Reframing Nigeria’s narratives to non-Nigerians
To outsiders who have come in contact with Nigerians physically or virtually, Nigeria(n) means different things depending on their experiences.
In my short international travel experience, one of the realities I’ve had to get used to is the baggage that comes with being Nigerian. However, that baggage is not necessarily negative depending on one’s perspective. That’s where taking ownership, self-awareness and an understanding of certain underlying contexts come in.
I was born and bred in Lagos where I spent most of my life except for a 2-year sojourn up North. That experience served to shape my understanding of Nigeria’s unique contexts such as her history, diversity, agitation, and structure. It helps me navigate different situations where I encounter fellow Nigerians locally and internationally.
To be Nigerian abroad to an outsider is different. On the one hand, Nigeria needs little or no introduction given its status as the most populous black nation with over 180 million people, huge diaspora population of about 20 million, over 500 ethnic groups and languages, dominant entertainment industry among a myriad of other issues that are associated with her image. On the other hand, it requires understanding and patience in order to address the curiosity of some, allay the fears of others, rationalize special treatments and reconstruct our narratives.
As part of the US government sponsored YALI 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship program, I had the benefit of spending 6 weeks at Dartmouth College with 24 other fellows drawn from 19 African countries. It was a unique experience as it also exposed stereotypes about Nigeria(ns) that are no longer news to me.
In some instances, I found myself trying to help my colleagues understand Nigeria and Nigerians not from a defensive point of view, but by merely stating the facts, as I knew them to be. That meant taking ownership of her beauties such as Nollywood, Whizkid, Davido, Chimamanda but also ownership of the downsides. Taking ownership of Nigeria means representing the collectiveness of her diversity. Hence, as a Nigerian, I’m stereotypically the commercial Igbo guy, conservative Hausa guy or owambe Yoruba guy. I’m all these things in one when I share Nigeria with foreigners. Without wearing these hats, it’s hard to present Nigeria’s uniqueness and shaking off one for the other is to present a single narrative.
Often times, facts and context proved to be my best approach even as I owned up to harsh truths about my home country. I’m not a fan of sugarcoating the reality as I know it to be. Rather, about presenting a much needed balance. They helped with correcting misconceptions that were innocently stated. After all, it was for me an opportunity to learn and share. This exercise wasn’t limited to me. Rather, it was a reciprocated experience as I had the benefit of also learning from other fellows about their countries some of which I knew little about.
During a cultural event to the Dartmouth community, I touched on a point about Nigeria that I thought would help explain some of Nigeria’s issues. It expanded on a conversation I’d had with some fellows and Dartmouth students during fireside chats at different times.
For some, the diversity of Nigeria is often seen from the obvious — languages and customs — whereas the not so obvious can help people better understand some of our peculiar issues. I explained the diversity in ideologies such as success and leadership from a cultural perspective. I used that as a way to explain the dynamics that play out locally in form of ethnic tensions even in metropolitan cities like Lagos. In other words, those nuances that define certain ethnic groups and how they are reflected in local politics, economic imbalance, etc.
Nigeria is where I feel the greatest connection for obvious reasons: I was born in Nigeria, I live in Nigeria, my works with Genii Games are primarily based on addressing Nigeria’s problems as well as its potentials to impact the likes of my 2 and 5 year old nieces. That said, I’m still learning about the country especially from an historical angle, much of which underlies where we are today. Thus, my approach stemmed from a subtle challenge to the boxing of 189 million people under blanket stereotypes.
Also, I’ve seen firsthand from traveling that challenges are not limited to any environment regardless of the degree to which one views them. As with subjects around cultures, travel helps you contextualize issues and appreciate certain things that would ordinarily be overlooked. It’s these nuances that serve my approach in explaining Nigeria to a foreign audience.
In the end, Nigeria to the world is the Nigeria(n) that the world encounters virtually through her Nollywood movies, musical artistes, captivating literature etc. More importantly, Nigerian to an outsider is me and you when they encounter us.