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Is the Unwillingness to be Outdone a National Trend?



Although there have been attempts at (re)branding Nigeria and Nigerians and giving us a holding character, nothing quite defines a people like a national stereotype. The British have the stiff upper-lip. Germans are world renowned for their machine like efficiency. The French are popularly misconstrued as rude. Where stereotypes are easy, sometimes flawed, sometimes spot-on indicators of the collective character of a people, they serve a need especially when broad definitions arise. Alongside the common impressions that we are all fraudsters or are extremely bright, one wonders if there is any space for another definition. What similar characteristics have a sizable number of Nigerians exhibited enough for it to be a national character or do the ones already given do us enough justice?

Well … what is about to be proffered is a conjecture at best that will probably fit in with a long list of conjectures already made about the Nigerian character or If you will just another layer in the onion that is the Nigerian. Alongside the other qualities that make us indelibly Nigerian is our unwillingness to be outdone in any way manner or form. We simply will not stand for it. Naija just like Warri, no dey carry last. We will scrounge, scrimp, save, soak garri, borrow off future earnings more imagined than real, delay gratification even if the prospect of gratification seem far-fetched, come short of the glory, yank out an organ or three and doctor reports in the ignoble art of pen robbery just to acquire the coveted item. It could be an iPhone, it could be a foreign degree but most importantly it is usually something that under normal circumstances would have been outside our sphere of acquisition but then again the Nigerian circumstance has never been normal.

Our unwillingness to be outdone is a double edged sword and like everything has a yin to its yang. The yin – The tenacity of us as people exemplified by such examples as the newcomer to the city who has struggled to make a name for himself against all odds; and the student from the disadvantaged background who is top of his class. The yang – Our clamor for the material and thrills of an effervescent quality that appeal to the basal itch of greed (the bad type) and reek of ‘me-tooism’: both of which are tell tale signs of the consumerist times we live in.
No sooner as a product been tagged as exclusive or as an indicator of class do Nigerians begin the scramble for it. And just quickly as it qualifies as a must have does it start its downward spiral to the throes of banality.

Famous visual artist Andy Warhol was once quoted as saying ‘If everybody is not a beauty then nobody is’, quite an egalitarian ideal. But when there are more people in VIP than in ‘popular side then what is really VIP? But Nigerians don’t want to hear about that. A sampling of the phones used by undergraduates will put you to shame and will inadvertently bring up the question of ‘Where are these children getting the money?’ with no satisfactory answers offered. The average selling price of aso ebi at a regular Lagos function might startle the uninitiated especially when you realize that that this garments come with an unspoken but religiously observed ‘one use’ policy before being unceremoniously resigned to the growing pile in the wardrobe.

And there is still the issue of the next weeks ‘owambe’ and what to wear. The number of Range Rovers on out pothole riddled roads, the bottles of liquor bought in our nightclubs that have garnered us a spot on the list of countries with highest champagne consumption, all matrices of our unwillingness to be outdone. But once juxtaposed against our GDP and other economic indicators, it sheds some light on why we are the ultimate paradox and an economists nightmare.

Interestingly, this unwillingness to be outdone doesn’t just stop with the people. Nigerian brands too are in on the spirit. Most recent case in question our dearly beloved Telcos who for some reason have cast their core competence aside and have now gone on a full scale ‘Celebrities for hire’ exercise. Celebrities both true blue and half baked alike have been snagged left right and center in numbers bordering on the worrisome but caller service is the worst that it has ever been. It is no longer an unfamiliar sight to see Nigerians hurling imprecates at one telco or the other on social media networks but they seem to be falling on deaf ears Celebrities can do wonders for a brand’s equity and standing with sectors of the society particularly the young and the impressionable. But thinking that brand affinity can be built on the basis of a favorite musician or actor touting its wares falls out rightly in the realm of faulty logic. Celebrities are bait at best, snares used to attract people to the exemplary service provided not as smoke screens and distractions to help them forget that your service isn’t up to par. Also all talk of industry standards or minimum entry requirement are equally just empty jargon rendered to justify a copycat move. Like the people, brands too are applying their unwillingness to be outdone to the wrong things. It would be nice to see them go on a ‘whose-service-is-actually-better’ drive or a ‘who-is-giving –consumers-more-bang-for-the-buck’ initiative rather than this superficial celebrity endorsement drive they seem to be on.

