Taxi drivers may be avoiding Nigerians for self-preservation. “We don’t want trouble,” they say. And they are more familiar with the Nigerian character than their compatriots in other vocations. Each one has a sad tale to tell about Nigerians. Tajjul, who drives his taxi in Kuala Lumpur said he once took a Nigerian lady who refused to pay the fare, instead, she invited him to sleep with her in her apartment. “I told her I was married. She said it didn’t matter. I told her my religion doesn’t allow it. She said she had never seen a man who refused sex before and was quite miffed that I could be faithful to my wife and God. Besides, I didn’t know the evil she planned for me at the apartment; she might have hatched something with her boyfriend.”
It is not only taxi drivers that see Nigerians as bad people, even landlords and agents have refused to rent their houses to Nigerians.
Nigerians in well-regarded universities on the other hand, are sheltered from this negativity due to the nature of academia. Professor Abdul Karim Sabo Mohammed of Universiti Putra Malaysia said members of the university communities are not easily swayed by stereotypes because they’re critical consumers of knowledge. “First, you expect academics who are engaged in teaching and research to be open-minded. Second, they have Nigerians on their campuses and can judge for themselves what the Nigerian character is. Third, when they read negative things in the media and find it quite incongruous with the honesty of the Nigerian on campus, they do ask for explanations from their Nigerian students. Thus, little by little, Malaysians are beginning to distinguish the good Nigerians from the bad ones.”
Professor Suleyman Muyibi of International Islamic University agreed with Professor Abdulkarim but he said the initial suspicion is not directed at Nigerians only. “There’s a general suspicion of foreigners. Thus one has to build trust gradually,” Professor Muyibi said.
In the universities, Nigerians, especially the postgraduate students, are in good standing. Recently, Universiti Sains Malaysia, one of the top four universities, advertised in Daily Trust seeking to recruit postgraduate students from Nigeria. This position is obviously informed by the work ethics of the Nigerians they already have, symbolised by the brilliance of people like Dr Aliyu Mohammed Paiko. “When Daily Trust reported about my winning multiple awards for my research, I showed the publication to my supervisor who was also the dean of postgraduate studies, she immediately promised to insert adverts in Nigerian newspapers to recruit new students from our country,” Dr Paiko said.
The perception of others and the subsequent treatment of Nigerians outside academia, is however quite different.
Nasir Musa said, outside the university, he doesn’t tell anybody that he’s a Nigerian. “I tell them I’m Gambian or Sierra Leonean or Sudanese. Outside the campus, I’m any national but Nigerian. Whenever I can’t avoid identifying myself as Nigerian, I tell them I’m from Northern Nigeria. Hopefully that opens a discussion on the dichotomy of Northern and Southern Nigeria. Moreover, to my knowledge no northerner has been arrested for crimes like 419, drug selling and cheating in Malaysia. All those we see their names in the newspapers are southerners. I don’t fail to point out this fact to Malaysians.”
While Nigerians hide their identity, other Africans feel insulted when mistaken for Nigerians. “I said Algerian not Nigerian,” Skandar, an otherwise phlegmatic Algerian, argued.
Encik Johari, a Malay, who owns a cafeteria at Univesiti Teknologi PETRONAS said he despised Nigerians for their rash behaviour. “Nigerians are bad, rough and loud. I don’t like them. I don’t mean you [pointing to our reporter] I know you’re good but Nigerians in KL are the worst Africans,” Johari said.
Regardless of the constant arrests by the astute Malaysian police, the virulent Nigerian criminals still abide. Recently, the chief of police said Nigerians have taken over the drug business from the Iranians. Selangor State deputy police chief Datuk A. Thaiveegan said penultimate Friday, a 23-year-old Nigerian woman, was arrested at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) when she tried to bring in 2kg of syabu (Amphetamine) worth RM500,000 (N26 million) in her luggage. Two days before, on 21 September, three Nigerian men were arrested in a hotel with drugs worth N13 million. And four days before that, on 17 September, a Nigerian woman was arrested at KLIA with drugs worth N40 million concealed in 600 sticks of lip gloss. This brings a total of Nigerians arrested in one week to five with N79 million worth of drugs.
The constant arrests lead some Nigerians here to believe that the high intelligence of Nigerians is overrated. Mahmoud Sodangi, a Ph.D scholar at UTP, said he considers Nigerian criminals quiet dumb. “Besides denting our image, the guys are also showing that Nigerians are not smart. The most important rule in the criminal world is ‘don’t get caught’ but these guys get caught all the time; where is the intelligence? Yet, many Nigerians believe the 419ers are smart. I’ve a message for them: get over it!”
It is not only in Malaysia that criminals portray egregious image of Nigeria but in the entire region. On July, 6 2011, our correspondent boarded the same flight with Nigerians deported from Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. India is also fighting interminable drug crimes perpetuated by Nigerians. This week, New Delhi deputy commissioner of police Ashok Chand, said they arrested two Nigerians for possession of 1.2kg of heroin. “The duo had concealed the heroin inside the seats of children’s bicycles and were planning to send it through the postal parcel service,” Chand said.
What is the image of Nigeria and Nigerians in the South East Asia? Diya’udeen Hassan of Universiti Malaya summed it up in one word: “Negative.”
Image not better in Africa
In Ghana, a sister African country, the situation is not any better as an average Ghanaian holds the worst opinion of the Nigerian. Here our nationals both home and abroad are accused of the worst form of crime conceivable. Quite a few though recognize the fact that not all Nigerians are evil and criminally minded. Although this does not detract from the fact that like other nations Nigeria is grappling with the unscrupulous activities of fraudsters, drug traffickers to mention just a few. Those, who maintain this line of opinion, actually do express their admiration for Nigerians for their dexterity, tenacity of purpose and quest to succeed despite the odds. But these classes of people are negligible. Indeed they belong to the elite class, open minded, exposed.
