Panacea for changing our battered international image
Some of us who are on the University of Ibadan Staff Club Whatsapp platform was recently bombarded with authentic and unflattering images of Nigerians being apprehended for criminal activities such as drug trafficking, Internet fraud, social security cheating and currency, and human trafficking. There are stories of unscrupulous activities of Nigerians in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, USA, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Czech Republic. Some of them are even waiting to pay the supreme price for their crimes in countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
In Kenya, one exasperated official had the audacity to call Nigerians rats who according to him are messing up the world as if Kenya is crime-free and a paradise on earth. This statement of the Kenya official and the recent one by South African deputy Police Commissioner are very unfortunate and they cast aspersions on millions of honest and hard-working Nigerians who abhor crime and criminality like leprosy.
Our present unsavoury image abroad should make all of us as citizens of Nigeria to have a deep introspection on how to refurbish the battered image of our country in the international arena. After all, we do not have another country that we can call our own. It is not only a few bad eggs among us that are suffering from this odium but all of us who have Nigerian nationality are also in this quagmire.
Nigeria came into existence in 1960 as a nation of promise with a lot of goodwill. As the most populous black country in the world, the country was looked up to as the hope of the black race throughout the world. With our population and natural and human resources, our country was destined to lift up the black race from squalor and under-development. This expectation was not lost to our founding fathers who referred to our country with pride and admiration as the ‘Giant of Africa’.
Unfortunately, this giant of a country wobbled badly at the beginning of its existence as a nation, as a result of searing political acrimony which culminated in an avoidable civil war. Luckily, the country survived the civil war with the slogan ‘no victor, no vanquished’.
The civil war and the oil boom that followed brought Nigeria to the attention of the whole world. The unbridled and unplanned spending of the money from the oil boom gave Nigeria the image of a careless spender willing to buy anything money could buy. It was then that our then military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon told the whole world that money was not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it and without batting an eyelid, he paid three-month salaries of the civil servants in some Caribbean countries. From the seventies, we got ourselves the appellation of people who are loud, carefree, spendthrift with a high dose of indiscipline.
34With the country awash with money from petroleum resources, Nigerians engaged in all sorts of unwholesome trading activities, such as buying and selling of every imaginable merchandise, importations of frivolous items from virtually all the corners of the world and smuggling of illegal goods and drugs. Foreigners also flocked to our country to partake in our false opulence and engaged in many illicit activities aided by unscrupulous Nigerians. In fact, Nigeria became a giant vanity fair.
The newfound wealth gave Nigeria a very high profile in world affairs and the country was able to play a very prominent and laudable role in the liberation of South African countries from colonial tutelage. The country also helped to dismantle the heinous apartheid regime in South Africa with our newly acquired financial muscle. We also made waves in the international arena in education, arts, and science. Our diplomats like, N. Ade Martins, Olu Jolaoso, Olisemeka, Sule Kolo and others were the toasts of the diplomatic world, while our top civil servants like Ayida, Asiodu, Damcida, Liman Ciroma and Ahmed Joda could be compared with the best in the world. However, despite these feats by the country, our national image nose-dived. The drug smuggling phenomenon which got traction during the seventies found ready accommodation in Nigeria.
In 1974, a Nigerian lady by the name Iyabo Olorunkoya was arrested at London Heathrow airport for drug smuggling and was eventually jailed for this offence. This singular event blighted the image of Nigeria internationally as a country with drug smugglers and from this time on, Nigerians were subjected to harrowing harassment and humiliation in virtually all the airports in the world.
To be continued tomorrow
Lucas wrote from Old Bodija, Ibadan.