Some weeks ago when some young men were arrested in the United Arab Emirates over the allegation of robbery and some Nigerians were sentenced to death for drug-trafficking in Saudi Arabia, Nigerian officials either called a press conference or issued a statement to announce these. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Mustapha Lawal Sulaiman, kept the nation updated on those negative stories for a couple of days. Nigerians argued over them, pointing the finger at one another’s ethnic groups, and losing sight of the critical issues involved.
Ironically, the same period, some Nigerians were excelling in different fields of life locally and internationally without Nigerian officials celebrating them or linking them with Nigeria. The argument was that Nigeria should name and shame those tarnishing her image, but nobody has reasoned that Nigeria should also name and acclaim those bringing glory to the image of the country. When Nigerians excel in different fields, silence greets such feats from the Federal Government quarters. It is only the states that sometimes celebrate such feats.
Last week, President Donald Trump invited Tiger Woods to the White House to confer on him the highest US civilian honour, after Woods won the Masters, 11 years since his last major victory in golf.
Many Nigerians have been winning awards in different sectors. Nigeria does not even mention their names officially least of all honour them. Some have achieved these feats for other nations. However, given that they were born in Nigeria or have Nigerian parents, Nigeria loses nothing by recognising them and commending their efforts. Such will send a message that Nigerians have their positive sides, contrary to the global narrative today that Nigerians are associated with negative issues. The reason is that Nigeria celebrates Nigerians who commit crimes but is silent on those who achieve milestones.
What did Nigeria do for the five schoolgirls (Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo, and Vivian Okoye) who came first in the Technovation contest in Silicon Valley, United States of America last year? Zilch! The team, led by Uchenna Onwuamaegbu-Ugwu, defeated the representatives of other technological giants, which included the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and China, to win the gold medal. There was no mention of this feat by the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor the Ministry of Education, nor the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development, nor the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, nor the Ministry of Science and Technology. Till date, no one has heard anything again about the pledge made by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, when he hosted the victorious girls days later, that the Federal Government would support the “FD-Detector,” a mobile application (app) developed by the girls “to tackle the challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria” eight months after.
The five girls from Regina Pacis Secondary School in Onitsha, Anambra State, represented Africa in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, in the United States, where they won the Technovation award after developing an app capable of helping to prevent the sale of fake malaria drugs. The girls got $10,000 prize money for the feat. Let us remember that malaria is the biggest killer in Nigeria, with children under the age of five being the primary victims. Yet, the feat of these teenagers did not concern Nigeria.
Similarly, what did Nigeria do to recognise the boys from St John’s Science and Technical College, Alor, Anambra State (Ugwuishi Meschack Ogonna, Chuka-Umeora Onyedika Anthony, Nwachukwu Chukwualuka Daniel, and Machi Chukwuagozie Dominic) who won the bronze medal at the International Festival of Engineering, Science and Technology in Tunisia, which featured countries like South Korea, Canada, Italy, China, Sweden, etc last month? Nothing. The Federal Government of Nigeria was silent on this feat.
A few weeks ago, a Nigerian lady, Ms Chinelo Emelife, was given a scholarship by India for creating the academic record of winning the maximum 20 gold medals and five cash awards in the 113 years’ history of University of Mysore, India. She was only celebrated by India and ordinary Nigerians on the social media. Nigeria as a country was not bothered by her awards and brilliance.
If these full-fledged Nigerians were not recognised or celebrated by the Federal Government of Nigeria, how would those with Nigerian ancestry but representing other countries fare? In spite of the British citizenship of Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua, the world heavyweight champion, if Nigeria knew how to celebrate positive things, it would have claimed him as a product of Nigeria, given his Sagamu roots in Ogun State. If Joshua were involved in crime, the Western media would have consistently played up his Nigerian ancestry, reminding us of his middle names of Oluwafemi and Olaseni and how the years he spent in Nigeria when he was small must have contributed to his life of crime. So, if Nigeria understood strategic communication, Joshua would have been claimed as manifesting the boxing DNA inherent in Nigerians since the days of Dick Tiger, Hogan Bassey, Samuel Peters, and the rest. After all, White Britons do not have any track history of excelling in boxing.
Similarly, a young Nigerian by name, Israel Adesanya, is shining like a million stars in kickboxing. This indigene of Odogbolu in Ogun State was born here, grew up here and went to school here, but New Zealand takes the whole glory of his success. He was made here and owes his prowess to the Nigerian nation where he was moulded genetically, physically and psychologically. Nigeria should have claimed him as her own and celebrated him as her export to the world. But not Nigeria. If Adesanya had been involved in crime, Nigeria would be busy explaining things.
Furthermore, in the last one month, some Nigerians who only emigrated some years ago to other countries were elected into different offices abroad. Ernest Ezeajughi was elected Mayor of London Borough of Brent, United Kingdom; Kate Anolue was elected Mayor of Enfield, United Kingdom; while Kaycee Madu won the Edmonton-South West election to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Alberta, Canada. Many people with Nigerian connection have been elected in different parts of the world. It points to the openness of other countries to immigrants which contrasts to how Nigeria’s attitude to immigrants on political matters: Non-Nigerians are not allowed by law to vote or be voted for. Shamefully, even Nigerians are stoutly opposed to freely vote and be voted for by their compatriots, based on their ethnicity and place of residence.
However, Nigeria must find a way to associate with the feats recorded by these Nigerians in other countries. And their feats should encourage Nigerians to create a more open society which integrates people of different ethnicity, no matter where they reside in Nigeria, as well as people from other countries who have lived in the country long enough to be allowed to vote and be voted for as other countries do to Nigerians.
– Onwuka is a columnist with The Punch