I left Twitter for the calmer environs of Facebook so I could be less angry – less visibly angry anyway. I know that Facebook content tends to be more conservative and less socially aware so I had one simple rule – I’d unfollow anyone who tempted me to respond angrily. When I broke that rule, twice, on one topic, I decided that it was time for another blog post.
The background to this piece is the news that President’s Trump travel restrictions, the so-called travel ban, will, in February 2020, extend to Myanmar, Eritrea, Krygzstan, Sudan, Tanzania and to the shock of my fellow Nigerians, Nigeria. I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little surprised. I haven’t fully kept up to speed with Trump’s antics (atrocities?) and the last I heard, the travel ban was known as the Muslim ban. My first hastily drawn conclusion was that this had something to do with Nigeria’s large Muslim population, Boko Haram and Islamophobia.
The restriction will prevent citizens of the above countries from obtaining visas which would allow them to immigrate to the United States permanently but would still allow them temporary visas to visit, study or work temporarily. Despite it not being a literal ban on Nigerians entering the US, an American former class mate, in the context of choosing a location for our class re-union, has opined that it would be difficult for alumni with Nigerian passports to obtain a visa to travel to the US. This could be because there will be additional hurdles even for those seeking temporary visas to show that they have no intention of seeking permanent residency, have private means of support etc.
There are over 300,000 documented Nigerians in the US and probably many more American-born citizens with ties to Nigeria. Travel from Nigeria to the US from Nigerian citizens is already strictly controlled and full of stories about arbitrary decisions and disproportionate questioning. These new restrictions will have a significant impact on Nigerians, or people with Nigerian ties, on both sides of the travel divide.
Not knowing much about the travel ban, I expected to see debates from Nigerians about whether the concept of travel bans are just or a draconian limitation on freedom of movement and whether the US has grounds to do apply these restrictions to Nigeria. I no doubt expected questions as to why Nigeria was on this list. The White House’s official statements asserts that Nigeria is not complying with:
“the established identity-management and information sharing criteria assessed by performance metrics. Nigeria does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, which is necessary for the protection of the national security and public safety of the United States.” Therefore, “The entry into the United States of nationals of Nigeria,” with some exceptions, “is hereby suspended.”
The extract seems to me vague, difficult for a lay person to understand and more importantly to know what Nigeria has to do to reverse the ban. The full statement is here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-improving-enhanced-vetting-capabilities-processes-detecting-attempted-entry/
Relevant questions have been asked of course but some people have chosen to lament Trump’s decision on the basis that Nigerians are ‘model immigrants’ – the kind that work hard, are disciplined and eat good (or something). This is hella wrong in a number of ways – hella delusional, hella generalising, hella offensive, hella right wing rhetoric and hella pointless. Let’s flesh these hellas out.
- Hella…not really true: Nigerians are model immigrants, apparently. First of all:
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things which are great about being Nigerian but I think if you conducted a survey among, say, a medium sized group of law enforcement professionals, only a minority would agree that Nigerians are ‘model immigrants’.
Or perhaps it’s a different Nigeria they are talking about – not the one which sits between Chad and Benin Republics (and Cameroon). Because it can’t be the same Nigeria whose citizens are constantly the butt of jokes about fraud, even in outer space (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lfwf9B0jUwM). Not the same Nigerians in Peckham or any part of East London or London or any city in England or even Accra who other Africans complain are unbearably loud, rude, crass, pushy, arrogant (noooooo!) and dishonest. Again, not the same Nigeria that one of my best friends was talking about when she confessed to me that she was nervous of making friends with me because her mother, like the parents of many Africans at our university, warned her to ‘stay away from Nigerians’.
During the induction course at my new firm, the Finance Director trained us on anti-money laundering regulations and told us about the official list of high risk countries maintained by the EU. This Nigerian country, which produces ‘model immigrants’ can’t be the same country also named Nigeria which was not on the list of high risk countries but which my finance director felt compelled to mention.
