How to Write About Nigeria

The National Mosque, Abuja City, Nigeria

**This essay is a work of satire, modeled after the late Binyavanga Wainaina’s “How to Write About Africa.” Much like Wainaina’s 2005 essay, this post captures an important truth about how so many journalists, pundits, and even scholars continue to write about Africa, including the nation of Nigeria. 

Always use the words or phrases ‘Nigeria’ or ‘Failed State’ or ‘Underdeveloped Country’ or ‘Desperately Poor Country,’ or ‘Crime-Ridden Disgrace’ in your title. Include subtitles like ‘Militancy,’ ‘Nigerian Prince,’ ‘Underbelly of Criminals.’ Emphasize the Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba; they are the only ethnic groups. Note that Nigerians are ‘Primordial Tribesmen and Women.’ Use words like ‘Violence,’ ‘Corruption,’ ‘Terrorism,’ ‘Boko Haram,’ ‘Bloodshed,’ ‘Insecurity,’ ‘Kidnappers,’ ‘Almajari,’ ‘Backward,’ ‘Primitive,’ ‘Filthy,’ ‘Rural.’ These are the only fitting qualifiers.

Nigeria is one ‘Tribe’ in a country called ‘Africa.’ So, write that you have met a certain Nigerian who knows a certain so-and-so from Kenya because every Nigerian knows every other African. Write that Nigerians speak only ‘Nigerian’ or ‘African’ despite having over 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages. Mention your shock at seeing a Nigerian who is well-spoken in English and compliment them on how well they speak English; these don’t offend them. It is okay to undermine the fluency of a Nigerian who speaks English by highlighting his accent or to question the intellect of another Nigerian because he does not speak English. 

Never mention Nigeria’s rich cultural, historical, and intellectual heritage or that Nigerian borders are actually colonial borders, drawn by the British with no regard for local community affinities of language, culture, religion, and tradition. Never mention that Nigeria was conceived by Britain as a ‘business corporation’ and not a ‘nation-state.’ It is a taboo to mention the disaster called colonialism

Start your story with pity. Keep it redolent, flattened and, sometimes, vague. It is impossible for the Nigerian to be similar to you and you should not convey feelings more complex than pity and melancholy or of a mutual connection as human equals because Black people are not humans and therefore must be excluded from the human society.

In your book cover or in the book, never picture a well-looking Nigerian, except for Nobel Prize winners. Very dirty cities, people riding on animal backs, AK-47s, naked long breasts, popping ribs, big heads, mutilated genitals, rheumy eyes, runny noses, and bulging eyes: use these. Nigerians are very poor and desperate for charity. In your preface, write that the entire country is unsafe and that everywhere is filthy with beggars. Write that Nigeria only has mud huts, remote villages, forests, wildlife, and that Nigerians drive cars only when their lions have fallen asleep for the day. There is no electricity, roads, bridges, or tap water. Nigeria is the most dangerous place to live, only known for low-slums, ghettos and bloodthirsty robbers. 

Describe a Nigeria filled with millions of people who are too busy starving, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty, giving birth to malnourished children, waiting for the ‘kind West’ to save them. Every ‘Tribal Nigerian’ is thin and only eat roasted yams, boiled cocoyams and primates, game meat, worms, snake, rat, and lizard butts. Never mention the exotic local dishes, the popular Nigerian jollof rice or the CNN-ranked Banga soup.

You want your work to show the ‘real Nigeria’ which is the unsafe, filthy, and miserable. Why?  Because you are the biblical John the Baptist, and through your ‘brilliant’ book or article or Twitter post, you are preparing the way for the messiah – the West – to save Nigeria.

In northern Nigeria, write that they are the world’s least educated. In southern Nigeria, write that they only do illegitimate businesses and prostitution.  Ignore the exceptionally brilliant and successful people in both regions. Write that the North and South constantly fight and hate because love is not in their DNA. Do not forget that Nigerians have no manners. They are too volatile and loud. There are no quiet, soft spoken, or cordial Nigerians.

The only business Nigerians know is “internet scamming.’ Use the words ‘Credit Card Fraud,’ ‘Email Scam,’ ‘Yahoo-Yahoo,’ and ‘The Nigerian Prince’ to reference its teeming youths. Every Nigerian is a prince or the son of late Sani Abacha. Borrow a leaf from ABC News and portray Nigeria strictly as a ‘beehive of advance fee fraud’ and ‘a sprawling, crime-ridden, corrupt, disgrace of a [country].’ Only write about the 0.1 percent of the busy lot who have painted a negative image of Nigeria. Do this in your text because Nigerians are the only scammers in the world although the number of fraudulent Nigerians are a decimal percentage of its population. Of course, there are no American or European scammers while Silicon Valley and Wall Street are incapable of fraud and deception because Nigerian scammers have a global monopoly on such practices.

