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Stop for a Second! Hear the Other Side of the Story



Sick skinny children, bellies protruding revealing the very eminent symptoms of kwashiorkor, cracked lips and eyes staring so deeply into the reporter’s lens as though there was some sort of sunshine in them. “Of course, they need help, they need us, they are the third world countries” the reporter pleads with her eyes full of sympathy and pity.

And so, the CNN headline reads, another disaster, another famine, and even those that are not afflicted by natural disasters are under the oppression of the big brother of them all, wait for it….corruption! This is the default setting, this is how Africa is seen in the eyes of the world and this is the side of the story that is frequently being told.

Years and maybe even centuries have gone by and even though the other side of the story is slowly being realized, this side still by far dominates. I remember the first time I introduced myself as a Nigerian in the UK, the next question that often followed was “how are you enjoying your stay here” as though I had been set free from my tropical jungle and exposed to the lights of civilisation at last. I remember my housemate quickly rushing to my aid to teach me how to use a microwave, “this African girl must think this device is from outer space” she must have thought to herself. I could only laugh because unknown to her, our kitchen in my tropical jungle was more modern and equipped than this home in the capital of England, how ironic. I can never forget the look of surprise or may I say bewilderment when I told my colleagues at the charity where I interned that I had seen the first two sequels of the twilight series at the Silverbird Cinema back home in Abuja, Nigeria. Oh my God! you have cinemas in Nigeria? they asked. As Chimamanda Adichie put in it in one of her speeches, “their default position towards me as an African was that of patronizing well meaning pity”. And so, I guess I was obligated to tell them the other side of the story.

The menace of a ‘single story’ also applies to the self image of a Nigerian outside home. You have to be a strong warrior and always put on your weapons of ‘self defence’ to survive. This is because the default setting people have about us is that of corruption, fraud and everything negative, so we constantly have to prove ourselves to be the ‘exception’. We are already defined before we are known. This is saddening because there are a lot of Nigerians in diaspora making a difference. Here’s a perfect scenario. I’ve just been brutally woken up on this faithful morning by the reality of a morning lecture and rushing to the station to catch the train when I am welcomed by the newspaper headline reading “Nigerian teenager involved in gang shooting” lying peacefully beside me, and wide-eyed stares around me as though I was related to the boy in the paper, not again!

Whatever happened to 19 year old Nigerian author of The Spider Kings Daughter, Chibuzor Onuzo, who is also the youngest female author to win a two-book deal with Faber UK? She also sponsors kids at her mother’s foundation or Samuel Kasumu who established the Elevation Networks at the age of 19 which has transformed the lives of thousands of youth across the United Kingdom or even Chuku Ummuna, the 33 year old British labour party politican who has also been referred to as the ‘British Obama’ because of his fearless passion. This list continues.

Ever visited Obudu cattle ranch in the northern part of Cross River Nigeria, the exotic Eko Hotel and Suites, or heard that according to the World Bank in April 2012, even with the glaring poverty rates, Nigeria somehow manages to be the third fastest growing economy in the world? In Africa at large, people like the late Chinua Achebe, Chimamda Adichie, Dr Nawal El Saadawi, Nelson Mandela, Ngozi Okonjo, Emmanuel Yeboah, Philip Emeagwali and that woman praying earnestly in the pew of the cathedral for peace in the world and many more, have all left footprints in the world. These stories of hope are worthy of the headlines too.

In essence, if greater equality is what we really want today across the regions of the world, then there has to be a shift in our mindset. We have to imbibe the mindset of equality and love and not of stereotyping, because no matter how equitably redistributed the resources become among these regions, we will still remain unequal in our minds despite that wide grin smile and the diplomatic handshake representing friendship.

I am in no way antagonistic as I have come to love everyone deeply as my own but maybe, just maybe, I see the both sides of the story and that’s what makes me patriotic.

