By Frank Garriba in Abuja, Nigeria
Nigeria, most populous black African country with 162 million people (2011 estimates) the country can rightly be described as Africa’s troubled giant. Though a lot of positive things can be said from and about Africa’s sleeping giant, it is usually in the news for the wrong reasons. An Al Qaedda inspired Islamic rebellion led by a secretive group Boko Haram north of the country is literary tearing the country to pieces. Nigerian fraudsters are well famous but who really is an average Nigerian? The country has produced two of the most brilliant literary minds in the continent in Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe (Late) of Things Fall Apart fame, some of the best musicians in the continent from Fela Kuti (Late) to P Square; and then, the sleepy national team of Nigeria, the Super Eagles against all expectations, were recently crowned African football champions.
So you get the good, the bad and the nasty all from Nigeria.
We asked our Special correspondent in the Nigerian capital Garriba Frank, to do us a report on just who the average Nigerian is. His findings will shock and delight you. Read on.
Compared to neighbouring Cameroon where I Have lived for sometime, life in Nigeria is bustling. The people are creative, fascinating, hardworking and annoying all in the same breath. Cameroon is dead meat compared to what happens here.
In the fight to survive the daily grind of life, strange things happen in this hugely populated country, some so strange that I even fear to mention that here. My fascination with Nigeria is from what I can describe as the “split personality” of an average Nigerian. You want a bad president, I will name you one, Sani Abacha, he was Nigerian. You want some of the most brilliant literary minds on earth, I will name you two; Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Both are Nigerians. You want an infamous Ex minister who apparently escaped to London with the budget of an entire ministry, well Umarou Dikko is the name. In 1984, the Nigerian government failed to kidnap him from London and carry him to face corruption charges back in Nigeria. You want brilliant footballers, Kanu, Taribu West, the list is long. There is however, also a dark side to this country. It produces some of the best fraudsters the world has known.
The sages say, “give a dog a bad name and hang it.” Many people, particularly abroad have their negative stereotypes and doubts because of what they hear or read about the follies of many Nigerian men. Not only are Nigerians associated with blatant lie-telling, high-level cheating and duping (otherwise called 419), deceitfulness, unloving, unromantic, heartless, and void of conscience but also full of malice.
In fact, people with little knowledge of the typical Nigerian man thinks that Nigerian men have made themselves a bad name with many women and other friends, who claim to really be in some kind of Nigerian hell and I cannot escape.
However, according to Professor Dora Akunyili, former Minister of Information and Culture, the typical Nigerian is known to be very open-minded, free-spirited, truthful, and a real man. He has a wonderful mind and beautiful soul and is strong, patient, gentle, understanding, loving and long-suffering, not only with any inquiries about their lifestyle but also about their views on life in general.
As Information Minister, Professor Akunyili crafted the “Nigeria, A Great Country” slogan to change the mindset of people in the diaspora about the country. The rebranding programme sought to tell the world that the Nigerian man believed in the Lord and often spoke about Him, an attribute that was lacking in many people across the world. If the number of churches in a country is a good measure of the spirituality of the people, then Nigeria is the most religious country on the continent.
Prof Akunyili who has travelled extensively around the world, maintains that Nigerians are heroic lovers and that goes for both the men and women.
A majority of Nigerian families has men who are kind-hearted and caring. According to Prof Akunyili, there are good Nigerians in the world, even in the diaspora. She thinks that she has found happiness with her Nigerian man, who treats her better than her own kind, even though she adds that should things go awry after their wedding, she would just move on.
Where exactly did the 419 syndrome come from? Difficult to explain but when you have a nation of more than one hundred and sixty million people, the battle to survive will be tough. Most people will opt for an honest way to survive including working or engaging in some form of business. Others will just find an easy way out. They become “yahoo boys” and 419ners. (a reference to the Nigerian penal code that sanctions fraud) Some Nigerians are so adept at these fraudulent methods that police officials across the world and Interpol are permanently on a look out for them. Some get caught eventually, others don’t. They now operate from Nigeria and across the continent. Many people have now wised up to their vices and are prudent when dealing in any Nigeria related business. Some nationals will not touch anything connected to Nigeria and the country loses as a result.
Making money is also a major preoccupation of the typical Nigerian man, which, of course is not a sin. A Thai woman who is married to a Nigerian man admits: “Things were definitely hard in the beginning as we had to accommodate each other, especially where lifestyle and culture are concerned. An accountant by profession, making money has always been my husband’s top priority, hence I tend to feel neglected whenever he has to undertake big projects assigned to him.
During my research for this article, I came across this spirited defence of an average Nigeria. Titled simple, “Oyinbo, will the real Nigerian please stand up! the writer who signs herself as AA states; “In society, we are often seeking for a sense of belonging and a sense of identity that is usually defined through other people’s perception of us. To a certain extent, certain factors of our identities are passed down to us by default…For instance, on paper, I can be described as a black, female, Nigerian of the Yoruba tribe. However, none of these labels or even the labels collectively, accurately defines who I am as a human being”.
Though born in Nigeria, the writer left the country when she was only four. Now an adult, she questions her identity viz-a-viz Nigerians who are born and bred in the country.
Therein lays the dilemma of the average Nigeria. What other people think about you really doesn’t matter.
You are who you are; A Nigerian. Like all people on earth, you have a good, a bad and a nasty Nigerian. Where do you belong?
Please send us your comments about who you think an average Nigerian is