In one form or another, all humans are patriots. Although later experiences may tamper this belief and attitude, initially however, there is the tendency to think that their country is the best in the world. No matter how unorganized, precarious and underdeveloped it may be — there is the proclivity to think that their country is superior to others. Consider Nigerians: in spite of the political, economic and social reality of the country, rare is the Nigerian who has completely written off the country.
There is something about Nigeria that makes Nigerians adore her. Nigerians may complain about the deplorable state of infrastructures, they may complain about the bad economic landscape or even about the asphyxiating political space; yet, they love and love their country. This state of mind, whether consciously or not, manifests itself in the manner Nigerians abroad carry themselves. It shows in the way they speak, how they live their lives; and in how they interact with others. There are instances of inferiority complex, still, Nigerians acts as if they are the numero uno.
No matter what some may say or think of Nigeria and Nigerians, she is one of a handful of countries that others lust after. It is a country that at once seduces, repels and compels. It tugs, it inhabits your soul. I jokingly tell friends that there are only two countries in Africa: “Nigeria and the rest.” Most of the Nigerians I know walk around with a swagger. Frankly, they waltz. It is as if being a Nigerian gives them a pass into any community or organization of their chosen; as if being a Nigeria makes them superior to all others.
Aside from the United State, Jamaica and China, what other country has higher name recognition than Nigeria? If you are a Nigerian, almost everybody wants to be friends with you. Somehow, especially in uncertain times, they think you have the magic wand to make it all better. They may begrudge you for being a Nigeria; yet, most cannot help themselves but to embrace you. They may embrace you at the workplace, in the classroom and on campus, at clubs and at the dancehall. Nigerians have the power and the ability to be the life of most situations.
To be hated and to be loved is one of the ironies of being a Nigerian. If you are a resident of the United States, and you observe your immediate community as much as I do, you may have felt or noticed the simmering heat emanating from the tension within the Black World: the mutual suspicion and objections and the intense competition between the African-American, Afro-European, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino, and the African community.
In some enclaves and professional sectors, the heat stemming from these tensions can be unbearable. Often times, one wonder why people with common ancestry, common history and common life experiences engage in self-immolating, self-defeating and self-hating tendencies. What’s the problem? While one cannot, and must not posit that all the members of all these groups hate all Nigerians, there is a certain measure of exasperation in their tone, and in their verbal and body language when they speak of Nigerians.
Most Africans I have come to know or communicated with are suspicious of, and love to hate Nigerians. I don’t mean this at the individual level. I am speaking in the collective or general terms. In most places I go, I hear the Congolese, Togolese, Sierra Leoneans, Liberians and South Africans and others speak ill of Nigerians. Nigerians are “too aggressive,” “too dishonest,” “love to show off their wealth,” “they take our girls,” and are “always loud.” They also associate Nigerians with “419” even when their own nationals have been caught committing such offences.
What does it means to be “too aggressive.” Does it means that Nigerians have a quicker and better understanding of systems and societies they find themselves in? Does it mean that Nigerians, by virtue of their worldview, education, and experiences, gets acculturated better and faster than other Africans? Does it mean they know how to stretch and bend rules to suit their conditions? Does it mean that Nigerians are generally never afraid or intimidated of their new environment? Whatever “too aggressive” means, they are always grateful when Nigerians show them the ropes, helps them out of difficult situations and introduce them to wider circle of benefits.
Within the African continent, to be a Nigerian is to be a pariah. In Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya and other East and Southern African countries, they speak and think of the “monsters and crooks” living in their midst. Some Africans are not happy with the fact that Nigerians have a huge presence in their educational, business and medical system. That Nigerians are the Nouveau riche in some of these African countries is also a source of concern.
What is it about Nigeria and Nigerians that vexes them? Nigeria is not a global hegemon. We neither invade nor occupy other lands. We do not have expansionist tendencies. We are not even a crusading nation lording over the West African sub-region. We have mostly helped, and have been a good neighbor. By and large, all we have done is help other African countries in terms of their economy and or political independence. Even though Nigeria has her own problems, she continues to expend time and energy and other resources on fellow African countries.
We do for them what they otherwise cannot or would have found difficult to for themselves. Without Nigeria, close to 35% of sub-Saharan African countries would have found it difficult to gain independence or even be in existence today. Nigeria remains the lifeline of several African countries. Since 1970 or thereabout, Nigeria has spent billions of dollars towards peacekeeping and economic and political stabilization missions. In addition, thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives in the service of these countries.
For all Nigerians have done and continue to do, is these all we get? Scorn and ridicule and hate? But really, what did Nigeria and Nigerians do to our Black brethrens in the Black World to warrant the hostility that is generally directed at us? What’s their problem? What are the source and/or the justification for the hatred?
That a few Nigerians — as is the case with citizens from all parts of the world — are involved in 419 and other criminal enterprise does not give anyone the right to lump all Nigerians and give us false label. Oh no! There is another irony, though: No matter what they say and/or think about Nigerians, they usually do so with some measure of respect, admiration and wonder. After all, Nigerians, for the most part, are simply forward-looking, envelope-busting, frontier-pushing, and barrier-erasing and are an enterprising group of people.