“It may not be on the list now.” he said, in a tone that seemed to imply that it had very recently, in his view, temporarily been removed. “But you still have to be very careful of transactions involving Nigeria.” (causing me to take back my breath of relief when the list ended without Nigeria being on it. I and other Nigerians do this a lot by the way. When Kweku Adoboli was convicted in 2011 for one of the biggest stock trading frauds in recent history, my first thought was “Well at least he isn’t Nigerian.”)
I don’t think you can just unilaterally declare yourself to be a country full of “model immigrants”.
2. Hella generalising: Let’s face it, despite the above, I’d be just as critical of an article which suggested that Nigerians, as a whole are loud, uncouth criminals, perhaps even more so let’s analyse this claim a little further.
We all know that there are Nigerians and people of Nigerian origin, resident in the US and other parts of the world who have made extraordinary achievements in science, medicine, literature, computing, sports and mathematics, to name a few areas. However, let’s hope, for the sake of sanity, that the claims that Nigerians are model immigrants aren’t based on what can’t be more than a minute percentage of the Nigerian immigrant population. To do the maths , if say, 5 million Nigerians live outside Nigeria (and the Nigerian Guardian estimates this figure to be more like 17 million) even 50,000 outstanding Nigerians would make up only 1% of the Nigerian diaspora.
They probably mean Nigerians who, because of their ambitions to become middle class, contribute through working, owning business, buying nice things (consumerism), paying taxes, and perhaps the odd bit of mentoring as opposed to committing crimes, engaging in substance abuse, being unemployed and/or homeless and relying on state welfare. Even if these are markers of being a good immigrant, is there any evidence that the Nigerians who do this are in the majority as compared with all the Nigerians in the diaspora? And to put a slightly related question, even if the ‘bad’ Nigerians are in the minority, are they are in such a small minority that the deeds of the model Nigerian immigrants cancel out their impact on society?
Nigerians have a reputation of being hard-working and ambitious. Yet we hear overwhelmingly of Nigerians’ casual attitudes to integrity and dishonesty. What really is the truth?
And what of the people from whom these model immigrants are drawn – the vast majority of Nigerians back home? If their counter-parts in the diaspora are model immigrants, surely they should be model citizens. Not if you ask these snooty, middle-class diasporans. According to them, majority of Nigerians back home are a bunch of thieving, greedy, swindling, lazy, undisciplined lot and part of the reason the model immigrants left the country in the first place.
However an alternative narrative is that all a Nigerian needs to succeed and realise their true potential is to leave Nigeria. It’s the leaders that are bad! They are not Nigerian at all – they are from a planet called Planet Evil.
Nigeria is a difficult country and I am not denying that Nigerians are, by and large, used to working harder for the same or less gain. However, what the average middle class Nigerian is talking about when she calls Nigerians model immigrants are Nigerians from a relatively small and wealthy pool of people, who have sometimes imbibed the values of the very unfair society that Nigeria is, often with the means to pay for higher education, who are doing very well.
The fact that people like that are visible especially as black people in certain industries by no means prove that the rest of the Nigerian diaspora are model immigrants by even this standard. What middle class Nigerians (myself included!) are insulated from are the struggles of poorer Nigerians with less auspicious backgrounds, the things they have to do to survive, sometimes the crimes they commit and more than anything else they are shielded from the horrendous reputation that Nigerians as a whole have in many parts of the world.
3. Hella offensive: Before I go into what makes a good immigrant and how that fits into the right wing rhetoric, I have to say how offensive I find this statement to firstly to other African immigrants (and immigrants from other parts of the world in theory but I’m sure every region has that one country that fancies itself to produce ‘model immigrants’) and to black people, frequently non-Africans, who have paved the way for Nigerian immigrants and African Americans in particular.
Firsly, who says that Ghana, Kenya or Sierra Leone are producing less than their fair share of people contributing in terms of working, running businesses and paying taxes?
Why is the model immigrant assertion even an answer to the travel ban? Isn’t it a way of saying, ‘what of all these scummy other immigrants? why not shut them out? why us????’
Or is part of it that Nigerians are trying to communicate to the world how different they are to those lazy, unambitious African Americans or in the UK, Caribbeans?
