Is Nigeria’s good side doomed by the ugly and the bad?
By Prof. Rosaire Obioha Ifedi
It must be me or it just seems Nigeria has been on the U.S. news radar a bit more than usual. Of course, it’s partly me because I’m a concerned daughter. Nonetheless, there’s something to be noted when at least four news features in the recent weeks on major and local news outlets have been about or on Nigeria(ns).
Hear, hear. A number of the feature stories brought warmth and smiles to my face. Stephen Colbert, as brazen and ingenuous as ever, always challenging our understandings of the status quo, brought to my attention FELA, the new Broadway special by Tony Award winner, Bill T. Jones, on Colbert Report.
In five short but riveting minutes, the story and music of the late Fela Ransome Kuti, one of Nigeria’s most outspoken and brilliant social and political critics, the son of an outspoken activist mother, and a rebel in his own right, was brought to life in Colbert’s studio. Nostalgia and pride intermingled as I watched this. Not being a die-hard fan of the late Fela, who as Stephen Colbert comically pointed out, was also known for his harem of twenty five or so “wives” and his pot-pushing and pot-using lifestyle, I was nonetheless initiated into liking his social commentary and music by my then boyfriend and now husband, Ifeanyi. When I met him years ago in Nigeria, he could pretty much sing, dance, and perform Fela’s politically-laced Afro beat music. Strange falling for by a then quiet safe Christian girl that I thought I was. But I digress.
From another news story my son ran to draw my attention to, I learned of some NFL players who were Nigerian-born or of Nigerian parentage and who were learning to give back to the communities that raised them. Not being a particularly attentive sport enthusiast, I joined the anchor of this show to admire the hard work of these NFL players. Many of them had grown up playing soccer but had then gone on to excel in American football. These Nigerians in the NFL engaged in medical mission trips to their homeland and their stories were refreshing, to say the least
I’ll come back to some other good stories. Backdrop to the ugly and bad. The infamous Nigerian 419 scams quickly dominate the discus. Every time I see or hear these stories, my heart cringes and I repulse. Of course, we argue that it takes two to play the game of deception and one should have no pity on the “victims” of “Help me swindle my government by carting off stolen monies” scams. It’s pointless to add the cliché that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But then again, the scam which we’ve been privy to through investigative NBC, CBS, and other reports may have started in Nigeria but have surely spread in global dimensions. Watch out for evolving forms of deception as in the new Landlord Scams.
The bad alias has stuck for Nigeria though. To then have “District 9″- a movie about aliens who invade South Africa – portray Nigerians as the only people who could relate to and do business with the aliens was logical and fitting to some and outrageous to others. The Nigerian government, we understood, asked for and received an apology from SONY Pictures. A government that had supposedly engaged in massive rebranding efforts could pat itself on the back at this laudable success of getting an apology, even though the damage had been sealed. I saw the movie “District 9″ at a theatre, well after the so-called apology had been rendered. How do you collect spilled milk? Should you even try if the milk is continually being spilled? How do you clean up and rebrand an image that defies rebranding?
This brings me to more of the ugly: To native Nigerians at home and abroad, there is certainly a growing level of despair. Turn to the investigative journalism website, SaharaReporters, and read a number of headlines and articles, and you will certainly come away with the conclusion that Nigeria is on the brink of collapse. Senator Russ Feingold, who had taken special interest in Nigeria, labeled her as a failed nation state, even as he continued to speak out against the Niger Delta injustices. Add to the level of corruption, the looting of treasuries by individuals at national, state, and local levels, the runaway crime with kidnapping of innocent citizens –prelates, commoners, politicians, and entertainers alike-, a looming political quagmire in the failings of the electoral process, and the picture of decadence continues to emerge.
Again, the question is obvious: If I stop at chronicling all that is wrong with this nation, am I just part of the problem? Could there conceivably be any iota of hope for this beloved country of teeming intellectuals, professionals, entrepreneurs, and genetically happy people? Of course, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Prize winner, and Chinua Achebe, the literary genius and author of the best seller, Things Fall Apart, have not stopped lending their voices to the conscience of a nation. This is a fact that belies the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of those educated who act more like the uneducated.
Again, when one takes a look at the story headlines, the educated elite are complicit in the corruption and looting of a nation; for instance: a Nigerian minister of education who throws a multi-million Naira party while the nation’s university professors and teachers remained unsalaried and unpaid for months.
The view of the uneducated intellectuals as part of the problem of not only Nigeria but of Africa as a whole is shared and growing
So is there any hope for this nation? Wait a minute. Chinua Achebe, in December 2009, convened a colloquium at Brown University to highlight among other things, the dire need for electoral reform and to set the country back on the path of recovery. Yes, at Brown University, but can we change Nigeria from afar? Would he even have had an audience if he were to call for these measures sitting in a Nigerian auditorium, say in Abuja, capital city of Nigeria? Very doubtful.
In spite of the bad and ugly –the scams, the corruption, continuing to fail efforts at democracy– individual Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora keep excelling in diverse ways. The Houston Area survey that reports Nigerians as “The most educated group in the U.S. / Houston” lends itself to some controversy, but many more stories of success are irrefutable as symbolized by a young promising attorney, Ms. Ugo Ukabam, recently named one of the 12 rising super lawyers in Minnesota.
As these ambassadors continue to show personal excellence in the Diaspora, their achievements and accolades pale in the backdrop of the ugly and dire predictions for the future of their homeland. Is Nigeria, therefore, doomed?