It was the summer of 2011, I was about to commence my final year at the University of Middlesex; and this meant that I had to move to its flagship Hendon campus - Northwest of London from Oakwood, Northeast - to receive my lectures. As a result, I needed to secure good accommodation close to campus. I sat in my room at my uncle's house in South London where I was staying during the summer-break pondering what next to do... I had joined a few letting websites and was even a premium member of one, all to no avail. It was either that the flat-share was 'ladies only' or the studio apartment was way too expensive. Finally, I saw what looked like the ideal studio apartment; new, all bills-inclusive, close to campus and affordable. Crucially, it was 'posted 10 minutes ago'. I called the Landlord's number with all eagerness and the following conversation ensued:
Me: Hello, good morning. Am I speaking with Andrew, please?
Landlord: Yes please... about the flat right? Me: Exactly, I'm so keen on it (I stated with all encouragement). Landlord: Very well, it's still available, when would you like to come around and have a look? Me: I could come right away if that's OK with you. Landlord: Fantastic! let's meet up at the apartment in 3 hours, 1:45 precisely. The address is on top left of the ad. Me: see you in a bit......and then the dreaded question:Landlord: Sorry, one quick question, Where are you from? Me: Niiigeria (I tried to overcome my spontaneous hesitation). Landlord: kool... you know what? I'll advise that you come around tomorrow. 3 others are coming to have a look, and one of them is very keen. in fact, he is ready to pay today and move in asap. So,even if you come tomorrow. it will be at your discretion. is that fine with you? Me: ... Landlord: bye, thanks for your interest. I have to go now (he was gone before I could come to terms with the 'new' development, let alone respond).
I sat there, looking at my phone for one good minute, crest fallen, dejected, angry, tearful, as if the love of my life had just hung up on me. As I reflected, I started to recall instances where a budding conversation or relationship went cold at the mention of 'I am Nigerian'. Maybe, I was being retrospectively paranoid about those previous experiences, but I was certain that my search for accommodation would linger based on being Nigerian this time round. Any lingering doubt that that was the case was laid to rest when the same thing repeated itself once more as I continued my house hunting calls.
When my uncle returned from work later in the evening. He asked how far with my house hunt. I smiled and narrated my ordeal. he just burst into laughter and told me this story:
"A Nigerian once rented a whole flat purportedly for his family. After he collected the keys to the apartment, he sublet each of the four rooms to four different individuals at a rate that was 50% higher than the landlord's rate. For example, he rented the flat of £1000 at £375 for each room. Trouble started when he had a problem with one of 'his tenants' who refused to pay the hitherto agreed amount, because he wasn't servicing the apartment as and when due. Knowing that he could not legally eject the tenant, he resorted to using his duplicated keys to gaining access to the room and throwing his property out. The tenant reported to the Metropolitan police who then duly invited the original owner of the house after some investigation. Bottom line, after the Nigerian was detained, the landlord had to pay a hefty fine for renting to an illegal immigrant as a result of not offering him a tenancy contract that would have revealed that he (the Nigerian) did not have some necessary papers".
At this stage, the contempt I felt for Andrew gave way for empathy, my feeling of being victimized for understanding, and my anger refocused on my fellow 'omo Naijas' - especially the 'leaders'.
My uncle then said to me wryly: " there are more stories, but, wo Seyi, mi o fe ki o wa paranoid. Ma je ki n dampen spirit e, just keep trying" (there are other stories, but I will stop at this so as not to dampen your spirit)
I have been thinking about writing on this issue, but not until I had returned to Nigeria someday, I resolved.
However after reading this piece written by a Nigerian on his blog, "Why the stereotype? Fraud is not a Nigerian Nationality!" (www.emgfraudconsulting.blogspot.co.uk) I decided to write this piece. He concluded his piece by suggesting that we as Nigerians should tell our own story better and refuse to let others define our identity.