Every Nigerian at an international airport has a suitcase full of illegal stuff. Every Nigerian is suffering. Every Nigerian kid goes to bed hungry. The biggest taboo in writing about Nigeria is to describe happy, smiling, successful Nigerians or suffering white people who found sanctuary in Nigeria.

Write that Nigerians, especially its youths, are lazy even though a greater percentage of them are legitimate hard workers. Refer to them as ‘desperately poor, computer-savvy young men.’ Never include youths and university graduates who are leaders and geniuses in the fintech space. Never mention that Nigerians are some of the highly educated-achievers both at home and abroad, from music to medicine and from science to the humanities.

Nigerians can’t speak English even though it is their official language. Never portray Nigerians as well-learned, even when the average Nigerian family is obsessed with education. Write that Nigerians are illiterate but do not mention that Nigerians are the most highly educated immigrant population in the U.S. Write that Nigerians cannot read and not about the Nigerian who has multiple degrees. Or that Nigerians excel at universities abroad, go as far as adding master’s and oftentimes a Ph.D. to their educational achievements and have excellent professional careers in their host country. Write that Nigerians are not professionals but do not write about the over 4,000 Nigerian medical doctors in the U.S. and over 5,000 in the U.K. alone. Do not write about the Nigerian who, in addition to his local language[s], speaks fluent English, French, Chinese, and Spanish. 

Nigerians are ‘lost, unproductive, uncivilized’ and only do ‘juju [Black magic] and voodoo.’ Do not mention indigenous knowledge practices and business philosophies that have survived for centuries or the Igbo Apprenticeship System (IAS) or that the IAS is studied at Harvard Business School and that Dr. Ndubisi Ekekwe is the brain behind its adoption. Do not mention that the IAS has been recognized as the largest business incubator in the world. Never mention that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the Director-General of WTO and that there are many Nigerians like her. Mention that Nigerians avoid technology and have a phobia for innovation. Only expats can develop Nigeria.

Say that Nigeria is a dumping site because your average Nigerian man is not good at anything. Taboo subjects include honest Nigerians, top businessmen, philanthropists, relentless young entrepreneurs, educated professionals, functional hospitals, or school-going kids who speak impeccable English, have won international competitions, are not malnourished, and are not suffering from AIDS, malaria, laser fever, female genital mutilation, or smallpox. Forget about the Nobel Prize winners, soccer champions, Olympic Gold Medalist, academics and tech innovators. Write that Nigeria only relies on cheap Chinese goods and Western loans but do not mention the brain drain of its most productive population. 

Only write about the lavishly corrupt politicians who are the ‘legislooters’ and ‘executhieves’ at Aso Rock who spend millions of dollars on champagne and nightclubs with their many mistresses. And write that Nigerian ladies are jobless and are solely dependent on ‘Sugar Daddies.’

Although Nigerian artists lead the Afrobeats space, only make casual mention of the leaders of this space. Don’t mention that some have won Grammys or that Nigerians are constantly making their marks in sports, entertainment, and the culinary arts. Or Nollywood’s global recognition as the second largest movie industry in terms of output. Emphasize that there are only just a few good Nigerians. If a Nigerian-British/American actor/actress or singer/entertainer becomes successful, erase their ‘Nigerianness’ and attribute all their talents and abilities to their ‘Britishness’ or ‘Americanness’ ties.

Write that Nigerians are voiceless, powerless and cannot protest for change or do not care even though they have been writing petitions since colonial days. Never mention that the 1929 Aba Women’s War was the first successful women-led colonial revolt in West Africa. Never mention the historic protests led by Nigerian women who literally ‘undress for redress.’ Never mention the courageous Nigerian youths who protested against police brutality in October 2020 from Twitter to the streets.

Always end your book by reiterating Nigeria’s catastrophes, hopelessness and doom; only the benevolence of the whiteman can save her. End perhaps, with Chinua Achebe saying, “there was a country” and that country was Nigeria. Remind your reader that the West is ready with open arms to lift Nigeria out of penury and misery. Always end by saying that you believe in a ‘better Nigeria.’ Because you truly care.

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Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission.


Bright Alozie

Bright Alozie is an assistant professor of Black Studies at Portland State University and specializes in the social and political history of Nigeria, as well as gender and sexuality in West Africa.

Comments on “How to Write About Nigeria

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    Beautiful piece! Nigeria is indeed an embodiment of talents…we are not the best neither are we the best but a drained country that still fight the shackles of colonialism.

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    Thank you for sharing this and unmasking the lies about beautiful Nigeria. As an African American(loosley called). I trace my ancestry back to Cameroon and Nigeria. I am learning so much about the homeland of my people and want to decolonize my entire mind about it. It’s a long arduous process and I thank you for showing me more truth about wonderful Nigeria!

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