Simon Ateba: My journey from Lagos to Washington, District of Columbia

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Pardon my French. Some uninformed Nigerians often come to my Facebook whenever I make a write up critical of Nigeria to say “Simon, have you forgotten what Nigeria did for you?”.

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Crazy people who do not know my life in Nigeria think I got anything on a silver platter.

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I have been a fighter all my life.

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When I got to Nigeria, I spoke no English. I wrote no English. The first guy I met scammed me right after the airport because I did not know I had to quickly remove the flight label from my luggage before entering mainland Lagos.

When I got to Nigeria, I spoke no English. I wrote no English. The first guy I met scammed me right after the airport because I did not know I had to quickly remove the flight label from my luggage before entering mainland Lagos.

People used to laugh at me as I struggled to compose grammatically correct sentences in English. I started by working at a cyber cafe. I asked the owners if I could work for free and they decided to pay me N5000 a month, about $15.

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I was helping customers type emails to improve my English. One woman was particularly helpful. She had lived in England and brought long letters for me to type, as she could not use a computer or understand how emails were being sent via the Internet.

I struggled day and night and thanks to a friend that I met at the cyber cafe I would crash in his parents’ house still struggling. We are still good friends today and traveled to the States together the other time, and he’s even coming for the UN General Assembly with me in New York.

In Nigeria, I struggled to pay school fees, and even went to churches for help and they all rejected me. I went for internship at an evening newspaper in Lagos and after the internship, I pleaded with them to allow me be a freelancer. A few people in my class used to laugh at me as I commented on journalism, telling me I was working for an evening newspaper with not much reputation. I thank God I did. I thank God.

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Simon tours waterfront community of Otodo Gbame with an American lawyer and the Ambassador of Norway after the government of Lagos set their houses on fire to give the land to the rich.

As I was freelancing, I wrote a spectacular story and they gave me a job without applying for it, and they gave me a gift, some cash for the spectacular story I had written, and even backdated my employment. Of all the people who went for internship there, I was the only one who kept freelancing and who eventually got the job.

There, I worked day and night and following some sensational arrests and my use of the social media, I was noticed and became a frequent guest on television and radio networks more than people who were born in Nigeria.

One day, I left Nigeria to do an investigative story on Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, and there, even though I was born in Cameroon, the government arrested me, threw me in a dark cell with suspected terrorists, and accused me of being a spy for Boko Haram.

When Nigerians got to know that I had gone there to do a story on Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, the country exploded in anger, and that’s how I was freed. The guy who was arrested at the same time I was arrested is still in jail today four years after.

I could have been him. I took a big risk and it could have ended my life. People would have forgotten about me by now. From Nigeria, I also traveled to many countries in West Africa to do a story on trafficked Nigerian girls. It was risky and I could have died along the way.

I slept in some strange and dangerous places, and wondered if what I was doing was worth my life. During my journalism career there, I fought for ordinary Nigerians day and night, and for those the people there labeled foreigners whose houses were set on fire by the government in 2017.

I did these things day in and day out, for about a decade, yes, a decade, not ten days, not ten months, but a decade. Having completed my mission there, it was time to move on and I relocated to the United States. I did not get rich there.

I did not own a car or a house. I did not own a land. I worked hard and gained a lot of experience. Here in the United States, I started from scratch again, building a successful media company, registering it, trademarking its name, raising its profile and building trust.

People spoke too fast, it was like when I first got to Nigeria speaking only French. All the people who came to my help or from time to time are there for me now are good friends I met along the way during my many battles in life.

The people I met in Nigeria doing nothing, when I left, they were still doing nothing. May God forgive those who claim to know people they do not know. Amen.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

2 COMMENTS

  1. There is no discrimination in excellence. You surely have come a long way. Keep going….. Good luck with the NY event coverage. By God’s Grace, the best is in the horizon!

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