I am glad that I started the charity Path to Possibilities (P2P) mostly because it keeps me in touch with Nigeria. I honestly don’t think I would visit as often if not for the charity. If you know me well, fairly well, you will know that I have a love/hate relationship with Nigeria. I am one of those people that will freely diss the country, but woe betides any non-Nigerian that wants to take a pop! I know! I am a hypocrite.
When I visited Nigeria this March gone, I honestly had a great time. My God I love the humour, the laid back attitude, and Nigerians resourcefulness. And the food! I ate Nigerian food throughout and it was just marvellous. But for the second visit in a row I noticed something quite concerning; the growing racism or call it destructive colonial mentality harboured by my people.
My charity is focused on education so this means visiting schools. I was puzzled that in one particular school we have been visiting for a while there seems to be a distinct preference for hiring white headmasters (and this seems to be the trend in the top ‘international’ schools). I am aware that this is a contentious issue; after all, I live in a country where I shout that there must be equality in all spheres of life, so why shouldn’t Nigerians hire white people. They should, if they are the right people for the job and if this is the sole reason they are employing them. But what I observed and what I am referring to is quite bizarre, quite different. I am referring to Nigerians dismissing talents in Nigeria and seeking other talents not because of what they can bring to the table, but simply because they are white or not black, because anything but black at the top seems to be reigning.
There is a distinct trend for those who own private businesses to go outside of Nigeria, specifically targeting non-black people to run their businesses. And I repeat, it is not because they can’t find the talent in Nigeria (although I accept that this is the situation in some cases). My problem is that to these Nigerians, hiring white or non-black people apparently lends an air of competence, professionalism and respectability to their businesses. In the school I referred to, this is the 3rd white principal in about 3 years. I actually dismissed this for a while and thought surely they can’t simply have a preference for white people, until a meeting with the proprietor convinced me that they did.
I spoke to a friend of a friend who is in construction. We were having a casual conversation about his business and the challenges it faced and very casually he said he was going to China to recruit someone to head up his construction company. This person was going to be the figurehead and the client facing person, while he would run the show from behind the scenes. He said this was what he needed to take his business to the next level. A Chinese person. People like a non-black face at that level. He said people expect to see ‘this’ these days. I was about to start protesting but stopped. Over the years I have grown tired of arguing with Nigerians, especially Nigerian men. Also, I had to check my own privilege. I can preach to the cows come home but I don’t know what it’s really like trying to survive in one of the harshest economies in the world. It is tough running a business in Nigeria. It is tough making a living in Nigeria. Some will argue that you just have to do what you have to do to survive, and honestly a part of me sympathises with every hardworking Nigerian/business man just working hard. But we must stop and ask is this right? Is it right that we Nigerians are blatantly discriminating against our own people, our own talents? Nigeria puzzles me. When it comes to parties we are prepared to throw on the aso-ebi and shout about our culture. We dance to Wiz Kid all night long who the hell is Wiz khalifa. I observed dudes, fine guys, wearing sokoto and buba in the clubs, proudly declaring their heritage. But when it really matters we turn our backs on our own. We allow most of the private schools in our own country to teach a foreign syllabus that has no bearing to the reality of the Nigerian life. Honestly, there is something majorly f**ked up about children knowing nothing about the significance of Badagiri or the Nigerian Civil War knowing everything about World War two. There is something seriously messed up when our children learn about the principles of economics in pounds and sterling’s. We proudly announce that our children can’t speak Yoruba (I am personally ashamed of this). I understand Igbo has been declared an endangered language by Unesco. We are playing a dangerous game and we don’t know it. We are sending mixed and strange messages to our children and we don’t know it. When little Abike looks up and sees only a certain colour at the top in very many spheres, she will grow up believing it’s not possible if she isn’t that colour or as I observe now; it’s not possible if she doesn’t lose everything that identifies her as Nigerian to become more and more and more western.
Let me pause – what do you think?