In Defense of Nigeria:
Amidst the Feasting Of Critics
By Oliver O. Mbamara
It is no news that for a good part of the few decades after Nigeria’s independence, Nigeria and Nigerians have become easy targets of negative criticism
bordering on corruption and fraudulent activities. In fact, many critics so desire to feast on anything about Nigeria and Nigerians that they are sometimes impatient about being adequately informed on what they criticize. These critics range from individual commentators, Television, Radio, and print media around the world. A recent example is the news report that was ran by CNN about fraudulent Nigerians in America. Nigeria’s Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mr. Frank Nweke (Jnr.), recently called on CNN to correct the impression created by the report, which he said had criminalized and demonized the image of the country.
Unfortunately, in a case like this, a retraction or even an apology will hardly retrieve the
damage already meted on the image of Nigeria and Nigerians by such report. One cannot help but wonder why a news agency/network like CNN which reaches millions of viewers worldwide would air some news report which its presenter actually termed ‘A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.’ Why carelessly tarnish the image of a nation with its estimated 150 million people based on some unfinished report and impressions derived from a mere transcript that is inconclusive and therefore clearly lacking in authenticity?
Could this be because Nigerians have learned to roll with the punches delivered by such endless barrage of negative criticisms? On what did CNN base its sense of judgment and fairness in running a news report, which suggests that Nigerians in America are mostly fraudulent people? Could it be that the folks at CNN believe they could do such damage against a nation and its people and get away with it? Could it be that Nigerians themselves have given the world the impression that it is okay to say anything evil about Nigeria and Nigerians?
On the face of it such criticism of Nigeria(ns) may seem justifiable in view of the fact that some Nigerians are apparently involved in corruption and fraudulent activities, but on a closer look, it is indisputable that many Nigerians abound in the majority who are well to do, decent, respectful, and disciplined individuals. Many Nigerian writers (including yours sincerely) have pointed this out through several papers and lectures but on the other hand there are quite a good number of Nigerians engaged in the endless, exaggerated, and sometimes overblown free-for-all negative bashing and criticism of Nigeria(ns).
While criticism of such issues could help in finding resolution for them or in preventing a repetition, it becomes counter-productive when such criticisms become unguarded and excessive without recourse to fairness and without regard to certain underlying implications, which could (and do) boomerang in the long run. Check out present day Nigerian newspapers, online magazines, as well as papers delivered by Nigerians around the world and you will find a staggering percentage in the amount of Nigerians freely engaged in the endless bashing of Nigeria(ns). Sometimes these critics pitch their tents against anything Nigeria and zealously engage in pummeling Nigeria’s image with such reckless abandon and disregard to the tenets of respect and forgiveness so significant in native Nigerian culture(s).
Many of these critics are the first to argue that all “wrongs” must be exposed and/or criticized as a way of fixing them or curtailing any further occurrence. Yes, this piece does not advocate that corruption and fraudulent activities should not to be criticized. However, there is concern when critics do not know when to draw the line between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Usually, a critic who is motivated by some ulterior or self serving motives, would be the first to tell anyone who cares to listen that he (the critic) is being patriotic or trying to serve the public interest. Those of us who belong in this category of somewhat-zealous-critics-circle, fail to see how our criticisms have been propelled by self-serving motives. We criticize the opposition; we criticize the other tribe; we criticize the other race; we criticize the other gender; we criticize the opposing political party or individual; we criticize a policy that does not favor us; we oppose a government that does not consist of those we prefer; and so on. Through it all, we forget the importance of objective criticism devoid of bias, fear, or favor.
Many Nigerian critics are quick to cite the experience of developed nations as examples of where outright criticism of corruption and/or fraudulent activities help check the trend of corruption and bad governance, yet they fail to note the innumerable times the critics of such developed nations have drawn the line where counter productivity or unpatriotic results would set in. Furthermore, we fail to note how seriously these nations take criticisms that attempt to insult their entire populace and governments. Imagine how the United States of America, Britain, China, Japan, France, or Germany would take an unconfirmed report suggesting that most of its citizens in America are fraudulent people.
