One thing that anyone who has had the experience of spending time with a Nigerian woman can agree on is that they are a force to be reckoned with.
To children of the Nigerian diaspora, Nigerian mothers, in particular, are known for their hard-headed, strong-willed and no-nonsense mannerisms. Whether it be exaggerating the extent to which the house is in a mess, or the reprimands of the forgetting to greet your mother good morning in the customary fashion of the tribe that you belong to, growing up with a Nigerian mother instilled in an individual strict discipline and respect.
It is these kinds of shared experiences that second and third generation diasporans reminisce and find humour in, but most will also agree that the sacrifices made by their mothers and grandmothers have been monumental in securing the quality of life they have become accustomed to in the West.
A common recurring feature in the stories of Nigerian women who migrated from their homeland to the western world is the desire to build a better life for their families, in a society where their chances of success are less hindered by the corruption of leaders and a lack of opportunities.
Despite Nigeria today being a country full of opportunities, the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war in the late twentieth century brought with it the economic degradation of the nation. Furthermore, it was a common belief in countries all over Africa that Europe and the United States were the places to go in order to be successful. This prompted many Nigerians to leave their native countries and venture to the West. However, the expensive cost of moving entire families halfway across the world meant that it was often the case that the mothers and wives would either leave their families behind or travel to Europe or the United States along with some or all of their children until the whole family could afford to migrate.
The lives that these usually relatively young women faced, however, were extremely difficult. Speaking to my own grandmother, who left her teaching job in the state of Ekiti to come and live in the London borough of Hackney, I learnt that, despite having a university degree, she was forced to undertake menial cleaning jobs to make ends meet, whilst living in a council flat where her and her then-infant son fell sick due to its poor conditions.
In one of her videos, popular British-Nigerian YouTuber Patricia Bright describes how her mother would bring her and her sister along with her to cleaning jobs as she could not afford childcare.
Speaking to other young British-Nigerians, I have found that their own mothers and grandmothers faced such difficulties upon first moving to the UK. Many also describe how these women would also have to deal with racism in British society, and others struggled to obtain the legal documents needed to live and work in the country.
Despite these tribulations, many of these mothers utilised the work ethic, resilience and tenacity that their Nigerian upbringing instilled in them to achieve the goals they set out to achieve.
In the same video, Bright details how her mother worked laboriously in various jobs until she could afford to buy a house and has gone on to acquire a number of properties and has since retired early and now runs her own business. Similarly, my grandmother used the Right to Buy scheme introduced in the 1980s to buy her council property and is the owner of multiple properties in East London and such is the shared experience of many Nigerian mothers living in the West. Mothers across the diaspora worked tirelessly to bring their families to the western world, essentially creating the Nigerian diaspora in the process.
The sacrifices they made often involved them abandoning their own goals and dreams.
Lifestyle journalist Tolani Shoneye of the Receipts podcast details in a recent episode how her mother “didn’t go to uni” due to her moving to London from Nigeria to work “so that her kids could make something of themselves”.
Arguably, it is because of these sacrifices, that today, the Nigerian diaspora is one of the most prosperous and successful groups of people across the world.
Mothers…we salute you.