Edaghese’s long journey from Ubiaja to America
TRAVELLING to America has never been an easy business, especially for those Nigerians who take the wrong route and embark on the journey blindly. Sly Edaghese’s Long Road to America (Casleda Publishers Ltd, Lagos; 2015), a memoir of his early years, is a captivating, fast-paced read that offers a glimpse of life in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s.
Edaghese’s book also gives a peep into life in rural areas in the 1970s, especially how strict teachers were and how easily they dispensed punishment with strokes of the cane to pupils. The author grew up not knowing his father, and tasks his mother to narrate to him how his father died. It’s a defining story, of his father’s bravery, how he stood up against a tyrannical regent in their Ubiaja town in Edo State and was later ambushed by women who used supernatural powers to overcome him. He died some time after.
Unlike most writers, he confesses to being a dullard in primary school and just managed to endure it through because his mother insisted he remained in school. Once, when he was so beaten by the school headmaster, who usually picked on him on account of his dullness; he passed out and had to be revived. What was worse, his poor mother could not get justice for him either from the police or school system; corporal punishment was the norm. For weeks, he lay on his back to recover.
He also gives a glimpse of Action Group’s politics at the time, the flamboyance that accompanied campaigns, how a politician’s helicopter sent everybody into the bush as augury of war, etc.
But in secondary school at St. John Bosco’s Secondary School, he picked up steam and passed out one of the best students in the external examinations in 1972. He was also a prodigy on the football pitch as a striker spotting number 10. He eventually migrated to Lagos where he secured a federal government scholarship to study at New York University. But his friend, another St. John Bosco’s Secondary School alumnus, Peterside Okoh, wasn’t so lucky. He also passed with flying colours and got a job in a bank and saved up and got admission to study in America at Oklahoma University. But at the American Embassy, he was turned back.
According to the author, “After two hours of waiting for his number to be called, a voice in the public address system came on: ‘Now serving number 205’. Peter jumped from his seat, adjusted his jacket and made his way to the interview booth to answer whatever questions they had for him so he could fetch his visa and leave for America the following week.
“After scanning through his documents and finding out he had a 100 million naira balance in his official bank statement, the consular officer conducting the interview asked in surprise: ‘Do you own this bank you claimed you just resigned from?’
“Peterside began to smile. He took the question as a compliment. He felt the way he dressed – like a New Yorker – must have so impressed the man interviewing him that he had to ask the question”.
Unknown to Edaghese’s from, he had filled in an improbable bank balance. He had one million naira in his account, but excitement and anxiety had made him enter the wrong figure in a bid to impress the Americans, who took delight in turning Nigerians back; it earned him the red marker on his visa. He was never to attempt going to America. Peterside ended up a wreck after that, with an aborted American or any dream at all thereafter. He lost direction in life and returned to the village a penniless drunk.
But Edaghese sailed through and arrived New York on the back of some adventures. A born again in Nigeria, he lost his religious virtue in less than a week in New York and submitted to the life of discos and the corruption that the city is noted for. In spite of this, he took his studies seriously and successfully combined academic success with a life on the fast lane.
After earning first and Masters degrees in economics, he returned home to Nigeria, much to the surprise of many of his friends in New York. They wondered why he was returning to a country under the jackboot of the military. The author didn’t want to end up like most Nigerians, who, after many years in America, find it hard to return home on account of the hardship they encounter.
Long Road to America teaches how to be steadfast in one’s mission in life. Edaghese remained steadfast, studied in New York and returned home. The book offers introspection into life in Nigeria. His narration of how they boarded Nigeria Airways is hilarious and his first contact with an American black man who dupes him are instructive.