I agreed with the objective and spirit of the post but added that rather than see stereotypes as a cynical thing in its entirety, we should see it as a reminder and reflection of reality to some extent for the purpose of self-correction as individuals and as a nation. After all, stereotypes could be positive.
You can tell your story all you like, but people don't remember what you say you are, they remember what you do to them.
Another way to look at negative stereotypes is this: if your son steals in your house, you correct him and no one knows. However if he steals from your neighbour, the whole neighbourhood knows... and this is the simple reason why the atrocities committed by Indians and Nigerians for example in the western world get a lot of condemnation and coverage compared to when an English man commits the same offence.This is a part my reply to his post:
"I agree very strongly with the last line of your post which says 'we should tell our stories ourselves and better' My dissertation was about the "the portrayal of Africa(ns) in the British media and its effect on the British people's perception of Africa(ns)". My recommendation for the future was two-fold; one was that stereotypes are true to an extent, and that it was better that the Western media kept exposing the ills of Africa and its largely corrupt leaders, than have a situation just as it is today where majority of major media houses are owned by African politicians or associates, and only use them for propaganda - promoting their meagre achievements and going silent on their many sins.The other being that we have to develop our media in terms of professionalism, reach and objectivity to the extent that Africa has its own Aljazeera or BBC. so that we can have a situation where reportage of the ills of Africa is balanced with the coverage of the good sides..."
In my opinon, stereotypes are real and borne out of people's experiences and observations. They are not just imagined. What you can say it that they may not tell all of the story, they may be too generalized or that they are exaggerated.
Stories like that of Ibori who had been convicted of fraud, and pilfering while working at DIY yet becoming Governor of a state in Nigeria reinforce negative stereotypes. In fact, BBC depicted Ibori as "the thief who almost became Nigeria's president" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17184075).
These negative media stereotypes do more good for the common African than bad. Just imagine how bad elections in Nigeria would be without foreign coverage or observers. Our concern as Nigerians and Africans should be firstly, to clean up our acts as individuals, hold our leaders accountable so as to halt the trend where people troop out desperately to other countries (mostly the Western world) without the slightest idea of how to make a living (maybe they do actually) and as a result start to indulge in all sorts of unscrupulous trades. On the other hand, majority of the relatively few Westerners who go to Africa do so for tourism or expertise transfer. If we focus more on cleaning up our acts, the negative stereotypes will cease. After all, Eastern Europeans ladies are also reputed to massively indulge in prostitution in London, and Jamaicans are know for being physically very fast (Stereotypes can be positive).
In short, we cannot blame people for stigmatizing or stereotyping us. Instead of sulking or blaming people when they tell us 'who we are', we should instead look in the mirror and see if it reflects any different, maybe then we can refocus our anger at our fellow country men or successive Nigerian governments who continue to impoverish the people. Then someday, hopefully, " I'm Nigerian" would be less dreadful.
- Mr Imbuya
- London, Greater London, United Kingdom
- I believe that for individuals and nations to prosper, there is the need for creation of ideas, expression of such ideas and an exchange. "Out of the intangible comes the tangible. Material wealth is created from ideas; hence, ideas rule our world" - Sam Adeyemi. Africa does not suffer from a paucity of natural resources but the right knowledge to develop and sustain such resources. In other words sustained development needs communication (value orientation). An undeveloped mind cannot even maintain sophisticated inventions. My mission is to learn (research/mentorship) and also imbue people with my innate inspirational insights for self actualization. I therefore, describe myself as a Development Communicator - motivationals, advocacy, personal counselling, PR and image grooming and entertainment (Events MC). A graduate of Mass-communication (BSc University of Lagos), Advertising, PR and Media (BA Middlesex University, London)and Leadership (Daystar Leadership Academy), Seyi Imbuya is ready to imbue his generation. Some of my mentors are Dr Oluwole and Mrs Tokunbo Ogunsola (Parents),Arsene Wenger, Sam Adeyemi, Wole Olusola and John Maxwell.