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Your Relatives Abroad Are Worth More Than Money: Appreciate Them Now, Not In Eulogy

By Chuks uc Ukaoma
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"In 2016, Nigerians living abroad remitted $35 billion, [$15B higher than 2015]. This is the highest in Africa and the third largest in the world. Nigerians are excelling all over the world”.

It would be excellent when remittances are productively invested to create career opportunities for Nigerians. However, if the funds are consumed or wasted on funerals or ceremonies, then the proclaimed excellence is actually regressive. Such moral degeneracy selfishly causes some, NOT ALL, to use their relatives abroad as mere ATMs.

Since money doesn’t grow on trees, we should examine the hefty price remitters pay for these billions.

To preface, the purpose of this article is neither to retard remittances nor become a cry for sympathy. It’s a call for mutual discernment, love and prudence. Conversations with relatives abroad shouldn’t start or end with Western Union or bank account number. Relatives are more valuable than money sent and received. This article will emend some misconceptions about life abroad.

Keep an open mind!

Throughout history, immigrants initially arrive as young, adventurous, and mostly males. They land “fighting on arrival; fighting for survival”. They quickly realize “all that glitters isn’t gold; half the story has not been told,” per Bob Marley. With backs against the wall, immigrants work harder than they imagined. They produce worldly results but not without inherent wounds. Those injuries manifest as the immigrants age.

Nigerians abroad are no exceptions. We arrived young between the 1970s and 1990s. We’ve been toiling ever since. Parents passing were rare. Nowadays, not only are some of us dying, few have lost children in diaspora. Yes, people die everywhere everyday, even in America.

While a Nigerian overseas was carrying a urinary bag, following prostate surgery, his insensitive uncle in Nigeria demanded money to complete the uncle’s house. The request was preceded by “Thank God your surgery went well”.

There was a Nigerian in America whose sibling back home asked to ship another vehicle knowing the immigrant was fighting a terminal disease.

Apparently, the referenced selfish relatives wanted to, ahem, grab theirs before their sick money machines abroad meet their Maker.

Proclaiming “God bless you” immediately after (never before) receiving something from you is fake. How many even know the names and ages of your children?

During a phone conversation between two Nigerian friends overseas, one was lip-smacking so much that the friend asked if he was eating stockfish. He replied that it was a chewing stick from a relative in Nigeria. The sad commentary was the friend (a philanthropist) said he has never received such a gift from relatives: “every time they call or I go home, all they do is ask for things but they never offer even water or chewing stick”.

When a Nigerian abroad took his family to their new house in the village, he was blindsided by dichotomous realities. After seeing the mansion, one of his children asked him if he really owned this house. The father proudly said ‘yes’. The paraprosdokian happened: the then 10 year old daughter asked, “so you own this big house here in Nigeria while we live in that tiny old home in America where I have to share a bathroom with my brothers?”.

During that same visit, one relative asked how much it cost to fly one person from America to Nigeria. When he was told, he quickly calculated the sum for the family of seven. The relative advised him “not to do that again. Instead, send us the tickets money with just the pictures of your children”. Those chilling encounters edified who and what was important ….and to whom.

Another Nigerian couple donated a large building to the community. Instead of expressing gratitude with customary cocoanuts, oranges, bananas, water or anything, many privately visited empty-handed with their bucket lists of more needs and wants.

Nigerians abroad are renting or buying homes with 30-year mortgages. Majority have underfunded retirement accounts. Many children take massive loans to attend university. Loans that must be repaid three folds and where missing two consecutive monthly payments have dire consequences. Yet sojourners get pressured into a debt-free (non-performing) houses in Nigeria first. The prudent option for both parties would be buying investment properties abroad that generate rental income to procure the non-performing houses in Nigeria: sequences and consequences.

It appears many put the needs of their relatives there above their own children’s and self interests abroad. It’s incumbent upon the sojourner to self-advocate against all users: inside and outside the family. Stop them from grabbing and bragging at your expense. You’re the “home” in that “charity begins at home”.

Don’t be misled into temptations by nettlesome questions like “aren’t you in the same overseas where so and so are?” Remind the questioner the richest Nigerians reside in Nigeria, not abroad. Dangota! Emotion is the enemy of reasoning.

