Last week, this column called for the sacking of Air France from Nigeria in order to send a strong message to the government of France - which trains French national police on flights coming from Nigeria – that making billions in Nigeria and treating Nigerians like shit in Europe is racism that we will no longer tolerate. I was merely driving away the foreign kite in order to create a safe environment to visit my koboko on the back of the domestic chick. There is ‘we on us’ racism in Nigeria and, if you ask me, the black Nigerian racist is far more pernicious than his racist kinsmen in Euro-American whitedom. The white racist suffers a mental ailment called superiority complex; the fellow being a racist in the blackdom of the streets of Nigeria suffers a mental ailment called inferiority complex.
We are still at the Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport in Abuja. I am there with my mom, elder sister, and daughter. I am about to board that Air France flight I wrote about last week. First, I must access the main terminal building. I approach the main entrance with my party. “Travelers only, please”, says the immigration officer at the door. He is in charge of the metal detector entrance to the terminal. “Oga, my mama and sister no fit enter the terminal?”, I ask, wondering why it has to be an immigration officer – and not a police officer – at the main entrance of the building. Immigration are supposed to be inside at passport control? “Oga, na di rule be dat o. Only travelers dey enter terminal but you fit come back come see mama outside after you don check in,” he answers.
Saying that, he is helping put my luggage on the conveyor belt that will send it through the scanner; he is all smiles; he is the epitome of trained professionalism. He is doing everything by the book. He is everything we scream and write that Nigeria ought to be. I am rejoicing internally. This is how to do it, I am saying to myself. He is doing his job. He is being firm but extremely polite. And, above all, he is not asking for anything to let mama and my sister in. I tell my party to go and wait for me at the designated waiting areas outside of the terminal building. I continue my chitchat with this uniformed immigration officer who is making my heart dance about Nigeria.
Perhaps I should not have lingered for a little conversation. I should have proceeded to the Air France counter and returned to Canada with that wonderful impression of Nigeria Immigration Service. I do aseju and linger until the next set of passengers arrive behind me: an elderly white couple. I am at the other end of the conveyor belt a few minutes later, retrieving my stuff, when I hear my new friend, the immigration officer, tell the white couple: “travelers only please”. The man explains that only his wife is traveling and he just wants to see her to the check in counter. He won’t be long, he pleads with the immigration officer. The accent is unmistakably American. By now, I’m at full alert, no longer in a hurry to leave the scene. I am watching the immigration officer and the white couple intently, waiting to see what happens.
The immigration officer shrugs, tells the elderly white man that normally only passengers are allowed in but exceptions can be made. The man may enter this time and accompany his wife to check in but he should please not try it next time o. I went ballistic. I can’t recall now what came out of my mouth in my hysterical screams of horror. The immigration officer tries to calm me down. “Oga take it easy now. I was just extending courtesy and protocol to the man.”
“Courtesy and protocol?” I am getting even angrier. “For what? On what basis? You just turned back my mother and my elder sister and we complied. I have been here praising you, pleased by your professionalism and work ethic only for a white man to show up and you break the law and allow him to break the law?”
A crowd is starting to form around us. Trust Nigerians. They won’t bell the cat but once they see some who bells it, they don’t mind joining the scream fest. Some of them say to the officer:
“Na true dis man dey talk o. Oga officer you sef dey fall person hand. How you go just allow Oyinbo man to pass and you don dey hala for your fellow Nigerians since morning?”
The officer is sweating now. He continues to reason with me and my small crowd of supporters. Fellow officers come to his rescue. They explain to us that who they extend “protocol and courtesy” to is their business, their discretion. I tell them that I have no trouble with that. My only problem is that the discretion of the uniformed corps – immigration, police, army, etc – in Nigeria always tends to be obsequiously exercised in favour of white people in all our spaces of civic belonging.
All that we, Nigerians, get from them are jackboots to our black behinds and koboko to our black backs. The American man they let in and my mother they deny entry are probably in the same age bracket, I tell them. Why is the American in and my mother out? Because the American is white and my mother is a black Nigerian like you? Racial profiling in favour of the white man, racial profiling in disfavour of the black (wo)man: this is the lot of Nigerians in this kind of situation daily. You wear your uniforms and give us koboko because of the colour of our skin. Uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sew am o, I conclude my rant.
Looking at their faces, I can sense that I am in fact not literally far from that koboko. A few more unwanted sentences from me will demote me from the oga they are still somehow calling me and transform me to a victim of physical harassment in seconds. They may even make me miss my flight as is their wont in such circumstances. I do a mental assessment and decide that discretion is the better part of valour. Mo fi ogbon se.
I decide to respect myself before they do power show with their uniform. I turn to the Americans. I turn on the Americans. They have been there all the time in visible discomfort. I address the man. “Sir, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Would you have asked any uniformed officer in the United States to aid and abet your breaking of the laws of the land? Why do here what you would never do in America?” The man mumbles something inaudible. He is embarrassed. I leave him to his conscience and make my way towards the Air France counter.
And now I hear that Abba Moro, the Minister in charge of these racist immigration officers, is raiding prisons to seize cell phones from prisoners. Abba Moro is a moron suffering from the affliction of misplaced priorities. He will always have the blood of the Nigerian youth he killed to make a buck or two in his immigration recruitment exercise on his head. He will never wash himself clean. He cannot bring back those precious lives. But he can embark on little acts of restitution. Those acts start not with seizing phones from prisoners but with embarking on a massive training campaign of the uniformed corps under his charge.
Folks wearing uniforms in Nigeria suffer from an acute inferiority complex vis-à-vis the white skin. They become foolish marionettes, grinning obsequiously from ear to ear when they encounter a white man, only to regain their castrated manhood when they are dealing with fellow Nigerians. If you arrive on any flight from Euro-America, study the treatment of white passengers by Nigerian uniformed corps at our airports and you will feel truly sorry for Nigeria. They go an extra length to let you understand that their white clients are more equal than you, a Nigerian, in a Nigerian airport. To the extent that they are privileging some folks on the basis of their whiteness and harassing others on the basis of their blackness, they are neck deep in racism. But they do not know this and that is why they need to be trained to treat ALL equally.
I understand that the inferiority complex which informs obsequious attitudes to whiteness extends beyond the uniformed corps in Nigerian society. It affects every stratum of our society. It is a consequence of colonial mental damage. Other races benefit residually from it in Nigeria: Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and Nigerian men and women who bleach their skins are all residual beneficiaries of this malaise as they are treated better than darker skins by Nigerian officialdom.
I once met a very successful London-based Nigerian entrepreneur. He is a millionaire with businesses in London and Nigeria. He explained to me that he never travels to Nigeria for meetings with Nigerian government officials in our ministries in Abuja without his white personal assistant, an amiable English man I also met. “Prof”, the entrepreneur tells me, “you won’t believe that my English assistant has access to higher places and circles in our ministries in Abuja than me. I am his Oga o. They will show him in and ask me to wait for him in the lounge. But I don’t care. Whatever they discuss with him I still have to ratify, abi?”
We must purge Nigeria of racial inferiority complex. We must teach Nigeria that there is a reason behind Hugh Masekela’s song, “Ibala Lam”:
This brown colour
Is a winner
Is my shining armor.