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The Last Word

Bashir Obasekole, Ph.D.
is the president of the Nigerian Community Russia, a graduate of the Peoples Friendship University and a Finance and Accounting specialist with Independent Media Sanoma magazines in Moscow. For the Last Word  he spoke to Annet Kulyagina
Photo by Ruslan Sergeev

What did you know of Russia before arriving?

I first came here in 1986. I didn't know much. Of course, I had studied geography and history, so I knew about the Russian weather; theory of Communism; World War II and the Russian defeat of Nazi Germany; Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova. I did not know an iota of Russian language. I just wanted to further my education in the USSR and learn about new things.

Your first impressions?

I arrived with great expectations. At the airport my students group were well received. The School authorities representatives met us and we were accommodated and fed. As time went on and I started to be on my own, I started to see the realities of Russia. I discovered that generally, the Russian people are nice and accommodating, but they had certain stereotypes about Africans, which sometimes features in their expressions, jokes and attitudes.

I discovered that there were a lot of restrictions and limitations to freedom of expression and travelling. Luckily, however, 1986 marked the year of perestroika and glasnost. Russians started to change.

And is the situation different now?

Now, things are totally different. The only bad thing is that all these changes brought into the open latent racism. Unfortunately, this sometimes has the ideological support of highly-rated and educated politicians, who themselves have at one time or another stayed or studied in foreign countries and are quite aware of the advantages of tolerance and peaceful multi-cultural coexistence.

Do you feel it is dangerous staying in Moscow now?

It is not news that being black in Russia can sometimes be dangerous. Nevertheless, one must value the people that surrounds one. I am surrounded by learned and civilized colleagues at work and I mingle with people of high intellect in social and scientific circles, with whom we show mutual respect. So, I try to see those people as the true representatives of the Russian people. On the street, I try to avoid places where there is a high risk of being subjected to racial abuse (places like parks, football stadiums, the metro in the night, etc). I also use to advise my compatriots to take precaution and avoid places where there are concentration of hooligans and drunks. Despite these possible dangers, I try to feel free and not be overwhelmed by fear. I live my own life and ignore unnecessary unpleasantness and concentrate on the good side of staying in Russia.

You head a Nigerian association. What is the essence of it?

The Nigerian Community Russia is a nongovernment social asociation in Russia. The aim is to encourage Nigerians to be law abiding, maintain links with the motherland, assist each other, and promote Nigerian culture. We also assist our members to know more about Russian culture and laws. It has regional chapters and we aim to promote unity and brotherhood amongst Nigerians and promote Nigeria cultural heritage. Ever since its initial conception in the late 1990's, The Nigerian Community Russia has undergone a lot of changes and now enjoys the support of the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow. The organization comprises Nigerian businessmen, expatriates, students, and others living here in Russia with their families.

Do you feel Russian, after living here for 20 years!

Being in Russia for such a long time, I think I must have imbibed some Russian culture and attitudes. True, I might not personally realize this until someone else tells me. I speak the language well (maybe not always with the right accents and grammar), and sometimes think first in Russian language before finding the right words in English. When I travel home to see my relations, I often find myself being told that I am already doing things like Russians. So, having stayed in Russia for most of my adult life, I can say that psychologically I feel Russian-Nigerian.

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