Abuja - Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, has picked up quite a reputation as the epicentre of international vice.
But this has left some Nigerians seething with anger and striving for ways to repair their soiled international image.
Nigerians interviewed in Abuja, Lagos and South Africa's economic hub, Johannesburg said the onus is on Nigerians to show the international community that they are not all depraved.
"The best we can do this is to be well-behaved wherever we settle and join hands with locals and help fight crime.
"We should be part of neighbourhood crime watch organisations, for example,” says Emeka Osodo, an information technology expert Abuja.
Instead, Nigerians are better known for creating scams where a victim receives a letter or email making an offer that would result in a large payoff for the victim.
The scam has evolved with technology over the years with the perpetrators stealing vast sums of money from unsuspecting mobile phone and internet users.
Victims receive notifications that they have won huge amounts of money from a purported competition their mobile numbers were entered into: To claim the prize, they have to deposit some money into some account to release the prize.
While the scam is not limited to the West African country, Nigerians are largely associated with this type of fraud.
More chillingly Nigerians are perceived as drug lords, a claim most Nigerians in Abuja and Lagos refutes, blaming the media for this.
"If you take a close look, most Nigerians are God fearing! We have Christians on the one side of the country while on the other side we have Muslims, but the two groups both belong to God, so I don't really know why the world is always treating us (Nigerians) with suspicion," said Uche Okwonkwo, a pastor in Abuja.
But Uche's views were vehemently dismissed by Nwora Oliseh, an information technology expert, who said Nigerians were hitting the charts in Africa and beyond for committing cyber-crimes.
"We Nigerians are enemies to ourselves hence we are being treated with great suspicion. Only recently, the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Nigerian National Assembly, passed a bill which will clearly state the category of punishment for those who use computers and other ICT devices for criminal activities.
"This on its own is a clear admission that our people are serious when it comes to committing cyber-crimes," Oliseh said.
Last year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reported
288 arrests related to cyber-crime while 234 other cases were still pending in courts due mainly to the absence of an enabling legislation to prosecute the cases.
Nigerian criminal groups are being accused of being heavily involved in drug trafficking, around the world. Nigerians peddle the highly-toxic and addictive heroin, mandrax and cocaine.
Corruption is also rampant in the country with Nigeria ranked a lowly 143 out of 182 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2011.
"It is no secret therefore that these are among other devious schemes why nationals from that country are treated with suspicion wherever they go,"
said Lerato Mashudu, an IT expert based in Johannesburg.
"For example, at some airports and some countries’ points of entry, Nigerian nationals have complained their rights are violated as they are subjected to more thorough searches than other nationals.
"The public’s perception of Nigerians is no different here in South Africa where millions of foreign nationals have migrated to in search of better economic prospects," Mashudu said.
Rogers Chimeize, a Nigerian national who runs an internet café in the densely-populated and crime-infested Hillbrow suburb of Johannesburg believes it is unjustified to paint all Nigerian nationals with the same brush.
“People tend to generalise that all Nigerians are criminals but that is understandable,” Chimeize said.
“However, not all of us are criminals. It is not true! As one can see, I operate an internet café which employs some people. I should also point out that I am trying my best to eradicate fraud with a stern warning against such activities. Once I suspect a client is up to no good, I notify the police.”
Chimieze said through informal businesses such as his, Nigerians were not only creating jobs, but also contributing to the economic development of South Africa.
“We are doing that through the taxes that we pay to the South African Revenue Services,” he said.
If there is any positive stereotype describing Nigerians, it is that they are good with computers.
“Through such internet cafes, we are helping bridge the digital divide that exists locally and enable clients to communicate with their loved ones that are scattered across the globe.
"Our internet services are cheap and you no longer have to own a computer to access the internet,” Chimieze said.
While some Nigerians have gained international infamy for dabbling in crime, Ini Dominic, imports clothes that she sells at her small Inido Boutique in Yeoville.
“I think it is all about stereotypes that sees the international community treat us with suspicion. However while I concede some of my compatriots are involved in fraudulent activities, which I do not condone, crime knows no race, creed or nationality.
"I think to change the world’s perception of us, we should give back to the communities where we operate through charity work,” the Suleja-born said.
Perhaps Nigerians should heed the call by the country’s Vice President Namadi Sambo’s when he addressed Nigerian nationals in the coastal city of Cape town ahead of the last month's Global Africa Diaspora Summit South Africa hosted.
“You (Nigerians) have the responsibility of being good citizens. We expect a lot from you; to be good ambassadors of our country in your host country,” Sambo urged. - CAJ News