This past December was my homecoming. After an unexpected turn of events in 2020, and two years away, I found my feet on Nigerian soil once again. It had been a year filled with major challenges: the pandemic; the Black Lives Matter movement; the #EndSARS protests; plenty of loss; grief; and the list goes on. With so much of my time spent on social media, trying to stay caught up on world events, sometimes all the negativity could be overwhelming and exhausting. Over on my side of the world, in the UK, I saw more open conversations about racial injustice happening.
In Nigeria, I witnessed our youth mobilise as one, to combat their society’s injustices. It’s safe to say after a long year, I was tired of being isolated in the UK and being unable to see friends and the majority of my loved ones, I was itching to return to Nigeria.
My days in lockdown currently have me scrolling through my photos on my phone, reminiscing over happier times, when I was basking in the Nigerian sun, dressed up, looking good and having fun. What ended up being an unparalleled year like no other, ended with me completely joyous as I spent two weeks back in my second home. The visit felt like no other. I don’t know if it was the sweltering heat, a huge difference to the snow I had left behind, or the fact that we’re amid a pandemic, but my time in Nigeria reignited a desire for the country that I often find myself in limbo in.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how travelling to Nigeria brings about an identity crisis for me. Although I was raised and live in England, Nigeria has still always felt like a home of sorts. Nevertheless, I would face constant reminders that I’m an outsider. However, this time around, I didn’t feel that apprehension that clouded over me some years back.
Instead, all I felt was excitement. Could it have just been lockdown agitation, having spent the majority of 2020 at home, with very little social interaction? Perhaps. Nonetheless, this trip provided me with a renewed sense of belonging, love and appreciation for my country. It felt as though I had finally returned home.
As a British-Nigerian, it can sometimes be difficult to know where you belong. Growing up in the UK, I was surrounded by faces that don’t resemble my own. Nigeria has always welcomed me with open arms, but this time around it truly embraced me. In the space of two and a half weeks, I was fully immersed in my culture, my language, my people.
I spent a few days in Sokoto, one of the most traditional of Hausa states, and was involved at the centre of a friend’s wedding. I witnessed and took part in cultural traditions I’d never been involved in and was reminded of the beauty of my culture. My trip as a whole meant I was around people that looked like me, I reconnected with family, indulged in all the food possible, as well as continued to explore and understand my culture, heritage and family history.
However, I think it’s the gift of friendship that I’ve been blessed in abundance with that truly impacted my trip. I saw some childhood friends for the first time in years. The age of social media has allowed us to stay in contact in some ways over the years but connecting with them in real life had us catching up properly. Friends that I had made on previous visits went out of their way to welcome me back, and others that I had met in the UK but had moved back made me feel like a local by taking me to their favourite hangouts.
And then there were the friends like me, British-Nigerians who also only experienced Nigeria, weeks at a time on a yearly occasion. Being around them made me feel less alone and I hope showed others that despite being raised elsewhere, Nigeria isn’t some foreign country to us. It’s one that, regardless of some of its challenges, we are still proud to call a second home. Ultimately, this December I was reminded that should I ever feel as though I want to make my visit to Nigeria a permanent one, I have my tribe here.
Regardless of my complex relationship with the country I have grown up in and the identity struggles I have faced, the UK is home too. It’s the only home I have ever known; my immediate family is here, as well as most of my friends and they are what make my surroundings home for me. I’ve always loved coming to Nigeria and it’s a worthwhile experience I want to pass onto my future children someday. I want to ensure they have the same strong relationship and identity that I do and know they always have another place they can call home, if I decide to spend the rest of my life in the UK that is.
Identity is a complex thing and something that I think many people have an internal struggle with at some point in their lives. Through my journey of self-identification, I have come to accept that you don’t have to belong to just one group of people. There is beauty in being multifaceted and having several communities you can be a part of. Myself, I have the privilege of being Hausa, Nigerian, Muslim, British and more, and there are lessons to be learnt from each part of my identity.