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  • Writer's pictureRahman Oladigbolu

A YORUBA PRINCE COMES TO AMERICA – MY STORY


By Rahman Oladigbolu




The first time I appeared at the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria was in early 1999.


I arrived at their Walter Carrington Avenue office at six o’clock in the morning, with my uncle as my support and to prop me up at the window for the visa interview. There were hundreds of people in line, most of whom were also trying to check-out of the economic stillness of Nigeria. Making a living in Nigeria was worsening year after year and a lot of people wished they lived somewhere better, like the United States. It would be two decades later before the slang check-out became japa.


There were thirteen windows in the long and curved hall, each with an interviewer prepared to deny all applicants who dared to show up. My interviewer was a young Asian-American who we greeted with respect more than enough to give the ambassador. Consular officers were like gods and goddesses, holding the power of decision to grant or deny the “almighty visa.” She looked nonchalantly at my face. I hoped that my smile would bring some shine on her stern countenance.


“Consular officers were like gods and goddesses, holding the power of decision to grant or deny the ‘almighty visa.’”


The legion of documents I brought with me, and perhaps the visa payment receipt, held my head up, giving me some sense of confidence despite her shrewd mien. All applicants had to pay the non-refundable visa fee, even though only a tiny fraction would be granted a visa. A report put the number of visas granted in a year to less than two percent of Nigerian applicants. I was among the thousands of Africans trying to escape to America every year.


“I was among the thousands of Africans trying to escape to America every year.”


There is a popular story of another young African who also wanted to go to America. It’s the story of Akeem Joffer from the famous 1988 Hollywood film Coming To America, brilliantly played by Eddie Murphy.



Like Akeem from Coming To America, I was also a prince from an African kingdom. Akeem, son of the king of Zamunda, had decided to go to America and within days of telling his father that he wanted to go abroad, he was walking down a street in Brooklyn to sow his royal oats.


But I could never come close to the fictional image of the African prince that Hollywood sells. I, a dilapidated prince from Ọ̀yọ́, wouldn’t see the shores of America until about a decade after my first decision to go. It didn’t matter that Ọ̀yọ́ was one of the most historically significant kingdoms of Africa, I almost had to dance naked for the consulates each time I appeared at the embassy. I wasn’t even searching for a bride abroad.


That moment in 1999 was the first time I had ever showed up at the U.S. Consulate, but I had been trying to travel to America for years even before then.


“Like Akeem from Coming To America, I was also a prince from an African kingdom.”


Of course, the Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́, the patriarch of my family and head oba of Yoruba land, wouldn’t be disrespected with a visa denial if he were to send my passport to the consulate for a US visa, but it has been decades that he and my father had been on speaking terms after an intense fallout, and I cannot even remember the last time I visited the palace.


I had wished I had it as easy as Prince Akeem did coming to America. It was a bit painful to imagine that I couldn’t compare to him. There were glaring differences between us.


First of all, Prince Akeem was a handsome, healthy man.


Me, I have sickle cell anemia. The disease had crippled and bounded me to one side of a bed and my only shot at getting decent healthcare was to go to a hospital in Massachusetts in America that had already been prepared for me by my uncle, Dr. Fatai Ilupeju. In fact, some of the hospital’s medical staff were even waiting for my arrival from Nigeria.


“...I have sickle cell anemia. The disease had crippled and bounded me to one side of a bed and my only shot at getting decent healthcare was to go to a hospital in Massachusetts in America…”


Secondly, Akeem was extremely wealthy. I was broke.


Thirdly, he was the prince of the thriving kingdom of Zamunda. I am a prince of Ọ̀yọ́ Kingdom, an empire formed in present-day Nigeria around 1400 and is no longer the powerful kingdom that it used to be. Like other African kingdoms, Ọ̀yọ́ was scorched by the flame of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

and its extension called colonization. The royal institution of Ọ̀yọ́ was not a self-centered absolute monarchy as the ‘history’ has portrayed it, but a system of institutions with checks and balances working for the good of the people and the nation. But the British empire, coming with a pretense of friendship and mutual goals, carved the land and confined the royal institutions to the small cavities of colonial administrations. The unctuous treaty that Queen Victoria of England signed with Aláàfin Adéyẹmí I would in only a couple of decades, turn into the amalgamation of the Yoruba kingdom with the other erstwhile independent regions similarly swindled out of their autonomy.


