I spent the better part of last week with a lot of non-Nigerians at the World Economic Forum and I always like to use that as an opportunity to sample international perceptions of my dear country. It helped a lot that there was a large African contingent there, which for me is usually better. Other Africans are close enough to Nigeria not to be too influenced by the international media. But they are also far away enough from Nigeria to have a non-Nigerian perspective.
Interestingly, the first few people I asked seemed to have very positive things to say about Nigeria. Words like; ‘extremely enterprising’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘hard working’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘resourceful’; were thrown around by the Ghanaian, Tunisian and South African I had a conversation with. The overriding theme was basically about the never say die spirit of the Nigerian. What caught my attention was the one thing they had in common with us. Nigerians always say; “If you go anywhere around the world and you don’t find a Nigerian, leave.” Turns out, that’s a popular saying in all of their countries.
The Ghanaian talked about how he tries to keep a lot of Nigerian friends in Accra seeing that he gets to learn a lot from them on a daily basis. He complained about the average Ghanaian’s very slow attitude to money and blamed it on the constant push by their leaders for conformity instead of encouraging people to think outside the box. At one of the sessions with African Heads of State, they needed a few young people to ask a question. I stood up and threw the first one at the 5 heads of state present. Later on, people came to me to thank me for asking a good question. The Ghanaian said, “I almost asked a question too”. We both laughed and he said; “That’s Ghana’s problem. We think it but lack the will power to follow through. The Nigerian never holds back.”
There was a lot of talk about the social scene in Nigeria too. They particularly loved the nightlife in Lagos and actually agreed with ‘Banky W’ that there “Ain’t no party like a Lagos party.” Well, even I had to agree with them after spending a night out in Addis Ababa and listening to the club DJ play American music mostly from the last decade, with club patrons spending an average of N2000 per person; a clear departure from the champagne life in Lagos.
But no, it wasn’t all positive feedback. I met a Kenyan and threw the same question at her and she started; “I once visited Malaysia with a group of Kenyans on a business conference. One day we stood on the road and waited for a taxi. The cabs would slow down to pick us up. Then upon getting to us, they would speed off. This happened for almost an hour and we couldn’t understand why. At some point, I thought it was because we were black. Eventually, one of the taxis stopped and as soon as we got in, we had to ask the driver why no one had agreed to pick us up all this while; and he said it was because they thought we were Nigerians. Turns out Nigerians in that country have a habit of going into taxis and leaving without paying. That was my first impression of Nigeria and it has unfortunately stuck with me ever since”
I know there is a large Nigerian population in Malaysia so it was pretty easy for me to believe her. I went on this long explanation about how there were too many Nigerians to go round. With 160 million resident at home alone and an equally large population in the Diaspora, all it took was for 1 million Nigerians to be bad and the entire population’s reputation was ruined. Not minding the fact that 1 million represents less than 1% of the population. As much as a lot of them recognized the fact that our population is our biggest asset, it was obvious that the negatives that come with it can also be a huge problem.
Talk about Nigeria’s infrastructure couldn’t be avoided either. Many complained about our international airport, the roads and traffic in Lagos and of course power; all issues Nigerians complain about too. There is no doubt that these issues need to be fixed because all it takes is a one-day visit to the country and you would have experienced all of the above. No amount of international posturing and marketing can hide the fact that a lot of these things don’t work back home.
The biggest point I got from all the talk is that the Nigerian people are a positive. They give other Africans hope for the continent and really do inspire a lot of them. Government’s inability to perform their duty on the other hand is our biggest problem. That is the reason why infrastructure is non-existent. That is the reason why there’s overriding poverty, which then leads to people running out of the country and getting involved with desperate measures in foreign countries jut to get by. Hopefully one day, we will wake up to a government that recognizes where its strength lies, and decides to harness it properly. Hopefully…
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.