Some years ago, a British filmmaker discovered an exotic site in Nigeria: An entire community of human beings subsisting on mountains of refuse.
And not in some remote state, but in Lagos, the country’s commercial nerve centre - a city of fast cars, luxury shops and sleek folk, with women in Brazilian hair weaves and men in Ferragamo shoes.
Shortly after the Welcome to Lagos series aired on the BBC in April 2010, Nigerians around the world went berserk.
"There was this colonialist idea of the noble savage which motivated the programme," Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said of the documentary.
"It was patronising and condescending," he added.
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK Dalhatu Tafida described it as “a calculated attempt to bring Nigeria and its hard-working people to international odium and scorn”.
Online forums also went ablaze. “They are giving us a bad image,” many Nigerians fumed.
Then the Lagos State government submitted a formal complaint to the BBC, calling on the organisation to commission an alternative series to “repair the damage we believe this series has caused to our image”.
These patriots were not distressed that their compatriots in the oil giant of Africa were living in such squalor - that development had somehow eluded those Nigerians.
They did not rally with cries of: “There are people in our country living like this? What shall we do? How fast can we act?”
No, no, no.
The majority of voices were harmonised in one tune: Anxiety over their country’s image.
when the West claps for us, we get excited.
When they tell us off, we get upset.
When they applaud one of us, we automatically join in applauding the person.
We frantically monitor foreign opinions and we panic at the slightest hint of a negative perception of us.
We fret about the many uncomplimentary stories from our land making the rounds on international media circuits, more than about the actual negative circumstances that birth those narratives.
From politicians to intellectuals to entertainers to terrorists, Nigerians have been socialised to rate themselves in the light of Western perceptions.
And as some of us have discovered first hand, the most effective way to draw the attention of our own people to any issue, is to speak to them through a Western medium.
It is unhealthy for a people’s self-image to be hinged almost entirely on outside forces.
Does Nigeria have an image problem? by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
I don’t agree with every single point Nwaubani makes but when she writes
"In October 1960, Nigeria was loosed from the shackles of imperialism when the colonialists packed their bags and left. But over five decades later, Nigerians remain in captivity: Foreigners control our self-image. What the West thinks of us often takes manic precedence over who we really are, what we know and feel about ourselves."
I clapped. She’s talking about Nigerians in particular but this seems to be something that plagues a lot of Africans. We feel the need to let Westerners know the “truth” and that we are like them rather than confronting the issues that bombard us (mostly because of these same people we’re trying to get to admire us). This desire is really another manifestation of colonial mentality.
Anyone should know that no single image represents an entire continent, not of slums and not of estates in which houses can go for over $8million. If you’re outside the continent and these images of exclusive estates and private jets makes you feel good about your homeland please ask yourself why. We do need to challenge the way we are portrayed in the West but I think pictures of how the 1% live is the wrong way to go about that.
re: the bold.
This is a serious problem that many Nigerians have, particularly those in the diaspora. It’s a show that is put on for the western gaze. Much like when there is a story about “Africa Rising”, it’s rarely about economic empowerment, owning modes of production, transportation and exports. It’s about image first. It’s rarely about ownership at all. It’s usually about spending. It’s about conspicuous consumption. Show me an Africa Rising story, and I’ll show you people shopping, driving nice cars, eating at fancy places, wearing nice clothes, traveling or just consuming things. So who are they writing this narrative for? They sure as hell aren’t doing it for the market woman selling fruits or the person struggling to make ends meet by selling boli and groundnuts on the street. This other side is not the reality for the majority of population. People will say it’s about balance as they show million dollar estates that virtually no one but the likes of Aliko Dangote can live in. What good is that?
What it boils down to is shame. Many Nigerians (Africans in general) are ashamed of our poor brothers and sisters being seen. To that I say, so what? Why shouldn’t they be seen? Why shouldn’t their narratives be center stage and the primary focus? Who needs the most attention? It sure as hell ain’t the wealthy. Can they give a good reason why the masses of people should not be the focus other than westerners like to show poor Africans? So because westerners show poverty porn images of Africa, they have now taken on the self appointed role to show off opulent lifestyles and homes fit for millionaires and billionaires? Then it’s not about Africans after all if that is what they’ve chosen to do with their platform. It’s about appeasing outsiders and showing them that you too have opulence in your country. If you have to show off expensive homes for balance, then the person looking isn’t worth your time. They clearly aren’t interested in nuance if they can believe a continent with over a billion people all live in the gutter. That doesn’t even make sense. Stop caring about them and what they think. Your life will be much better.
What Africans should do is create their own narratives. You do that by being honest. Indeed, not everyone is living in squalor or poverty, but to act like there is this huge population of people living life like a Davido music video is absurd. Poor Africans exist and they far outnumber the affluent. Accept that reality. Show reality. This means showing well-to-do and even rich Africans just living healthy, normal and well adjusted lives as well. That’s wonderful. But enough with this fantasy that huge swaths of our people are living like they’re in Beverly Hills 24/7. This is a lie that some people are promulgating. Only the 1% lives that way.
Many Africans seem more concerned about showing “balance” which apparently means posting pictures of mansions that they themselves don’t live in. How does that help the masses of people? What we should be doing is discussing and tackling the real issues at hand. Issues like crippling poverty, lack of access to healthcare, poor education, lack of stable electricity, lack of clean water, bad roads, abysmal infrastructure etc. The last time I was at Murtala Mohammed airport, many of the toilets were overflowing with shit and didn’t flush. That is unacceptable. How many potentially successful businesses in Nigeria have gone under because of NEPA taking light? Generator costs are now something you have to factor into your business in Nigeria. So from the get go you’re starting from a hole. Little things like that is what cripples us.
With the unstable power, you would think Nigerian companies would be mass producing generators and would have at least cornered that market. Nigeria certainly has the brainpower, but that’s not happening because the ogas at the top prefer to broker deals with outsiders than to invest in the infrastructure that will produce things locally. As such, most generators are imported from South Korea and other parts of Asia. This is the story of Nigeria and most of Africa, and this is how many of the African 1% who live in the extravagant homes some people love to post pictures of acquired their wealth. It was at the expense of the masses.
Let me say this unequivocally; I don’t give a shit about the people at the top, many of whom who pilfered their riches to live the good life and neither should you. Of course, I don’t mean honest folks who garnered their wealth legitimately. Nevertheless, be concerned about the masses on the bottom. The people at the top in those luxurious houses will be fine. They don’t need your affirmations on social media.
I discussed how some Africans prefer to promote this image of opulence and extravagance, instead of the poor masses in this piece here. It’s the 3rd point. We need to forget about doing things for the western gaze. We can create our own narratives that are honest. When you start showing lifestyles fit for the African 1%, then you are not being honest. It’s just the polar opposite of the images the western media prefers. Neither is a good look and neither is accurate.