Nearer but still distant: Exploring Oladotun Olagbaju’s 2-year stay in the Gambia

Nearer but still distant: Exploring Oladotun Olagbaju’s 2-year stay in the Gambia

Oladotun Opeoluwa  Olagbaju is a Nigerian who is in the tertiary teaching industry. His career movement is a bit unique. Unlike many Nigerians in Diaspora who choose to seek their own greener pasture in the West, he decides to pitch his career tent with a university in a neighbouring African country in the West African region. Of course, if it is tempting to say if that is not Ghana, it would be Togo, Côte d’Ivoire or Senegal. However, this Nigerian PhD holder decides to work in the country popularly referred to as the Smiling Coast- The Gambia. Olagbaju holds a PhD in Language Education from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He has worked in different universities in the country before he decided to head for the Gambia where he is the Provost of the College of Education and Social Sciences of Legacy University and an adjunct lecturer with the University of the Gambia. I had a chat with him on his 2 year sojourn in the West African country. Here is how our chat plays out.

So, one is bound to ask him what took him to the Gambia? He answers in an unassuming tone – “ I moved to the Gambia because I secured an employment. This is my second year in the country.” Having spent two years working for a university located in the capital city of the country-Banjul- one wants to know how it feels operating  with fellow West Africans. Oladotun says “Gambians are very hospitable and accommodating but they feast on visitors as they have an economy that is  tourist-driven.” This answer makes me more curious. And then I hit the internet to know more about this West African nation. I saw a lot about the Gambia. From River Gambia National Park, Bijilo Forest Park, Katchikally Crocodile Pool to Kotu Beach, the country is a destination for tourists from far and near. These and many more that dotted the country are sources of foreign exchange.

In a country with different languages such as Mandika, Wolof, Pulaar, Serer, Diola and Arabic spoken, I seek to know how the Nigerian researcher copes with language and other cultural issues. Oladotun says he has encountered little or no problem as the official language is English and with many of his kith and kin in the country, he has no problem. He posits “ There are a lot of Nigerians and Nigerian communities in the Gambia. Besides, the official language is English and the culture is African. So there has been no problem relating with the people. Food is not a big problem because rice and bread are staple foods. It is only the stew that they use to differentiate the rice. Also, they eat crumbled rice but there are markets that sell the Nigerian brand of rice.”

Curious to know how he sees the management of the Coronavirus by the two countries, Oladotun is of the opinion that “the management of Coronavirus is better coordinated here but corruption of the immigration officers from Gambia has been the problem because people keep coming in from Senegal You can go online to read a research paper I co-authored with some colleagues on covid-19. For example, the palliatives are actually distributed to people and not based on party affiliations.”

As small as the country is, I want to find out if there is anything in the country of Dauda Jawarah that he would like to see in Nigeria. To this, he responds ” Transparency in governance. Also, security and calmness. There are trees here and the ecosystem is a lot better than Nigeria. The Europeans come here to watch birds. We have no regard for our environment in Nigeria.” This is an indication that he is impressed by the management of the environment in the Gambia. He also alludes to general contentment among the Gambians. He says “Gambia is not as developed as Nigeria but they have contentment. A Gambian graduate cannot be without a job. There are grants and scholarships for indigent students that are brilliant on merit. There are no industries and they rely heavily on fairly used goods from Europe.” He concludes his view about his host country.

Despite the accolades he has poured on the non island nation, I query him further if he misses anything about Nigeria. To this question, he replies “I miss my contacts, relationships and the varieties of food available at home. However, Gambia is very peaceful. Electricity and water supply is very constant. Crime rates and accidents are low. And there are no commercial motorcycles in operation.”

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