Adetunji Omotola has lived in different parts of Johannesburg from the south to the north since arriving in April 2001. He has also lived in the United Kingdom.
A wine consultant and media personality who also works as a contributor to various media platforms: radio, television, and print. Became a permanent resident of the country since November 2003.
Seeing what was happening in his community in this country prompted him to start various organisations in South Africa such as the Guild of Nigerian Professionals in 2015, Nigerian Diaspora Television in 2017 and the Xenophobia Victims Support Fund in 2019.
Omotola says he has had a unique experience as an international citizen. However, the issue of language and not speaking a South African language has made the journey quite tough.
“Perhaps my experience is slightly unique because even though I came here from Nigeria, after two years, I lived in the UK for 10 years and also I am an International citizen. But it has been quite tough because I do not speak a South African language and I didn’t do my primary, secondary and University education in South Africa. So I do not have ties so my parents never lived here. I did not have any ties when I came to this country so it was quite tough. Also with the negative perception about Nigerians in South Africa by the time I came here.”
Describing his experience of living in South Africa, Omotola talks about the time when he was working as a financial advisor and the only Nigerian in one of the largest financial services companies in Africa.
“As a Nigerian living in South Africa, I have had a very good experience largely. I have worked in financial services, company one of the largest financial services companies in Africa where I topped the company. I was the most successful financial advisor in that company in 2006 after two years in the company. So I was top of the country out of 4000 brokers in the Insurance space.”
Omotola had some difficulty in winning the trust of some of his South African clients but he pushed through to become a successful financial advisor as he previously mentioned. The mistrust came with the negative perception that some South Africans had towards Nigerians.
“It was quite difficult to unwind, I remember a case in 2005 when a South African wanted to invest R5000 with me for five years. They said: “I am quite shocked that I will give a copy of my ID card/book to a Nigerian.” So the perception of Nigerian is quite difficult So that is something I always remember.”
Omotola’s turning point was his determination to succeed in the job that he was doing even though he does admit that it was difficult in the early days.
“In spite of my being a Nigerian the fact that I was a professional gave me an advantage because of my level of education, my knowledge of the industry I was in, and the desire to work hard to be successful. So in the early days, it was difficult but I was determined to succeed in the job that I was doing and I was one of the few blacks, I was the only Nigerian in the company that I worked for. When I joined that company there were one or two black people and they were not doing great. But because of my networks, my markers, and skills I was able to get business. Because what was the criteria was that we needed to network and network in the high-income space. And that is what I did but it was really difficult because I spent most of my money, my salary to go from place to place to try and build a book and try to meet people, South Africans who were in that target market so that for me were the early days.”
But as I grew, and of course maybe at an advantage I had studied a lot about South Africa, I read a lot of South African literature when I was young. I was very interested in protest literature as a youngster. I come from an art background, sociology, and topography so it was a little bit easier. I could feel the sense that we were not part of the infrastructure we did not understand history that deeply there were no ties so my sense is that It’s tough to be a Nigerian in South Africa. But its not that tough because if you have lived in other climes you will get a sense of what I mean.
But in totally my experience of being a Nigerian in South Africa has been mixed has been great experiences in fact I say that South Africa because of the beauty of this great nation, the diversity, the cosmopolitan nature, infrastructure, there are no mosquitoes here, there’s electricity, there are white people, Indian, coloured, foreigners so for me as a global citizen I have learned to adapt I have learned to show interest in the culture. But it has been tough because one is still bound by their people. So I am a lot more Nigerian than I am a global citizen because I’m tied to my name, tribe, country because I grew up in Nigeria.
So if I have to scale it up, l I say that the positive experiences for me have been about 7 out of 10 and the negative have been about 3 out of 10 and a lot of the negative has been about general perceptions of Nigerians as drug dealers etc.
Seeing what his brothers and sisters experienced in the community affected his experience in South Africa and this led to him forming organisations in the hope of building a buffer.
“The experience has been far more positive than it is negative but because I am empathetic to what is going on in my community I feel that maybe we can push it up to about 5/10 because I relate to the pain my people feel, my brothers and sisters. That is why I set up the Guild of Nigerian Professionals in 2015, Nigerian Diaspora Television in 2017, Xenophobia Victims Support Fund in 2019 so that I can build some kind of buffer. I have come up with another concept called the Immigration, Economics, and Integration and we are planning an All Nigeria Conference to begin to reduce the burden of the negativity and it’s not easy because we do not get a lot of support from Nigeria our home country because the politicians are not very interested in those who are not able vote, those who are outside of the country. So there is a disconnect between the politicians on the one hand, the corporates in our host country, diaspora, globally and that is where I want to move the needle.”
“Give or take, I think SA is a beautiful country. I think the fact that they embrace Nigerians and the people of the world is a pass. But again we also have a fragile community where we are still divided by tribe, class, earners, who knows what, who has access to knowledge, who has access to this person and that person, and which part of the country you come from. So my sense is that in totality it’s up to us to build a bridge to South Africa our hosts. I love this country, I love Nigeria, I love Africa, I love the world. It has been a great experience.”
Even though Omotola was shot during an armed robbery in 2003, and still has a bullet in his arm, he maintains that South Africa is a great country. And says that in understanding each other there can be growth.
“I’ve been shot in 2003, I have a bullet in my arm because I went to help a Nigerian to get documentation and I was in his store and armed robbers came and shot me. I ran to Nigeria and came back. I think that this country is a great country. Yes, there are historic problems like in other countries. Things get heated up and it looks bad and can be bad. That’s why we came up with Immigration, Economics, and Integration we must build the bridge with our host, learn the language, respect the law, we must work hard, we must empathise with the people. We cant always come up with the basis that we are better. We are not better because if we were better why would we be here.”