Oluseyi Sonaiya lives in New York, and is a member of The Afro Beat. He sent the following letter to ABC's 20/20, the New York Times and a variety of Nigerian and pan-African news organizations.
In his recent report for ABC's 20/20 (Friday, December 8, 2006), Brian Ross carelessly characterizes the attitudes of Nigerians, suggesting that the advance fee fraud is, I quote, "so widely accepted that there is a hit song celebrating ..." the scam. In his report, Mr. Ross says that the scam "industry" involves thousands of mostly young men - this in a country with a population north of 150 million people - yet he sees it as "so widely accepted."
Particularly bothersome is his description of Lagos as a "corrupt, crime-ridden disgrace of a city." How dare you, Mr. Ross? A disgrace?! In what way is Lagos - which, incidentally, describes a state, in the context in which Mr. Ross uses it - any more corrupt than New York or Washington, D.C.? Like those two it is a highly populated center of industry, attracting newcomers from less industrialized areas of the country seeking gainful employment. Like those two it is overpopulated, taxing resources and infrastructure, meager as they are, beyond their limits. Consequently, like New York and Washington, D.C., there is a fair amount of crime, much of it born of poverty and desperation, though sustained by greed.
The true problems of Nigeria are hardly ever identified in these various "exposés" and "special reports." Instead Nigeria is painted as casually corrupt, as though avarice were a choice willingly made by the majority of Nigerians. The desperate poverty of the majority of the populace, thanks to decades of mismanagement by military dictatorships and veritable plundering by multinational corporations such as Shell Petroleum, who along with competitors Chevron and Mobil have collectively helped to devastate the traditional fishing waters of the Ogoni people in their search for crude oil, means that there is a shortage of opportunity for the bright, hardworking and industrious young people of Nigeria. Those who are not able to secure jobs then do what their kind have always done - they turn to crime.
We are asked to sympathize with gullible Americans who fell for second-grade quality schemes due to their own greed, but in the same breath, we are asked to vilify equally greedy Nigerians?
What is most embarrassing to an ostensible news gathering organization like ABC is that the local economy in Nigeria is tremendously improved. Communications infrastructure, in the form of cost effective GSM cellular telephones, is spreading like wildfire, while the relative stability of eight years of democratic rule and a hopeful forthcoming smooth transition are gradually restoring facilities. Nigeria is making its own way out of poverty through almost entirely internal means, but this doesn't register on the radar of the ABC News organization. Only scandal and disaster matter to them, and they will, at least in the form of Mr. Ross and his team, summarily dismiss the whole on the basis of the part.
That is the real "disgrace."
The following is a charge to Nigerians, Africans and black peoples universal by Oluseyi:
"Realize that this is neither a coincidence nor an error. In particular, it is NOT FUNNY. Too many Africans are so Eurocentric that they will laugh at their own being insulted, like the nerd desperate to hang out with the jocks who sees their abuse of himself as "just joking." The insidious attitude expressed in actions and words like these is the inherent inferiority, criminality and unworthiness of the African. The objective is to denigrate us, and by extension to denigrate all those of African descent. Reject it. Fight it. Do NOT tolerate it."