BY Tom-Chris Emewulu, 10:30am December 10, 2019,

Advice for the African Diaspora considering moving back to Lagos

Seni Sulyman is the Vice President, Global Operations at Andela

2019 is the Year of Return in Ghana. From what people are saying on Twitter, over 750,000 visas to Ghana have been issued this year – exceeding the Ministry of Tourism’s 500,000 target.

Although many Africans in the diaspora are eager to visit the continent, moving back is not yet on the table for some.

Having lived in Ghana for over seven years now, I understand how daunting it is to pack up and go back home. It’s not only the change of environment that’s often the problem, but there’s also that anxiety that you might not fit in. You will feel displaced, and sometimes forced to overcompensate. I remember one gentleman arguing passionately at a Diaspora Homecoming Summit in Ghana that diasporans are often treated like “white trash” when they return home.

Of course, that might not be the experience of every returnee. But if you’re considering moving back to a city like Lagos, you have to “shine your eyes” as they say. 

Thankfully, one returnee, who is carving out a brilliant career and a name for himself, has shared a list of how he did it. 

Seni Sulyman is the Vice President, Global Operations at Andela – an African company that trains software developers. Before his current position, he was the Director of Operations for Andela in Nigeria and then became the company’s Country Director six months afterwards. 

I came across his list on Facebook and thought to share it with a broader audience who will find it useful. As a disclaimer, I do not receive any financial reward for writing this article. As an entrepreneurship and career coach, I am continually looking for the best ideas that could help others to actualize their goals. 

“I’ve had many Nigerians abroad ask me about what to consider when repatriating to Lagos,” Seni wrote on Facebook. “I made a list when I did an internship in Lagos in 2012/2013 before moving back permanently in 2014. This list assumes you are relatively comfortable (financially) and you’re willing and able to reduce the friction of living in Lagos so that you have a smoother experience. I’m not advocating for moving back to Nigeria – each person has to make that decision based on their context.”

Like most things in business, the first item on the list is Finances. Seni continued on Facebook: “Make a budget based on your income or savings and determine which of the items on the list is a priority for you. Don’t feel pressured to overspend. Many newcomers to Lagos first have to humble themselves and go through adjustment pains before things stabilize.”

I remember when I came to Ghana in 2012. After exchanging my Naira for Ghana Cedis, I thought I was super-rich! I didn’t pay much attention to my spending until I was almost getting in the red. In a city with an uptempo rhythm like Lagos, you will find many things to spend top dollar on. It pays to keep track of your money from the get-go, as Seni advised.

Second, think of where you’d live, noted Seni, 34. Lagos has a notorious traffic issue. “Find a place that’s not too far from work. This will be hard for you if you work in an area you can’t live or afford. If you’re coming from a major US city, start by considering somewhere between Dolphin and Ikate (or check Yaba). The budget is from N3.5-8m per year.”

Several people have recounted their experiences of looking for accommodation in Lagos. Many of these experiences ended in disappointment. Hence, ensure you work with trusted agents. From my experience of Accra agents, ‘cheap’ can be costly sometimes. Always see things for yourself before spending your hard-earned dollars.

The third item on the list is electricity. It’s no secret, many parts of Nigeria have a perennial power crisis. Seni recommended that you find a serviced place with 24/7 power. “When I first moved to Nigeria for an internship, I had to deal with a problematic generator. When I moved permanently, I started at 1004 estate which has steady electricity and is the landing pad for many repats,” he wrote on Facebook.

With electricity sorted, you must also think about internet access. Africa, not just Nigeria, does not have quality internet access. According to data from global broadband speed league, internet speeds across Africa are still far below the global minimum standard.

Your best bet, Seni said, is to get a 4G router, and check to see whether the place you plan to live has access to a Fiber service, especially if you want to watch Netflix. Budget about N10-30k per month to this expense. “DO NOT compromise on internet access or you’ll regret it,” he stressed in his post.

For sure, you will have to commute to and from work in Lagos. Therefore, when making your plans, think of your means of transportation, stressed Seni, Vice President, Global Operations at Andela. As we established above, the traffic condition in Lagos is not going away anytime soon. You might as well factor it into your decision on transportation.

“A driver is critical for Lagos traffic and commuting if you can afford one. Uber is the next best thing (though can be really painful to use in Lagos). Driving yourself in Lagos is not advisable if you have been away for a long time. Budget: N50-80k per month,” he remarked.

The sixth item on Seni’s list of things to plan for when moving back to Lagos is food. Some people might not understand the importance of this advice until they lived in a place without good restaurants or grocery stores.

Stated Sulyman, Andela’s Vice President of Global Operations: “Get a cook. I used to love cooking when I lived in America. In Lagos, I don’t find grocery shopping or cooking to be therapeutic or fun. Many of my friends don’t either. Friends and family usually have the hook-up for cook referrals. Budget: N40k – 80K per month.”

Last but not least as you plan to make your move: Seni mentioned you should also think of your social life. Regardless of how much you spend in finding the right kind of people, it’s worth it. “Make sure you have some really good friends or coworkers who have a similar lifestyle and values as you. As with anywhere else in the world, finding the right ‘crew’ is important for your Lagos experience and general sanity,” he said in his Facebook post.

These are useful advice, not just for people moving to Lagos, but African Diaspora who want to move back home. Regardless of your links in your home country, you will find in it some actionable insight that can save you lots of trouble. As Strive Masiyiwa says, only take advice from someone who has done what you want to do. Seni has achieved remarkable success in his career since moving back to Nigeria. If these are the secrets to how he optimized the process, you too can use them as a launchpad.

If you have other tips to add, feel free to drop them in the comments section.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: December 10, 2019


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