Many Nigerians abroad embittered, migrated due to frustration – Adekugbe, ex-UK support worker

Nigeria is a good place to live and work but things are not working. We don’t have the things that should make us live well.
Many Nigerians abroad embittered, migrated due to frustration – Adekugbe, ex-UK support worker

Former United Kingdom worker, Mary Adekugbe

The Punch, Alexander Okere

Mary Adekugbe is a former support worker at King’s College Hospital London, NHS Foundation Trust, and the Assistant Welfare Secretary of the Central Association of Nigerians in the United Kingdom. She tells ALEXANDER OKERE about her contributions to the growth of the Nigerian community in the UK and how her upbringing inspired what she does

What fond memories of your childhood do you have?

I am from Ondo State but I grew up on Lagos Island. I attended St. Matthias’ Primary School on the island and Aunty Ayo High School. I attended a pastoral institute in Akure. It was fun being a child in the 80s; I grew up with many social activities in my area and my school. Compared to now, we were busy. I took part in debates at school and was a member of the choir in the church I attended. Nowadays, many children are idle.

I also attended Yaba College of Technology. I studied Statistics and Mathematics but that was not my choice. I wanted to study Estate Management but when I could not meet the requirements, I had to study Maths and Statistics. At the initial stage, I struggled with it, but I later found a way to cope. The course made me calculative. I later left for the United Kingdom.

What kind of upbringing did you have?

My father, Samuel Fadahunsi, worked with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Chevron; he was a chief photographer. My mother worked as a secretary in the Federal Ministry of Aviation. My parents played a role in the kind of discipline I have. My father was also a soldier, so he was a very strict person. He did not talk much but when he did, one would know they had erred. He would signal to us with his eyes or stamp his foot to tell us we had erred. My mother was the type that would advise and talk to us about our wrongdoings.

You said you went to the UK. What took you there?

My father-in-law sponsored me to the UK.

For what purpose?

I told him I wanted greener pastures. That was in 2004. Although things were better at that time but there were family challenges, so I thought travelling abroad would be better. I later got a job at Kings’ College Hospital, London, as a support worker.

What was your first impression when you got to the UK?

Everything there was amazing; their way of life is different from ours. The environment was neat, there was infrastructure and the power supply was stable there. The people there are loving and welcoming.

How did you switch from statistics to the health sector?

I was trained to the required standard. I had to study English because the English spoken in the UK is different from the one we speak in Nigeria; I’m still studying anyway.

What impression do you have when you think about Nigeria’s health sector?

I feel sorry about our health sector. I have visited three hospitals since returning to Nigeria and it was not a pleasant experience. I feel sorry about it because I love Nigeria and want the best for this country. We need to improve.

Where should the improvement begin?

We can begin from our mindset. What I noticed since I returned is that everybody wants money and if everybody wants money beyond their salaries, I don’t think things would work. Corruption is a very big problem – from the bottom to the top. One has to pay before they could be listened to and that is bad.

How different is it in the UK?

If a person in the UK needs help, they could just put a call through or go to the accident and emergency unit, if they don’t need to see a general practitioner because that could take a while. One could also dial 999 and workers from A and E, as it is called, would come in an ambulance. The paramedics would later hand your file over to a doctor to check whether admission is required. They attend to patients immediately. I work more with communities. Many people think anyone who does not have the required documents to live in the UK would be deported from the hospital. It’s not true; one just has to go there.

Do you interact with the Nigerian community in the UK?

Yes. I’m a community leader in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. I am the founder of Beejs Heritage Foundation in the UK.

What do your compatriots say about the current situation in Nigeria?

We feel bitter about our country, with the way things are. I also felt the same way when I arrived at the airport in Nigeria. Some of the workers asked for money. When I visited one of the offices of the Nigeria Immigration Service, I was told to pay N20,000 for scanning that costs N5,000. But when I complained about it, one of the officers told me to pay N10,000. Many Nigerians left the country due to frustration.

Nigeria is a good place to live and work but things are not working. We don’t have the things that should make us live well. There is no regular power supply, good infrastructure, and no jobs. It’s not easy over there (outside the country) but many feel it’s better to be there than here (in Nigeria).

What do you do at Beejs Heritage Foundation?

It is a charity organisation that provides support for Nigerian citizens living in the UK, called Black African Minority Ethnics.

What kind of support do you provide?

We help in any way we think we could. The UK government and Rochdale council have been helpful to our people over there. During the onset of the (COVID-19) pandemic, we were able to provide support through the migrant destitution fund. Forever Manchester gave us funds to enable us to give food parcels to a lot of Nigerians. Rochdale Council, Action Together, and a Manchester United player, Marcus Rashford also helped us provide food for children.

Are there perceptions Nigerians at home have about their compatriots living abroad that you think are wrong?

I think it’s shameful for people in Nigeria to think that people or their families in the UK pick money on the streets of London, wherever in the UK or abroad because people are suffering. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of poverty among Nigerians was on the high side. Do you know why? It was because most of them had no documents to enable them to live and work there. As of that time (during the pandemic), a lot of people had to stop working and they found it difficult to eat or maintain a normal living. That was why charities in the UK stood up; that was how we came up with food parcels which we dropped at the doorsteps of hungry people. In the parcels were garri, rice, and other food items that could serve them for one week. We also had volunteers, despite the restrictions, and we are happy none of the volunteers got COVID-19. We wanted our people to be happy.

Where else did you get support?

We got support from Heritage Fund, FareShare, our community warehouse in Rochdale that supplied us food, and BME Network.

Is your charity registered?

Yes, we are registered in the UK but we plan to start operating in Nigeria; we plan to involve government agencies. Presently, I am the assistant welfare secretary of the Central Association of Nigerians in the UK; we work directly with the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission.

What led you into charity in the first place?

I inherited the act of charity from my dad because he loved having people around him. He used to buy food items and share them among his bosses at the NNPC and Chevron. He also helped people to secure jobs in government agencies.

You mentioned that you were a support worker at King’s College Hospital, London, NHS Foundation Trust. What exactly were your responsibilities?

I look into the affairs of Nigerians. I supported people in need, depressed, lonely, or needed their documents processed. I referred them to relevant places. The UK government trained us to be able to do that.

If you didn’t go to the UK and become a support worker, what would you have loved to do in Nigeria?

I would have done the same thing I do now – charity.

How supportive has your husband been to you?

He has been very supportive.

How did you two meet?

I met him in The Gambia in 1998.

How did that happen?

He came to my house to meet his friend. He was just talking and I saw that the Lagos way of life was still in him so I said within me, “What is wrong with this one?’ Later, I met him at his place of work. He asked me what I wanted to eat and I told him I wanted to eat a good meat pie. He bought it and that was how he caught me – with a meat pie.

What do you think got him attracted to you?

I don’t know, maybe it is because I am blunt and don’t like people being cheated. He couldn’t resist that. My parents were happy that he proposed and we got married. He loves his children and he has been supportive in all ways. When I found the foundation challenging, he stood by me. He is also a co-founder. My husband and children are my best friends. We stay and work together in the UK.

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