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  1. Bolaji

    April 25, 2013 at 8:10 am

    beautiful write-up. Lol @ “wide-eyed stares around me as though I was related to the boy in the paper, not again!” …buhahaha that got me rotfl… But you are right, nigerians in diaspora constantly have to prove themselves. Reminds me of when i tried renting a property in London (during my M.Sc days) and the housing agents couldn’t understand where i was gonna get money to pay my rent/bills (+ i had no guarantors of course!). They are totally clueless as to how costly it is to even ‘venture’ into international studies in the 1st place. Cheers!

  2. Teris

    April 25, 2013 at 8:54 am

    Dear Author,
    Well done at being counted amongst the exception. I’m afraid that’s all I have picked up from your article. You are the exception who’s able to differentiate between the Hunger Games and Tatoo-girl flicks. I am not certain though that your taking exception to being associated with Mr. Gangster over others was exactly what Adichie had in mind when she spoke of the danger of the Single Story.

    Am I amongst the exception? Yes o. But all around me, everyday, is the rule. Even when I don’t want to acknowledge it. They come to the office as go-betweens to hustle a job. They ply me with goods I have no need for but I purchase from time to time cos the alternative is to “find something for the boys”. Come back home now, and ask your delivery boys, or gate-man, or fabrics supplier, or phone-credit seller, or …(long list) the plot behind Twilight.

    Unless you can get Nigerians to put their collective “book” and “travels” and “sense” to good practical use, all you’re saying in essence is “I’m out of that he**-hole, see me now!”
    Look, forget all those ‘bush’ oyinbo o (and yes, there are some really ‘bush’ oyinbos out there)… but the oyinbos who define world economies, they see the joke that is beloved Naija.

    So, (please forgive my sarcasm) here is my question for you: what is your (other) side of the story to the kwashiokor-ed, the trampled-upon?

    • Let them say

      April 27, 2013 at 8:04 am

      Thanks Teris! And to my dear author, go anywhere in the world the citizens there will always ask you “how are you finding/enjoying your stay here” so therefore don’t make a big deal out of that, even though I understand the point you are trying to make that each Nigerian should be treated as individual, your argument are just a bit baseless and rather than being defensive, let your character describe/define you and that will simply set you apart. I believe one can be patriotic without being defensive. One thing I have noticed about most of us “Nigerians” is that we seek attention rather than respect.

    • Tunmi

      May 3, 2013 at 6:47 am

      This is it right here. I am getting annoyed with the “other side of the story” from the affluent, from the minority in the country. Can we please get a piece from the kwashiorkod child, from the kid who grew up in the slums, from the majority of the populace?

  3. molarah

    April 25, 2013 at 9:32 am

    See, let’s not deceive ourselves. This is the type of babble our political leaders chant to console themselves that things are not SO bad in Nigeria. If all the global news reports from Nigeria report crime, starvation, corruption, etc, let’s give it to them for being 80% correct, because unfortunately that is the Nigerian story.

    In your write-up, you say you were able to baffle the ‘whities’ with your knowledge of microwave, Twilight, etc, but does it occur to you that you still fall into the minority category in Nigeria? Whether we like it or not, they are not to blame for holding such stereotyped opinions of us. Let’s stop attacking the international media for reporting the obvious and channel that anger to demand proper governance and accountability from our leaders.