The case of Nigeria is perhaps even more offensive when one considers the fact that Nigeria has the highest (or at least, one of the highest) percentage of immigrant professionals in the United States of America today. For a test, choose any prominent immigrant city or state in the United States of America and go through their list of immigrant employees in the field of Medicine, Law, Engineering, Sociology, Administration, etc. Are these Nigerian Lawyers, Doctors, Nurses, Engineers, Sociologists, Health Aides, etc., all fraudulent individuals?
Like every regime, the present regime in Nigeria may have its weaknesses, yet one cannot deny the fact that the level of effort being put in Nigeria today towards fighting fraud and corruption is one of the highest levels we have seen since the nation became notoriously bedeviled with corruption in many high places. Many have maintained that the government is being selective in its fight against corruption. However, without taking sides with such opinions or even the government on the issue, it is not in doubt that in the history of Nigeria since independence, we have never seen a time when such number of public officials have been held so accountable like the present day Nigeria.
Many critics maintain that some political god-fathers and flamboyant socialites suspected of corruption and fraudulent activities are still roaming the streets of Nigerian cities yet it must be pointed out also that a number of erstwhile untouchable politicians and socialites including those even in power have either being arrested or made to account for their actions even while still incumbent. There is something about human reasoning that would make the world expect all culprits to be brought to book promptly, yet it will not be fair to dismiss the efforts of the government so far in bringing some culprits to book regardless of how minute the effort might appear. Since such effort has not been made by previous regimes, one must encourage the present effort as a step in the right direction.
To expect an overnight “cure-all result” would be like expecting an overnight peace and harmony in those countries and territories of the world presently engaged in war and violent conflicts. It could be offensive when the acts of a few Nigerians become the basis for condemning the good works, honor, and integrity of the majority of Nigerians or their government.
Nigerians may not conveniently expect non-Nigerians to respect Nigeria if they (Nigerians) are at the forefront of smearing Nigeria’s image with incessant negative criticism. Nigerians will not expect better when they are the ones setting up yahoo groups and forums mainly devoted to the bashing of fellow Nigerian scholars, politicians, government officials, and anything Nigeria. Such negative use of thought-forms and mental energy could be put to better use.
Experience has shown that those who devote most of their time criticizing others are actually unable to make any good difference in the state of things they always criticize. Usually, such critics are so preoccupied and focused on criticism that they never have the time to do anything better to improve the situation they so endlessly criticize. Many of these critics tend to have the best of ideas, but they are nowhere to be seen when the chips are down. In some instances, the few critics who have been put in position to fix the situation they formerly criticized, come to appreciate the reality of the situation – to criticize is easy but to do the work is a different ball game.
In February 2002, I wrote an article titled: - Of
abusive language and unguarded utterances in which I called on
Nigerians to respect their leaders even when they wish to criticize
their policies. In the same piece, I asked – “Does one's point loose
its weight if it is made in a polite manner? Or is there an assurance
that the person being berated will get to read a write-up or listen to a
comment only if the comment insults and abuses him or her?” In the
same piece, I further stated – “This trend of abusive language is
also noticeable in rejoinders and comments to articles between writers.
My understanding is that the purpose of writing is to educate, inform,
or enlighten the reader. This objective seems abandoned when we (the
writers) get locked in a battle of egos to know who is more
grammatically correct, better read, or learned. The problem with that is
that the reader stands a chance of being misguided by cheap words thrown
like missiles between such writers.”
In 2003, I wrote an open paper on a related topic titled: - ARE
WE ASHAMED OF AFRICA? (Answering The Call). In it I pointed out
that “Many Africans in Diaspora continue to excel in their various
fields of endeavor whether it is academics, business, administration,
arts, or otherwise. Yet, some choose to remember Africans only by the
occasional negative news that hit the Television or Radio transmitters.
Pictures of war torn societies, starving children, and dilapidated
suburbs are the kind of coverage Africa gets in the world media.
