The right to call a place home, By Femke van Zeijl

“I simply fail to understand why a citizen should be denied certain rights on account of where his forefathers came from.”

The low sun was shining through the leaves, lighting up their golden, red and orange autumn colours. The fresh air tingled in my nose. It was not the first time I walked along the canals of Utrecht in the fall, nor was it the first time the beauty of this Dutch centrally located city in this season struck me. It was however the first time in 23 years I walked there without being able to call it my home. Since I had moved to Lagos I had not been back, and a happy sort of melancholy came over me. I tweeted how I was strolling through ‘my former home town’. That triggered many questions from Nigerians. How can a home town ever cease to be your home town?

I used to ask people in Nigeria where they were from. It took me a while to realise I was not asking the same question they were hearing. They told me where their village was and where their forefathers first settled. Whereas I meant to ask: where were you born and raised? Quite often the answers to these two questions were totally different, and laid bare a considerable cultural gap I previously had not been aware of.

When you ask me where I am from, I will name the little village of Berkel-Enschot where I was born, even though my entire family comes from the deep Dutch South 120 kilometres away from there. When I am asked where my home is, I will tell you where I have a place to call my own with a bed with fluffy pillows and a fridge with some bottles of lager waiting for me. These days, my home is the Lagos Mainland. It is also – to confirm a cliché – where my heart is.

I call Lagos my home with some restraint, deeply aware that I am a guest in Nigeria. I can only call it my home by the grace of Nigerian hospitality. I am like a visitor in someone else’s house; a humbling experience, and in my case completely appropriate.

It took me a bit longer to find out I am not the only one in Nigeria feeling like a visitor in someone’s house. Many Nigerians feel that way, even if they were born in the place. According to the Nigerian definition, home is where your forefathers came from. So many are living in places they cannot claim as their home, and what is supposed to be home is a faraway place they usually do not know that well, where de facto they are strangers as well. Knowing now what it feels like to be a visiting stranger, this worries me.

I did not know the word ‘indigenes’ – spelled this way I mean – before I came to Nigeria. But since then I have come to grasp its meaning, and also what it means to be non-indigines. By now I see this distinction as one of the deeper causes of social unrest in the country. I simply fail to understand why a citizen should be denied certain rights on account of where his forefathers came from. Categorising the population into people who belong, and people who don’t, creates a deep division in society.

How are non-indigines supposed to feel comfortable in a place that defines them as an outsider and will continue to do so for generations to come? How can they be expected to invest (emotionally, socially, economically) in a place they cannot call their home?

It does not take a lot of imagination to understand how deeply worrying the current discourse on the disintegration of Nigeria is to these people branded second class citizens. If the country falls apart (and I am not saying it will, that is another discussion), where will they go?

Being accepted as a guest is an honour, but in the long run being dependent on the hospitality of others can be straining. And the fear to be kicked out the door when your host has had enough of you will always be in the back of your mind.

P.S. I am returning to Lagos by the end of the week. If I may: I am coming home.

Talk to Femke van Zeiji on Twitter: @femkevanzeijl


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  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    well written and moving piece. this country’s original sin was her slaughter of over 300,000 Igbos in the north in 1966. many of them born in the north and complete strangers to their ‘home towns’. it is a policy encouraged by various military dictatorships until it back fired in Jos. It will end when most people get educated surely.

