It has been a depressing period for well-meaning and hardworking Nigerians across the globe. The disclosure by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of 77 arrested Nigerians for various fraudulent acts in the United States of America was particularly devastating to the image of our country. I have at various fora in the past stated that we are leaders wherever we find ourselves. It so easy to point fingers at our leaders.
We always forget that the consciousness of the people is reflected in who leads them. In the aftermath of the FBI disclosure I posted a question on my Facebook wall “If Europe is built on history, America is built on Philosophy, what is Nigeria built on?
“The response was so negative but to a large extent, a reflection of our country and how we love the blame game – it is everyone else’s fault but me. I am using the title of this article to illustrate our individual responsibility to ourselves, family, God and country.
Our actions will either make life easier or more difficult for everyone irrespective of who was part of it or not.
In September 2017, I misplaced my passport in Atlanta, Georgia. How the passport got missing is beyond me but, luckily, the Nigerian Consulate of Atlanta was nearby. Having read all manner of reports about embassies across the globe; my imagination was on fire, raging through the good to the worst possible outcome. Misgivings or not, it was the only option, so I went and pleasantly discovered I had little to worry about. The staff were excellent.
They presented me with a to-do list to enable them to grant me a new traveller’s document. The first hurdle was to get a police report.
The closest station to me was at Zone 2 Precinct on Maple drive. As my Uber taxi pulled up in front, I was shocked to find the entrance doors locked. Turned out it opens from the inside as an officer ushered me in and asked me to wait for someone to attend to me.
This was a new and unknown territory for me. Few minutes later, a smart looking African American officer called out to me and requested I write a statement. She also wanted to know my country of origin. She seemed to stifle a sigh at the mention of “Nigeria” before saying, “you look okay”, perhaps to calm my poor nerves.
But what I certainly did not see coming was her next query, “do you watch Nigeria movies?” Taken aback, I assented. I do watch Nigerian movies from time to time, and the new wave of contemporary productions have been impressive. This new line of discussion brought a smile on my face.
“I have a list of favourites female actors in Nollywood” she continued. “There’s the dark slim, very beautiful one, what is her name again?”
“Genevieve Nnaji”, I suggested.
She screamed. “Yeah!”
By now, my worries about my missing passport in America were slowly dissipating.
The young officer went on to tell me how Ms. Nnaji would be a million-dollar hit, were she to cross over to Hollywood.
“How is the Sharon stone of Nollywood doing”? she piped.
“The one that suffered domestic violence?”
“Oh, Tonto Dike”, I replied.
She went on and on about Ms Dike’s acting prowess.
By the time I was done writing my statement, we had per reviewed an impressive number of Nigerian performers including Mercy Johnson and her “flawless acting skills” as the officer described it.
The conversation dovetailed into a comparison between Nigerian and Ghanaian movies. In her opinion, Nigerian movies were top of the range in Africa because Nollywood anchors its productions on what she believes are real life experiences.
“Why are Nigerians here not proud of their movies”? She quipped. “You are one of the very few, if not the only that has spoken about your movies with smile and happiness”.
I gave some reply but committed the question to memory for later musings. I left the station uplifted. Three days later the police investigation was concluded, and I was given the report for the consulate.
Here is what I came off with after my reflections on the above encounter.
Elected politicians are not the sole representatives of a nation. When it comes right down to it, when it matters most, they count very little. It always comes down to the quiet efforts of everyday citizens, doing their bit, following their dreams and making the best of themselves, wherever they may be.
The Police officer didn’t ask me about President Buhari or Governor Obaseki, the Senate President or, to be honest, me and my modest ‘political’ life. Nollywood and its gems were the ambassadors that put Nigeria in good standing and vicariously, my immediate situation, my lived experience abroad was the better for it. They were more important at that point than all elected officers in Nigeria to me.
The FBI 77’ criminal allegations leaves a bitter taste in our national narrative and a wakeup call to every Nigerian home and abroad to hold ourselves accountable. But it must not overshadow the excellent surgeons, academics, entertainers, fashion designers and all manner of professionals doing the nation proud in their various walks of life.
For every politician ‘stoned’ abroad based on perceived incompetence, we that stone must also hold ourselves up to high standards bearing in mind that the country’s future does not rest only in the hands of constituted authority.
In some small way, we are public figures more than we think and somebody, somewhere, will reap the fruits of our endeavours for good or ill. Thankfully, mine was a good experience based on the positive practices of people who might not even be aware of how they spare many of us from the negative stereotypes of who Nigerians really are.
Peter Esele , is the former President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria.