Saturday, February 24, 2007

I had a conversation with a wise man Friday evening and a topic that we frequently talk about came up. Why is it that in Nigeria, we tend to trust/prefer white people over our fellow Nigerians? Some of us truly believe that anything good stems from 'white man's magic'.

Let me offer an example, I once visited Ikoyi Club in Lagos with a cousin of mine. We wanted to sit by the pool and order some lunch but were told to wait. As we were standing there, this young white man, probably not more than 16 at the time, came behind us. The same host that just told us to wait, ran up to said white man with a huge grin on his face and seated him promptly. My cousin lost it and made sure to let the host have it. After all, there was only one other couple seated when we arrived, so there was no issue of there not being enough seating. Anyway, we chose to leave and go somewhere else.

This happened when I was 11 or 12 years old. Although, that was a century ago, things have not changed. There is a distinct distrust of fellow Nigerians and their ability to do things by our people. Companies will bring IT specialists from India or England rather than tap into the capable resources they have on staff or at least in the country. Have you ever heard of Americans bringing Australians to fix a problem? I know I have not and don't envision ever hearing such in the future.

It is amazing that many of us have this "White is Right" mentality. Actually, I should term it a 'Nija is not Right' mentality. We rather be accepted by foreigners than by our own people. This attitude is causing serious problems for Nigerians. Foreigners look down on us and even our own 'leaders' consider their people to be inferior. I recently read an interview of Ibrahim Babangida, AKA Maradona, in a new 'celebrity' magazine called Eminent. Here is an excerpt of the interview.

Q: Would you want to believe, as some of your critics are wont to, that you failed as an administrator when you were in power?

A: We did not fail; there was just a change of approach during our time. People were used to relying on the government for everything. We tried to change that. Our focus was on making the people rely less on the government and those who were prepared to work were able to make it while those who refused went down.

I do not know who Maradona knows, but all the Nigerians I know, regardless of their status in life, are and have been extremely ambitious and illustrious. As a people, Nigerians have a strong desire to work hard and provide for family. This drive, I have argued, is part of the reason why we have corruption because Nigeria lacks the structure to reward such determination with legitimate pay. Our teachers teach students without getting paid. Civil servants work without receiving their salary. We are not a lazy people. If anything, our fault is that we are too trusting of our 'leaders' and elders and thus do not expect them or require them to be accountable or responsible for their actions and inactions. If an aspiring Presidential candidate does not realize the key qualities of Nigerians, how can we trust him and others like him to hold the reins of power and lead effectively? If Maradona could flippantly make such comments to a Nigerian interviewer, only God knows what he says to oyingbo people. Please don't get me wrong, I am not damning all foreigners. It is the Nigerians with severe inferiority complexes that I am criticizing. If anyone wants to criticize white people and blame them for anything, well, they are free to do so. I however, am simply concerned with our role in the problem.

Is there a solution to this 'white man's magic' mentality? I believe so. We can remedy this situation in a myriad of ways. Parents, please demystify white people for your children. This is the 21st century, Nigerians and other Africans are very capable, well educated and well intentioned people. Yes, there will be exceptions but they are simply exceptions. Their inabilities do not represent all Nigerians.

As a people, we must remember the ideals of Pan-Africanism - cooperation and unity amongst African peoples regardless of tribe or religion. How did we forget to rely on each other? To encourage one another? To pull each other up and not pull each other down? It is downright depressing to see Nigerians not taking advantage of each other's skills and expertise. I for one can say that my insurance agent is Nigerian. The cleaning service I now use is owned by a Nigerian. The store where I buy my yam and plantain is African owned. I seek out my people as much as I can and try to patronize their businesses. Of course, if a Nigerian fails to offer good service, their Nigerian origin is not a reason to continue to do business with them.

There must be a continuous and concerted push by those with a public voice to reinforce the capability of Nigerians. I can point you to blogs online that specifically focus on highlighting the skills of our people. In Nigeria, the push must be even stronger. I must note however, that there are several Nigerian enterprises that have begun to focus on our skills as individuals and as a people. We must change the psychology - looking at people like Maradona, it is clear that our 'leaders' will not take the initiative any time soon.

