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Nigeria’s image problem

September 21, 2009

For anyone who has seen the hit film District 9, it’s no surprise a Nigerian minister would be upset by it.

The science fiction film, set in South Africa, is an allegory on segregation and xenophobia, with alien life forms cooped up in a township of the type that grew up under apartheid and victimised and despised by humans of all descriptions.

No section of human society comes across particularly well, but the Nigerians are crudely caricatured as gangsters, cannibals, pimps, prostitutes and dealers in guns and addictive drugs (in this case cat food). The gang leader’s name sounds exactly like the surname of Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

It’s just a film of course and the slurs needn’t overly detract from the entertainment. (They didn’t for the Nigerian half of my family anyway).

But this does raise a question as to why Nigerians should be seen as fair targets and casually turned into comic book gangsters? Would the film makers have got away with showing other nations or groups in this way? Would they have feared the backlash?

It also raises the question as to what Nigeria can do about really changing its image – beyond rebranding and advertising campaigns.

It could be argued that the immense and undoubted talent of law-abiding Nigerians, the vast majority at home and abroad, does not get the recognition it deserves in the rest of the world despite the acclaim for the greatest Nigerian writers, musicians, footballers and athletes.  Nor may the sacrifice of Nigerians who have given their lives as peacekeepers in Africa and elsewhere.

But we can’t forget that there are still plenty of Nigeria’s 150 million people who have no qualms about giving their country a bad name.

What about the Nigerians imprisoned in Asia and Europe for smuggling drugs? The ‘419’ fraudsters with their email appeals? The kidnappers and oil thieves of the Niger delta? Those politicians who rig elections with fraud, intimidation and bribery? Those officials who see their positions merely as a chance to fill their boots and may be all too ready to subvert the courts or obstruct people struggling to do business fairly?

And how can Nigeria’s image improve while it cannot regularly light up the homes of its people – despite enormous energy resources and billions of dollars spent?

Does Nigeria suffer unfairly from an image problem or will it improve its image once it deals with its problems?


Every decade there is another group that is targeted as “the enemy”. No one has slipped under the raidar, from the Soviet Union, to the Japanese. Currently, many Nigerian’s are creating the problem of their negative image. Just the other day a friend of mine made a call to rent an apartment. The person posting the apartment, turns out was pulling a sham and….turned out to be calling from Nigeria. My friend was new to the United States from Germany, she had only heard of such scams, but quickly learned that they are everywhere in the US. Maybe the Nigerian president should pull his country together and reform some of the serious problems. Poverty creates theivery.

Posted by CC | Report as abusive

are the Nigerian bad actors any different from the bad actors from Mexico, England, U.S, Pakistan, Italy, Israel, Russia, and other countries.

any well-meaning human being understands wrong when it sees one being perpetrated. it should be apparent that the evil described as apatheid, that separates men on the basis of color, has continued to spew its offensive venom by separating men on the simple basis of geography. the victims of apatheid consist of both the oppressed and the oppressor, both of them needs help.

there can be no artistic value expoused by a deranged mind. if you place any value on this film, you may as well need psychiatric help.

of a slightly similar specie is Ahmadinajd, who in his contorted mind, invites arguement on the numeric number of Israelites gassed by Hitler, as if there may be justification for one Israelites gassed.

Posted by Yinka O | Report as abusive

I have been to Nigeria several times. It is not always easy being there, but it is Africa, and I love that continent. Most Africans either love Nigeria or hate it. Many Africans hate when Africans are stereotyped, but they readily accept the stereotyping of Nigerians, in particular. I do not know what Nigerians can do to improve their image. But I believe everyone can improve themselves by refusing to stereotype others.


I’m sure it’s a great country in many ways; I’ve traveled to other parts of West Africa several times. But I was advised not to leave the Lagos airport during my stay there. I grabbed a Mountain Dew for one naira and stayed up talking with an Egyptian diplomat who had participated in the Darfur talks in Abuja. Next morning, purchased a fresh copy of the Vanguard and continued on toward Accra.

Maybe work on giving out-of-towners some reason to stay longer and check it out?

Posted by Chuck | Report as abusive

Thanks Norm Allan! Well said.

As for CC and Mr. Tostevin, what do you mean by stating that MANY Nigerian are creating the problem of their negative image. How about a minuscule amount. Stop with your generalizations they do nothing do perpetuate a wrong cultural stereotype.

Posted by Yemi | Report as abusive

I have not seen District 9 but I have heard a lot about what it depicts of Africa’s ugliest giant. Virtually everything word and phrase on the Tag line is truely discriptive of the country, and that is why it is the most corrupt, dirty, backward,violent, and poorest oil producing country in the world.

The reason things are so bad in what’s supposed to be the pride of blacks all over the world is in the ill-conceived federal system the people inherited from the British colonial administration.

The system was setup in such a way that the heavily populated but unproductive north lords over the highly productive south for survival. The northerners call the shots, and with the connivance of some greedy southerners loots the nation’s treasury with reckless abandon. And with a huge, poor and growing population the ordinary people, mostly the southerners had to resort some very criminally ugly and dangerous methods to secure their own survival.

Even as you read this piece, the northern elements are busy intimidating, maiming and killing my people,the people of the Niger Delta, to dispossess us of our God given resources to develop their arid lands while we are left in abject poverty.

The Nigerian nation is gradually marching into its grave in disgrace. The African continent would be better for it when Nigeria ceases to exist.

