Friday, January 8, 2010

What does it mean to be a Nigerian?

If there is one thing I have learnt from the Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab bombing saga, it is people’s perception of what defines a “Nigerian”.

I recall when the news hit the airwaves on Christmas day that a Nigerian has been arrested for trying to blow up a US airline. As expected, the public reaction was swift. However, many refused to believe a Nigerian will be involved in such a nefarious act. Even when it became clear that the suspect was carrying a Nigerian passport, few people were still sceptical. The reasonable for the scepticism was understandable. You will be stupid to assume that all holders of Nigerian passports are actually Nigerian citizens. In connivance with corrupt Immigration officers, foreign national have been fraudulently issued passport in the past.

It was not until the photograph and identity of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, as being the son of the former First Bank Chairman, was disclosed that the penny dropped (!). And just as a friend said during a discussion, if Umar AbdulMutallab was a son of a “Mr Nobody”, it is likely that we will still be arguing over his nationality. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the govt says, his father is an “illegal immigrant” in Nigeria.

Whilst we can all agree that religious extremism exists in Nigeria as witnessed in Boko Haram and Kalo Kato riots, however these extremist behaviours have never been exported outside the shores of the country. The consensus among the civil society is that a Nigerian will not die for anything, talk less of dying for nothing. Nigeria is often described as a nation of docile citizens. And this partly explains why our leaders have continued to rape the nation with impunity.

Many have argued that Umar AbdulMutallab cannot be classified as typical Nigerian because of the length of time he spent overseas. As we know, Umar AbdulMutallab received his post-primary school education in Togo and the United Kingdom. He was also reported to have travelled to Yemen to study Arabic language. So as far as most Nigerians are concerned, Umar AbdulMutallab hasn’t exposed to the traditional Nigerian upbringing. And considering the limited time he spent living in his home country, there was no way he could have been ‘radicalised’ in Nigeria.

The question for me then is, what exactly does it mean to be a Nigerian? What typifies a Nigerian citizen? What are salient characteristics of a Nigerian Citizen?

As I write, there are various online social groups vehemently repudiating the actions of Umar AbdulMutallab Farouk. For once Nigerians have come out in solidarity to condemn the action of this misguided individual. And in order not be labelled a ‘terrorist’ state’, there are planned peaceful protests across the nation and overseas to say that “Nigerians are not terrorists”. So if we all agree for once that we are not terrorists, then what are we?

Sadly, there seems to be an informal acceptance among “we” Nigerians that we are a nation of ‘scam artistes’. When Umar AbdulMutallab terrorist attempt was reported, I heard people say, “If it’s 419, credit card or money laundering, then it could be a Nigerian, but not terrorism”. So does that mean we’ve indirectly accepted fraud as part of our way of life? On one hand, when the western media portrays us as such, we cry to high heavens. However our lackadaisical attitude towards condemnation and prosecution of perpetrators of fraud, money laundering, and drug trafficking only confirms such views.

Let me pose these questions, if Umar AbdulMutallab was caught at a US airport trying to launder foreign currency, would that have drawn same local public reaction? What if he had been caught trafficking cocaine? How will the Nigerian public have reacted? How will the Nigerian public have reacted if he had been caught with fake credit cards and passports? Would we all have spoken with one voice that we are not fraudsters?

It is also convenient to say Umar AbdulMutallab is not a typical Nigerian because he spent most of his formative years overseas. However they are many Nigerian high-profile public office holders who share similar background with Umar AbdulMutallab. These so-called “big men pickin”, having spent most of their lives overseas come back to home only to be handed plum government positions. Some even ride into political offices on the back of their parents’ political clout.

Just like Umar AbdulMutallab, it will be right to say these big men pickin are also not typical Nigerians. However, they still engage in fraudulent and corrupt practices that are attributed to ‘typical’ Nigerians. How can anyone explain the reason behind this?

As much as we can all say “I’m a Nigerian and not a terrorist”, for me, a person is defined by his/her individual personality and not ‘nationality’.


Anonymous said...

It is very sad as a nation and as a nigerian. We have been turned to a nation of ridule without a leader . What a shame. I feel so sorry for the nation as a whole.

jimmy toriola

Anonymous said...

Too sad I stumbled upon this nice piece 2 years later. But it still makes lots of sense to me. I'm a Nigerian and I began pondering that same question (What does it mean to be Nigerian?) recently, And I really don't know where or whom to turn to for answers. But what I do know is that, a people who don't know where they are coming from, will never know where they are headed...

Gimem, Ottawa, Canada