I come across a lot of negativity about Nigeria from Nigerians both online and in my non-virtual life. It seems as though a lot of Nigerians believe that there is some fundamental flaw in the people of the country. There is a difference between drawing attention to poor governance or the other problems we see in Nigeria and sincerely believing that Nigerians are inherently damaged and incapable of redemption. It is disheartening to me that so many people fall into the second category.
I can point out several consequences of this type of thinking. The first is a pervasive sense of hopelessness that leads people to believe there is no point putting in any effort to do things. After all, it wouldn’t make a difference anyway. You see that attitude reflected in so many ways in Nigeria. Issues that could easily be solved by a sustained effort on the part of those affected are left to fester and turn into bigger problems.
Another is the inferiority complex that a lot of Nigerians harbour. We think that others do it better than us and as a result, we devalue what originates from us. We are all familiar with the preferential or discriminatory value (depending on what angle you’re looking at things from) which Nigerians place on people, objects and ideas based on their origin. This inferiority complex also causes us to ignore talent that is right under our noses. I remember seeing an interview with Chimamanda Adichie in which she essentially said that if she hadn’t won the awards she did abroad Nigerians would not have given her books a second glance.
Finally this myth of a fundamental flaw can lead to great disillusionment when Nigerians finally get into contact with those they were convinced are better than them only to find that they are just human. With this realisation sometimes comes resentment. It feels like they’ve been lied to when they discover that white people are not perfect. Indeed, white societies are not naturally more law abiding; they are that way because they have chosen conditions intended to foster that type of behaviour. Nigerians that live abroad might have heard sentiments similar to this expressed by older relatives.
‘So these onyinbo people are also corrupt and yet they talk as if we’re the only ones that do it. In fact, they are worse than us’.
Perhaps, people at home say the same.
There is no reason to think that the same things that motivate other humans around the planet are ineffective in the case of Nigerians. Yet this is exactly the conclusion that believing in this myth would lead us to. I have heard of American exceptionalism being the reason for the apparent American belief that their country is special and everything good is American. Well, I think Nigerians have our own version of that, except in our case, we believe that we are exceptionally evil. In fact if the devil did not already exist, a Nigerian would create one 10 times worse.
So this is my truth: Nigerians are as human as everyone else. Not aliens, not a mutant species, not criminally inclined (despite what you might hear) or naturally lawless and savage. I firmly believe in our humanity and that is what keeps me interested in what happens to the country. It is this belief that makes me hopeful that we can make a better country than what we have now.
I think that we can get set in erroneous ways of thinking because they are reinforced by everyone around us. Sometimes, we need to hear something different to make us realise what is wrong with the things we have accepted to be true. My challenge to anyone reading this is to consider the following question:
What do you believe about Nigerians?