Unfortunately, negative news travels faster than good news, and it
definitely leaves a stigma even after the news seemed to have passed.
Consequently, some Africans in Diaspora are reluctant to say that they
are from Africa when asked where they come from. It is that bad.”
In September 2005, I wrote a piece in commemoration of Nigeria’s
Independence anniversary. In the piece titled: - “Judging
All By The Acts Of A Few "Bad" Eggs; How True, How Fair, How
Natural?” I stated – “An independent survey has revealed
that the negative image conferred on Nigeria as a nation (or on
Nigerians as a people) is as a result of the negative acts of a very
minor percentage of Nigerians. Probably, many of those who share the
impression of Mr. T are not aware of such surveys or they prefer to
disregard them. It is a fact that in most cases, these critics have
never been to any African country. So, why would they base the criticism
of Africans COMPLETELY on the impression of what was and is being read
or heard in the news? This might seem to be begging the question, but
again, except for their dwelling on prejudice, it is hard to seriously
blame such critics since they are mostly working on what they have been
fed about Nigerians and Africans, which incidentally overshadows the
In October, 2005, I followed the preceding piece with a second part
titled: - Independence,
A Few Bad Eggs, And Many Unsung Heroes (Judging All By The Acts Of A Few
Bad Eggs) In it, I stated as follows - “Incidentally, there
will always be African leaders who make news by their unfavorable
leadership styles and perpetual hold to power. There will always be that
minority Africans or Nigerians who will continue to tarnish the image of
the majority who live good, respectable, and honest lives. Since news in
the West is mostly about NEGATIVE REPORTING (meaning headlines are
always based on negative events) the majority of Africans or Nigerians
who happen to be upright will continue being in the background and
unheard of while the few that are involved in fraud and corruption will
continue making the headlines and attracting comments.”
It is important to maintain that neither in my previous pieces on this issue nor in this one do I condone corruption or the fraudulent practices of some Nigerians or Africans. In fact I have written several pieces on corruption and fraudulent activities. We have space to cite just only one (the rest can be found by doing a search on my name at
www.Nigeriaworld.com, google.com, or msn.com).
Under a section titled: - Addressing The Menace of "419"
Schemes: Is It Objective, Biased, or Hypocritical? I stated as follows:
“This piece does not in any way condone bribery, corruption, or fraud
of any kind including the popular 419 schemes (obtaining by false
pretence). In a previous paper, I had explained that the victims of 419
schemes could be paying for their greed when they get coned or deceived
while life has a way of making the fraudsters pay for their acts even
long after they think they have gotten away. It is indeed very worrisome
that the media and some analysts only see the menace of 419 from a
perspective that paints the fraudster as the devil. In majority of the
cases, 419 schemes will not thrive if the victims have not been
motivated by greed and the desire to obtain quick wealth that they
neither labored for nor deserved. As they say, “it takes two to
tango.” This broader perspective of analysis continues to be avoided
by the media and analysts of this endemic problem. Could this be a case
In parting, let me repeat my conclusion in a previous but related piece: - “Individually, many Nigerians and Africans embrace the responsibility latent in being Africans and Nigerians. It is a dual world and there is always another side to every perspective or situation. Dwelling only on the condemnation of others will inevitably shut off one’s ability to gain from the beautiful sides of the thing or person so condemned. Accepting one’s self and position is essential towards self-improvement. I am learning that it is somehow satisfying to take no sides but to remain in the middle by seeking to address or appreciate issues with such forthrightness that neither dwells on the negative nor the positive but a balance of the two. In the end, it is all about the balancing of accounts, the journey of life, and the learning process of Soul."
Oliver O. Mbamara, June 2006
Article - Judging All By The Acts Of A Few Bad Eggs;
ARTICLES BY OLIVER O. MBAMARA
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THE AUTHOR: Oliver O. Mbamara is a New York State Admin. Judge.
He is also a filmmaker, writer, poet, and playwright. For
more on Oliver Mbamara, please visit www.OliverMbamara.com