The gratuitous insult that Donald Trump shot at Buhari after their meeting in the White House actually brings up one important issue: the unapologetic zeal that compels many Nigerian leaders to seek the favour of the West even at the risk of selling out their own people. Buhari who called Nigerian youths “lazy” and entitled before a Western audience, perhaps now understands the power of negative labels.
Of course, that wasn’t the first time the Nigerian political class would seek a stamp of legitimacy by doing all in their might to curry the favour of America or Europe. This line of thinking is typically called xenophilia or anglophilia.
The irrational, unjustified fervor with which Nigerian elites desperately seek foreign education, medical care, shopping, luxury item and attention at the exclusion of what is offered them at home is a hallmark of the deep-seated inferiority complex that has imperiled our thinking.
I remember for quite a while, too, Goodluck Jonathan also ran on the euphoria of being the first Nigerian leader to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange during the fall of 2013. The purpose of that trip was also to soothe Obama who had snubbed Nigeria during his visit to Africa at the time. Somehow he thought that pandering to America was a plus for his administration.
This debilitating mental hostage to anything foreign is not limited to the political class, it is also observed in the way most Nigerians seek and venerate white approval and attention for virtually everything – from business to entertainment, to social interactions, to marriage to religion.
If you want your music or movie to trend in Nigeria, get a white man or woman to feature in it. Do you want large Nigerian followers on social media? That’s simple; just announce from the roofs that you are based in any Western country. Some pictures of white men will do too, and hundreds of flyblown sycophants will grace your timeline daily even if you are as derp as a door nail.
If you want to extract some in-depth information that no Nigerian journalist can ever obtain from Nigerians, go get a white man or woman to do the job. You will be amazed to see how Nigerian grown-ups regress into simpering, little chatterboxes confessing their innermost secrets to a deity.
There was this documentary titled Law and Disorder which was produced by a British journalist, Louis Theroux, some years back. Though it was supposed to explore the Area Boys phenomenon in Lagos, the undertone of the documentary narrative was depreciatory. It was aimed at subtly mocking Nigeria.
Many of the Lagosians interviewed were so excited that an oyinbo took interest in them that they willingly yielded themselves up to him, indulged his silliness, and even told lies in the process. One even went to the extent of showing the white journalist the security of his house, his collection of shoes and even boasted that he shops in Milan! Such mental slavery!
I read about a rich Nigerian woman who travelled to the U.S. to treat a medical condition. It turned out that the best doctor for her condition was a Nigerian-born medical doctor. But the woman vehemently refused to be treated by a Nigerian; she insisted that she had spent millions of naira to come to America to be treated by a white man, not a Nigerian. Eventually, the Nigerian doctor handed her treatment over to a white doctor.
A friend who trained at IITA Ibadan once shared with me that the first time she saw a white man walk up to her in the laboratory, she was so nervous that she dropped the beaker in her hands. I honestly felt sorry for her; she must have been laboring under postcolonial indoctrination of the “white master race” that made her awe-struck like someone who saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
Colonialism may be over, but many Nigerians are still held hostage to its xenophilic and anglophilic mentality by their reverence for anything foreign, especially if “white”. In a way, this internalization of low self-worth is understandable; the curriculum in many Nigerian schools do not instill a sense of national pride into children. So from young ages, many of them already despise and reject their own culture, history and identity while taking pride in foreign ones.
I read some interviews with several Nigerian children during this year’s Children’s Day, not one of them had anything positive to say about Nigeria or even wanted to stay in Nigeria. But children should be taught that all humans are equal; the colour of their skin does not make them better or worse than anyone else. They should be taught about our own heroes, culture and history.
Even as adults, our self-worth and legitimacy should come from our abilities and potential, not from American or European power structures. We don’t become “better” for becoming foreign to our roots.
With the current power dynamics in the world, we should also be careful of pandering to every narrative from Western media. When they reinforce and rehash wrong stereotypes about our own people, we should firmly counter it.