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Soon Leaving Africa Voluntarily & Expeditiously

I was doomscrolling Twitter yesterday while waiting for my daughter to finish her hair at the salon. My Twitter feed is usually a mashup of human rights violations out of West Africa, Eskom plunging Mzansi in relentless darkness and food preparation videos. It can get really heavy, but at least Twitter’s algorithm gives me some reprieve with the occasional animal rescue video. As is often the case, there was one tweet amongst this plethora of dystopian news and verbosely expressed displeasure that stuck with me till this morning, so vehement was the sentiment and conviction of the publisher. I could not recall the account owner’s name or the exact wording, but I did remember the idea expressed: that if a slave ship was to come to Nigeria today to take them away to the UK, they wouldn’t risk being left behind. They would even go so far as to carry their own chains just to ensure they made it on the voyage! I used key terms to try to find the tweet – and was unsuccessful – chancing upon these instead:

It’s not a new idea. Over the past two decades, disenchanted youth (and some middle-aged people who ought to know better) have made calls – in half jest – for Africa to be re-colonized by Europeans. Independence is a failed experiment, the evidence being that the Ghanaian/Nigerian dream is to leave Ghana/Nigeria for good. This week another user promised to do a thread on how to legally and successfully emigrate from West Africa since our leaders don’t care about wasting our talent and intelligence. Users responded that they didn’t care if the method was illegal…they were going to camp out in her mentions on Saturday to leave the godforsaken shores of Black-run nations ruled by terrorists, oligarchs and thieves. After all, if you are going to be Black and oppressed regardless, at least you’ll have light and a functioning healthcare system.

Of course, all this got me wondering. What if there was a program, a bilateral agreement, between West African political leaders and the titans of commerce in the global north that not only permitted but encouraged Black Africans to surrender their citizenship for a chance in greener pastures? What would that look like? It’s been a long time, my friends, but let’s go into ((((MOM MODE)))).

*************

The year is 2023 and after years of agitating, a burgeoning bloc of Nigerian citizens have attained their goal: to compel the government to accept a proposition set forth by the Federation of Industrialized Nations, once known independently as the USA, UK and Europe. This proposition would allow any citizen from developing nations – from Africa in particular – to voluntarily join a re-construction program in exchange for permanent residency. The year prior, devastation had struck without warning. A series of cataclysmic events set off by accelerated greenhouse emissions, industrial waste that poisoned waterways, 23 earthquakes and an asteroid that finally destroyed New York (just like the movies!) had left what were once called First World Nations in shambles. They were recruiting folk in the rebuilding effort, and fast, just as Britain had done after WWII with the Windrush generation.

Olufemi fingered the glossy pamphlet he’d snatched from a street hawker, the perforated column ripped out and submitted four months ago. He was a young man with more talent than time, frustrated that his country was wasting both. Disillusioned by the rampant brutality meted out by the government – which only seemed to escalate with each passing day – he’d filled out the inquiry form sponsored by the Ministry of Home Affair without hesitation. Who could forget the Lekki shooting where members of the Nigerian Army opened fire on youth demonstrating, virtually begging, for their right to live and work in peace? That night, Femi had narrowly escaped with his life. Two of his friends were not so lucky. The body of one had still not been found. To dull the pain of that day and the ones that would follow, he turned his mind instead to the content printed on the creased pamphlet; promises he’d memorized and concealed in his heart.

Join the millions of passionate youth looking for new adventure and opportunity in uncharted lands! Are your abilities being under utilized? You have the chance to use your talent and expertise to build a new nation. Be a pioneer…

Be a pioneer. Femi loved the sound of that. Being a part of something new, to plot his own course, to be his own MAN. He’d never have that opportunity in a place like Nigeria, where only those born into wealth – or who took it by force of violence – were able to live anything close to a civilized, comfortable life. It was maddening. There were days he wished he had the capacity for deviousness and trickery, but he’d been raised too well to function or succeed in a culture that rewards the wicked and opportunistic. Blessing thought he was crazy to volunteer for the program.
“Oga, why you dey craze? How oyinbo go ‘gree you for come dem country wey you no pay visa fee, wey you get property for Naija, we you no provide two years bank statement? E be 419 oooo.”
Femi explained that it wasn’t a scam: it was like national service abroad. He would work for a few years and in return be a permanent resident in one of the Federation sites.
“Wey one?” Blessing asked skeptically.
“Ah no know…” Femi admitted. That was the catch (and part of the appeal). You didn’t know which of the nations you’d end up in, or when operatives were to come and fetch you. All applicants knew was that when there was a need for their skills, they had to be ready.
“You say de name of dis program be what?”
“Soon Leaving Africa Voluntarily & Expeditiously,” Femi replied with grandeur. It was simple, catchy and easy to remember.
Blessing snorted. “So the program e name be ‘SLAVE’. How you no see dis ting be 419 pass Naija gov’ment?”
“It’s witty”, Femi retorted.
Blessing replied in mocking tones. “Eezz weeety. See am. Already e dey talk like oyinbo. Like harmattan block e nostrils.”
“I can’t stay in this country, Blessing. It’s driving me mad. I can’t drive my car without police harassing me. I can’t take work from abroad because they’ve flagged Nigerian IP addresses. And it’s not just me. Fola is affected too. Stuck as a receptionist because her boss won’t give her a promotion unless she sleeps with him…”

Rage, familiar and all consuming, began to build inside him. Blessing placed a hand on Femi’s shoulder and gripped it tight. He knew all to well what he was feeling. When Blessing’s father abandoned the family his own mother had to do unspeakable things to keep food in their bellies and their bodies in school. Every Big Man she asked for help demanded sex in return. It took a young Blessing’s bout with malaria and the mounting hospital bills to bring her to the breaking point, he would learn years later.

