Swans Commentary » swans.com February 9, 2009  



Understanding Nigeria


by Femi Akomolafe





(Swans - February 9, 2009)  


•   Do you know what?


•   What, my friend?


•   Nigeria is the most misunderstood country in the world and Nigerians the most misinterpreted people on earth.


•   Ah, my friend, are we not exaggerating here?


•   No, my friend; Nigeria is the most undeservedly abused, the most pathologically hated, the most improperly maltreated, the most unjustifiably misunderstood, the most irrationally...


•   Easy, easy, take it easy. I get the picture, but why all this big grammar?


•   Just look at the facts...


•   Facts, where are they?


•   Do you know what Winston Churchill said?


•   My friend, what type of question is that? Churchill was a wordsmith and the question ought to be what Churchill didn't say. Did he say something about Nigeria?


•   Not exactly, but the quote is very relevant here. He said that the Soviet Union was an enigmatic puzzle wrapped in mystery, or something to that effect. I think that the man meant Nigeria. Nigeria surely comes close to that description.


•   Really?


•   Yes, really!


•   And don't you think that Nigerians deserve some of the opprobrium being thrown at them? All that everyone knows is that yours is a country where only very bad news emanates. When it is not soldiers taking over the reins of government, it's your 419 scammers stealing money from innocent people. Your youth are notorious for kidnapping expatriates and setting fires to oil wells. And we know how you people are prepared to cut throats during your not so infrequent religious riots. And your elections are always so fraudulent that it leaves everyone reeling. You certainly cannot blame anyone for that, can you?


•   Precisely my point! All that I hear or read about is scam, election rigging, riots, killings, and such like. We certainly are no saints but when it comes to wasting human lives, Nigeria certainly does not come close to the leagues of America. Why are Americans not be made to pay for the gigantic crimes their government is committing in their names? And why should I, an ordinary Nigerian, be made to carry the burden of my errant brethren? When it comes to stealing, surely no one comes close to the white man, yet he still goes around looking and behaving like an angel. When a white man wants to commit a crime, he doesn't waste his valuable time in stealing piddling or trifles; he steals continents, people, and things. American Ponzi scammers certainly make Nigerian 419 thieves look like a bunch of stupid amateurs. While they are wasting their energies stealing truly pathetic sums from widows and widowers, American cool operators are stealing billions of dollars. You see what I mean?


•   No, I don't exactly see what you mean. What has that got to do with your country being misunderstood?


•   Ah, Ok. I agree that we are among the most confounding nations on earth and Nigerians are certainly amongst the most enigmatic. Our notoriety always precedes us like a bad stench. Were one to travel to Nigeria and stay in Lagos, the former capital, for just one day, he'd come away with the impression of Nigerians being the most heartless Homo sapiens trudging the face of our wide world.


•   Is there more than that?


•   Surely there is a lot more. Were the same person to travel to say, Calabar, the seaport capital of Cross Rivers State in Southeastern Nigeria, eat the delicious Edikaikon soup prepared by one of those mystifyingly beautiful girls, who look and behave as though their sole purpose in life is to make a man happy (sexism, sexism!!!), one would think that he's died and was in alujanah with his seventy virgins. While dirty, compassionless, uninviting Lagos has rightly been described as one large hell-hole on earth, Calabar must surely rank among the cleanest and most hospitable places on earth. And Calabar women, mama mia! They can take your breath away -- I meant that both literally and metaphorically. Don't take my word for it; go and see for yourself. •  


Ok, that's something worth considering. But that doesn't take away the argument of your country being a very violent place and your people among the most aggressive type of the African species.


•   Oh, another unfortunate misrepresentation of my beautiful and beloved land. And it's one that is totally illogical and vastly at variance with simple common sense.


•   Are you saying that the reputation is unearned?


•   Of course Nigeria's reputation as an aggressive land doesn't tally with the evidence. Let me explain. Since gaining independence in 1960, my country has been ruled by brutal military junta for about thirty-six of her forty-nine years. Both military and civilian (mostly ex-military in civilian garbs) have treated the people with utter disdain and contempt, but we Nigerians bore it all with difficult-to-comprehend fortitude. Does such passivity jell with your idea of an aggressive people?


•   Not really, but...


•   Wait a sec, my friend; I have other examples to show you. In Nigeria, life has gotten progressively worse over the years with quality of life deteriorating by the day, yet we do not see Nigerians going in the street to protest. In Nigeria, the education system has collapsed with teachers perpetually on strike while students are interested only in joining cults, yet Nigerians stoically refused to vibrate with righteous anger. In this time and age, Nigerians still dance for joy when they get their pittance of electricity supply. And the one hundred and fifty million or so Nigerians still cannot figure out how to distribute their primary product -- oil. And this sorry state of affairs hasn't brought Nigerians out in protest. In daytime, Nigerians are brutalized by police agents and soldiers at the slightest provocation, at night armed robbers keep them in perpetual fear. Yet Nigerians do not go out to moan their woes. Are you getting my picture?


•   But there recently was a riot in the Northern city of Jos.


•   Oh, now you're getting the picture. Remember that I told you that we Nigerians are a difficult-to-understand people. My people will not protest for the most egregious violations of their civil and human rights. However, let a Danish cartoonist poke fun at an Arab Prophet, and Nigerians are to be found protesting and killing one another with Old Testament fury. Let someone "blaspheme" the supposed Son of some phantom Jewish god, and Nigerians will vibrate with righteous anger and shed blood. It is something that is baffling, to say the least. Many Nigerian social scientists have tried and failed to unravel the mysteries of what makes the Nigerian tick.


•   And are you blaming the rest of the world for that?


•   Yes and no. What I'm saying is that we Nigerians are different, very different from other people. We are so different that I do not believe that the same adjectives used in other situations should be extended to us, or that the same social theories be applied to us. We are a peculiar species of the human race and there ought to be more understanding of our atypical nature. That's all.


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About the Author

Femi Akomolafe is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published February 9, 2009