It is true that the majority of Americans exist in ethnocentric bubbles. For many of us who claim to be enlightened, our realities of the outside world are shaped by “media experts” whose views may be more biased than ours because it takes horrifying crimes or natural disasters for us to reflect on what is happening out there. The case of Africa, the great country of Nigeria in particular strikes a reverberating cord. Where do we begin with our competency level as Americans in understanding the needs of Nigeria’s common people?
When we think of Nigeria, do we only think of a culture of sycophants, demagogues, famous for emptying government coffers, throngs of thugs and warlords victimizing women and children or does a country of rich, vibrant, creative, resilient and excessively clever people misrepresented by a minority of venal and selfish “leaders” come to mind? Do we think of the few power-positioned people who run amok living lives of ridiculous luxuries instead of positively impacting the lives of their brothers still leading wretched lives? Do we, instead, categorize Nigeria as simply a dark, impenetrable place, a convenient ally which should be exploited by self-appointed and anointed local and foreign emissaries blessed with the power of further immersing the majority in obscurantism?
As American educators and activists, we feel repulsed by corruption and atrocities of all sorts committed against humanity.What is freedom, or free speech without criticism? With its natural resources, its oil, its human resources, how is it that Nigeria’s people struggle with 45-60% of its people living below the poverty line? We, the conscious people of America stand with the disenfranchised in Nigeria in accordance with the spirit echoed in the ripe words of the late Robert F. Kennedy: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” But the powerful leaders or dignitaries on the other side of the world who abuse their power might answer, “Who cares – we have enough wealth to bury a community and or country.” It is this egocentric attitude of “every man is an island as long as he has billions stashed in foreign banks” that has impoverished the people of Nigeria.
The world is watching you, leaders who force your intellectuals in exile so you can lord over those you deem unsophisticated. The world is watching you, leaders whose countries allow children to be used as sex slaves, have bombs strapped to them, and ignore the threat of global terror by looking the other way. The common people are watching with eyes wide open because they care less about amassing billions in the evil empire of selfishness.
For decades the tirades of leaders in Africa and other parts of the world have cost their peoples opportunity on many levels through reins of selfish leaderships underscoring their ignorance toward mankind and the world stage. America is usually referred to as an ally of Nigeria, but that word in itself must be explored and criticized. May be as a country we are deemed an ally, but that is through the leaders of both countries whereas. “We, the struggling people” of America, want a true alliance; we identify with the suffering of the majority of our fellow impoverished Nigerians. It is crucial to reform the corrupt government which holds the good people in Nigeria hostage from truly living in a democracy with opportunity for all, not just the privileged.
Such a reform is mandatory because the incredible Nigerians who I know here in America are honorable, law-abiding, highly respected professionals, doctors, lawyers, and educators who are our mentors, our respective ethical guides, and now “OUR people here” as citizens of the United States from their mother land of Nigeria. Our Nigerian friends here have superior I.Q., deep rooted religious beliefs, and are also some of the most giving of their time in humanitarian efforts in our communities. They care about humanity and about people based on the belief that we are one people, similarly to the common Nigerian struggling to exist. The common American works and survives from paycheck to paycheck as well.
Nigerians here in America learn to work through the different levels of American culture rooted in ethical awareness and a value system much different than the elitist of our world whose powerful positions were set out not to help the common person but only to fail them. Much like Americans, we call Nigerians living here in America our brothers and sisters. We care about them, their children, their successes and failures because we are humans who value each individual on the basis of the content of his or her character.
Some of us Americans do care, not so much about the prosperity of oil in Nigeria, but rather for the poor person living in an oil community who still lives impoverished, having been denied the opportunity to and potential to make an honest, decent living fishing to feed his family. What is at stake is the demoralization of a people who like we Americans, dream the dream, hope and pray for positive change, only to be disappointed by powerful leaders whose selfishness ruins a future for the children. Why do we have to keep deferring our dreams? Prove to us you care about your people.
For Americans who think they understand multiculturalism and globalism, the “peoples” of Africa shall rise up through intellectualism to live to see the day a righteous leader brings about true democratic change and ample balance which will afford the hopeful, common persons living in Africa equal opportunity. Show us where all the natural resources’ monies have gone in Nigeria.
(Written by William O’Connell, Professor of Communication, Suffolk Community College, New York).