Today, we are stereotyping foreign minds, against us, in the bid to destroy our past and lay claims to building a new future
I had a profound experience during my days as a postulant aspiring to join the religious Order of Discalced Carmelites at Nike Avenue in Trans Ekulu GRA Enugu. It was morning on the fateful day and Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald, of the Irish Province, who was on a visit to Nigeria, was lecturing. Midway into the lecture, he was called out by another friar. We were curious.
When he returned, we all asked why he went out. He explained. He told us that a young American, who was visiting Africa for the very first time was outside crying uncontrollably. What happened? The young American was a Rotarian. He was newly married. Rotary nominated him to be on a delegation to Nigeria. As we were told, the American had no prior knowledge of Nigeria.
All he knew of Africa was that it is a jungle where humans contested with wildlife for space on trees and caves. He knew Africa as a place where humans drank from ponds where animals had made droppings. He knew nothing of Africa as a continent of several countries with independent governments.
For this reason, his nomination to be on the trip to Nigeria was death sentence. The young American told the Priests that he did not want to die with his young wife in the jungle. For this reason, he asked her to stay back while he undertook the risk alone. They had prayed that if he returned, fine.
If he died on the voyage, so be it. He was flown to Lagos. From Lagos he connected a Triax Air to Enugu and was picked at the airport with an air-conditioned Mercedes Benz car. He was driven to the GRA and housed, by a Rotarian, in one of the finest houses in the GRA then, with water and electricity (Genset though).
The next day, he was driven round Enugu town and shown places of interest. He did not see wildlife or people contesting with animals for food. Two days after, he broke down and cried. He found his way to the Carmelite Community to seek consolation because he saw white men around.
He told them that he was disappointed and wished his wife was there to see things for herself. His story was one of stereotype. Fixation! The young man had known Africa only from pictures of wildlife used on post cards. Most pictorial books on the continent were about wildlife. He had no other view of reality. To him, Africa was a jungle, fully branded by no deliberate action. But contact with reality disappointed him. And he cried.
Today, we are stereotyping foreign minds, against us, in the bid to destroy our past and lay claims to building a new future. Of course, Nigeria has had a hectic journey into nationhood.
The experiences have been good sometimes, and painful at other times. However, no society progresses peacefully by destroying itself with negative characterizations.
Therefore, it is amazing how the APC-led Federal government is tirelessly, deliberately and conscientiously de-branding Nigeria as the most corrupt nation on earth. Somehow, the most effective way to cut a piece of the pie from the incumbent administration is to chant corruption. Corruption is a now trending.
Everyone is screaming against it, even the most corrupt. But, it is also a political tool. You become a change advocate if you shout from your rooftop that corruption exists everywhere and that all Nigerians, especially from the southern part, are corrupt.
Understandably, corruption exists in our system, both public and private. But the way and manner this administration has mouthed it, would, in the long run, create problems even for officials of the administration. And I hope we don’t come back screaming Nigeriaphobia, if foreigners we meet with in our private and official capacities, begin to relate to us, individually and collectively, as a people whose middle name is corruption.
Like the young America, there is the tendency for partners out there to stereotype Nigeria, and Nigerians, as corrupt. I recall the outrage over the short film, Corruption Incorporated, which was shown depicting Nigeria as most corrupt country on mother earth.
The film came with it a stereotyping of Nigerians and discriminatory treatment at airports across Europe and America. But government went to work. The Obasanjo administration came up with the Heart of Africa Project and started showcasing the other side of Nigeria. It worked to change perception.
The Jonathan administration came in with Nigeria – Good People, Great Nation, which Prof. Dora Akunyili pushed with strength and passion. In marketing her re-branding campaign, Akunyili said: “The negative perception about Nigeria has gone unchallenged for so long that it is beginning to stick in the consciousness of most people around the world that most Nigerians are criminals or fraudsters.
Consequently, across the globe, in airports and other public places, whenever the green passport is sighted, we are asked to stand aside for special screening. We are not even given the benefit of the doubt. In the highly competitive world in which we live, Nigeria will have no choice than to present a compelling and coherent image to the world if she wants to be taken seriously”.
She did her best. And the result showed. As at October 2014, Nigeria’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International had improved with the country ranking 136 out of 175 countries reviewed. The result as at October 1999 put Nigeria as the second most corrupt country after Cameroun.
It shows that a lot had been achieved in the past 16 years. This is manifested in the boost in foreign direct investments into the country. As at 2014, Nigeria had 9% of FDIs into Middle East and Africa amounting to over $11billion in capital projects alone.
These are contained in the FDI Report 2015. Our government is however, working at great pains to reverse these gains with its constant negative branding of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Ironically, the administration that is shouting to the world that the last administration epitomized corruption is the same that had its operatives, including the Vice President, struggling for photo space with Akinwunmi Adesina at his inauguration as President of Africa Development Bank. Soon, they will also queue to receive Arunma Oteh.
Buhari has let his acolytes loose on the project of de-branding Nigeria. When next a Nigerian is harassed out there, it would not be because there are facts to prove anything; rather, it would be “because your leaders said you are”. It is about negative perception built by the Buhari administration, and party, and reinforced by the president’s leaning towards dictatorship.
– ACHILLEUS-CHUD UCHEGBU e-mail: email@example.com