    • Let them say

      April 27, 2013 at 8:07 am

      Thank you Molarah

  4. Dee

    April 25, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Bless you o, gosh, BN always pleases me, when I read sense. The nerve of some people. Excuse me, do you think the man on the street suffering in poverty, gives a damn about Nigeria’s image? Why are we so selfish as a people like this? We only think of things that affects us personally, not collectively as a people. Image, Image schumage. If you have never stepped out of the shores of Nigeria, the image of Nigeria doesn’t mean anything to you, and why should it? You have your own problems to deal with. Wetin concern agbero with overload? It is people that travel abroad and can afford CNN in their house that can be concerned by image. They are too busy sitting in their air conditioned homes and cushy lifestyles, of course they have time to be aggrieved by image. This is just middle class ignorance plus arrogance. How dare they treat me like I am from a tropical jungle, ehn Nigeria is not that bad now, at least we have planes that flew me here, wwe have cinemas in Abuja. You are so faaaaaar removed from reality and it sucks. Sorry, but it does. The man in Birnin Kebbi that has not seen a Doctor in 6weeks because of poor medical facilities, what is his business? When we are more aggreieved by the state of our country instead of directing our annoyance at our image, we will move forward. I have seen so many articles like this and I shake my head and feel sad. See this people chasing smoke. Demanding that there is better in your country. Were those images or stories manufactured? Are they fictitious? If your country wasnt full of shit, there will be nothing to report. Do you hear such stories about Saudi Arabia, Dubai and the rest. Dubai was a fishing village around 20 – 25years ago. See where they are now. It is the same oil that we have o, our oil is not water o, you are here talking image, seeing the other side of the story. If you look beyond your middle class or rich man’s child bubble you will SEE the other side of the story, you will see the sufferring. Foreign media paints us bad no doubt, and I dont agree with them at all, but my defence of my country wont be a lame excuse as things are not that bad. The other day people were pissed about the Rick Ross video, as if the images were CGI? That is the new crop of Nigerians, we are a lost generation. Too busy following celebs to realise that the shit will soon hit the fan, and shit smells mehn and will affect all of us. From VI to Ajegunle. Since 1999, the amount that has been stolen will double or even triple all the years of military rule. Shey then they didn’t even rub it in our faces, they were hiding it, these ones don’t give a hoot. We see the weddings of their children, we see the excessess, they even defend spending “common” 3 million to sponsor someone’s family memebers for a trip abroad. Tens of millions of Nigerians have never seen 1million. They will give anything not to travel abraod sef but to be able to eat, have decent clothes, pipe borne water etc, and someone can come out and say common 3 million. Noella please don’t annoy me o, please don’t annoy me. If your article was talking about steps that are or can be taken to eradicate poverty and sufferring so that we have evidence to show the world that our story is changing it would have been better. You are talking about the achievements of rich and middle class people who don’t know what sufferring truly is. Chimamanda was trained in America. Do you know what it costs? How many Nigerians have the access to education that she has. If we had the same equivalent, will she travel abroad? If everyone had the same opportunity there will be THOUSANDS of Chimamandas and she will not be necessarily special. She and the rest you mentioned have talent no doubt, I will not demean their talent, please I am not a HATER and I respect their work, but when your talent is honed and nourished by a socio economic advantage, and someone can have the nerve to hold the person up as an example that things are changing, my blood boils. Okay let me stop typing now.

    • kay

      April 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      hahahhahahah…this thing pain u well well o, take am easy abeg!

  5. feisty chic

    April 25, 2013 at 10:25 am

    @teris and @molarah pardon me but I don’t think you understand where he is coming from. He is talking about the single story people have about Africa the ‘country’ where everyone is sick or dying of hunger and charity is all that keeps us going, and the fact that you really have to prove yourself abroad to show that the negative image that is had about your country isn’t all there is to it.

    • Ready

      April 25, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I think they understand…but what they’re saying is the other side of the story isn’t so common that it should be a widely spread story. The other side is an exception..the reality of a small minority when compared to the 54% that live below the poverty line of $1 a day as well as the ever shrinking middle class for whom pizza, microwaves, and trips to the cinema is still a luxury expense. The African picture is larger than the skinny child in a poor continent, but if we forget to focus on that in the name of improving our image, then we present the erroneous idea that the lot of millions of Nigerians have improved, and that is far from the truth. In fact, from the look of things, they are only getting worse and the wrong ‘leaders’ are getting bolder about their wrongdoings.