Another Nigerian traveled home. On his second night there, armed robbers petrified him so much that he left sooner. The nephew (his beneficiary) was rumored to be the Judas.

You may remember the viral incident of the grandmother who visited America. While abroad, she babysat, saved the money her daughter and family friends gifted her. Upon arrival in Lagos, the woman was robbed and killed. When caught, the criminals implicated her prodigal adult son as the mastermind. In his foolish defense, the son stated: he said rob her; he didn’t say to kill his mother.

Currently, only confidants know one’s travel plans to Nigeria. Well-intentioned relatives restrict access to returnees due to safety concerns. Ironically, the closer one comes to one’s roots the greater the insecurity.

Previously, immigrants publicized travel plans so contacts across America can give them things (mainly money) to deliver to relatives in Nigeria. Now, international money transfer companies fleece us with exorbitant fees and unfavorable exchange rates.

How many folks abroad felt bamboozled by their folks when they tried to invest in Naija? Some believe their illness and bad luck abroad stemmed from transactions in Nigeria. Others have refrained from doing business or returning there. Some people borrowed from their retirement accounts and friends to ship containers to Nigeria only to lose all or most of the money. They paint rosy pictures until the goods arrive then the story changes.

A relative in Nigeria used the death of his own father to con the siblings abroad to build him a village house. How low is low?

“Befitting” funeral expectations (for dead relatives in Nigeria) are overburdening people abroad. Dependence on the kindness of friends, strangers, and associations (wake keeping) are fueling this race-to-the-bottom.

Instead of raising money to establish microfinance programs or businesses to employ our teeming unemployed young people or clinics to cure the sick and prolong lives in our respective villages, our educated people abroad are wasting billions in elaborate funerals which raise no pharaohs. Lugubriously, some clergy have joined this iniquitous business: they get paid to attend funerals. What the hell?

A Nigerian doctor abroad organized a medical mission for his village. One third of the budget was spent on security for his team. Another third paid for diesel for generators, and less than a third went to treat the sick.

So before imposing on them to send more money and to “invest” in non-performing ventures, understand people overseas have their hands full with their families.

Financial demands from home is a contributory factor to the high divorce rate among Nigerians in diaspora. One married lady was pressured to smuggle (secretly divert communal funds without the spouse’s knowledge) to fund a duplex in her paternal home. Her brother was used as a frontman. When the husband found out, their marriage ended. Their innocent children are now paying the price for a broken home.

To add salt to injury, stress- and age-related health problems, such as diabetes, insomnia, depression, migraine, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, cancer, are plaguing Nigerians abroad. To stay alive, many consume medicines as food: morning, afternoon, night.

If the insecurity and untrustworthiness in Nigeria persist, most of us will live out our lives and, conceivably, will be interred abroad. Don’t treat relatives as ATMs. Who knows, the next time you see your relative might be in a casket, that’s if the children don’t bury him or her overseas. It could be you in a coffin. Love each other now because (as I often say) appreciation is best expressed in life, not in eulogy.

Dearth of trust is Nigeria’s biggest problem. However, there are still good and honest people in Nigeria. Everyone has a few; We need more of them. Here are some of mine:

Mrs. Glory Elendu is wonderful!

Every time there is bad news about Texas, she calls to check on my family. Everyone felt welcomed in their Lagos home in those days. And there is my in-law Rose who sewed traditional clothes for my children. And there are my dear friends Pius and Patrick Okonkwo who are my “David” in Nigeria. What about Tee Chikezie (Mr. “Trust”)? My sister Onyeje truly cares. Amaechi Agu is awesome. My industrious niece Ola. My teachers: Messrs Mbagwu, Abaegbu, and Ibe often check on this their appreciative student. I treasure your love Amaoku and Amakwu, Alayi people.

Don’t ask what your relatives abroad can do for you; ask what you can do for them, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy. Love trumps money! Finally, gratitude cost a little but buys a whole lot!!

Chuks UC Ukaoma and his family reside in Austin, Texas. An “Old Boy” of Methodist College, Uzuakoli. He retired from Drees Homes after 20 years in the new home industry in Texas. [email protected] . Google and read his other 50-plus “Facts of Life” articles online.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Chuks uc Ukaoma and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."