“I am a prince of Ọ̀yọ́ Kingdom, an empire formed in present-day Nigeria around 1400. But today, Ọ̀yọ́ is no longer the powerful kingdom that it used to be.”


Nigeria’s “independence” in 1960 was really another extension of slavery and brought further corruption to the status of African kingdoms and deprivation to their systems of administration. For example, a new political so-called democratic constitutionally imposed office of state governor could overpower the office of the Alaafin, the head of the Yoruba land, or of the Ooni, the head of the land of Yoruba origin. I did not like that. I did not like the European lie, laced with their liquor, that claimed to bring democracy to our land.


Nonetheless, the traditional titles remained. At the time, I bore the title of “Prince” on my passport.




But it did not matter. I did not yield diplomatic power and despite presenting my mangled body at the window, all I got was a bold “denied” stamp that marred the glossy pages of my proud passport.


“I had wished I had it as easy as Prince Akeem did coming to America. It was a bit painful to realize that I couldn’t compare to him.”


After that, I was denied again. Then, I was denied again – before I even reached the consulate. This “pre-denial” cut me deeply.

But finally, I got the visa.


In 2000, I left Nigeria and moved to the United States. I settled in the New England state of Massachusetts. My first job in America was as a tutor on a college campus in the coastal city of Quincy. It was a community college with a diverse student body. That was what I wanted. For the first time in my life, I was in one community with people from Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Congo, Haiti as well as China, Israel, Nepal, Palestine, etc. Being a tutor leveraged my position to be able to befriend them all. Everyone converged at the student center, and the student center was my office, where I sprang from table to table as I worked with the students. It was incredible to realize that at one time in my life, I had been stuck in one corner of the world, enduring excruciating pain year after year, and then to be in a new place, among students from every corner of the world. Learning about other cultures around the world was a comforting hobby I had indulged in during the less painful periods of my illness. I had voraciously consumed all the books, magazines, and newsletters that my siblings were able to get into my room, including a 16-volume encyclopedia that had decorated our neighbor’s living room for years. Everything came in handy as they prepared me for the vast resources the school offered me and for the educated relationship I was having with my various friends, especially when the shockwave of the September 11 attack swept through our campus. At the time, I walked with a cane, but both my hips had been replaced and my surgeon thought I could still get some years out of my knees if I played it safe. I tried to play safe.


“...finally, I got the visa.”


The pay of twenty hours of work per week was not enough to make a living on my own, at least not at the hourly rate I was paid as a peer tutor. Though I worked several hours beyond my official schedule every week, twenty hours per week was the limit the law permitted. I tutored in all the Humanities classes that the school offered, and the joy of doing it paid me a lot more than my paychecks. You learn as you teach.


Sickle cell disease has always been a constant reality; however, meeting more and more of my fellow students was a huge change from being bound to a chair and a single bed in Oyo. It was heaven. The courageous personal essays that the students wrote offered impressive views into the vast fields of human experiences. I remember a Somali student who wrote about skin-color-based discrimination in his country; a Tutsi who wrote about her experience during the Rwandan genocide; a Peruvian whose mother insisted she married a Caucasian, despite her discomfort with her white boyfriend. In her essay, the Peruvian detailed how her mother’s goal was to lighten the family’s skin through marriage. A Korean student wrote about how he lost the Chinese girl he loved because her parents didn’t like his Korean heritage, even though he had converted to Islam to appease the girl's Muslim parents. At that time, I couldn’t even tell a Korean from a Chinese person. All these reminded me about the tribal sentiments I grew up with in Nigeria; made me realize how human beings were just the same everywhere you went. We’re so predisposed to finding petty peculiarities to fracture our own consciousness and our societies.

