In recent times, there have been many stories making the rounds concerning Nigerians in the US and other parts of the world arrested for internet fraud or drug smuggling. The first list, from the FBI with photos of those arrested had names of mostly Nigerians from the South East of Nigeria, and immediately setting off a flurry of debates on Social media about certain ethnic groups with a predilection for giving Nigeria a bad name.
Not long after, another list of names, dominated by individuals from the South West came up, and the names thereof looked like the Southwest too were intent on giving Nigeria a bad name as well. With that list, a sort of balance was created, to mean that it was useless to stereotype criminality.
I was to find out about this several years back as a budding hockey player. Our Coach, Mr Osunde of the then Edo State sports Council first gave the hint. According to Mr Osunde, when you conduct sport activities locally and win, you are a local team. All that changes as soon as you represent Nigeria abroad. ‘You’re then first a Nigerian, second from Edo state and a member of your team lastly’, Coach Osunde told us.
And as a matter of fact after I travelled abroad to train as a journalist, I found out that I was often referred to as ‘Bob from Nigeria’, and not ‘Bob from XYZ Media house’. Part of the embarrassment that this created for Bob from Nigeria was that instead of staying put to complete the training programme, some of my fellow compatriots ran away.
Their action created problems for us then but we managed to pull through. For some of us, we decided to ignore the blight this created on Nigeria, and us and therefore resolved to give another account of Nigeria – of commitment – which some of our course mates eventually found to be a contradistinction to the Nigerian stereotype.
But in the long run, it was an encounter at the Nigerian Embassy in 2008 in Berlin at the Neue Jakobstr that revealed the other side of the ‘Nigerians’ committing some of these crimes.
That year, there were several complaints made against the Embassy, that instead of giving Nigerians the opportunity to renew their passports at the Embassy, a mafia group supervised by the Embassy was selling the passports to other African nationals.
The cost of selling Nigerian passports at that time to other African nationals was in the range of 400-500 Euros. We also noticed that most of the complains came from a Nigerian ethnic group known for travelling to Germany for trade in motor spare parts.
We decided to investigate, and visited the Embassy. A market square would have been better to describe what we saw there. The admin attaché, together with staff at the front reception paid more attention to the goods they were shipping overseas than to us. Well, we made a report, and much later learnt the ambassador earned a reprimand from Mr Yar’Adua. We cannot verify this but we understand that our report led to the overhaul of the entire process of issuing and renewal of passports for Nigerians in Germany. Visit the website of the Nigerian Embassy in Germany to find out.
The point we labour to make is from the author of The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsythe. In his The Odessa File (1972), we learn the strong lesson that a people are not bad but individuals.
What happened at the Nigerian Embassy in Berlin in 2008, with the alleged sale of Nigerian passports to other African nationals may have produced a species of Nigerians always putting us in bad light. If you do not believe this, we might want to be asking questions like: why are all the crimes committed by Africans abroad committed by Nigerians? Are we in other words accepting that there are no Ghanaian, South African, Angolan, Zimbabwean or Guinean committing crimes abroad?
The Nigerian government may want to work with the FBI on this. Nigeria has a basket with a few rotten eggs yes. Together with the hobbits these bad eggs have created, they give us a rotten halo. A forensic audit of our foreign missions and the processes involved with the issuance of expired passports to Nigerians abroad with expired passports will not be a bad idea.
Etemiku is Deputy Executive Director of the Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative, CERLSI.