The ghosts of my student years in northern Cyprus
Date of this Version
The Guardian, January 16, 2016
When the Booker nominee arrived at university, he found many fellow Nigerian students had been duped into enrolling. And for some, that was only the beginning of their troubles...
The man who walked into my apartment that evening in 2009, carrying a strange light in his eyes, was not different from most of the African students I met on my first visit to northern Cyprus in 2007. There were only seven at Cyprus International University, one of the two universities in the capital city, Lefkosa (Nicosia), and all of them were Nigerian. They were the pioneers and had all come one semester earlier, in February, through the university’s representatives in Nigeria. They had all paid their tuition, accommodation and other fees through these representatives who, as is often the case, had fleeced them and their sponsors by inflating the figures and pocketing the excess.
I arrived with a cultivated resistance to the culture of middlemanism, known in Nigeria as “who you sabi” (“who you know”). It was the rich soil from which the dark flowers of bribery, favouritism, opportunism and all forms of corruption sprouted, stretching their protean tendrils into every sector of society. When a Nigerian sees an advertisement for a job opening, she or he simply goes to find someone – an uncle, an aunt, a distant relative, a friend who might know someone who might be connected to someone at the top of that firm. To the typical Nigerian, the ad is purely informational, a notification that there is an opening; it is not an invitation to apply. It was easy for these agents to bait Nigerian students. All they needed to do was tell them that northern Cyprus was a nation in Europe for which no visa was required, that it was safe for a Turkish transit visa. I had come to Cyprus as a last resort, after failing to secure a visa for a British school; most other students had planned their move.