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Chukwuemeka Mba-Kalu: The Untold Nigerian Stories

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I didn’t know I could recognize Nigerians by face until the day I met Chika. It was my first week of school in New York, and I was walking to the dining hall when I saw him. He was also walking alone and I realized that he had a very “Nigerian-looking head” (I don’t know what that means either). At first, I was going to walk past with a straight face, act cool, and probably hope to see him again some other time. I didn’t do that…after I walked a few steps past him, I turned back and promptly asked, “Are you Nigerian?” – “Yes,” he replied.

Chika and I went on to form a strong relationship in our first year, along with some other Nigerians we discovered in school. We went together for many African Student Union meetings, and joined many clubs. Since we were both business-inclined students, we also had many classes together.

Chika is only Nigerian by origin. He was born in the United States and has lived there all his life, visiting Nigeria only two times. He has an American accent; he only understands Igbo slightly, and I always laugh when he decides to turn his Nigerian accent on. In spite of this, he isn’t ignorant about many of the concepts that I grew up with. He knows a lot about the realities of the corruption and terrorism that plagues the country. He also understands enough about Nigeria for me to relate with him and have sensible discussions with him about the country.

He, however, always seems emotionally detached from Nigeria. His relationship with Nigeria is similar to one between a man and his divorced wife. He knows enough about Nigeria to possibly become passionate about it, but never wants to. In the months after we became friends, I sensed his hesitance. He always replied questions like “Would you like to return to Nigeria after graduation?” and “Will you support Nigeria in the World Cup?” with a shook head and a short smile, indicating a lack of interest. Being a huge lover for my country, I often tried to push him to attach to his origins a bit more but he was unresponsive. I, however, took these responses with a pinch of salt until he submitted his story for Torinu.com, a website I launched with a friend two weeks ago.

After reading Chika’s story, I instantly understood why he was so detached from Nigeria and how his past has played a major part on who he is today. His love-hate relationship with Nigeria, is complimented by his history with our country and his uneventful youthful experiences. This taught me an important lesson about the danger of the single story; and more importantly, the necessity of storytelling in Nigeria.

I have listened to my foreign friends talk about the centuries of history of their respective countries like it happened yesterday. They have also expressed how certain happenings in the past still affect their countries today and despite not witnessing any of the past events, it drives their motivation to enact change. These conversations changed my opinion of their national pride, which I previously thought was blind. They aim to avoid and fix the mistakes their ancestors made, and I know they will succeed because they are aware of these mistakes.

When I look at Nigeria’s current situation today, I see the plagues of corruption and terrorism, the nightmares of kidnapping and human trafficking, and the tribalism that still lingers. I am unfortunately incapable of connecting the dots or trying to identify the root cause of these issues. Why? It is because Nigerians that are old enough never discuss our history, while many from the younger generation have never even heard it. In school I never learned about the slave trade, colonialism or the civil war, and people I know that lived through the war have chosen to avoid discussing the topic with me. Through Chika and my friends, I have learned that the past explains present circumstances, and without this chain of thought we will never be able to understand our current identity. Therefore, we need to start telling these stories and sharing our experiences in order to enlighten one another. By doing this, we will learn from the past, strive in the present and excel in the future.

More importantly, avoiding the dangers of the single story is necessary for Nigeria. If you Google the word “Nigeria” today, the news is filled with news of terrorism, corruption, bad governance, and irresponsibility. While a lot of these themes are reflective of the Nigerian system, it does not paint an accurate enough picture. We are not a country full of corrupt people and terrorists; we are a country full of people who wake up every morning, step out of the door, and actively try to make the world a better place. How can we prevent this one-sided narrative of Nigeria?

I have created an online platform with a friend, which will focus solely on telling Nigerian stories. We want to gather experiences of many different Nigerians – good or bad – and bring them together in one place. Coming from the same country, we have the similar traits and thoughts that unite us. We have the intent of telling the numerous stories of Nigerians, and creating an accurate image of what the average Nigerian faces daily. By doing so, we hope we can start a conversation of how Nigerian stories should be told and expressed. These stories can act as a springboard for a better tomorrow; a tomorrow when we will be able to speak freely as a country with an undebated history and an unbiased image in the press. We may never be able to completely avert the effects of the untold Nigerian stories but with regards to the future, prevention is better than cure.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Photographerlondon

Chukwuemeka Mba-Kalu is an undergraduate business student at New York University and a cofounder of Torinu.com. He’s particularly interested in entrepreneurship and believes that businesses have in important role to play in Nigeria’s future development.

21 Comments

  1. CHY

    July 30, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    he has “Nigerian-looking head””, that’s hilarious.

  2. Mo

    July 30, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    It’s feels so good to see other young people trying to make a difference which ever way they can!

  3. ak

    July 30, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    This is my problem with these “writers”

    Mr Mba-Kalu is drawing a parallel between someone who was “born in the United States and has lived there all his life, (and has) visited Nigeria only two times. ” and foreigners who by extrapolation lived in their countries all their life and then came to America to study.

    His underlying argument is that Chika does not feel proud of his country because of corruption and blah blah..

