Mrs. Margaret Ekerete, the Managing Director of Network Travels Limited, is a Nigerian of British origin popularly referred to as Nigerwife. She came to Nigeria as a young newly married wife in the early 70s. She has lived in Nigeria for about 45 years married to a Nigerian. In this interview with OKORIE UGURU, she talked about her life in Nigeria and why she so much loves for the country. Excerpts:
Could you talk a little about yourself?
I am the managing director of Network Travels Limited. it is essentially a South South travel agency. We have an office in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, but in the last 15 years, I have lived in Lagos and I also have an office in Lagos. I have spent most of the last 45 years in Nigeria and half of that time was spent in Calabar. I started my business when I lived in Calabar. I then moved to Akwa Ibom for some years, and then moved to Lagos. For the past 45 years you’ve been living in Nigeria, so, how did you come to Nigeria? Well, I married a Nigerian in 1968 in the United Kingdom (UK). It was during the time of the civil war and my husband was from this area.
So, it was not feasible for us to come back at that time. We came back soon after the war ended and established in Calabar. By then it was not all that fashionable getting married to an African, a Nigerian…what was the attraction? I fell in love. It is as simple as that. You fall in love with whom you fall you in love with. No matter where the person is from? Yes. You came to Nigeria at a period that was not all that easy. You kind of left the developed world to come down to a developing world, Nigeria. Was there any misgiving in your heart? You know I was very young at that time. When you are young, you are resilient, you are adventurous; you are prepared to accept a lot more, manage with things and adapt.
I think it is a lot harder to do that as you get older. But I didn’t find any difficulty in doing that because I came prepared. How do you mean? I had been married to my husband for five years and we were living in London. We had talked a lot. I had some ideas of what I was coming into. One thing that we did that I would always recommend to people who are coming back to Nigeria or coming to Nigeria as I did for the first time…we actually packed our entire household and shipped it back to the country. So, my husband came back before me.
I came with our nine months old baby four months after. I walked into this strange house, in a strange town, in a strange country. My furniture was there. My pots and pans, knives and cutleries were there. My bed sheets, everything that I had known from London was there in my house in Calabar. I was able to walk into this house and everything was familiar. Some of the friends I subsequently met didn’t do that and I think they found it a lot harder to come to terms with where they were.
Was there any difference between what you were told, what you must have read about Nigeria, and what you met on ground? Quite possibly it was better. In those days we had almost constant electricity. This was in the early 70s. if power went off, I used to actually call NEPA and ask them, I will tell them, this is where I am and I wanted to find out, are you shedding power or it is a fault? And they would either say, oh yes, we are doing some load shedding and you will have power back in two hours. Or they would say, no, let me send an engineer, and an engineer would come.
So, we didn’t have issues with generators; we didn’t have some of the issues we now have. Of course there have been massive improvements. We now have internet banking; we have internet; we have communications as the rest of the world and that helps make an enormous difference in everyday life. I believe I have adapted very well when I first came. What was the key attraction for you apart from your husband and family to Calabar having been there for so many years? Calabar is a beautiful place. It is serene, more serene than most states. I don’t know, it is an attractive place and a well maintained town. I have travelled quite a lot in Nigeria and I don’t think there is any place that I have been to, that I prefer to Calabar. But there isn’t a lot of businesses in Calabar.
I guess Donald Duke saw the place as a destination and he put a lot of efforts building that aspect. Unfortunately, it seems not to have succeeded as well. I think there wasn’t the culture since Donald Duke left, to maintain what he had started. I think that in Nigeria, one thing that is lacking is acknowledgement from the present government about things that the previous government has achieved. It is almost as if we start afresh every time there is a new government. You obviously have the spirit of adventure… I had. You still have…what is it about you that makes you adventurous? I don’t know. If somebody had asked me as a child if I was adventurous, I think I would have said no. Now, looking back over my life, I have heard what I believe to be an extra ordinary life. My husband and I actually split up over 30 years; we are still legally married but we haven’t been together since then. I could have left, I didn’t leave. I had come to Nigeria to spend my life here and I want to do that.
I wanted to show that I could maintain my life and children here. I have run Network Travel now for 30 years. What is it about Nigeria that makes you want to stay? It is my home. People are often asking me that. When somewhere is home, you don’t analyze it. We all know there are plenty of disadvantages in living in Nigeria, power being one first and foremost. The lack of power in Nigeria is what prevents us from having sustainable industrialization. Without power, industries cannot be profitable. It is as simple as that. If an industry has to provide massive generator, huge amount of fuel, and to generate their own power for manufacturing, it cannot be really truly profitable. Until a government comes in and decides that they are not going to pay lip service to the power industry and actually do achieve it, this country cannot move further; but I still love Nigeria. Talking about your experience in Nigeria, especially travelling round? When my children were small, I used to take them to Jos on holidays. You know Jos in those days was a tourist destination.
We would go to Jos, we would look around different places. We would go to the country side. One of the problems now is security, we all acknowledge that. In Nigeria today, one thinks more about security than we did in those days. Now there is always that thought in the back of your mind when you are somewhere, ’is it going to be secure?’ But then we stroll into the countryside. I remember there was this particular quarry that people go to in Jos during weekends to swim, kayak, and do things like that. Of course the countryside itself is beautiful. it is unfortunate that Nigerians have not developed holiday culture.
I think it is starting to develop. Unfortunately, as we have seen, it developed in the way of people going abroad for holidays and not appreciating that within Nigeria, there are places that they can go to. Outside Calabar, where else would you love to go, if told to go? Here (Akwa Ibom), look at the surroundings. We stood at the golf course. I have got a picture of me with a view of miles and miles with nothing but greenery. Where else can you do that? If somebody really wants to rest and relax, get away from the hurly-burly of the cities, you couldn’t go to a better place than here. It is not just because I have this Akwa Ibom affiliation, this place is remarkable. Do you have children? Yes, I have two children, two sons. No daughter? I girl’s names prepared for both of them, but they came out boys. Your message to Nigerians? Make sure you by see Nigeria and not just your village, the place that you work and the airports to fly out. See something of your own country. It is a magnificent country.