Posted by Tomo Spiff | Report as abusive

Who cares the whole world is a corrupt entity, i dont see anybody talking about the Madoffs, Enrons and all the robbing bankers that have put the world on the verge of collapse. Scam emails started well before Nigerians knew what scamming was all about, infact the biggest scams can be traced to the world bank policies, the IMF and its SAP program, what comes around goes around.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

tomo, I myself can’t wait until the nigerian continent ceases to exist. not a day goes by that i don’t see the consequences of our evil and corrupt government. sometimes I think maybe it’s in out blood, maybe we cant help it. sometimes I think we should all drown ourselves in the ni6ger delta, and relieve the world of our worthless existence.


I am from Nigeria and I enjoyed the movie. I am constantly offended by how Nigeria is portrayed in the US Media and I commend the author for pointing out the great things Nigeria does for the continent and the world as a whole. You have to remember though that South Africans have issues with foreigners in the country and a good number of Nigerians do very well for themselves there. The interesting thing though is that South Africa comes off looking worse than everybody in this movie!

Posted by LA | Report as abusive

In response to tomo spiff. While Nigeria has its issues I think it is despicable that you would say something so vile about the country that essentially acts a ‘bib brother’ in Africa. If not for Nigeria, Liberia and amany other countries would still be ravaged by war. So consider the good things about the country before you say such vile things.

Posted by LA | Report as abusive

n!gg3rT!tZ you are a disgrace to your family, yourself and to humanity. No place like home my deluded friend, you may want to cease to exist but Nigeria would live forever sellout.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

i dont know what ur name is nigga3 the other person said u re a disgrace to ur roots and ur generation,ur country at large.spitting that thrash out of that gutter u call a mouth…definitely there re some bad eggs in nigeria and abroad but u can label all 140 million people as thieves and fraudsters.truly nigerian.

Posted by adam | Report as abusive

If the Nigerian government is so upset about it’s people being portrayed as fraudsters, why have they taken so little action against the criminals who mail confidence trick messages worldwide, and have done since the 1970s? Yes, it’s a minority, but the portrayal has been going on worldwide for a long time, with Nigerians as the perpetrators. Stop whining about games and movies and put a stop to the relentless spamming by the villains.

Posted by Digital Wombat | Report as abusive

Nigeria needs serious help. The people are docile and needs someone to fight for them. The leaders know there are no helpers, so they thrive in thievery and impunity. The youths of the land are left to their own devices. What do you expect from a nation with the highest unemployment rate in the world (more than 90%), no social security net, where pensioners are made mockery of and government officials and politicians flaunt their stolen loot while the same oppressed people applaud them and readily make themselves available as ready fodders for contrived violence? God help Nigeria.

Posted by Paul Ndu | Report as abusive

Digital wombat have you got proof, you say these letters started since the 70′s. Nigeria was economically content in the 70′s and if you went and researched your false accusations properly you would find out that scam emails had hit the scene before Nigeria even knew the meaning and that it originated in the West, emails from Canada and co advising of Lottery winnings. Your ignorance is not allowing you to engage your brain. It is a world wide problem and it is being perpetrated by a various nationalities. Get your facts right before running your mouth.

Posted by Nduka Tolefe | Report as abusive

The West has built this perception of Nigeria as a country of scams and organized crime. If you at looked CPI (corruption percepetion index) Nigeria is considered as one of the most corrupt countries in the world but there are other countries such as Bangladesh who are ranked even worse but do not have this image. I think the Media ( not the emails you receive) in the West has important responsibility for creating and fixating this image . Don’t get me wrong , Nigeria has a lot of issues regarding fraud and organized crime but other countries have similar issues nut do suffer from this image.
Of course, when you have comedians, movies, TV shows (which are now followed by the world) “innocently” joking about scams from nigeria, then of course you are perpetuating this unfair image of Nigeria


It is unfortunate that all should be tarred by the actions of some. No country is perfect but Nigeria is always being singled out. Media prejudice obviously come into play. Nigeria must however focus on the things that matter. The following piece looks at how to achieve real independence through the ICT sector: e_ict_nigeria.html

Rather than moan and complain, the solution is to do something. Get practical. The media can’t be influenced by talk. And what is paramount are not these misconceptions. Nigeria’s focus should be on improving critical quality of life issues like infrastructure, employment, health and education.


Jidaw, I do agree with you and moaning and complaining won’t bring anything. However we have to lobby to change this image as it is hurting development in the country. You can’t easily build infrastructure, improve health and education if your country is perceived to be a heaven for organized crime by investors, companies and entrepreneurs. There is a cost of a bad image to the ability of country to develop. Lobbying reduces that cost and Nigerians with their diaspora should lobby to overturn this image. Of course, It should improve education and the judicial system to have stronger backing for their claims.


It would help if they weren’t having civil wars every moon…

Posted by KK | Report as abusive

I think the problems is not either the North or the South and criminality is not the property of any ethnic nationality, but the problem is inherent in the blood of Nigerians. Imagine that the President was sick for more than 4 weeks now and neither the National Assembly or the PDP party who have stolen the mandate of the people to fill properly, the power vacuum created by the ailing president. So how can the image of this kind of nation will be revamped. To me the possible solution is to follow the Dale Davidson and William Regmore model “megapolitics of society, violence as catalyst of change”. If we the citizens not wake up from our sleep and attack these criminals from looting our country and sending their children to study abroad, we will never change the system. We are so docile. So stand up and fight them with every power that we have.

Posted by Balambo | Report as abusive

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