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Home > Articles > How is Nigeria perceived by the American public? (speech written for Nigeria ICT Fest 2015)

How is Nigeria perceived by the American public? (speech written for Nigeria ICT Fest 2015)

Posted: Sun, December 06, 2015 | By: Africa

​by Hank Pellissier

Thank you for inviting me to this conference. I am thrilled to be here.

The topic I am going to talk about today is -

How is Nigeria Perceived by the Western World? In the USA, what does the average person think of when they think of Nigeria? How does this affect the USA’s willingness to do business with Nigeria, and interest in traveling to Nigeria?

this is an easy question to answer because I can simply tell you how Nigeria is presented to USA citizens via our media sources. Unfortunately, I need to tell you that much of the news we get about Nigeria is unpleasant, and perhaps unfair. Other information we receive is very positive.

I will start with two very negative perceptions of Nigeria, and I apologize for having to do this.

The first detail I need to mention is what is called “Nigerian Email Swindle”

Every American who spends time on the internet knows about this.

There are various names for it, like “advance fee scam” or “online scamming” or “cybercriminals” or “Nigerian hackers” or Nigerian fraudsters” but many many people in America have had their email stolen, and then used to try to get money out of people, it has happened to me and many people I know - or we have received many mails saying for example, that we have inherited money from someone, perhaps a Prince, but we need to send someone $1,000 so that we can get the 2 million pounds released to us.

I have read int he international business Tmes that Nigerian internet scams cost the global economy 9.3 billion annually.

I have also read on CNN Money that these cyber criminals who attempt to take money from people via the internet are from multiple nations — Russia, Brazil, China, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Malaysia, and Nigeria - but in the public mind, in the USA, there is a belief that it is largely, overwhelmingly, almost entirely Nigerian. And I have one statistic that says that indeed 51% of the internet scams are indeed Nigerian in origin.

And this is inconvenient news for all Nigeria because it creates a belief in us that there are many many Nigerians who are dishonest, and that it is perhaps not wise to trust a Nigerian. I am sorry to tell you this, but the best thing that Nigeria can do is to seek to improve its reputation for integrity and the only way to do that is to try to stop the internet scammers.

I have read that the Nigerian government is not doing very much to end the internet scamming, but that the entrepreneurs, like you, are indeed organizing to stop this. I commend you for you efforts and I wish you great success.

Now I would like to say something positive about the perception of Nigerians in the USA, so that you can cheer up from what I just said. In the recent book, The Triple Package - by the American writer Amy Chua, the author named Seven successful minority groups in the USA. This was a very very popular book that I read, and that many or most intellectuals in the USA read. I will tell you the Seven Successful American Minority Groups that were mentioned, as having great academic, political, and business achievement. They were Jews, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese, Cubans, Mormons, and Nigerians.

Nigerians were praised for getting a huge percentage of PhDs at top universities. They were praised for urging their children to do well in school. They were also praised for appreciating American democracy, and for understanding domestic and international issues.

So congratulations to you - that book, and the Nigerians who do so well in the USA, are providing a very good reputation to Nigeria and that will help you gain the trust and admiration of people you seek to do business with. I can tell you from my own experience that my Uncle - Kenneth Johnson - was a Silicon valley businessman who had a great fondness for the Nigerian people. He hired Nigerians in his office, and he invited one Nigerian family to live with him for a number of years. When my Uncle Kenneth died recently, a Nigerian friend of his spoke eloquently at his funeral. So I have seen with my own eyes, that there is indeed wonderful friendships between Silicon Valley business people and Nigerians. I have also written articles about Nigeria, where I have interviews professors in the USA who were Nigerian, so I know that Nigerians are well-established in academia.

