It is true that the Lebanese community bears the unenviable moniker of the most fraudulent prone immigrant group in Nigeria. They as a community must resolve this issue and aim to become productive Nigerian citizens, not the chronic immigrant sucking off the national bosom with little prayer for replenishment. The comments of this young Nigerian would be waived aside as the ramblings of one disgruntled individual but the truth be told, that sentiment is more widespread than most Nigerians- at home and abroad, would admit. What is more disturbing is that many of us have a subliminal understanding of our conservative and oftentimes, intolerant attitudes to foreigners. I take solace in the fact that our motivations are not racist. Yes, we kicked out black people in the 1980s; we really do not care about your skin color. Most Nigerians would accept you if you “go with the program”. It’s a whole other ball game if you don’t. Sometimes I wonder where Nigerians get their moral pride. I have a number of theories, debatable but not infallible if Nigeria and Nigerians are studied in the context of how far we have come as a nation and what our aspirations are as a people. We are the largest black nation on earth and maintain that psychological and racial supremacy on the African continent. We are black, very proud of our heritage and overwhelmingly patriotic. For a people who have been battered by poverty, bruised by military incursions into civilian life and buffeted constantly by the political elite, our sense of national pride is admirable and undeniably unique amongst nations. We possess the largest economy in Africa, unattractively reliant on the oil sector but built on a hardworking, resilient and raw entrepreneurial spirit (did someone mention South Africa? Hush… it’s all about us today, ok?) We are socially conservative and culturally defensive on an ethnic basis, struggling with our tribal identities in a national wrestling match but rigidly patriotic in the presence of foreigners. These are not good or bad attributes. This is who we are. A nation divided on a cultural level but confident and comfortable in its “Wazobia” skin.
This analysis begs us to ask ourselves some hard questions as individual members of the Nigerian project. Why are we this way? Why do we consider ourselves superior in some way to our fellow African brothers and sisters? Is there some form of accepted intolerance, if not racism, ingrained in our national psyche? These are questions that we must ask ourselves as a people if we are to interact with the world in a constructive manner in the 21st century and beyond. My critique of the current state of affairs is that Nigeria and Nigerians must be ready to change. The world is changing and our economy and people would be major participants in the coming years. As we impact the world, foreigners are bound to be attracted to our land and may be committed to being full participants themselves in our affairs- whether we like it or not. Heck- the changes have been in the works for years! Although there are no solid figures on the number of foreigners in Nigeria (trust the National Bureau of Statistics and the Nigerian Population Commission to receive ‘allocation’ but not produce even basic research), it was once estimated that the Lebanese community in Nigeria exceeded 150,000 with a significant majority of them born in Nigeria and thus, bonafide holders of Nigerian passports. They seem to the numero uno bunch of immigrants in Nigeria, establishing a presence as merchants in the country dating back to the late 19th century. Of all non-black people living in Nigeria, their presence is undeniable and they have integrated the most in the country- marrying Nigerians, raising families in the country, establishing businesses with head offices and major operations in Nigeria and representing the leading group of Middle Easterners in West Africa. We have the Asians- Chinese and Indians, buoyed by the booming oil services industry, setting up shop in the Niger Delta region and other economic centers where they operate in the IT, construction and trading sectors. With Uncle Obasanjo’s policy of inviting everyone who had extra cash to spend abroad as a “defacto foreign investor”, the Chinese in particular have invaded our lives not only with the cheap (oftentimes substandard) products that they bring into the country but with their brodas and sistas. Many westerners seem not to desire a social stake in Nigeria but maintain their relationships with our people strictly for economic gain. Hopefully, they would be cured of this disease of colonial mentality and begin a more humanistic approach to living and working in Nigeria.
They come from all over the world to partake in our growing wealth, for the same self-preserving reasons immigrants leave their home nations for countries where they think they can do better for themselves and their families. We should embrace them and treat them with dignity. We should also have a sensible immigration policy that is fair and mindful of our needs as citizens- we do not want to have a group of ‘invisible’ people in our country like the US being a burden to our social and infrastructure system (by the way, do we even have such a system?). We should not treat people based on the color of their skin. Let’s face it- call it inferiority complex or plain stupidity, many Nigerians have a better perception of Caucasian people than Asians, Latinos or Arabs. This has to stop. We all know what racism can do. It is ugly and vicious. I once had a weird experience at work with a British immigrant, now an American citizen, who pointedly told me that Arabs were ‘naturally’ prone to terrorism and with a smile on his face, nodded when a young Middle Easterner walked past us. Deceit never enhances a free and open society. It nurtures contempt and intolerance. As we advance as a nation, let us remind ourselves of our capacity to overcome barriers. The civil war did not destroy us, military dictatorships came and went, corruption did not stop us from teaching our children to focus on truth and honesty and foreigners still adjudge as the happiest people on earth. As we expect more shades of people to add to our national fabric, let us be ready with a practical and humane policy that is welcoming and beneficial to all native-born and immigrant citizens. As a new year beckons, let us pray that a well-planned immigration policy is implemented to support the new color of the Nigerian people.