By Maryam Na-Allah
In the international community, the image of Nigeria is almost always negative, so when one identifies as a Nigerian, the impression is automatically negative. Six decades after independence, there is still a sense of captivity among Nigerians: a sense of power derived from foreigners over our self-image.
On an international level, Nigerians are often perceived in suspicious manner by foreigners who associate us with a negative stigma. Nigerians abroad often suffer mistreatment because they are viewed as corrupt or criminally inclined; a nation plagued by violence, crimes, poverty, Boko Haram, poor governance and kidnapping, among other ills.
Despite many stereotypes and vices associated with Nigerians, there are many talented and hardworking individuals, both in Nigeria as well as in the diaspora, contributing to international development.
Foreigners automatically view Nigerians with suspicion as a result of the Nigerian image being frequently perceived as negative internationally. Negative stereotypes are often more persistent than positive narratives as even in journalism parlance, bad news is said to be good news…
The problem is compounded by some unscrupulous Nigerians who engage in money laundering, internet scam, arranging marriages with grannies just to get papers and other illegal and unethical indulgences. Innocent, law-abiding Nigerians are unfortunately at the risk of stigmatization, needless arrests and possible incarceration owing to the actions of the few criminally-minded compatriots who are destroying the reputation of the country.
A host of vices such as racism, xenophobia, and prejudice are perpetrated against Nigerians. Immigrants generally are not always welcomed into host countries, where they are accused of robbing jobs, benefits, and spouses.
Moral compass and culture vary greatly from country to country and city to city depending on the countries or cities you visit. This is due to the general mentality and culture of those places.
On the bright side, Nigerians are known to be smart and intellectually ahead of their time. In addition to being strong, fun to be with, and business-oriented, Nigerians are also described as innovative, resilient and capable of excelling in the most difficult circumstances. From Canada, to US to UK, a lot of Nigerian men and women occupy vital elecive and appointive offices and they contribute to the enviable, relative good governance in those countries.
It’s no secret that Nigerians are everywhere. In a study done by Rice University in 2020, Nigerians living in American were found to be the most educated African Immigrant group in the country. President Barack Obama, many years ago, also confirmed to President Muhammadu Buhari, that there were over 240,000 Nigerian medical doctors helping to stabilise the the country’s healthcare system.
Nigerians overseas are seen as either threats or assets. Some Nigerians are also highly respected for their work ethic. What makes us stand out is our confidence, attitude, joy, adaptability, resilience, and dedication to work. The preferred option for most Nigerians may be travelling abroad. For some individuals, earning a legitimate income may not always be possible because of unfavourable conditions.
Factors Promoting Negative Perception
The media plays a major role in determining how a country is perceived.
There is a lot of misinformation about Nigeria published by the foreign media, which emphatically focuses on its negative aspects while ignoring its outstanding characteristics, such as being the giant of Africa and the largest economy on the continent while accomplishing more than any other African country in terms of innovations, human capacity and capability.
Nigerians too have a caustic tongue and are too sharply divided across primordial fault lines. So some Nigerians are of the habit of destroying their leadership and country on social media due to political disagreements with sitting governments. How you describe your home in front of outsiders gives them a mental picture of what your home is like.
Again, Nigerians are never left out of the spotlight when a crime takes place overseas, which speaks volumes. The few bad eggs whose white-collar crimes have attained world class standards, have done incalculable, reputational damage to the country’s image. This unfortunate reality affects numerous innocent Nigerians who do legitimate businesses and who are in overwhelming majority.
By fixing the broken systems (Healthcare, Education, Infrastructure), the Nigerian government can help to improve the image of the country. The bitter truth is that no serious country respects a massive country like Nigeria whose leadership and corrupt elite rely on it for their health care and education of their wards. The contempt is worse if the President of the most populous black nation on earth and his immediate family are often in the UK for routine check ups and to treat headache, nose and ear infections. Nothing could be more embarrassing!
The Nigerian government needs to make security agents aware that not all successful Nigerian youths with dreads are into fraud. They need to act swiftly and decisively when Nigerians in the diaspora are being unfairly treated. They also need to provide jobs to qualified children of nobodies without seeking bribes or imposing other conditions.
In changing the course of our story, the Nigerian government, as well as the media, has to play a crucial role in changing narratives, and the media, in particular, must project Nigeria in a more positive light. But how? We should highlight success stories more often than failure stories. Positive broadcasts indicate that a country is not unattractive despite its negative aspects.
This is also an encouragement to other Nigerians to strive for excellence in legitimate ‘hustles’ for the country to enjoy international goodwill and a positive public image. This is a responsibility shared by the government and the citizens. They can also be worthy representatives of Nigeria in the finest way they can, manifest the true beauty of Nigeria (culture, food, happiness) and treat one another with kindness, as well as they treat foreigners.
Nigerian citizens at home need better systems, necessary infrastructure, enabling environment and a conscious national policy on human capital development, to support their growth and for them to be able to live their dreams. Going abroad should be a matter of choice, not a matter of compulsion or desperation… If Nigeria is made to work for all and opportunities are evenly and fairly distributed, the best and most vibrant of our youth would stay here and make the country better and competitive. Our brain drain would then change to brain gain.
It is essential to rectify the unfortunate profiling that has persisted for so many years. Due to a lack of willingness to engage in frank dialogue, cultural criticism, and self-reflection, the imperial West has been able to carry Nigeria’s impoverished state along until today.
The Nigerian government has its challenges, in terms of finding a decent life and befitting future for over 200 million people, most of whom are youths, in the midst of declining revenues and finances. But which country does not have its fair share of challenges?
Nigerians in the diaspora are subjected to the same ill-treatment as their counterparts at home by Nigerian embassies. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should sponsor summits for embassy officials to learn that they serve the Nigerian people and not themselves. The Nigerian people, both in Nigeria and abroad, deserve the same value and respect as the people in other parts of the world.
The behaviour of the few minorities is used as a periscope for the majority Nigerians. It is imperative that we address and correct the awful treatment of Nigerians by Nigerian missions abroad. It requires deliberate political will on the part of the government as well as concerted efforts on the part of the people. The aim of this is for Nigeria to command respect at home and abroad.
Nigeria indeed proved itself to be a worthy opponent during the UK Covid-19 red list controversy. By speaking out firmly against the UK decision and forcing a reversal, Nigeria proved to be real Giant of Africa. That firm, impressive manner in which the Nigerian government engaged its UK counterpart made its citizens and also all Africans, home and abroad, very proud indeed.
The Giant of Africa needs to keep up this remarkable momentum.