Having praised Nigerians for their success in universities and businesses in the USA, I now have to return to another negative topic. And this is the fear that USA citizens have that Nigeria is an unsafe place, that it has violence, that it is not wise to travel there, due to civil and religious disturbances. There are 2-3 primary causes of this perception. First, and greatest, is the widespread news about Boko Haram. Difficulties with this organization are well-known in the USA, especially the kidnapping of the school girls. The average American does not know that Boko Haram is only in a small part of a very large nation, and so they might be afraid of being terrorized by this group. A second perception is that there is a great deal of religious conflict in Nigeria - that there is essentially an ongoing civil battle between Christians and Muslims across a sort of diving line in the middle of the nation. Thirdly, there is a memory in older people, people 60 year sol and older, that there was a fierce struggle in the Biafra Civil War, that left many people dead or starving. So the perception with Boko Haram, Biafra, and religious conflict, is that Nigeria is perhaps not politically stable, and that is of course worrisome to people who want to do business here.

This fear of instability in Nigeria is just part of the general fear that many Americans have of Africa. I have myself been to Africa twice, in just the last year. I have a wonderful time visiting and Ihave many African friends. But I know that many people in the USA, even very well-educated people, are afraid to go to Africa for a variety of reasons, and I am sure that business would improve between our two nations, if there was less fear.

I am going to mention now just a few more short things, before I conclude.

Health — Many Americans now associate all of Africa with Ebola. Americans are terrified of Ebola, even though the odds of contracting it are extremely small. Americans are also terrified of AIDs, and Malaria, and many other diseases they imagine they might die of if they go to Africa.

Largeness — Most Americans now know that Nigeria is the largest nation in Africa in terms of population, and that Lagos is one of the largest cities in the world. The great population of Nigeria rather terrifies Americans. We imagine that it is very over-crowded. There are reports now that by the year 2100, more than half the population of the world will be African, and there are reports that Nigeria will have more people than the USA by 2050 - approximately 397 million people, and by 2100 it will have the 3rd largest population in the world - behind only India and China. Also, by 2050 Lagos is estimated to have 45 million people. News of this is quite widespread in intellectual circles in the USA with great concern, although my perception is that Africans do not share this concern. There is also the strong consensus that Africa is presently and will continue to be the most religious continent, and that the future will bring us events such as perhaps, the first African Pope, for example.

On a very bright note, there is news that a Nigerian man named Wellington Jighere has become the very first African to win the English-language World Scrabble Championship. That is quite impressive to us. Scrabble is a very popular game in the USA, especially with well-educated people, and the achievement of a Nigerian to be the best in the world is commendable.

Additionally, there is wide respect for Nigerian Culture especially in literature and music. A decade ago the most famous Nigerian writers were China Achebe, and Wole Soyinka, but now the person everyone is talking about is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have read one of her books, and I greatly enjoyed it. My wife is in a book group, and they have read two of her books. Nigerian music is also well known, I am not wel-informed about this, but the name of Fela Kuti is well-known, as the “bob Marley” of Nigeria.

In science I have been told that a famous Nigerians is Philip Emeagwali - an inventor who won the Gordon Bell Prize. And he has been proclaimed the inventor of the world’s fastest computer.

I must confess that I had never heard of him, but I must tell you that in the USA there was a great deal of information written about three Nigerian school girls a Urine-Powered Generator, that was displayed at a maker Faire. One liter of urine provides six hours of electricity with their invention. I don’t know if you know about it, but this news received a great deal of attention in the USA.

As you can see, my knowledge is based, like all Americans, on what the news reports choose to tell us about Nigeria and Africa in general. It is unfortunate that much of the news of Africa is not complimentary, but it is also unfortunately that that is the way much of the news is — the media has decided that people like to read about scandals and murders and other terrifying stories, and so that is what we are given to read.

That concludes my report on how the USA perceives Nigeria and Nigerians. I hope it has been of some value and Ihope you do not find it too disturbing or an obstaclee that cannot be conquered. I believe that it can be overcome. I am glad you want interaction with the West. My understanding is that the great majority of Africa is receiving investment from China, and I am hoping that the West will also participate in investing in your wonderful continent.

thank you


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