“Why would the UK appoint a Minister of Loneliness?” I wondered as I read about the appointment online. “There must have been a pertinent problem they intend to tackle” I retorted.
I used to know an individual, who was in his mid-sixties. He was an executive in a multi-national company and had stayed in the US for most of his adult life. His three kids; a guy and two ladies, were all based in the US.
Sometime in 2010, while waiting at Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Lagos Nigeria, we struck a conversation on why he decided to relocate back to Nigeria from the US. “Allen, you really can’t understand it until you get to my age. Young people enjoy the “loneliness” that exists in the West; the opportunity to do your own things the way you want to do it without any family members or neighbours disturbing you. You don’t answer to anyone and no person can hold on to you once you are above 18 years” he said.
“The challenge starts when you get into your sixties and you are melancholic” he continued. “The loneliness you used to enjoy due to your vibrant youthfulness suddenly becomes a liability. It is at that point that you realise that humans needs each other; everyone needs a neighbour or an acquaintance or as we say in Nigeria, a gist partner”
“Since I came back to Nigeria, family and friends come over to the house regularly to check on me. I am never lonely. Of a truth, few people can be a financial burden but that number is in the minority. The majority of the folks that visit only come to keep me company. Here, people are not too busy to spare an old man some of their time” he said as he laughed out loud.
“The other day I visited the US; though I spent one month in Atlanta, my son who lives in Miami could not spare a day to visit me. He was busy running around for his own stuff that he could only send his apologies. I do understand though; I lived that life for a very long time too. In the estate I stay here in Lagos Nigeria, my neighbours would ask after me if I am not sighted for 48 hours. Once in a while, they come around to discuss the political situation in the country; we enjoy each other’s company. You cannot be lonely here; it’s not possible” he said boastful.
“It looks like there is something the West (Europe, US etc.) can learn from Nigeria in this regard. The communal type of life we live ensures that very few people are lonely; though we have little, we still watch out for each other. Families see it as a responsibility to accommodate each other, hence there are very few homeless people in spite of the poverty in the land. Neighbours check on you when you are not sighted, people try to reach out to the extreme introverts amongst us.”
“There is something special about the way we live and the world can learn from it. It starts from when kids are young; parents make effort to ensure that kids understand that Family and Friends are essential components of our humanity; our way of life can eventually become our greatest gift to the world”.
As the airport announcer made the last boarding call for passengers heading to Lagos, Nigeria; we stood up and headed towards the aircraft. I knew I had to write a story about that conversation; never knew that the appointment of the Minister of Loneliness will bring the opportunity to document the event. I hope the West learns something from the people of Nigeria.