If so, it is hella offensive, isn’t it? It also completely fails to acknowledge that Nigerians have been able to succeed because of the grounds laid for them by these people and the welcome hands that have been stretched out to Nigerians who are able to jump back and forth between utlising laws intended to uplift African Americans from the traumatising impacts of slavery and Jim Crow laws and claiming that they do not have the historic chip on their shoulders that African Americans carry and are therefore less problematic (not all Nigerians etc). Attitudes like this contribute to the backlash against Nigerians in certain African American communities.
It’s also offensive in a less dramatic way. People cannot help coming from poverty; from having to leave their country in circumstances here they have nothing; coming from a background where there are other virtues apart from education and succeeding financially in a ruthlessly capitalistic world. If Nigerians were naturally endowed with the hard work gene, I think it would have made itself evident in Nigeria as well. What Nigerians have in abundance is a disproportionate respect for wealth and status that pushes them into certain professions. A lot of their wealth and status in Nigeria is obtained at the expense of millions of other Nigerians. A cleaner, a shop assistance, hairdresser or a taxi driver is no less essential and no less ‘model’ than a bank manager or doctor .
4. Hella right wing rhetoric: So what makes a model immigrant and why do we care? I don’t believe the concept of immigration laws and border control is in itself wrong. However, immigration rhetoric, particularly those used in politics and in the media, is frequently flawed and bordering on fascist. The basis of a lot of it is that an immigrant is taking something from the real citizens or the natives. Therefore the reason why the topic of Nigerians being model immigrants in this context has even arisen is because of the belief that, every single immigrant is under a duty to show how they are personally giving back to their host countries.
In reality, inward migration brings with it new people to carry out jobs, form customer bases, pay taxes and open businesses. Even on a hard line capitalist assessment and discounting things like new cultures, attitudes and food, all of these create employment and refresh the economy. For example, if there were less people in the UK, housebuilders and retailers wouldn’t make as much money and various sectors wouldn’t have the skills they need.
Western governments know this which is why they have several programs encouraging immigration yet politicians and the media consistently tell us, in so many ways, that immigrants are harming their host countries simply by being there and some people have bought into the idea that the only way that immigrants can counterbalance this harm is by giving back in an extraordinary and noticeable way. In my view, justifying immigration of or opposing immigration controls on a particular group of people on the basis that they are good immigrants encourages, not only prejudice and division, but the kind of unjust generalisations that crudely lumps people into categories and values or persecutes them accordingly.
Basing this qualification solely in terms of being ‘intelligent’ (better educated because they had the means, however dodgily obtained, to escape an economical and education that is failing the majority of Nigerians), hard working and ambitious which loosely translates into the fact that there are more rich Nigerians is unbelievably exclusionary. It endorses an unequal system and doesn’t see the value in low paid jobs or people who are less able to perform traditional jobs and tasks, like disabled people.
By calling yourself or your group the good kind of immigrants, you are not dismantling an incredibly dishonest rhetoric that has added another layer of suffering and misery to immigrants struggling to cope even as they enable people from the host countries to be more prosperous. You are enabling and facilitating a cruel system
5. Hella pointless: And it’s pointless. The rage about immigration is not about good or bad immigrants, especially when it comes to people of colour (the only good immigrant is the white English speaking one, as the joke goes). They don’t care how good you are at your job and you can cure cancer from your own damn country. Your neighbourhood racist or xenophobic is not impressed by how many degrees you have. They resent you for it and want you to go away.
This is difficult to explain and even more difficult to accept but the sight of your African looking face, especially if combined with an African language. agitates these kinds of people. They have to take a breath, calm and rationalise with themselves when they come face to face with the internal disruption from seeing you and people like you round the school gates. They have been convinced, on some level, that immigrants are spoiling their country by default.
It’s depressing enough to have to convince them that immigration is generally beneficial (or that you are not, in fact, an immigrant but that is another blog post) but trying to distinguish yourselves from other groups of immigrants by telling them, don’t worry, we’re the good kind, the ‘model immigrants’ in fact? They’ll decide that for themselves, mate.
So that’s it in a ranty nutshell. I guess on a personal note, it is disappointing how quickly liberal Nigerians (and others ), without any apparent thought, revert to divisive right wing thinking as soon as they perceive any threat to their own interests.