For many Nigerians, embarking on self-exile is far from being an easy decision. There is the initial hesitation that arises from a deep-rooted fear of the unknown. The thought of parting with family and friends, no matter how hard living in Nigeria may be, is usually an uncomfortable one.
More often than not, they have to decide whether to live as sojourners in a foreign land for the rest of their lives and risk possible social discrimination or not.
Either way, these fellows are likely to feel like people standing between the devil and the deep blue sea. But what can they do if fleeing is the only thing they believe will save their lives?
This was the situation 31-year-old David Hundeyin, who resided in the Lekki area of Lagos State, found himself when he had to flee Nigeria to the United States (US) after the controversial crackdown on #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020.
Hundeyin was almost moved to tears as he recalled, on phone, the moment he had to make that tough decision to flee Nigeria after he obtained what he called evidence indicating that the authorities allegedly sabotaged fibre optic cables systematically at exactly 6.50pm on October 20 last year, which, it was believed, caused widespread internet outages in Lekki during and immediately after the toll gate controversial crackdown.
It was a very emotional and truly testing moment, one that also awakened his survival instincts at an unprecedented level. Initially, he claimed to have planned to publish the ‘evidence’ he obtained, but he said he received about 17 different phone calls to leave Nigeria, because publishing the story and remaining in the country at that time would be a fool’s errand.
Admitting that it was one of the toughest decisions he ever made in his life in an exclusive interview with Sunday NEWS on the heels of the release of the report of the panel that probe the Lekki shootings last week, Lagos-born Hundeyin said:
“I had already been threatened with DSS detention more than once at that point, and what made it worse was seeing government seizing passports of other young people who visibly took part in and promoted the EndSARS protests.”
Like many other activists, Hundeyin had to struggle to overcome his fear of the unknown in the aftermath of the Lekki Toll Gate shootings.
He was afraid that something might go wrong.
It took the reassuring voice and warm support of his family and friends to banish his fears.
More than a year after he left the shores of Nigeria, Hundeyin sometimes feels a little nostalgic.
Asked if he would be returning anytime soon, he said no.
His words: “Nobody knows tomorrow, but based on available information, we can make projections. My projection is leaning towards no – not because I don’t want to at some point, but because I am not at all convinced that this administration will not attempt to perpetuate itself in office beyond 2023.
“However, I hope to be able to come home at some point though. Not being able to see my family and close friends for more than a year now is an ongoing burden that gets heavier every day.
“So what can we say? We live in hope. I think to an extent, it’s fair to say that it’s all we have left.”
Hundeyin’s sacrifices do not only portray him as a hero, but it also reflects the mindset of many Nigerians who are giving up on the country.
“There is an entire generation of the very best of Nigeria who are pointedly giving up on the entire idea of Nigeria and earnestly choosing to become Canadians, Brits, Americans, Australians, Germans, Norwegians, Finns, even Russians and Poles instead,” he said.
Similarly, Osun-born Raphael Adebayo, who is currently on exile in a North American country following the #EndSARS protests, told Sunday VANGUARD that he would forever be grateful to his friends and fellow activists for risking their lives to help him flee the country in disguise.
Adebayo said, “I am not one to just get up and leave in the middle of a struggle. “During the #EndSARS protests, we managed to very discreetly organize some defiance actions at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, and later the State House Aso Villa and the National Assembly in Abuja.
“I narrowly escaped arrest at the National Assembly, and I was pointedly named by some members of the police contingent that executed arrests and disrupted our defiance action.
“Later on that very day, I received frantic calls and messages on WhatsApp to leave Nigeria — as of then I could not even make direct phone calls anymore as I had concrete reasons to believe that my direct line had been bugged after which I destroyed any lingering trace of it.
“Anyway, with the help of some friends, I left Nigeria in disguise the next day and in a very odd fashion. I was never prepared to leave, and it nearly cleaned me out.”
Adebayo said though his strange exit from Nigeria was planned and executed successfully, he was under no illusion that the Nigerian state would sooner or later answer for the sorrowful incidents in Abuja and Lagos last year.
“There are people who took part in the protests in Abuja who still contemplate suicide because of the goriness of the protests, and those who wish they had simply been liquidated last year during the whole chaos”, he said.
Adebayo explained that patriotism and nothing else was the reason he put his life in danger, stressing that quitting now was not an option.
“You know, after I left Nigeria, I kept publishing the phone numbers of some officials of the state (especially those who were actively working against EndSARS protesters) online”, the activist said.
“I urged people to ring them and be very kind to them, and a lot of people did. But my WhatsApp account was subsequently hacked about three times, perhaps because of that. I suspected that they had probably tried looking for me to no avail in the country.
“In fact, on many occasions I contemplated returning to Nigeria.
“At a point, I was even urged by some people in my immediate circle to do so. “But others vehemently dissuaded me, citing many serious reasons. Each time, some new discovery or event popped up which further dissuaded me from doing so”.
Having begun life afresh abroad, Adebayo, however, revealed he would continue his civic engagements and campaigns against bad governance in Nigeria directly from his base and by proxy.
Speaking on the prime demand for police reform by the promoters of the #EndSARS, the activist said: “First, I am convinced that the policing institution in Nigeria is nothing but a dangerous organisation.
“I have come to understand how we have been scarred in Nigeria, even from infancy, to instinctively be horrified at the sight of the police or the army. It is a dehumanising way to live.
“Sadly, I do not think that the Nigeria Police can learn anything from these countries.
“As you know, a humongous amount of money is pumped yearly into the Nigerian policing institution by foreign governments and organizations, to train the police on basic policing protocol, and some of them even travel outside Nigeria for more training and to take specific courses.
“But they have simply failed to become a worthy public institution.
“They only use all that training and funding to kill Nigerians from the South and the Middle-Belt. I don’t think they will ever stop doing that. At least, not now.”
While our correspondent found it difficult to obtain the data of other Nigerians who fled the country due to the crackdown on #EndSARS protesters, statistics from WorldData.info, published online in 2021, showed that 18,075 people from Nigeria applied for asylum in other countries in 2020.
This corresponds to approximately 0.009% of all Nigerian residents. The most destination countries hereof have been France, Germany and Italy. For instance, in 2020, a total of 3,303 people from Nigeria sought to flee to Germany. With a total of 303 positive decisions, 18.41 percent of all applications were accepted. However, 79 percent of the asylum applications were rejected last year.
Asked what this data could mean for the future of Nigeria, Adebayo said: “I believe the future of the country would depend on whether or not those who have held on to it as their patrimony since independence, to the detriment of the rest of us, would be willing to bring about a reasonable compromise between them and us.
“I am under no illusions as to what their reaction would be, but I am certain they shall have their work cut out for them.
“In any case, I should let you know there is a very straightforward answer to this question, and that will be revealed in my book titled, De-Nigerianization, which would be published before the end of this year by Abibiman Publishing in the United States and the United Kingdom.”
In the same vein, Hundeyin responded: “It certainly does not bode well. It can only mean more political instability, more economic dislocation, more complete mismanagement of what should be a West African demographic dividend and, ultimately, total and catastrophic state failure and regional collapse.
“We certainly do not want to see any of this happen, but life is about data, not what we want”