    • james

      mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa,
      You started this again. And you will be followed thru. You have a right to say what you are saying. But you want to narrow it to tribalism. That is what you do ALL THE TIME. I do not agree with your frame of thought, but you have right to it even if it is problematic. You know what mptikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa? You must on account of your framework TELL US and INCLUDE what Igbos DID to other NIgerians. Becasue they DID KILL others. Okay? Do not mistake this. I DO NOT believe in your tribalist frame of thought and writing. However I am ONLY saying that if this is what YOU MPITIKWELU_NA_UGWU_AWUSA believes, then DO NOT be selective. DO NOT DEVELOP AN AMNESIA. Go the WHOLE HOG by saying EVERYTHING. . Also include the LIES Achebe as an Igbo writer recently TOLD against Nigerians and other leaders in Nigeria except his Igbo leaders in his so-called book. You know what? You underestimate Achebe LIES. But we will not allow that underestimation. We will throw the LIES in your face and the implications of the LIES. What does the bible say about KILLING with your tongue. Achebe as an Igbo and an Igbo defender did exactly that. He killed other Nigerians with his tongue. So factor that into your writing, that is when your story and post will have any credibility. This is not denying that Igbos died. But I am saying REVEAL EVERYTHING both in the past and NOW including KILLING WITH TONGUE which is actually a major evil against humanity and God just in case you believe one exists.

      • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

        there are still some rough heads in Germany who argue that holocaust never happened. You are not alone in the world, son.

        • james

          baby Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa, so because of one holocaust we should(i)
          develop AMNESIA about other holocausts, (ii) we should not ask people to take
          responsibility for their actions if it is proved that they have the
          obligation to do this, remember Mr. Goldstein letter of resignation to Ojukwu as Biafra public relations officer abroad-the reasons Mr . Goldstein cited are very crucial to people being asked to take responsibility for their actions-it is just a basic requirement of life which ought not be difficult to do, (iii) we should develop AMNESIA about the
          RAW LIES of the poet-Mr. Achebe? Baby mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa, this is why if you are spokesperson of a group,
          that group will never be taken seriously for you ignore basic requirements in human conduct. Baby let us go!

          • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

            ‘…because of one holocaust..’ Silly me! Just one Holocaust! who cares about one holocaust?

          • james

            Baby, eh now, no be yu call am ‘holocaust’ since yu be Jew or you are forcing yourself to be Jew. I have helped you copy what you want to “forget” and do not want to “see” what you have developed “visual impairment” about. Now let us go. So because “because of your own Igbo holocaust’, we should (i)
            develop AMNESIA about other holocausts, (ii) we should not ask people to take
            responsibility for their actions if it is proved that they have the
            obligation
            to do this, remember Mr. Goldstein letter of resignation to Ojukwu as
            Biafra public relations officer abroad-the reasons Mr . Goldstein cited
            are very crucial to people being asked to take responsibility for their
            actions-it is just a basic requirement of life which ought not be
            difficult to do, (iii) we should develop AMNESIA about the
            RAW LIES of the poet-Mr. Achebe? Baby mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa, this is why if you are spokesperson of a group,
            that group will never be taken seriously for you ignore basic requirements in human conduct. So deal with dat baby. sebi yu get mouth. I don copy for yu di ting wey you no want “see”. E be like say you no know Mr. Goldstein again-abi? Na im Ojukwu give $400,000 make e help am do propaganda for Biafra dat time. Goldstein come see how bobo Ojukwu dey use wayo kill him own people, Goldstein come throw Ojukwu money($400,000 dat time oooo) for im face, say him no go fit be part of dat way. You know want see am eh ? na im be dat. Dat na di lie wey una dey carry about all di time. Be human and Man enough to accept your own part of the problem, that is when you will be taken seriously. Okay?

          • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

            You are Vile from the very pit of hell. I wish your lineage the fate of Biafran babies. I am off.

