Nigerians discuss their country’s image at forum

By Kwabena Opong

The Nigerian Lawyers Association convened a forum Thursday, June 27 in New York to discuss the pervasive negative perceptions and stereotypes about their country.  President of the Nigerian Lawyers Association, Nana Onuwa said in her opening statement that the organization seeks through such fora to discuss issues pertinent to them.  “The Nigerian Image in America: The Crisis of Representation” is the first of such fora, and the panel leading the discussions comprised Wale Idris Ajibade, Executive Director of African Views, Solomon Bakare of the Organization for the Advancement of Nigerians, Inc. (OAN) and Omoyele Sowore, founder and publisher of SaharaReporters.

Sidiq Wai, Community Relations Specialist and Policy Advisor to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who was invited as a keynote speaker, in a short address, told the forum of the need to address such issues. He added that it was unfair to dump all Nigerians into the same perception as frauds. He remarked that what affected one African country affected all Africans.  The issue being discussed was therefore not only a Nigerian problem but an African problem that should concern all Africans. Mr. Wai told the audience that he was running for the public advocate position and that he was the first African to take that chance.

Omoyele Sowore wondered why Boko Haram is considered as an internal matter by the United States in spite of its negative impact on the West African nation’s image. On the other hand one thing that must have dented the image of Nigeria, according to Sowore is the underwear bomber – the young Nigerian who admitted trying to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on an airplane in 2009. The young man known as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a student in a British boarding school who was arrested aboard a flight to Detroit from London trying to detonate an explosive in his underwear.

Wale Ajibade on the other hand bemoaned the lack of community concern on the issue of Nigeria’s image issues. He admitted that there are some bad nuts in the Nigerian community but there are some hardworking Nigerians too. The achievements and contributions made by Nigerians abroad are drowned out by the perceptions and stereotypes of scams and corruption.

Image issues cannot be limited to Nigerians in the Diaspora. The incidence of corruption in government and high places in Nigeria and the level of notoriety of Nigerian corruption put the country and its people at risk at all levels of human endeavor. The proportions of distrust of Nigerians the world over has reached alarming levels. Sowore mentioned the Emegwali scam as one such image denting issue. His SaharaReporters has debunked claims by Philip Emegwali that he is the father of the Internet.

While the panel was almost unanimous in its perspectives of the image issues about Nigeria, members of the audience held varied viewpoints. One such submission from the floor indicated that the Boko Haram issue has now been identified as an international problem and is being addressed as such. He attributed most of the stereotypes to the overwhelmingly negative press that comes out of the country. Before Boko Haram, there was IRA, but nobody regarded Ireland and Great Britain as violent places.

Poor governance is also to blame for Nigeria’s image. In many cases, it is obvious that government is  ignorant of its responsibilities. Solomon Bakare of the OAN was of the opinion that external pressure from such places as the United States needs to be applied to reduce corruption in Nigeria. He observed that Nigeria may be attracting foreign investment not because investors liked the country, but because they wanted to take advantage of a broken system.

The panel discussion was moderated by Abimbola Ishola, producer at CUNY TV.

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Posted by on Jul 12 2013. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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