The looming negative image and stereotype is best expressed by Mr. Nana Poku, journalist and a Human Rights activist. He declared that he had never been to Nigeria in his entire life. His impression of her nationals is unflattering. He holds the view that every Nigerian possesses a high propensity for crime and should not be trusted. “I fear Nigerians. Every one of them is a criminal. If there is any one honest as you are laying claim to them you are just one exception,” he insisted.
Another respondent, Alex Mensah, who works as an attendant in a cyber café aligned himself with Poku’s extreme views. He told this reporter that he sees nothing good in Nigerians in his own reckoning. His grouse against some of our nationals is that they were too loud, assertive, and often difficult and loved to show off. “Also, some of them come here always posing, they will argue and my boss asked me not to accommodate them anymore,” he stressed.
Quizzed further to recount any ugly experience he has had with a Nigerian, Mensah recalled a particular incidence with a Nigerian, who had come to his place of work. He had requested to browse on the internet, promising to pay later. He was obliged. However, he revealed that the man reneged on his promise and has refused to pay his debt ever since.
That particular incidence left an indelible negative opinion in his mind about the dishonesty of Nigerians, he said. He said emphatically that there was nothing good about the nationals, as far as he was concerned.
Steve Owusu, another respondent, experienced similar ordeals in the hands of two Nigerian nationals. In spite of his displeasure, he still believes that making a sweeping generalization was out of place. “It is just a normal thing. There is nothing remarkably appalling about Nigerians. In every society there are the good and the bad. Some do nasty things; it is not exclusive to them. We have some of them here in Ghana. In fact, I once had a Nigerian friend, but he has gone back to his country now. He was very nice. He used to advise me like a brother would,” he averred.
Chief Ugochukwu Ugonna Felix concurred, admitting that there were indeed some bad eggs among Nigerians living in Ghana; however, he insisted that not all Nigerians were criminals.
Pastor Kamsey of the Assemblies of God Church, Madina, Accra debunked the allegations against Nigerians saying, “Oh not exactly, because I believe that in every strata of a society, you have some people who behave badly.” He maintained that he has never encountered Nigerians on the wrong side of the law, because all his transactions were with “those of the faith”. All I can say is that all my friends, who are Nigerians, are pastors. And I don’t have one as a social acquaintance. “Our organization has one Nigerian minister, whom we work closely with. We usually invite him for our programmes. He is a good man,” he added.
Narsh Alexi Smith, an upcoming Ghanaian movie star raised in the United States differed remarkably from the others respondents. He affirmed that he was unaware of the negative stereotype of Nigerians in Ghana. He believes that Nigerians are great and enterprising people, who have actually contributed to the growth of the Ghanaian movie industry.
Smith opined that a close collaboration between the two great countries will jump start the movie industry in the sub-region into something very big.
Mr. Bola Joshua Olalere, Managing Editor, Delight Publications and lead publisher: The Diaspora: Nigerians Making Impact in Ghana also commented. His message was more or less a caution. He did not debunk the fact that a number of Nigerians were living on the wrong side of the law in Ghana. However, he disagreed with the approach and attitude of Ghanaians to the debacle. According to him, it was wrong to generalize as there was still a colony of Nigerians legitimately contributing to the development of the country.
Chief Callistus Elozieuwa, the Chief Executive Officer of Candid Properties proffered another angle to the discourse. He averred that the stereotyping of Nigerians as corrupt people was a class issue. According to him, those in the lower strata of the society quite erroneously tend to denigrate Nigerians. But the elites, who were more exposed and enlightened, appreciate their contributions to the renaissance of the Ghanaian economy. “These people who call Nigerians all manner of names, who are they in the society? What is their level of education and exposure? What do you expect? Those who have seen our positive contributions to their economy are different. Is it in the area of banking, insurance, real estate industry and others are we not spearheading development in the country?” he rationalized.
Mr. Ogochukwu Nweke is a lawyer and one of the coordinators of Friends of Goodluck Jonathan for President. He is arguably one of the influential Nigerians in Ghana. He is an activist and plays a pivotal role in projecting positively the image of Nigerians in the Diaspora. He laid the blame for Nigeria’s negative image on the mischief of the international media, which he said takes delight in projecting the image of the country negatively. For him, the western press campaign of calumny was an affront to all Nigerians. “Do not agree with the lies CNN is saying. Somebody needs to hear our own side of the story. We need to reconstruct the image of the country. Don’t believe what CNN says, because it is not true. Don’t believe what BBC is saying, they are falsehood.
“Nigeria is not the most corrupt country in the world, America is, but nobody talks about it. Nigeria is not the most backward countries in the world. All these allegations are not true,” he asserted. Nweke berated Nigerians, who out of desperation to travel outside the country do fabricate stories of communal and religious clashes to facilitate their passage. He counseled them to desist from such unpatriotic acts, as their actions were damaging to the image of the country.
It would be recalled that on March 17, 2009, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja former Minister of Information and Communications, Professor Dora Akunyili, assembled top government functionaries, business moguls, diplomatic corps members and media executives to unveil another exercise geared towards revamping Nigeria’s dwindling image among the comity of nations. The campaign tagged Re-branding Nigeria project which still runs advertisements on various media platforms basically seeks to bring about attitudinal change, national reorientation and to revive Nigeria’s cultural values and to instill a renewed spirit of patriotism and hope in all Nigerians. However, it seems, Nigerians are still being viewed with negativity abroad.