My uncle, Dr. Fatai Ilupeju, and my aunt Mrs. Fausat, brought me to America, paid for my expensive treatments and gave me a space to live in their home. Not having to pay rent allowed me the freedom to indulge in my academic and creative escapades. For the first time, I could explore my childhood dream of being a filmmaker. There was a liberal arts teacher that requested my help in the minutiae of Islamic culture for his class at Quincy College. I blended in with the other students in the classes and I was conspicuously active in the activities of the classes.


America gave me opportunities to meet and befriend the descendants of formerly enslaved Africans in America. By engaging with them, I began to see that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the devastation of Africa was a project that has never ended. Apparently, it has only been taking on new labels and identities, like that of the Emancipation Proclamation for the Africans enslaved in America or the granting of independence for the Africans colonized on African lands.

When my African-American friends realized that I was a prince, they looked upon me with eyes comparing me to Akeem. I told them that yes, I was, but I had to constantly explain how the title didn’t carry as much weight as they seemed to think.


“Are you really a prince?”


The question posed to me by a student jolted me, and made my ego want to say “Yes.” But I avoided giving an answer.


My friends in America would never know that I was in line to possibly be the next king. I kept all of this a secret.


“My friends in America would never know that I was in line to possibly be the next king.”


I blended into American life. After two decades of living in the States, I had even convinced myself that my family’s royal name did not matter anymore.


That all changed in 2022.

In April, my phone rang and my sister asked if I was interested in becoming the next king. Alaafin Adeyemi III had just passed away and it’s our family’s turn to take the kingship. Some of my siblings and cousins have shown interest and the stage was massing up for the succession match.





“In 2022, my phone rang and my sister asked if I was interested in becoming the next king. Alaafin Adeyemi III had just passed away…”


Rather than hearing from the speakers in my phone, my sister’s words swam up from somewhere deep inside of me, from beneath where I had kept my experiences bottled down, the words swept through my eardrum to reach my ear.


After several months of contemplating, I decided that I would not make a bid for the throne. All the same my life has changed. The voices in my blood have woken me up, screaming at a deafening pitch that I have responsibilities to take care of. Perhaps these voices have always been with me, directing my feet as I moved through the world. The voices no longer only come from Ọ̀yọ́, but now include those of African-Americans who have taught me invaluable lessons and insights about the trauma and complexity of the black experience and how the weight of history has crippled our present political realities.


I am now part of a group of African-Americans in Boston, Massachusetts who are dedicated to celebrating the annual Juneteenth Emancipation observance. This engagement has been the most impactful on my consciousness. The group was, and still is, called the “Boston Juneteenth Committee,” which includes the “Center for the Museum of Afro American Artists,” on whose grounds we held weekly planning meetings for the summer Juneteenth and the fall Big Head Community Festival celebrations.


I realize that my responsibility in this world is to tell stories that capture the diversity of human experiences. I am now a filmmaker. I contemplate human identities. These contemplations are reflected in my films which vividly explore cultural heritage and the injustices of justice. Waking up from under the fog of American work-filled life, quitting my job at a mental health facility, and dared to go make my first film, Soul Sisters, in 2010. Starring Mirlyn Dorvilus and featuring Jimmy Jean-Louis, the film tells the story of two young women who confront racial struggles in America.





With that film, I won the Best Emerging Filmmaker's Award at the 2010 Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston Massachusetts and the Best Film By An African Abroad at the 2010 African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).


“I am now a filmmaker.”


This film was followed by The Theory of Conflict which gave an intimate look at how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict sparked tensions among students on a university campus.



Now, I’m working on A Private Experience, a film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s short story of the same name.


In this work, I feel a sense of complete fulfillment that seemed unreachable when I was in Nigeria and crippled. I believe I am doing the work that I need to do as a filmmaker.


Prince Akeem Joffer went to America to find a wife and bring her to Zamunda. I, Abdulrahman Abimbola Oladigbolu, went to America to understand my place in the world as a human being and find a way to tell stories through film.







Rahman Oladigbolu is a filmmaker based in Boston, Massachusetts. He enjoys watching films and reading literature.


Instagram @Ramonioyo

Twitter @RamoniOyo






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2023年9月27日
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Wht a story …. an inspiration

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