by Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
Dept. of English and Literary Studies, BUK
On many occasions, Nigerians stand out among their fellow Africans. “Giant of Africa” is the enviable, debatable title of Nigeria due to its biggest population and economy on the continent, inter alia. It also used to have the mightiest military, for their numerous accomplished peacekeeping missions in other African counties like Liberia, Sudan, and Serra Leon. The Nigeria’s military is no longer, however, regarded as such, as they have yet to combat and contain the insurgence of the Islamists called Boko Haram within the country since 2009 and for the violation of civilian rights in other instances.
Nigeria is arguably roughly divided along religious lines. The North is predominantly Muslim, while the South is largely Christian. There are over 200 distinct languages, but only three (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo) are considered major. So, Nigeria is a country of plurality and complexities, if you will, shared by its more than 170 million people. This, unfortunately, results to some ethno-religious related conflicts here and there; hence a number of observers have on several instances projected the country’s breakup. The prediction has been proven unattainable; Nigeria remains one and indivisible.
As many Nigerians do these days, my brother’s confidant is hospitalized in Kerala, India. His debit card unfortunately got blocked. Kerala is very far from our state (Punjab), and I was tasked to send him money via one doctor at the hospital. There is a guideline that restricts a third party transaction of above Rs. 25,000 in 24hours. The rule is however circumvented by using different branches (of the bank), and so did I, for the money was urgently needed. I was unexpectedly summoned to the presence of the manager of one branch I frequented for crossing one Lac (i.e. Rs. 100,000) transaction within a few days. He asked of my identity and the source of my income. He visibly became more alarmed the moment I said I was from Nigeria and showed him my staff ID. He distrustfully nodded and added that I might be traced by some security personnel. I said I was ready and left.
While at the University, I narrated the story to my lecturer cum guide. She said that India had to introduce the regulation to curtail the activities of terrorists, and didn’t elaborate. I afterwards met an elderly friend and told him of the terrific experience. He blatantly said to my face that being Nigerian alone made me a suspect of many misdeeds such as terrorism (with reference to Boko Haram), fraud, drug and child trafficking, money laundering and, on a lighter mood, as he seemed to believe, closed the list with mentioning of Ebola!
That encounter reminded me of the days I used to go to the Internet café for an overnight browsing. It was around 2002-2003; Facebook and Twitter were then not popular, thus the most active chatting system was Yahoo! Messenger. Out of 10 ‘friends’ you would meet, only 2 or 3 would agree to continue chatting with you the moment you identify yourself as a Nigerian. Yahoo! Boys, a popular moniker given to the then highly dubious, mostly Lagos-based Internet nerds that numerously duped many foreigners millions of dollars, were very infamous. Therefore, many people were, some still are, awfully skeptical to do anything with any Nigerian online.
It’s nothing newsworthy nowadays to report a Nigerian being sentenced to death or for life in foreign countries, often Malaysia due to drug trafficking. It’s again no longer news to hear about a high-ranking public servant or a particular politician being arrested for money laundering or related crime in the U.S, Europe or Dubai. News from the country on Boko Haram attacks, kidnapping, corruption, etc is commonplace. But, truthfully speaking, Nigerians are not all just like that. In fact the people who subscribe to these transgressions are far less than minority. It’s again in the humans’ psyche to pay more attention to something bad than to good; something negative than to positive. People tend to remember Nigeria when the likes of Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, Michael Adebolajo, Alamieyeseigha, James Ibori etc are mentioned, but fail to notice that Aliko Dangote, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Jelani Aliyu, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, among others, are also Nigerians. It’s reliably said that in every four Africans one is a Nigerian. Therefore, the significant impact Nigerians have made onto the world can only be a topic on its own. It can’t be constrained here.
Thus, I couldn’t let that elder Indian friend go unchallenged, for it would have seemed agreeing with his belief in many stories. Millions of Nigerians within and outside the country by the same token condemn any wrongdoings perpetrated by their fellow countrymen as unreservedly as does anyone else. I then unhesitatingly, though lightly, retorted that all Indians are, or at least potential, rapists, and many others are prone to behave violently at a slightest religious provocation. He said “NO” with a glaring grimace. If this is not true, then his comment on Nigerians is equally not. He responded that yes he trusted me, but many others are not trustworthy. I called it a day.
With all due respect, it’s a shallow-mindedness and sheer ignorance to stereotype a people, not only Nigerians, as the same. For instance, torrential rain sometimes results to flooding that eventually causes destruction, displacement and even death. The same rain contributes hugely to farming that produces food for humans’ consumption. If we believe in the former story about rain, we will surely conclude that it is a curse. But it is not; rain is a blessing. No matter, therefore, what you heard about a people, don’t generalize them. After all, we are individuals. Don’t simply think we (Nigerians) all do the same things. Don’t just believe in the many stories you have heard, for it’s dangerous.
Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
Dept. of English and Literary Studies, BUK