Sometimes it is challenging to be a Nigerian. I get to travel outside the Country once in a while. And often, the image of my Country puts me in some uncomfortable positions and I find my self struggling to defend the integrity of the Nation.

When the military were in power, I got embarrassed severally in foreign fora as people made uncharitable remarks about my Country. They accused the entire Nation of being corrupt and wanted me to explain why corruption was rife in the country. I made strenuous effort to explain that there were many more Nigerians that were not corrupt than those that were corrupt. At other times, Nigeria was painted in the International media as a country of Drug pushers and I was hard pressed to explain that it was only very few Nigerians that were in the illicit drug business and that most Nigerians did not know what cocaine or heroin looked like, not to talk of taking them or trafficking in them. Those were the days,when each time a flight arrived from Lagos, the airport arrival was filled with sniffer dogs .I faced the greatest challenge when Abacha was in power, especially after the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa. Every where I went and identified myself as a Nigerian, I was immediately attacked as if I was privy to the execution. Matters got worse when the Commonwealth of Nations placed embargo on Nigeria and the green passport became a burden.

Things only improved when the Nigerian teams won football cups at international competitions, then the pressure was let off and People had positive things to say about my country. When Obasanjo came to power and travelled around the whole World to show a new Nigerian face, followed by his effort to confront Corruption especially through the instrumentality of the EFCC, the attack and the stereotyping declined significantly. Even our ranking on the Global Corruption Perception Index improved somewhat and I found that we were better treated at International airports.

Since then I have had mixed experiences but did not have cause to complain much except for the unfairly longer times it took immigration officers to clear Nigerians visiting countries like South Africa, the UK and the USA. When I enquired, I discovered that it had to do with another of our stereotypes, that of overstaying our welcome in these countries. Not only did many Nigerians overstay, many remained back permanently as illegal aliens.So despite the effort to limit Nigerians, by denying many entry visas including tortuous and punitive procurement procedures, those who pass through the needle's eye are now made to swear oaths that they would not overstay or disappear into thin air once admitted.

But when I arrived Houston Texas in the United States early this week, the immigration officer engaged me on a long discussion concerning Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls. It was like ' I hope you are not coming here to kidnap our girls'. When I kind of convinced him that I could not be in that kind of business, he then asked why we have been unable to get the girls released. I tried my best to convince him that our Security forces were doing their best. The way he looked at me showed that he was not convinced. It was like saying 'you guys ought to stay home and get the girls released instead of coming here for what ever reason'.He eventually stamped my passport and let me enter. I thought the ordeal was over.

Then I arrived at the Reliant Stadium where the Oil Technology conference(OTC) was going on and found that many people were angry at Nigeria. 'How come they will kidnap 234 girls for over 3 weeks and you guys ain't doing anything' seemed to be the question on many People's lips. I labored to offer explanation but the next day I was assaulted with the news that not only had Shekau or who ever he was on the video had boasted that 'Allah had asked him to sell the girls' but that another set of 8 girls had been kidnapped. I lost my voice.

Later that evening I ran into a group of Nigerians in Houston and the discussion centered on three paradoxical developments. First, was the REBASED Nigeria's GDP which now made Nigeria the biggest Economy in Africa and the 26th in the World and yet Nigeria according to the World bank is one of the poorest countries in the World. How can the country with the largest economy still harbour the largest number of the poorest People in Africa. I tried to explain that it was a game of numbers but my audience insisted that it is a game of a small proportion of Nigerians grabbing all the wealth of Nigeria and leaving the vast majority with little or nothing.

Second was that Nigeria represented by NNPC had the largest contingent to the OTC as they have done for several years but Nigeria really had nothing to show or exhibit at the Conference. Visit to the other country exhibition stands showed certain new Technology or process on display. In the Brazilian Pavilion for example I saw a Solar powered turbine . What was on display in the Nigerian pavilion was just Nigerians milling around and backslapping.

Third was that despite the security situation in the Country, foreign direct investment( FDI) was still flowing into the Country at a surprisingly high rate and indeed despite the security scare accentuated by the recent twin bombings in Nyanya, Abuja, the World Economic Forum Africa(WEFA) was holding in Abuja with a size able foreign participation. My country, a true paradox where the best has failed to happen,and the worst does not seem to happen either.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR


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