Books As Ammunition How I Found Solace in Rereading Buchi Emecheta’s ‘Second Class Citizen’

I couldn’t see writing in my future, despite leaving Nigeria for a creative writing course. Then I read Buchi Emecheta.

Editor’s note: This essay is available in print in our latest issue on The Life and Legacy of Buchi Emecheta. Buy the issue here.

On November 7, 2020, I stood outside Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, crying. My mask covered my nose and mouth, thankfully, shielding my contorted face from people nearby. I was leaving to complete my master’s degree in creative writing in Norwich, United Kingdom, which I had started online a few weeks earlier. My partner patted my back through the three cardigans I wore in anticipation of the English winter. My two leather boxes filled with clothes, books, pap, pepper and egusi were en route to the plane. I leaned into my partner’s arms, sad to leave him, to leave Nigeria. Although I had my boarding pass and my gate had been announced, I lingered in the hot Lagos night, a part of me wishing that something—anything—would stop me from traveling.

We eventually broke apart and I made my way to the boarding gate. Truthfully, I was afraid to leave but I kept my fears to myself as they would undoubtedly be deemed irrational—young people were leaving Nigeria in droves, uprooting their lives and moving to new countries in pursuit of better opportunities. As a writer, it was the norm to travel and see the world in order to write and be successful; it was the norm to get a master’s in creative writing or a related course from a prestigious university. I was following in the footsteps of many writers before me: Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe, Teju Cole, Helon Habila, Chika Unigwe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Even if I admitted having cold feet to anyone, they would promptly remind me there was nothing for me in Nigeria. Not as a writer, not as a young person. The brain drain had recently intensified with police brutality, rising unemployment, inflation, poor electricity, etc., so, I was lucky to be leaving. I, too, was baffled by my last-minute hesitation; leaving Nigeria had been the solution for as long as I could remember.

This essay features in our latest print issue, ‘The Triumph of Buchi Emecheta’ and is only available to paying subscribers. To subscribe, buy a subscription plan here from $1.99 / month (students) and $5.99 / month (non-students). Already a subscriber? log in.