I CAME TO Ireland when I was just about to turn 17. I had just finished my studies in Nigeria, at school, and my mother thought it would be good for me. I went straight to Castleknock College – straight from the airport. I was there for two and a half years, then I went on to Dublin Business School for four years. I moved on to Griffith College, then after that I did a Masters in Crumlin College of Further Education.
At that time there weren’t many black people, there weren’t many Chinese people, there weren’t many Indians. But there had been a lot of black people in Ireland – for example, Ireland would have been the training ground for a lot of African nurses. And pilots, and doctors. So it was not a bad time, because it was more of a novelty to see a black person on the street. And most people would love the opportunity to meet one, shake one’s hand, talk or whatever.
But it was still hard. I was lucky, because there were a couple of black kids in my school and we just blended, in a nice atmosphere. Only when I went out of my school for rugby matches or whatever, then I might encounter some racism. People saying stuff. People throwing eggs, or saying go back home, or monkey.
Ireland’s a very lovely place to live. Even though there have been cases of racism; it’s everywhere but it’s in small amounts here. It’s a very slow-paced country, and it’s a developing country as well. I wanted to be part of that. Luckily for me I met my wife, I have two beautiful children, my business is flourishing. It’s not easy still, but I’m doing what I have to do.
‘People see anything Nigerian, they think it’s fraud’
I know most of my people have been dubbed with a negative stigma. People see anything Nigerian, they think OK, it’s fraud, it’s whatever. But most of the things I try and do are to try and promote the fact that Nigerians are not just people who try and fake things. They’re also people who give back to the community.
There was a time when I had just organised a Streetball tournament in Dublin, at Diamond Park. And Dublin City Council had given me a lot of things to give to the kids – keyrings, pens, that sort of thing. So after the show I had given all the kids their keyrings and whatnot, I was getting into my car… and they started using those keyrings as projectiles. Little square objects. And they started throwing them at my car, throwing them at me, and calling me names. And I just thought, it was an insult. Because I’ve done these things out of my own goodwill. I’ve put my own money into it, even though I also got some support from the Government. It was terrible.
Those kids, they don’t want to learn, because their parents don’t want to teach them. Their parents are the ones saying these slurs, and they’re picking them up from the parents. But it’s changing, the culture is changing. Nobody wants to be heard saying those things now, because someone will turn around and say ‘What’s wrong with you?’ People don’t accept it as much. I have loads of Irish friends, and they wouldn’t stay in the same room where somebody is having a racial slagging match or something like that. They’d let the person know how they feel.
My wife is Polish. We’ve never had a problem with that at all. Nobody has come up to me and said ‘Why are you married to a white woman?’ We have problems in the sense of cultural boundaries – like the food I would eat, hot spicy food, she wouldn’t be able to eat. The way I was brought up is different to the way she was brought up. But that’s not an external thing, it’s an internal thing – like in any marriage.
‘The next generation aren’t going to see any racism at all’
I see no boundaries between people. I didn’t marry my wife because she was white, I married her because I love her. I see no problem with hanging out with a Chinese person, I have loads of Chinese friends. When I was doing my basketball club, my whole team was multicultural. The team was Lithuanian, French, Polish, German, Canadian, American, Nigerian, Congolese, and some Irish people as well. In this day and age, people just need to break that boundary of race or skin colour, and look at what the personality of that individual is about.
Attitudes are changing already right now. You go to any school, nearly any school in Dublin there will be many children from any ethnic background. You see them walking home in pairs, you see a black kid walking with a white kid, an Indian kid, or you see a black girl and Chinese girl walking together. Even in relationships – I see a lot of black girls with white guys, white guys with Chinese girls. It’s changing completely. The next generation of kids, my daughters’ ages, when they grow up they’re not going to see any racism at all. Because everyone is the same to them, they don’t know these things. If we feed them this positive image of cultural diversity, I see no racism in Ireland in the next five years.
Ireland is my home. I’m here, my family’s here. If we were to move, I don’t know how we’d do it. I suppose we could put the children in boarding school for a while. I can go home, but I’m not going to stay there for a long period. I’m staying here, I’m going to try and build up my businesses, and try and give back to the Irish community and my home town.
Timi Martins is a music promoter and entrepreneur who lives in Drogheda. He set up the Irish branch of Goodlife Promotions, and works in event management. He has also organised community events and sports tournaments. In 2011 he was Irish Aid’s Africa Day ambassador.
As told to Michael Freeman. Byline photograph Maxwells.