What Femi knew and Blessing would not admit is that all this hostility was born of fear. What if Femi’s risk paid off and Blessing’s hesitancy cost him a chance – a real chance – to make it through hard work and honesty? And worse, what if Femi never came back? The men had been friends since they carried lunch boxes to kindergarten, the only two left of the quartet after Robert and Fisayo had been killed on the bridge. Blessing was watching his world come apart, all the foking Nigerian system valued oppression more than progress. Still, he could never leave his mother, no matter what hopes of prosperity might be dangled in front of him. She called him a fool for it. “We are all fools in this Nigeria,” he muttered.

Nothing left to do but wish Femi well while he waited.
“I go meet you for court tomorrow, or?”
Blessing laughed. “So I can beat you before you enter your S.L.A.V.E ship? It’s ok. I’ll disgrace you before oyinbo can!”
Femi laughed in spite of himself. “I go see you morrow.”

*********

But there was to be no meeting at the basketball court that day or any other for that matter. As Femi lay clutching the remnants of the piece of paper promising a new life, there was a loud knock on the door and then a sudden bang. He sat straight up in bed, startled. Before he could shout for help, and hand covered his mouth and muffled his scream.
“We’re with the Soon Leaving Africa program,” a gruff voice announced, piercing the gloom. “I’m going to take my hand off your mouth now. You can take one item with you. Then let’s go.”
Femi stuffed the picture of Fola he kept on his night stand into his pocket and was whisked away into a waiting cargo van by S.L.A.V.E operatives. Twenty other men of varying ages sat in the back, terrified or exhilarated – it was difficult to tell. All Femi could feel was gratitude. The Federation had read his qualifications and seen that he has a pioneer spirit. Finally, his talent would be recognized. The cargo van rumbled away from the city towards the sea port and for the first time in his life, Femi didn’t feel irritation with each bump of the potholes.

**********

The offices of the Soon Leaving Africa Voluntarily & Expeditiously processing center looked nothing like what Femi had expected. The walls were painted the same dull rotten egusi green as any other unremarkable Nigerian government office. There was one florescent light that swung listlessly overhead. In the distance, he thought he heard the faint sound of groaning, but that could have been the building settling on itself. It was important to stay in the moment and not get ahead of himself. He needed to answer the questions that the pimple-faced mixed race man sitting before him was asking.

“Name and age?”
“Olufemi Ajayi, 23.”
“Are you in possession of a cellular device?”
Femi shook his head. “No. The pamphlet said they are not allowed.”
“Any electronic devices at all,” asked Pimples suspiciously.
“Only this Apple watch. My girlfriend gave it to me.”
Pimples motioned for Femi to hand it over, which he did obediently and eagerly. In three moves to was placed on the ground and smashed under a boot.
“Hey!”
Pimples ignored the indignant shout as one might ignore the bleating of a passing goat.
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” he ordered.
Femi obliged, pissed by the wanton destruction of his property. The sooner he got out of this lawless, fokken country the better.
“State your name and say ‘I…do hereby voluntarily renounce my Nigerian citizenship and do swear to uphold the laws and ordinances of the Federation of Industrialized Nations.'”
“…so help me God.”

A strange look clouded Pimples face…sinister…like a wolf suddenly let loose in a cow pen. He motioned Femi through a narrow door, congratulating him.
“Your journey begins through there.”

In all his days, in his wildest imagination, Femi could not have conjured these images or dreamt up this staggering reality. He wrapped his head around the back of his neck, ululating and wailing. What had he done? What in God’s name had he done?

This article has 2 comments

  1. Marshall Grant

    I’ll bring my own chains? Although I get metaphorically what they are saying, they don’t know what they say. When I look at a show like, “High On The Hog” and hear the pain Black Americans have when visiting their past, these modern dudes that want to be enslaved are so distant to reality its almost like American slavery is a myth or folklore. One also has to give it to the slave denalists’ and western historians for taking the sting out of slavery….

  2. Safirexx

    I just can’t stop laughing at this backronym! I initially thought I was going to read about how you and Marshall and kids were going back to the US lol. Then I though I was going to read a story about modern upward mobility. Even after Blessing helped me see the light I was still optimistic for Femi until the sorry end.

    I think we Africans need a short sharp shocking history lesson about the reality of the experience of these past 400 years for our family in the diaspora. I’m so ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I read Yaa Gyasi’s novel that I even began to get an inkling of the horror and atrocity. I was distraught for weeks. When I try to imagine what it must be like for those bearing 4 centuries of trauma, my mind blows. Somehow we need to learn to get it and empathise.

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