking Nigerian student is.
- Rent: Before leaving Nigeria; I shared a one bedroom apartment with my kid brother in Ketu, Lagos. As far as we were concerned, it was on the high-side. I’m talking N120,000 ($750) per year! One of my neighbours told me it was a total rip-off and that I needed to re-negotiate terms with my Landlord! Now wait a minute. Fast forward to Obi residing in present day United States. How on earth is $750 per year a rip off? Again, to put things in perspective; my current rent is $800 PER MONTH! The amount I pay for a month here would not only make my Nigerian Landlord happy for one year; but will fill my refrigerator with quality beer and assorted delicacies. Need I say more?
- Family Life: One thing you immediately notice when you live in America is the over-use of the term “baby mama”. Almost everybody has either a step mom or a step dad. Almost every dude my age has at least one kid from a girl who he didn’t trust enough to get married to. Child support, Divorce, court dates, ex-wives are other very common terms I got used to. These phrases used to be taboo topics when growing up in Nigeria, but they appear common place in the USA. Needless to say that the family culture is superior in Africa and the longevity of your marriage is definitely enhanced in Nigeria than in the US.
- Raising Kids: This is an extension of the point raised above, but very different. I’ll explain how. You’ve probably seen those crazy American movies where teenagers call the cops on their parents when they get smacked? Well, they’re real! Very real! In many states in the US, you dare not spank your kid. That Bible adage “spare the rod and spoil the child” is not in the American bible. Now, I don’t advocate physical abuse on children; but imagine how much easier and peaceful it would be raise a kid knowing that there was no chance the “Police” could arrest you for disciplining your child! And not just your child; as a teacher, the very day you hit a student in America is the day you lose your job and probably sleep in jail. Well, tell that my cane-wielding teachers Mr Obi and Mr Ogu and they’d laugh the hell outta you!
- History and Tradition: In Nigeria, you can easily tell what State, tribe or even hamlet a person comes from by their first or last names. You can predict what their local traditions are, what their music sounds like, what the traditional attire is and how exorbitant the bride-price might be for any of their girls. Most Nigerians know the particular houses their ancestors lived in and where they’re buried. This rich history and culture is rare in America. And sometimes you find Americans paying huge sums of money to trace their ancestry and genealogy. No sane Nigerian would spend a dime to trace what tribe he belongs to. Our native names are unique and are the same names our ancestors had hundreds of years ago. This tradition has its taboos which can be positive or negative. One very positive taboo is the abhorrence of suicide. Almost all African traditions and religions denounce suicide and that’s why despite poverty, unemployment and poor governance; the suicide rates in Nigeria are again 1/100th of the rates in America and Europe.
So before cursing your stars; let’s count our blessings and name them one by one.
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