That Binyavanga Wainaina Jibe

Businesses always seek to add value to their shareholder investments; at the same time, they aim to satisfy the interests of other stakeholders. It is in juggling these stakeholder interests that conflicts arise but it is always in the best interest of the business to satisfy the interests of its core stakeholders first.

Many businesses in Nigeria are beginning to re-appraise their true corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles. Few have gone a step further and have incorporated CSR as a core part of their daily business activities, just like other business activities such as production, marketing and sales. In this regard, companies like MTN, Globacom, UBA and Oceanic Bank readily come to mind. These companies have now created special Foundations into which fixed percentages of their annual profits are channelled to be used for corporate social responsibility initiatives.

It is probably this line of thinking that influenced Fidelity Bank Plc and their arts loving managing director, Mr. Reginald Ihejiahi to sponsor the creative writing workshop which recently held in LagosNigeria. The bank invited Nigeria’s Orange prize award – winning writer Chimamanda Adichie as the lead facilitator. Kenyan–born Caine prize winning writer Binyavanga Wainaina was also part of the facilitation team, likewise Nigerian–born fountain of Afro-centric knowledge, the very respectable Chinweizu.

I heard about the workshop before travelling to Nigeria from the UK and had included it in my to-attend list while in Nigeria. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the workshop but was able to catch up through the several media reports about the workshop afterwards, especially the report filed by Ahaoma Kanu of the National Daily newspaper.

I was almost singing the praises of Fidelity Bank for coming to the aid of arts in Nigeria through the sponsorship of the creative writing workshop at the Ikeja office of the National Daily newspaper, when in the course of our banter, Ahaoma raised the issue of something Binyavanga Wainaina had written about the Igbos in his article titled – How To Write About Africa.

I couldn’t believe my ears and had to actually search for the article myself on the internet to confirm that Ahaoma wasn’t peddling pepper-soup joint rumour. I couldn’t also believe that Binyavanga had actually written these words in his article – “The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona)”.

I have since read the said article trying to understand from where Binyavanga was coming from, unfortunately I could not. Therefore, it will be difficult for me to rationalise his reasons for fuelling further the stereotype of the Igbos being ‘money–grubbing people’.

Had I stumbled upon Binyavanga’s prejudiced and biased view about Ndigbo while the workshop was still on in Lagos, perhaps I would have endeavoured to attend one of the sessions with the hope of engaging him in banter to find out the source of his ‘money-grubbing’ theory.

I would also have used the opportunity to remind him that Reginald Ihejiahi, the man who facilitated his trip to Nigeria is of the Igbo tribe, and that the bank itself (Fidelity Bank, formerly Fidelity Union Merchant Bank) was co-founded by another Igbo man in the person of Chief Onwuka Kalu of Onwuka Hi-Tek fame (Okpuzu). I wonder if Binyavanga would have turned down the offer and the money from Fidelity Bank to take part in the workshop had he known that his honorarium was coming from an Igbo bank managing director. Would he have still gone ahead to also ‘grab’ or ‘grub’ his own share just like the ‘money–grubbing Igbos’?

Perhaps Reginald Ihejiahi and his team at Fidelity Bank were not aware of Binyavanga’s views about Ndigbo; I would really love to know what they would have done had they been aware of Binyavanga’s Igbo bias. Would they have still paid his flight ticket, put him up in a five star hotel and feted him if they knew what he thinks about them?

Perhaps this would serve as a lesson not only to Fidelity Bank but also to other Nigerian businesses that are increasingly importing ‘foreign experts’ to facilitate seminars and workshops in Nigeria. My advice is that they should check out the credentials of such people and their antecedents before signing their cheque. Were this (Binyavanga’s race blunder and prejudice) to have taken place in the western world; it would have been classified as a public relations disaster for all the parties concerned.

