Verbal shots have been fired at some third world countries, not for the first time. But, perhaps for a first by a sitting president of one of the countries regarded as a superpower, and tempers are flaring. The countries at the end of the scathing comments have been reacting, and the African Union have demanded an apology. Even though the man at the center of the brouhaha, Donald Trump has denied making such unflattering remarks, no one can put it past him. For a man who’s infamous for his lack of tact, he appears to have outdone himself with this one.
I am Nigerian, and I know that many of my compatriots are riled up by Trump’s alleged insulting comments. How dare he call our dear country a shithole, how dare he? Yes, we know things are far from the ideal. The healthcare system is a far cry from what it should be, 57 years after gaining independence. The prospects of getting uninterrupted power supply is still a mirage, the rate of insecurity is alarming, education is substandard even compared with what obtains in other African countries, but these anomalies should not give anyone, regardless of how high up they are, the impetus to call our motherland a shithole. That’s the thinking of the archetypal Nigerian.
It’s normal to react this way. Apart from the common knowledge that President Trump has a reputation for verbal indiscretions and this is not the first time he has exhibited racist tendencies, even for him, this is a new low.
It never feels good to be the subject of scorn. It doesn’t matter if there’s an iota of truth in what has been said, the average human would rather not be confronted with the realities of their situation. Yes, even citizens of countries who do not fall into the category of the alleged shitholes are unhappy about President Trump’s verbal rashness, and have spoken up against it.
But what should the attitude of those of us who are at the end of the derogatory comments be? Beyond thumping our chests and going red with rage at the level of disrespect flung our way, what’s the long-term panacea to the insults and snide remarks Africa, and Nigeria specifically have been subjected to for a long time now?
The answer isn’t faux outrage. It isn’t a vehement demand for an apology or for the happy-go-lucky ones – a dismissal of the slander as the usual ranting of a presidential misfit. The slight should make us look inward. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the US president struck a chord; albeit a painful one; and the only way to ensure we aren’t constantly at the butt of such spurn is to make ourselves better.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, Nigeria is a pitiful joke at the moment. Hundreds are being killed in Benue daily, and the government of the day folded its arms until matters got out of hand. Our roads are death traps, the fight against corruption has largely been a selective prosecution of indicted individuals and political office holders. Millions of Nigerian youths are still roaming the streets in search of employment, nothing has been to improve housing or education, not to talk of the lingering fuel scarcity that has able-bodied working class men and women spending more time at the filling stations than being productive.
Our angst should be channelled into creating a more respectable society for ourselves. In any case, all the outrage will not stop us from queuing at the American Embassy as early as a 5 am and sharing a testimony when we are eventually worthy of visiting “God’s Own Country” after four previous attempts. Many of us will still approach the White man’s land with unreserved awe and be on our best behaviour while we are there because we do not want our village people to truncate any opportunity to visit again on account of any known or unknown misadventures.
Every time I have been disrespected or underrated, I have either taken a walk (in the cases where I was in the position to do so) or doubled up to prove my critics wrong. And more often than not, I have been successful in doing that. Nigeria should be adopting this approach. As long as we remain that beggarly entity which has to be saved from one debt after the other, it would be naive of us to expect forward-looking nations of the world to view us from the same lens they view countries like China and Singapore who have stretched themselves to be far better than they used to be.
China is currently the second largest economy in the world, but this has not always been the narrative. China has evolved from a country on the precipice of failure on account of a civil war to become a potential world superpower, they have earned the respect of the rest of the world through their sheer enterprise. These days, the poverty rate in China is less than 6 percent. And even though a country like Singapore is still regarded as a developing nation, the Asian country now boasts of being the third largest foreign exchange market.
If our past administrators and the present crop of leaders have a modicum of shame, they would scurry around to see that within the next decade, no one would be bold enough to refer to Nigeria as a shithole, dunghill or whatever nauseating names that reminds one of human or animal faecal matter.
As citizens, we should also do our part by being the best we can be in our little corners of the world. Advance fee fraudsters who have continued to give us a bad name in the outside community would desist from their dishonourable activities. Visiting Nigerians who end up “getting lost” abroad, thereby earning them the tag of illegal immigrants will rethink their ways when they realise that their actions result in the unfair treatment of their countrymen in these countries.
As a matter of fact, if we had our most basic needs met in the first place, there would be far less young people scrambling to take up the most demeaning jobs in foreign lands. However we look at it, there’s no place in the world where a human can feel as free as they would in their home. And if we had a Nigeria that valued the lives and dignity of its citizens and demonstrated this to them every day, no individual, group or even president would be talking down to us.
But will we do the needful?