Why Nigeria must wrest itself from western representation
On June 27, the FBI, an American intelligence gathering organisation, put up a public request on its official twitter page that the public should help with information on some wanted cybercriminals. The list contains 37 Arabs, 16 Russians, 20 Chinese and six Nigerians. However, the poster plasters the faces of the six wanted Nigerian cyber fraudsters at the top, giving them more visibility than others. They are made the face of cybercrime despite the number of Nigerians on the list being the lowest. It is not surprising that Nigerians are made the face of cybercrime in the FBI poster because that is the single-story they choose to narrative and feed the world. Nigerians are not even the ringleaders in cybercrime, they are just the flamboyant and reckless types who flaunt proceeds of crime with abandon and this is a reflection of a collapse of national values.
With the headquarters of cybercrime being jostled for by North Korea, China, Russia and America, the western mainstream media still let them off public consciousness and it boils down to the ingrained perception of the West towards Africa generally. For Westerners to feel morally and culturally superior, they must make themselves different from Africans as much as possible. It is what the late Nigerian-Canadian Professor, Pius Adesanmi, wrote extensively about in his life and what he called the ‘’oppression of image’’. The West creates an image for Africa, which in most times contradicts our reality and it systematically imposes this image through their well-oiled public institutions. The well-acclaimed Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adiche talked about this menace in her TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story.
In the Western imagination, Nigerians live a single story. Our reality to them is a single story of cybercrimes, theft, poverty, undocumented immigrants and corruption. It is a lie that the West parrot to itself to deflect their own institutional and social problems. The 37 Arabs, 16 Russians, and 20 Chinese are not considered criminal enough to be a representation for their countries because the lighter the skin, the less criminal you would likely be. The West understands that representation matters and that is why Nigerians, the more convenient examples, are scape-goated. The West needs to be tutored by African intellectuals and academics and they need to listen that their bias, racism and misrepresentation of African people are injurious and media sensationalism is not only wrong and harmful but it displaces Africa.
Nigerians are the most educated immigrant community in the United States and they are visible in key places in the American society as upright, achieving, law-abiding citizens. But America is not interested in them because they are deemed as the exceptions or the Americanised. It is now up to Nigeria to wrestle itself from the insidious imagination of the West and begin to resist the ideals, which are used in making us the contradictions. There are criminals in Nigeria as there are criminals in America, France, China and everywhere else in the world.
Criminality has no nationality and Nigeria – and the rest of Africa – should not be made the face of crime. We can begin by telling our stories properly, ensuring positive stories get sensationalised as much as the negative — a balance. Although, the West is not listening, we do not need them to listen. We only need to take control of our stories and ensure they stay in global memory through proper documentation. It is just sad that the biggest party who ought to take charge of the narrative is the most uninterested.
The Nigerian government does not understand the crucial importance of imagination and representation. The disinterest of the government costs Nigeria a lot. It is high time the government understood that Nigerians are losing out on the proceeds of global interconnection due to misrepresentation by machinery of western imagination. This single story has been left to grow and it has become our story and our identity. It is within the spectrum of this single story that we now live in as Nigerians. If we do not change it by seriously projecting the other side the outsiders are not ready to engage us with, we will become synonymous with a story that is not the totality of our reality but a fraction of it.
Adetayo, wrote from Ilorin.