Friday, October 20, 2006

The trouble with Nigeria

Where two or more are gathered in Nigeria's name, there chaos is in their midst. I went to the Nigerian High Commission on Northumberland Avenue yesterday. It was, as one corner of Heathrow Terminal 3 becomes on weekday, a microcosm of Nigeria's madness, rudeness, ridiculousness, rule breaking, and worst of all, tribalism. One conversation between a man and a receptionist:

Man: Nwoke'm. ke du maka oburonma osiso, biko. (okay, he said something in Igbo, and I just exhausted my Igbo vocabulary)

Receptionist: Why are you speaking to me in Igbo? Do I look Igbo?

Man: I'm sorry, I thought you were Igbo.

And that is the trouble with Nigeria.


Beautifully Human said...

first of all 'Nwoke'm. ke du maka oburonma osiso, biko' does not make any sense when translated.
secondly : at least he did apologise for making such an assumption.
thirdly: did you achieve what you set out to achieve there?

Anonymous said...

Beautifully human, good on ye! That sort of thing happened all the time to me in Miami because I look Cuban or "Spanish." The offending party would apologize and continue the conversation in the lingua franca of English. That's the beauty and ugliness (both) of cultural diversity.

If, on the other hand,the receptionist had gone on to discuss the general repulsiveness of Ibos (which may or may not be the case, that's not the point) as a group, then there's a problem. Of course, his asking if he "looked" Igbo is a tad interesting. What does an Igbo person look like?

I'm sure as hell there are better examples of what I know is the chaos of the Nigerian High Commission, Nkem. Try again.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Ibo one of Nigerian languages? When does speaking a Nigerian dialect a proxy for tribalism? The Asians do it all the time. In fact until Nigerians start appreciating their native languages the nation will remain confused.

Please, there are more relevant examples of what 'the trouble in Nigeria' are, than the need to speak some colonialist-imposed languages. The truth is no matter how hard we try, English will always be a second language! If it is your first language and you are a Nigerian/African, then something is wrong, somewhere.

Quest said...

aw stop overreacting. what was so rude about it? the same thing has been happening to me anytime I visit a particular government agency with my coworker. all the women start talking to the two of us in igbo. I guess they assume that because their friend is igbo and she's with me, I MUST be igbo too. Either that or I look like one of them. it's very amusing.

Anonymous said...

In fact, I think there is a case for requiring all people who work in the diplomatic service of Nigeria to speak the 3 major languages apart from English.

This would allow for equality in communication and except if visitors speak a completely different language, they would be privy to whatever machinations are going on, on the premises.

It would also reflect true federal character from a genuinely integrated perspective rather than the scourge of tribalism.

It goes without saying that to become the UN Secretary General the prerequisite of French is mandatory.

Those diplomatic types had better buckle up because I would be seeding the thoughts of some government functionary with this idea.

Kush said...

AS, I guess the reaction is so strong cause this article in't up your normal high standards. We still got your back though.

Anonymous said...

is everyone missing the point here? I think the point is not about someone speaking igbo but the reaction to being mistaken for an igbo man.
"why are you speaking to me in igbo? do I look igbo?" is the offensive statement, not the igbo speakers words.
As Fred said "what does an Igbo person look like?" - that’s the crux of the statement and thats whats bloody offensive.
As Nigerians or as people who are familiar with Nigerian syntax, I’m sure we all know saying something like "why are you speaking to me in igbo? do i look igbo" more than clearly has a hint of igbo derogation in its utterance. That’s where the tribalism kicks in.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with nigerian is more than just tribalism. Its religion, greed, corruption and more

Nkem said...

It seems there are many more strands to what I posted than I anticipated. There's the Delot element, which is where the guy was almost offended at being called Igbo. It turns out he was Calabar, and given the relationship between the Igbos and the smaller ethnic groups in the south east, he was peeved at the association.

I was actually trying to get at the fact that the man was trying to get a leg up from one of his "tribesmen", in a place where all citizens are meant to receive the same treatment.

I admit that Nigerians are woeful when it comes to knowledge of other tribes and their customs. The federal government college, and youth service systems tried to fix that when they deployed people to other parts of the country and made them learn language that were not their mother tongue in school. These are lofty ideals, all laudable. But. Language and tribal barriers are the very things that can be used to alienate people. That becomes even starker in a place like the High Commission. It's a difficult balance to strike.

Fred, I have some similar stories to tell. Peole always assume that I'm Yoruba until they hear my name, at which point they say, "E bu onyi Igbo!" I can remember once on holiday in New York standing in a queueto get waiting to be served. It was a Dominican part of town, salsa oozing from the speakers, Spanish the language of the people walking in and out. The woman at the till spoke to everyone in Spanish, and when it was my turn, she spoke to me in English. So I said to her, "¿Porque no me hablas en espaƱol?" She smiled, apologised, and we transacted the sale of oreos and coke in Spanish. She assumed I wasn't Hispanic, which I'm not. Then again, I could have been from Colombia, Uruguay or something...

But at the Nigerian High Commission, I heard someone say, "I wasn't the one, it was that black woman." And I thought to myself, what colour does this woman think she is. It's just the way Nigerians express themselves. She probably thought she was yellow, rather than black.

Anonymous said...

Nkem good on ye! (for not acting like the ai'hammed perspective was the one you were trying to portray)

Anonymous said...

Salsa oozing from the speakers

For a moment there, I thought you were being literal. It's been a long time since I was in NY, things may have changed, those crazy Dominicans! :-)

I was once roommates with a Sudanese gentleman from Khartoum who thought the southern Sudanese were "black" and he was Arab and therefore "white." The man was as brown as dark chocolate! This is a uniquely human trait, to categorize and classify then to discriminate and it's even moreso in Nigeria. Alas.

Anonymous said...

"It turns out he was Calabar, and given the relationship between the Igbos and the smaller ethnic groups in the south east, he was peeved at the association."

In an attempt to speak on ethnic issues in nigeria you offend. There are no "Calabar People." Saying one is calabar makes no sense, or makes as much sense as saying he is Port Harcourt or Abuja (in the context of ehtnicity). Its merely a city. The people are ibibio, efik, qua, and so forth.

Plus I hate the use of the word "tribe" but thats for another occasion.

Whats the supposed friction between the ibos and smaller ethnic groups in Nigeria?