Saturday, September 28, 2019
New York, USA

igerians and Africans at large have roundly condemned the violent attacks against foreigners in South Africa. The scale and vitriol of attacks by South Africans against fellow Africans stirred a sense of shame and embarrassment among many Africans. Even more sickening is the realization that the victims were nationals whose governments strongly supported South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. Though the causes of the resentment can be attributed to poverty and unemployment rooted in the cruel experience of apartheid, there is no excuse for xenophobic attacks and murder of innocent people.

From all indications, Nigerians bore the brunt of these attacks. Some were murdered while others lost all of the proceeds of their hard work. Law-abiding Nigerians do not need external validation to know they are responsible citizens. Yet some, albeit a fraction of Nigerians, openly and mindlessly bring dishonor to their compatriots. It must be noted however that just as Nigerians find it objectionable to be smeared as criminals and fraudsters, not all South Africans engaged in the criminal xenophobic attacks against foreigners. The President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the attacks and has sent envoys to several African countries to make amends. His actions demonstrate clearly that violence on fellow Africans negates the vision of African unity that the founding fathers fought for.

Nevertheless, a few momentous incidents amid this crisis are noteworthy - The rare display of national unity, pride, and patriotism among Nigerians. Tribal divisions paused for genuine expressions of outrage, returnees and Nigerian Immigration personnel spontaneously burst into singing the national anthem at Murtala Muhammed airport - a remarkable moment of patriotism, and the unprecedented humanitarian gesture by Allen Onyeama, offering a plane to airlift victims back home free of charge. He deserves our commendation and deepest appreciation.

As we condemn the xenophobic attacks, we also need to contemplate on some of the traits that, although unjustifiable, set Nigerians up as targets for resentment abroad. To moderate such behaviors, there is an urgent need for the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora Commission to issue travel advisories to Nigerians traveling abroad, whether they are heading off on vacation, business or other purposes.

While it's not my place to admonish Nigerians on how to conduct themselves, sharing ways to transcend derogatory stereotypes against Nigerians at the world stage reinforces our social bond as compatriots. Here are some tips whether you're planning a visit or migrating abroad. First, bear in mind that cultural norms differ from country to country. A social attitude acceptable in one culture may be frowned upon or even considered offensive in another. Thus, a "we dey as we dey" attitude when visiting other countries might invite resentment.

As a traveler, reckon that though Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and in the minds of some "extremely rich," its military is not the most powerful, not even in Africa. The Nigerian government will not invade a country because you were mistreated, hurt or even killed. From all indications, the Nigerian government will only summon the ambassador of the country in question as was the case with South Africa. If you suffer grave harm abroad, summoning the ambassador for a "chat" is unlikely to undo your harm. Strive to maintain a realist understanding of your significance Vis--vis others you encounter. See clearly where you are and feel the truth about your place in the world. Grasp your "current reality" and control the urge to project an exaggerated image of where or who you think you are. Note that there is always a natural gap between the two, which generates an internal struggle that your impulses may wish to suppress. Stay with the truth and use the energy from that tension to move toward where you want to be in your host country. Many Nigerians have done so with excellent and in some cases, outstanding results.

Conspicuous consumption, exaggerating or showing off material possessions may have crystallized in your culture or considered virtuous in your community, but in some countries, it may cast you as arrogant, insensitive or someone with imposter syndrome. Show respect for the differences you observe in other cultures. The significance of your ethnicity dissolves when you leave the shores of Nigeria. When you are in other African countries, you're a Nigerian. In countries in the developed world, you are an African and maybe debased as black. When you hit it off with someone who shows interest in your ethnicity, avoid delving into internal ethnic divisions or set off with a didactic presentation. This is likely to receive not more than a polite acknowledgment from your listener; be mindful about hitting the tolerance limits of your listener, restrain the impulse to be overly excited when one shows interest in your traditions - stay with the resonant points and recognize when attention is waning or when the encounter slides into insouciance or patronage. If you have been cosseted all your life as an "aje-butter," real or modeling as a "wannabe," note that this social class is not recognized.

Aspire to join the middle class, which can be accomplished through demonstrable knowledge, skill, and ability. Conviviality is always a plus, but discern that Oyibos can be cold and other Africans are often demure. Therefore, try not to overshoot with your exuberance. Avoid gawping at people. Derogatory names for host country citizens cleverly couched in your native language will ultimately be deciphered. When that happens, you will receive the cold shoulder or a hostile response (akata and mugu have already been outed). Those superfluous titles that are social obsessions in Nigeria are unlikely to earn you respect. Instead, they are a billboard advertising buffoonery. Opinions adopted from CNN, BBC, al Jazeera, and other international media outlets may not reflect the reality on the ground and hardly makes you an expert in the affairs of the country you are visiting. Touting such opinions may sound off as claptrap. It's prudent to sometimes shelter in silence and soak up the sights and sounds of your new surroundings.

Lastly, respect the laws of the country you are visiting - the justice systems are vastly different from the one you know. Ejo, biko or I beg sir, are ineffective in the justice systems abroad. Squeezing "something" into the palm of a law enforcement officer may land you in a deeper hole and if you find yourself in jail, you need a lawyer, not a "big man" who will order "the boys" to release you.

I yield the rest to the honorables at the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora Commission: Honorable Geoffrey Onyeama, and Abike Dabiri-Erewa.