The case of Jade Goody and her racial slur against Shilpa Shetty while both were in the United Kingdom Celebrity Big Brother house should be used as a case in point. In the aftermath of the crises, Channel Four lost a major advertiser – Carphone Warehouse which pulled out from sponsoring the reality show as it didn’t want its corporate image to be tarnished by association. Within days after the crises broke out, Jade Goody lost several of her endorsement deals and major high street shops stopped stocking her newly introduced line of perfumes. Till date, the various parties are still licking their wounds and counting their loses.

What Binyavanga said about the Igbos also reminds me of Dianne Abbott who visited Nigeria in 2006 and was feted by Nigerian government officials on tax payers money, only to come back to the UK to write a damning article about Nigeria, comparing Nigeria to her home country – Jamaica in an article titled; Think Jamaica is Bad? Try Nigeria.

Nigeria and indeed Ndigbo do not need two-faced friends at this stage in our national life. While recognising that Binyavanga has the freedom to write whatever he likes protected by poetic license, it is also important to recognise that Ndigbo also have a right to correct any wide-off-the-mark prejudiced comments about them, as such do indeed create misunderstandings and even affect the psyche and sense of identity of the younger Igbo generation.

Again I wonder if Binyavanga is aware that Chimamanda Adichie is also Igbo, and if in the course of his interactions with her, she had exhibited any traits to make him come to the conclusion that Ndigbo are truly big–time hustlers as he insinuated in his satirical piece.

And speaking about Chimamanda, I would like to believe that she is not aware of what Binyavanga said about her people; else one would have expected her to demand a clarification or even an outright apology. Perhaps it is for this reason that she should mind the company she keeps. As an Igbocentric, I’m sure that she knows that even the elders would counsel her likewise.

Since Binyavanga and his race in Kenya do not like money, nor grub for money like the Igbos, I do hope that he went to Nigeria for free, or that he left part of his cheque for the use of local orphanages in Nigeria or even in his home country, else if he goes ahead to spend the Fidelity Bank cheque he must have received, then I don’t see how different he or members of his race are to the Igbo race he derided.

It would help the African literary cause if Binyavanga sets out to educate himself a little more about the Igbos seeing that he is now benefiting from them. While he is at it, he might as well educate himself about other African tribes and races so that he would be in a better position to educate his readers and inform them accurately about their culture instead of reinforcing stereotypes that are well-worn and outdated.

I am sure that Chimamanda Adichie, Reginald Ihejiahi and all the other Igbo people Binyavanga came in contact with while he was in Nigeria would have shown him a sample of Igbo hospitality, the next stage will be for them to teach him the age-old Igbo mantra of hardwork (Igba mbo, onye luo, ya erie), and that being enterprising is not the same as ‘grubbing’ for money.

Perhaps an apology from Binyavanga Wainaina and a clarification from both Fidelity Bank and Chimamanda Adichie may be necessary at this stage to prevent the Nze na Ozors in Igbo land from calling on their Chi and on Amadioha to be on Binyavanga’s case. We don’t want that, do we?

Written by
Uche Nworah
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4 comments
  • Of course the writer Uche Nworah is a product (or victim) of the Nigerian educational system. How else can he not understand the literary device called satire? Hot headed Igbo brother shoots at anything without thinking. The writer himself is Kikuyu (one of the “indicted” tribes). All this post because of the writer’s ignorance. So sad.

  • I am Kenyan. I just wanted to let you know that Binyavanga himself is a Kikuyu and also that these are existing stereotypes he is talking about (not making them up —unless he is wrong is he?, I wouldn't know). It is satire…you see that I am sure

  • Uche, you did not give reasons to contradict the Kenyan.This is unlike you.You should have told your readers why Igbo should not be assessed as money-grubbers.All you suceeded in doing was whipping up sentiments.The fact that Fidelity Bank belongs to some Igbo fela does not invalidate the Kenya's view.Ngozi Adichie may agree with her Kenyan friend afterall. Or did you seek her views about the article you considered offending?