Lagos - Nigeria's reputation as the home of financial crime, drug trafficking, kidnapping and cybercrime precedes its citizens across the globe.
They are perceived as difficult and risky people to interact with or conduct business.
Wherever they conduct business or simply visit, they are not readily trusted.
This mistrust has filtered to worshiping, where Nigerian church leaders are increasingly treated with suspicion.
In Tanzania, a Nigerian pastor, Chukwudi Okechukwu, who preaches at the Lord Chosen Church of Nigeria, has been sentenced to a 30-year jail term after being convicted of smuggling cocaine worth Sh3,1 billion (about US$30.2 million).
In Kenya, another pastor for the West African country has been exposed live on radio for his bizarre praying antics-sucking the breasts of women in his church in the guise of deliverance.
The church is aptly, for the wrong reasons, titled the Breasts and Honey New International Church.
While that trend appears new, some stereotypes have been in place since time immemorial.
At many airports, if one is a holder of a Nigerian passport, they are subjected to thorough searches which include some biometric checks.
Nigerians across Africa and the world are tarred with the same brush as agents of drugs, cyber-criminality, corruption, fraud and kidnapping.
As entrepreneurial as they are, a cloud of suspicion always hovers above their heads.
These are negative perceptions Nigerians, who come from Africa’s most populous country of more than 170 million people, deal with on daily basis.
While some have been proven true and other perceptions remain just that, there is no denying the entrepreneurial spirit among Nigerian nationals.
Africa’s richest man today, Aliko Dangote, is a case in point.
He runs conglomerate founded on the ideals of honesty, faithful and genuinely generating their revenue through best practices.
A survey by CAJ News Africa correspondents in East, West and Southern Africa established that while it would always be difficult shaking of the stereotypes, many Nigerians were doing their utmost and in the process empowering fellow African nationals.
One such successful Nigerian businessman is Kingsley Ibokett, who operates Raptor Printing Press in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Ibokett blamed his government for not doing much to spruce the country’s image abroad.
“I am actually disappointed with Nigerian Foreign Affairs and Embassies as they have done very little to project the image of lots of Nigerians doing very well in different countries outside of Nigeria.
"Thank you therefore for the opportunity to correct the impression and also express my view,” Ibokett said in an interview with CAJ News Africa.
He said instead of casting suspicions against Nigerians, he wished focus could be more on the giant strides Nigerians were making globally.
“An example is a Nigerian student who solved a 30-year Maths equation and broke academic record at a Japanese University just recently,” said Ibokett about Ufot Ekong, who studied at the Tokai University in Tokyo.
He pointed out the Vice President and Treasurer of the World Bank was a Nigerian (Arunma Oteh) while the President for continent’s important financial institution, the African Development Bank was also a Nigeria (Akinwumi Adesina).
Ibokett argued the stereotyping of Nigerians was a blessing in disguise.
“Nigeria has a bad reputation for a good reason, which has helped Nigerians double their effort positively in any task or endeavour whether studying, business or been in a professional service when outside of Nigeria,” he said.
“It would be embarrassing for any learned mind to think that majority of Nigerians are fraudsters or drug dealers. Negative stories from a very minute percentage of Nigerians sell faster than any positive contribution some other Nigerian professionals put into any economy around the world.
"Nigeria has the highest numbers of Black practicing Doctors in America and Europe, same as we can see in South Africa and in some other professional fields,” said Ibokett.
While the issue of cybercrime, drug dealing, corruption and kidnapping had dented Nigeria’s image internationally, Nigeria’s positive contributions outweighed these.
“Let’s use South Africa as an example. In year 2013 South Africa received 73 282 Nigerian tourists, which was a 13.8 percent increase from the previous year,” he retorted.
Thus, Nigerian tourists contributed a total of R720 million to the South African economy in 2013.
“That is only one area we are looking at. If one then considers the overall business dealings between Nigeria and South Africa, one sees the positives mindset about Nigerians are much greater than looking at a fraction of negative,” he said.
Ibokett argued that the Gallup polls in 2010 and 2011 found Nigeria to be the world’s most optimistic nation.
“Optimism has long been linked to happiness in psychology, and Nigerians tend to believe that though things may be bad, they’re looking up.
Nigerians being exceptionally happy is yet another piece of proof that happiness is completely about one’s mindset and not at all about the external world.”
He nonetheless urged Nigerians to work diligently to transform the image of the country in order to reflect the goodness about the people of the West African country.
“The good image and name of our country is a collective responsibility of all of us, which will derive from our actions and good behaviour. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy. It came about because of the Nigerian dynamism, discipline and resourcefulness,” said Ibokett of a country boasting a gross domestic product of $568,5 billion.
Abbey Adenigba, a property mogul with entities in his country, South Africa and Europe, believes such stereotypes are driven by an “inferiority mindset” by fellow African nationals.
“Most Nigerians are enterprise driven and not job driven. They can survive in any economy. The average Nigerian has a mix of academic prowess and inventiveness. They always aim to the top of corporate and market economy,” Adenigba, also a church leader said, albeit stereotypically.
“The hate scenario may be due to some Nigerians with weak attitude due to excess intelligence. Some prove to be too smart and become unethical. Some Nigerians may be out of control because of thirst for survival in other African countries where resources are limited.
"The indigenes of those countries hate Nigerians for the success they have achieved but in the same vein, some indigenes have loved Nigerians for showing them the way to prosper and put food on the table for their family in a difficult economy,” Adenigba told CAJ News Africa.
Maintaining he always tried to maintain his integrity and avoid greed wherever he worked, Adenigba urged African governments to tap into the expertise of Nigerian nationals.
“I believe there is potential in Africa, if the minority crime personalities can channel the energy into responsible ventures there will be prosperity. Africans should rise to the call for collaboration in all aspects of economic and social opportunities to create wealth,” Adenigba added.
He also urged governments to collaborate to eliminate such crimes Nigerians are ever perceived to perpetrate.
“Drug dealing is not limited to one African or any other nation, all routes of importation of drugs must be exposed and tougher measures imposed. I think the responsible governments should take initiative to deal with the crime by dealing with both the accused and the accomplices,”
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However, some Nigerian businessmen said some of their own were involved in crime hence some stereotyping had a basis.
A Kenyan-based Nigerian entrepreneur, Yakubu Okeke Enyeama, blamed fellow Nigerians of coming up with criminal schemes that have painted their country negatively.
“Nigerian criminals do their acts with passion and always inflict pain in their prey, hence the significant damage to our reputation,” said Enyeama.
Ikechukwu Victor Odegbami, a businessman in Uganda, concurred.
“Nigerians are the majority when it comes to committing crime in Africa and beyond due to their insatiable hunger for success,” Odegbami said.
With a population of 174 million people, more than Southern African countries combined, and double that of Ethiopia, the second biggest, Nigeria is by far the biggest country in Africa by population.
Some 17 million of these are estimated to be scattered around the world.
- CAJ News