          • james

            mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa,
            because you get back what you give people? ah ah ah ah ah ah ! perhaps this will shut up your drooling mouth for a while, thanks baby for creating the opportunity to make you eat your own poison ah ah ah ah !!!! Again, do not miss this, nobody dislikes you here, it is just some lesson for you and your sponsoring group. These are the lessons for you: Try to respect others, respect their cultures, do not call those who respect others mumu(who do not do garagara like you) like you always call them, their sense of civility, and civic and good relations with others is not stupidity, it is a sense of high culture so emulate them, it is good public values, join hands with other Nigerians from other national groups to build a united Nigeria, stop your rabid and uncouth tribalist posts, make your Igbo areas inclusive like someone replied you here, if you Igbos are allowed to live your lives in other non-igbo Nigerian states, it is because your hosts make that possible for you, they are not stupid as you always think, do the same thing in your areas too so that non-Igbos can function in Igbo states, be respectful of others, it does not cost you anything, stop that jewish nonsense, it will not help you, actually it will make the world think the black man is stupid for you are not a Jew yet you want to hide under what you are not, the world will actually think you have challenges of thought for how can you be a Jew when it is obvious you are not, so boy watch it, it just does not make sense, watch your language, that is important baby, this way you will build Nigeria we want on equitable grounds with others. make sure your posts respect others, make your posts build a united Nigeria, that is great and proud, do not demoralise those who are struggling to work for a united Nigeria and build it. this is the way of the world , the way of a better future for all of us, I am very optimistic, i deliberately called your attention to the fact you want to run away from to make you become more reflective -okay cheers!

    • Mohammed

      mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa,

      You talk so much and I guess when people keep quiet and just laugh at what you write you may even begin to believe your own illusions and self deceit. So in this regard, I have some questions for you: how inclusive are Igbo states in Nigeria? How welcoming are they of other non-Igbo Nigerians born in Igbo states ? how have the Igbos made it possible for muslims who were born in Igbo states to practice their faith without structural hinderance? How respectful are Igbos of other peoples cultures, religion and faith?. When Igbos talk about other Nigerians, watch their language, how respectful is that language? You do not really need to insult in your answers. I just feel that we need to ask you these straight questions because if people keep quiet, you actually begin to believe yourself.

      • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

        Interesting that you never refer to my earlier comment, you are happy to divert the topic to ‘whether an Igbo man has ever been rude to you’. In your evil mind, it justified roasting Southern school girls in their dormitories in Kano in 1966. We will keep reminding the world about the atrocities that happened here.

        • Mohammed

          mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa,
          why don’t you answer my simple questions? Any form of killing is an act of intolerance and it should be condemned. Okay? But have the igbos ever admitted their legendary exclusive and structural intolerance in their own home states? No they have never. So my simple questions remain unanswered by you. Compare the Igbo states to the Yoruba states-why are you Igbos so intolerant of others in your own home states? And you know that structural intolerance is so legendary, you yourself know hence you divert and deflect my questions because you do not have answers. My questions do not justify killings. I am only asking you simple questions, and you should answer. I ask you just to let you know that Nigerians are not stupid at your intense hatred of other Nigerians. They are not blind at the Igbo exclusionary practices in their own home states. They are only shocked when Igbos demand in other states what they do not allow in their states. mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa, this is why I ask my simple questions. if you do not have answers that is fine, we move on.

    • uduakomiri

      Do you drink kegs of kai-kai before you comment on this forum?

      • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

        Ife ana akpo odika yi na agha bu ‘sabo’. Ana agba fa egbe na etiti is.

        • uduakomiri

          Lekala onye apiri ri ka gi. Ohu abu nwa! A-yeh bu nsogbu gi wu shi iberi-ibe acho-hu shi a-gi jiri any gi abuo hu obere uzo. Onu-gi agab ka nwakiri nwere diarrhea of the mouth…apka ahu ri gi, ichere shi i-ga igbali egbe? Ohu ri ka gi. Ohu abu nwa!

  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    May be if you have actually bothered to visit the east, you will find that are so many hausa businesses thriving in the east. The central mosque in Umuahia was renovated by former governor Orji Uzor Kalu. Perhaps if you are the reading type, you would have known by now that the first mayor of Enugu was an hausa man.

    But again, that’s beside the point. How I wish that the only injustice the South suffers in Kano, for example, is the inability to get building permission for churches. It will take enough of nerves, some will say callousness, to equate that with barbaric killings of innocent people.