Oluwagbemiga Dasylva is a Nigerian who currently resides in the United States. He holds a BA in English and an MA in Communication & Language Arts from the University of Ibadan. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate at the George Mason University where he also doubles as coordinator of the John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation. He shares his perspectives and experiences as a Nigerian in the Diaspora with Rasheed Adebiyi. Here are the excerpts.
Tekedia : Could you please tell us about yourself?
Gbemiga Dasylva : I am the program coordinator of the John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation at the School for Conflict Analysis and resolution, George Mason University, where I am also a doctoral candidate. I teach, consult and do research in peacebuilding and sustainable development that focuses on developing post-conflict spaces. My passion interrogates ‘generic’ Western prescriptions to local problems. I have contributed chapters in For the Sake of Peace: Africana Perspectives on Racism, Justice and Peace in America (United Kingdom: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), Oppression and Resistance in Africa and the Diaspora (Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2019) and From Twitter to Tahir Square, Vol. 22) Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2014.)
Tekedia : From Nigeria to the US, what is the story behind your movement?
Gbemiga Dasylva : So the story behind my movement was simple. After school the plan was for me to work, make money and then go back to school. So, I worked in different capacities in Lagos. I was the Director of Macaw Media (an American media buying company until I established mine in 2012/2013. I worked as a political strategist for the APC and part of the few instrumental to the merger of the parties for the presidential election. I consulted for ‘Yayi” in 2015 for the Lagos West Senatorial candidacy. So, when I felt that it was time for the next chapter, I left since I had already deferred my admission for a Ph.D at Brandeis University, in Massachusetts. I have since left the Boston area to the D.C area because of my work and interest in policy that affects developing spaces.
Tekedia: As at the time you were leaving for the US you must have had some expectations, did your expectations match the reality on ground?
Gbemiga Dasylva: Yes. My expectation was exactly as I envisaged it. I knew I have travelled before, I knew what I needed to do at every step. And especially because it was a plan I have made over the years and each time I travelled I learn something, I make needed arrangements. What happens in most cases is that people run away from something at home, without preparing their mind for the next challenge. So I was not surprised. I knew I was going to have to build my life from the scratch and it was fun doing just that and still is.
Tekedia : I know you have had wide travelling experiences, what do you have to say about racism and colour bias? Any unpleasant experience in the US?
Gbemiga Dasylva: Yes. There is racism and definitely, there is colourism. Although, I have not experienced it in a way that could have caused me a lot, I would say that my Nigerian orientation, trainings and the way we interpret things have helped me to navigate the race experience. I also know that when people around here feel threatened by you, your achievements, your status, they wave the race card to remind you of your ‘position’. They would expect that as an individual they assume is established, you must have either married a citizen or you are into fraudulent business and people like Husspuppy and the rest of his ilk never help matters. It irks me when I read news of folks that are all out to make a mess of the names we are working so hard to protect.
Tekedia: How do you find relating with people at your place of work and the general community?
Gbemiga Dasylva: As an introvert, that helped a great deal. It allows people to discover me, who I am or what I have to offer over time. I hardly walk out of my office when I am at work, except when compelled. My community is different, there was a time at a place where I worked in Boston, my supervisor came to tell me that since they noticed that I was always absent during lunch hours, they have paired people with me. They made sure I went out with them so over time that helped me to open up but I always had my limit.
Tekedia: What one thing do you miss about Nigeria?
Gbemiga Dasylva: Seriously, everything I could have missed about Nigeria is fading away. I am hoping that what we are doing to salvage the situation works. Our sense of community is what I miss most. Community trains your child, support you, but we are losing that. We support cheats and rouges. We abuse leaders doing the right things and praise the thieves among them because something is trickling down. We used to value education, now we reward nudity on the screen and hand certificates to top students. That is what I have missed about Nigeria. Her “Africanness” is edging away and we can’t afford that to happen. I cannot really say that I miss much except for the communal way of doing things in Nigeria. You have family function and you look forward to seeing your folks.
Tekedia : When you had challenges or bad experience from your hosts, how did you resolve or overcome them?
Gbemiga Dasylva : My area of specialization is peacebuilding, I am prone to analyze people within the first few minutes of our interaction. That analysis helps in dealing with people around me. So when I need to stand my ground, I do so without the feeling of me winning. It is about sharing value. That I am also an introvert helps, outsiders do not know me until they are closer and that has always worked for me. Also, there are challenges everywhere, I must say that I have been specially favored by God. Looking back, it could only have been of a superior power.
Tekedia : Any hope of returning home soon?
Gbemiga Dasylva : As for returning home, I have been to Nigeria a couple of times and I have an interesting idea about HOME. Anywhere I find myself with my family is home, so I am always home and home is a construct, it is about what you make it to be and right now, here is where I make my home.