My point is simply that, as a people, we must remember that we can only rely on ourselves to improve our lot. No amount of 'white man's magic' can solve our problems without commitment and cooperation amongst ourselves. It is only Nigerians, with conviction and confidence in our abilities, despite our failures, that will turn Nigeria into a place we can and will all be proud of.

6 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Dami said...

nice write-up!
it's so bad that you can notice it at our own airports,they frisk,shake u and question you until you bring out some cash, but the white boy even gets escorted to his car.same as the hotels

Anyway ive learnt how to make molotov cocktails.being second class in my own country is not it!

Nilla said...

Yeah, we really need to lose that "White Man's magic" mentality..

Nice one!

Hope you're having a great weekend.


@ Dami: Molotov cocktail, keh? Abeg oh! Make you no vex too much!

Liked your note about the airports and hotels. Made me wonder whether having anti-prejudice laws on the books could make difference someday in curbing outright prejudice towards your own kind.

@ Nilla: I'm having a cold, snow packed weekend. The kids love it - playing in the snow. All I can think of is how soon it will melt. Enjoy your weekend as well.

Waffarian said...

I guess its because we don't trust our own knowledge! we are used to someone else telling us what to do, taking the initiative is always a problem. I remember in secondary school, we were never rewarded for taking initiative, instead, the teachers asked:" who told you to do that?" "who sent you?" if you could not come up with a reasonable answer, you were punished.We need to rely on our knowledge more and stop waiting for others to make simple decisions for us.

Omodudu said...

Well written, I am on this side of the fence. Thanks for coming by my blog.

nneoma said...

my dear, i should really take a Saturday afternoon and go through all your archived posts - i have missed so much. just a random point before i comment on the meat of the post:

"Have you ever heard of Americans bringing Australians to fix a problem? I know I have not and don't envision ever hearing such in the future."

Americans do this all the time - Microsoft is petitioning the government to soften its immigration policies so that it can hire more skilled foreigners (namely Indians). Mexican immigrants are literally imported into the states to "fix" our problems - the need for cheap labor. But, this type of importation of talent is VERY different from what we are seeing in Nigeria because in Nigeria it is indeed an inferiority complex.

"we must remember that we can only rely on ourselves to improve our lot."

It's funny because my dad, brothers and I were talking about this in the car on our way to church today. My dad stated - "Only Africa can deliver Africa."

In regards to your personal commitment to making use of Nigerian services and products I applaud your efforts. I wish such thinking was popular (kind of how like people in the US feel patriotic when they were a Made in the US brand rather than Made in China). I think this could come from our Nollywood industry. I cringe when I read interviews of Nigerian stars who detail all the foreign designers and perfumes they patronise. I would even be more comfortable if they patronised a South African or Kenyan designer and made it cool to do such.

As to the mentality. I think we are slowly getting there. I'm incredibly proud when I see some of our politicians were traditional wears to foreign outings or in their job posts (the only problrm is that the material was probably manufactured in China...sigh). I think the more popular figures in Nigerian media embrace this idea of Afrocentrism (like Dakore, to some extent), the more people develop pride in home grown items. Another example is Nigerian furniture. Who in their right mind (except for those with an extreme inferiority complex) would import furniture from the white man when some of the most beautifully handicrafted pieces can be found on the streets of Umuahia or Aba (I'm sure there are other places in Naija, but these are the ones I am familiar with). I think there will be a time in which there is a preponderance of evidence that Nigerian made materials, ideas, and man power is just as good or even better than foreign ones and that people will slowly have to let go of their whiter is brighter mentality.

If we want to speed up that process I think that we all will have to do our part to over-advertise the Nigerian brand (whether products or people). If one person fails us and does a bad job or is corrupt, that is just one person down and 139,999,999 people left to make use of their services.

I know, long commentary, but since this is a post from 07, I don't think too many people will complain...

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