  6. anonymous

    April 25, 2013 at 10:44 am

    This attitude of antagonizing foreigners for exposing or asking about our not too good side should stop. I am reading this article today because i am privileged enough to have a computer and a smart phone. How many Nigerians have smart phones? to use your example, how many Nigerians can operate a Microwave? the rich and privileged criticized Ricky Ross for showing Lagos slum in his video forgetting that they too need help, they want to be seen, they want to be heard, they are talented they need someone out there to see their talent. Miss Adichie’s Dangers of a single story is just telling us that poverty has not hindered our talent, i might not know how to operate a microwave but i can roof a house using palm fronts, i might not know how to write but i can sing and heavens will come down. Better still don’t judge me with your standards

    My point therefore is that we have a problem, we need to recognize that we have one and seek help when and where necessary. let these people not die in silence.

  7. Ebunoluwasimi

    April 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Hello All,
    This is what I have to say about the issue on ground but before i continue lets all be on the same page. I did not grow up/ school abroad, I only learnt about the computer when i went for my master’s, I lost my Dad before my 3rd month and dont think I was an all-A’s student either.
    However, that is just one side of the story there is the other part being written and in writing. I travel in and out without a dime form family or friends, I earned not from some family dynasty and yes I know it’s the Favour of God. But as African’s we must admit that we have enjoyed pity too long. I am saying this so that we stop judging Chinamanda and the writer’s opinion based on their priviledge.
    BUT! We cannot expect to do any better if we are still seen and treated like baboons with little expectation and credit. Enough of the pity, aid and all. The aid we still receive is in- part why politicians can still steal, compromise and listen to the dictates of their benefactors.
    That is the same reason why, we do not strive to do better because our excuses tendered are welcomed.
    Because, we are given hand-me-down’s.
    The implication?
    We are not proud or certain that that beautiful idea(s) we have birthed is actually what the world calls INGENUITY
    It stifles our creativeness and innovations. Ever heard that “necessity is the mother of (all) invention”?
    Whatever innovation we manage to have may just have been by accident, stumbled upon, pure LUCK. I submit to you – Luck is not enough for the great
    Also we NEVER get credits as benefactors of pity. Our achievements must first be directed at the benefactor- simple rule of life!
    We do not know that pity whilst is being enjoyed it is a lousy master. You enjoy it but it limits you in the most un-noticeable manner.
    If indeed we are hungry for success then we must be ready to compete favourably and that implies that we must be ready to be treated equally and assessed with the same yard stick.
    Isnt it funny how we get treated differently, on one extreme and we cry RACISM and yet when we are given PREFERENTIAL treatment on the other extreme, we indulge ourselves, relax and enjoy the buffet.
    Make no mistake this does NOT apply to everyone! The poor will always remain but really must it be you? Who would feed the poor if you relax with the same excuse. Refuse to be treated as one! Its not pride, its discipline!

  8. nich

    April 25, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    the both sides of the arguments are really educating……..but my own take is the day a good government comes to nigeria, the day that country would be liberated.

    we have 3 leaders at the moment who can move this country forward and yet we act like they are not here with us, oshomole, nuhu ribadu, fashola except any of this 3 leaders go into power i believe that the future of nigeria is still dark……

    • slice

      April 25, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      what Nigerians want is not change. WE want a miracle. Anybody who tells you he can get into power and change Nigeria is just lying. We have to take baby steps. See America, for all Obama’s talk and good intentions, how many things has he actually changed. It’s a long long road to good healthcare, electricity, education in Naija and there are some very painful years ahead

  9. slice

    April 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    please if you see me in a bathroom wondering how to use the automatic tap or in your kitchen struggling with your microwave, please rush in and help me. I’m just clueless like that sometimes. I’ve even had to assist some fellow clueless oyinbo people. just saying sometimes when they rush into help it’s not because they don’t think you’ve seen the like, it’s because there are so many different versions of the same appliance, it may just take a while for you to figure out a new one. Heck I’ve had to turn on auto taps for white folk before and we just look at each other and smile. Technology….the great leveler

    • Let them say

      April 27, 2013 at 8:45 am

      I agree with you @ slice. The author has a point but his/her argument are just baseless.

  10. NNENNE

    April 26, 2013 at 1:26 am

    I do not let their ignorance affect me. Proudly Nigerian!

