African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria’s image problem
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?