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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 12:42 GMT
Little Lagos in south London
In the first of three pieces on his impressions of African immigrant communities in the UK, the former editor of the BBC's Focus on Africa, Robin White, describes the Nigerian Yorubas of Peckham in south London.

Lagos or London?  Fresh yams for sale in Peckham
Lagos or London? Fresh yams for sale in Peckham
The African immigrants I've come across in some two months' of travelling in England, Wales and Scotland are hard working, idealistic, and bright - a long way from the popular view portrayed by some in the UK.

And everyone I met that I asked said they wanted to go home. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but - when their countries are at peace, when they've made a bit of money, when democracy returns - they will return.

Here are some statistics: Africans in the UK now outnumber West Indians.

In 2003, 41% of all Asylum applications were from Africa. And that's just the official figures.

Add to these all the illegal immigrants who somehow made it here from the continent, and it's clear that Africans in the UK are a formidable force.

Yorubatown

It some towns, they're very visible. Peckham in south London, for instance, looks very like Lagos. I used to live there, and over the past 10 years it has been transformed - into a Yoruba heartland.

Peckham is where the living meet the dead
Yoruba taxi driver Olusola Dixon
Many of the shops are Yoruba owned and you can buy any Nigerian food you want - and it's fresh from a farm near Lagos.

Nigerian churches and mosques flourish and compete for worshippers.

The successful churches run several Sunday sittings. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms and everyone is given an envelope with instructions on how to donate money for the church's upkeep.

"Peckham," I'm told by Yoruba taxi driver Olusola Dixon, "is where the living meet the dead."

It is where Nigerians can bump into a distant Nigerian cousin who they never even knew was in the UK.

Yorubas, of a certain age, claim to love their culture and their language. And there is lots to love. The language is rich and there are 401 Yoruba deities to be worshipped.

Dying language

The trouble is that many London Yorubas have neglected to pass their traditions on to their children. A few insist on Yoruba being spoken at home, but many have given up the struggle of teaching Yoruba to unenthusiastic children, and English has become the family language.

True, they take their children home on holidays; true, a few surreptitiously slaughter chickens for the deities in their back yards. But basically Yoruba culture and language, as known in Nigeria, are on a steep decline.

Dubi Imevbore, an expert on Yoruba language, deeply regrets this.

He says that if a language dies, so does the human spirit. A people without a culture will lose their self respect, even go mad.

It doesn't take long to discover that many Nigerians in London shouldn't be here at all.

Some came on student visas and never went home. Some came on holiday to visit relatives and "missed" the plane back to Lagos. Some smuggled themselves in and have been in hiding ever since.

But being an illegal immigrant is not an easy life. Because they can't work officially, they have to take the worst paid jobs at very unsociable hours and live in squalid flats - at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords.

Many would like to go home, but they're ashamed to admit failure to their friends and families back in the motherland.

Read Robin White's other pieces on Africans in the UK




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: United Kingdom
13 Oct 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Nigeria
09 Nov 04 |  Country profiles


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