Although ours is still a culture that frowns on the unwillingness to be outdone typified by such wise sayings as ‘Don’t use another person’s watch to work’, ‘Gods time is the best’ etc there is still a big difference between what is said and what is done. In almost every facet of Nigerian life, the unwillingness to be outdone rears its head. To curb it especially when it has some pluses would be counterproductive. Sometimes It is better to work with one’s natural proclivities than to want to make drastic changes . How to veer it in a positive direction is something we all need to look at.

Photo Credit
Audu Bey‘s only ambition is to sire trust fund babies


  1. odoh dennis junior

    July 24, 2013 at 10:38 am

    we never say die….we tryna stay alive.naijalites are the best breed…nice one

  2. D

    July 24, 2013 at 10:44 am

    “An economist nightmare”…….spot on! I often wonder why logic is thrown out of the window in Nigeria.

  3. Abana

    July 24, 2013 at 10:49 am

    This article is coming from someone who’s only ambition is to sire trust fund babies?! Maybe I do not understand the statement but it seems to me like his ambition is to be mega rich. Would your trust fund babies also use big phones, drive range rovers and get VIP tickets to exclusive events? Cos you know, that’s the stereotype.
    This issue about wanting to be like the Jones and trying to outdo each other attitude in Nigeria has been overflogged. Nigerians like to do things big and we like to outdo each other. Nigerians are ambitious, insatiable and most are never content with what they have. Full stop! Its not going to change and with our generation, its only going to get worse so we might as get used to it.

    • Mae

      July 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      I too found his message very incongruent with that ‘byline’ at the end. *sigh* Good article but…

  4. Wale

    July 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Hmmm !

  5. Mz Socially Awkward...

    July 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Hehehehehehe…. yes, I sense traces of that national malaise in me sometimes. But, my brotha, na only in the area of personal/professional development because I refuse to look back at my life and see that I didn’t do everything to be the best I could be. Ahn, Ahn, those wey don achieve greatness, dem get two heads? Me sef need to step my game up (not by any means necessary, though… I no dey consult babalawo).

    This Nigerian competitivenes, I think, can be a good thing. Believe me when I say that a focused, confident Nigerian causes real tension to oyibos. Ehn? Just tell dem say you get bachelors + masters, dem go begin sweat because they think you’re after their jobs. I always try to improve myself because I refuse to be outdone.

    The unfortunate thing is that we don’t always use our competitive spirit productively, which is why the world sees all of us as Scammers because a growing number of youth refuse to be outdone in the quest for material wealth.

    I like what you said here:- “Most recent case in question our dearly beloved Telcos who for some reason have cast their core competence aside and have now gone on a full scale ‘Celebrities for hire’ exercise. Celebrities both true blue and half baked alike have been snagged left right and center in numbers bordering on the worrisome but caller service is the worst that it has ever been.” You ain’t never lied. However, Telcos need more regulatory oversight if they’re ever going to improve their services and once they start spending money to satisfy the regulator’s standards, best believe that there’s not going to be much left in the budget to be signing on celebrities left, right and center.

    • Ready

      July 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      “Most recent case in question our dearly beloved Telcos who for some reason have cast their core competence aside and have now gone on a full scale ‘Celebrities for hire’ exercise. Celebrities both true blue and half baked alike have been snagged left right and center in numbers bordering on the worrisome but caller service is the worst that it has ever been.”
      +1! Beyond the telcos sef, Lipton got a brand ambassador. Whaa?! Did your plain teabag get better? Did you introduce your other fancier teas which are on the international market to Nigeria? You’re giving us the same thing but telling Dan Foster and Toke and co to tell us it’s great. Where they do that at?!
      Bank of Industry, kinikan Lekki luxury homes, all of them. Seriously, face your competencies and stop finding “ambassadors!” Hian! I just wanted to rant on that. And I agree with Mr. Trust Fund father’s article…but not his sole life ambition.