  11. emmanuel

    April 27, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    the writer might be be right but that is not where i come in iam of the opinion that no leaders of this great country has truly loved his or her subjects and that they are self centered

  12. African Queen

    April 28, 2013 at 6:56 am

    I agree with the writer. As a Nigerian living in America, I deal with these perceptions every day. Africans are poor, starving, illiterate, live in jungles, Africans are monkeys, African men have AIDS cause they have multiple wives, etc. For those who say that we should accept this perception because that is what we are I ask: who are you to tell me who I am? Who are you to tell me that I should listen to some teacher tell me that “African men have AIDS” because Nigeria sucks? Do you know what this kind of mental brainwashing does to young Africans in the Diaspora? What is is like to be told that you “smell” cause your’e African? Are you seriously telling me that that is what I am, that I should accept some white telling me that my father has AIDS, that because my mother has more than 2.5 children she is poor, stupid, and downtrodden?
    Everyone deserves the right to live. By relegating a whole continent to the trash bin, who obliterate their humanity. Africa is a continent, we are not all the same. And even for those who are poor, are they not human? Is poverty, sunken bellies all they are? The current perceptions of Africa are merely continuations of centuries of abuse. Just as Africans were classified as beasts by Western anthropologists, enslaved, and paraded around naked in cages as “curiosities”, now we are extensions of the “white man’s burden”. Poor Africans, they can’t help themselves, us all knowing whites must come help the brutes. This view has persisted for centuries, along with foreign aid and NGOs. Have they relieved this so-called endemic poverty? No, but they have succeeded in convincing black Americans that the whites did them a favor enslaving them and bringing them to the New World.
    To end, you accused the author of being out of touch with the African reality. I bet that everyone who said this, for all for righteous indignation, are part of that privileged minority, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading Bellanaija, a website that is fantastic but really does not connect with the “common non-middle class” Nigerian. I live in the U.S., yes, but I am not wealthy. I have never shopped at H&Ms before in my life, I cannot afford it. No, I am not “out of touch” with the common Nigerian. I am Ogoni. I am from that part of Nigeria that has enabled everyone else to drive nice cars, read about so-called celebrities, and pretend to speak for all of Africa’s poor. I know poverty, I know genocide, I know devastation where the water is coated in a layer of oil so thick you can skim it with your hand. But I still don’t believe that is all Nigeria is. And as an Ogoni, I do not want to be known as “those poor people in the Niger Delta”. Labeling people does not solve the problem, it dehumanizes people who are already suffering. Instead of degrading Africa, why don’t you help improve things? All I know is that labeling people this way never helps, never encourages people to help themselves, and it stymies those who try to make something of themselves. The U.S. is full of poor, starving people (I see them everyday) but everyone calls America rich. America does not allow foreign journalists to take unflattering photos (how often do you see pics of homeless children rifling through garbage juxtaposed with 500 pound women with pasty skin and McDonald bags?), and its citizens don’t go around bad mouthing their country as much as Nigerians do. I wish people would stop badmouthing Nigeria (she is only as bad as her citizens-that means you), do something to help, and realize that poverty never ends, but stereotyping a whole continent is criminal and another form of slavery.

  13. African Queen

    April 28, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Sorry, I made some grammatical errors and did not notice them until afterwards. I hope I did not sound too angry, and I am sorry if I stereotype anyone, but that is how I feel when I hear these kinds of comments. It hurts and baffles me to see Africans agreeing with this. I just want to give some advice to those who think that Africa deserves her reputation: 1) Remember the history between Africa and white people. Do you think most of them truly have Africa’s best interests at heart when they make these stereotypes? 2) A negative reputation does not help improve the situation, it provides cover for further crimes (politicians). There are many Africans doing great things, and if you sweep their achievements aside as “the minority” (as if God gave something to those people he did not give to anyone else) you a very unfair, unprogressive, “bad news always” approach. 3)It is wrong to stereotype. Before you say Africa is this, Africa is that, please consult with democratically chosen representatives from all African nations, and if they agree that all Africans should be broadly generalized, then you can stereotype away.

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