  6. coco

    July 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    This article somewhat hit a nerve. I have not read through the entire piece for work time limitations, but this part “We will scrounge, scrimp, save, soak garri, borrow off future earnings more imagined than real…..” hit me. I am currently saving up for a course and my non Nigerian colleague just said to me “are you building a mansion” when I said no to going to lunch for the upteenth time this month. LOL.

  7. X-factor

    July 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    Some very intelligent and profound discourse here….Well done
    Just wondering though….. Who decides what is wrong? Who sets what standards?

  8. omo ibo

    July 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Nigerian’s are suffering from a case of a lot of new money syndrome “nouveau rich” & “keeping up with the jones”. Everyone trying to out floss the next person, then you throw in a growing case of consumerism and you then you get a picture of Naija.

  9. Changing Faces

    July 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    This article is spot on… The most annoying is the Telcos and celebrity endorsements! We celebrate mediocrity that’s why even the celebrities are scrambling for endorsements, without asking questions.

  10. lola

    July 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    this article sheds light on the reasons why Nigerians schooling abroad prefer not to associate with any Nigerian that cannot be as flamboyant as they are because they don’t want to be put in the same category as the “poor” student…..hmmm interesting. However there is absolutely nothing wrong in trying to be the best in whatever you do.

    • bnigerian

      July 24, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      Huh? I don’t think I get what you’re saying.

      Signed, “Nigerian Schooling Abroad”

    • mimi

      July 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm


  11. Teddy Bear

    July 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    What I gathered from the article is for Nigerians to be so tenacious, determined, intelligent etc when it comes to refusing to be outdone with regard to material things, why is our country still the way it is? Why can’t we harness all of the energy that refusing to be outdone requires into competing on a global scale? Why can’t we see the rest of the world as our competition and compete with them by boasting a strong military or superb advances in technology or efficient health care systems or better yet functional infrastructure and electricity? These are the things Nigerians should be competitive about because chasing iPhones, Range Rovers and million dollar champagne does nothing for the collective.

    • Tunde

      July 25, 2013 at 2:42 am


  12. alwayshappy

    July 25, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Na serious cause of mis-diagnosis…. most nigerians that suffer from the “me too” syndrome or ” i no go carry last for material stuff” really are only showing symptoms of their insecurities and unknown identity. Afterall why would a son/daughter of the most high be operating on man made standards with follow follow mentality. A wise person once said “If your identity is locked up and secure in CHRIST, you will have no desire to be in a category created by mere mortals”…….and to that i say DITTO.

  13. Ok o

    July 25, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Nigerians will always be Nigerians,anytime and anywhere. A very good example here is the way Nigerian Nurses in the states overwork themselves just to get extra money to show off in Nigeria. They also compete amongst themselves .God SOS.

  14. Meee

    July 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Spot on! And for you guys complaining about his byline of wanting to sire trust fund babies… Can you just relax? It’s tongue in cheek humour, my gosh.

  15. Lizzie

    July 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    We conveniently forgot the issues that hit raw nerves only to focus on celebs being signed by telcos.
    I work with one of the telcos and it doesn’t make sense to me but i can’t change it.
    This consumerism and keeping up with the jonses is killing us more than we can imagine. Students graduate and keep looking for free money, teachers and everybody alike borrow money from different banks to buy cars and throw parties knowing they will never be able to pay up, when it’s time to pay you see grown men and women running up and down.
    Then the yahoo boys and ritual killers are another matter, all they do are done just to show off a few cars and houses at the end of the day.
    Like Teddybear said, we need to put this competive spirit to good use, compare ourselves to other countries and try to outdo them instead.

  16. black but recreated

    July 26, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Blacks are under a curse as descendants of one of the sons of Noah. Blacks should do better than whites(am not a racist) normally not just because of the higher testoterone but also because of other obvious reasons.

    GET AWAY FROM THE CURSE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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