    But the story would make more sense if Chika was BORN AND LIVED his whole life in Nigeria… visiting America only a couple of times… and then became detached from his country of origin.

    No, Chika cannot be proud of his country – Nigeria- because it is NOT the country where he lived his whole life in, for crying out loud… Can a monkey claim to be a human simply because it can sometimes walk on two feet?

    I read Chika’s story on Torinu.com; torinu.com/2014/07/im-nigerian-really/

    The second to last paragraph reads:

    “So, why don’t I personally call myself Nigerian? Well it’s not because of the deaths of my grandma and aunt. To boil it down to a grain, it’s because there is a sincere acknowledgement of an issue, and a generally apathetic atmosphere accompanied with an ineptitude to make a difference. Wow, that was a loaded phrase, but it gets the point across. In addition, Nigeria hasn’t really done much for me lately. I occasionally get asked whether I plan on going back to Nigeria help the country, and I always answer honestly. Probably not. If a clear opportunity arises to make a change for the better, I would definitely do what I can. However, I do not see myself going out of my way. That’s probably because Nigeria has given me more pain than pleasure. And besides, the problem with Nigeria is inherent, rooted in its history. It’ll require an entire generation, not just me, to fix Nigeria.”

    And Chika is once again wrong, my generation is learning from the mistakes of the past. And we are working to make our country better. My parent’s generation may have a “generally apathetic atmosphere accompanied with an ineptitude to make a difference.” but even that I disagree with…. After all isn’t it from that generation that we have Soyinka, Achebe, Ransome-Kuti, Fawehinmi, Saro-Wiwa, Sanusi, to name a few?

    No, my friend, If i were Chika, i would take the time to observe the generation Y of Nigeria.. We are young, ambitious, educated, socially present, willing to go on strikes (ASUU), willing to lend our voices and stand for what we believe in, willing to blog and make an impact.

    Until our time comes, we will not keep shut.
    #BringBackOurGirlsMrJonathan

    • Pink

      July 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      I understand your point but it is his story and if he feels a particular way, it is still his opinion and he has a right to that. The least we can do is encourage them for creating a platform where we can all tell our stories, maybe then we can understand and/or discuss the root and solution of our problems as a nation.

    • ak

      July 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      I love the blog tourinu.com. I think it is a brilliant and marvelous idea!! I’m probably going to pen something on there soon.

      I wish the blog all the best and hope it grows in size and influence!

      But Mr Mba-Kalu should have done a better job of support his very relevant story

    • Iamnephiza

      July 30, 2014 at 11:41 pm

      I totally disagree with you. How about my case. I left Nigeria 4yrs ago with my family and if you as me I am not sure if I want to return not because I do not love the country that was my home for more than 16 yrs but because I am unsure of what my mother land would offer me if I come back. I am conflicted when I am also asked if I would come back home. I m in college now and I know a foreign certificate does not make any difference is Nigeria. I would rather give my all in the US here and be confident I have something for me when I am done in college. I love my country but I can’t live in a place where I know my life is not safe. Do to get me wrong I love my country but really is it worth it? I try to raise my flag high where ever I am but the truth is I am also ashamed of the corruption and lack of care towards the people. I would always love my country but I have to be grateful to the contry that gave me a future.
      Ps my family for 7 won the visa lottery.

  4. Thelly

    July 30, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    IT IS OKAY TO LEARN ABOUT THEIR ANCESTRY AND ALSO NEVER FORGET IT. BY THE WAY, THEY MET IN NEW YORK THAT WAS GREAT NEWS. THEY STAY SUPPORTING EACH OTHER AS BROTHERS, NEGUS, AND KINGS.

  5. ak

    July 30, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    jesus christ… Supporting***

  6. imk

    July 30, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    hmmmmmm lazy reader me………. too long
    libersblog.blogspot.com

  7. benito

    July 30, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    I was born and raised in Nigeria but am now an American citizen. But i am now more American than Nigerian. I relate with America more than Nigeria. My loyalty lies more with America. I supported America in the last world cup. The simple reason being i hate associating with failures. Nigeria is a failed state, Nigeria has all the potentials, resources and wealth to be one of the leading nations in the world but due to corruption among st all other problems. If I refuse to associate with Nigeria, why would Chika associate with a country he barely even knows.

    • Ozi

      July 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      Oya forward march to an American blog and leave us Nigerians to manage our failure!!!! American citizen ko…American citizen ni….

    • Sister Anjie

      July 31, 2014 at 5:46 am

      Lmao

    • Iris

      July 31, 2014 at 5:50 am

      lol “I hate associating with failures.” Let’s see how far you’ll go in America with that attitude. You want to show up at the last minute and reap benefits abi? Okay now.

    • ezin1

      August 1, 2014 at 2:52 am

      wanna-be. I find that it is the emigrated Nigerians that over TRY to act like Americans. Is it over-compensation, I am born American and raised in Nigeria. It’s no big deal and so I consider myself a Naija boy. However those who became American by paper seriously almost deny their COUNTRY altogether.

  8. Onyeka

    July 30, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    I’m glad that other writers are interested in telling their Nigerian story. Feel free to read other stories and experiences on thingstheyshouldknow.wordpress.com

  9. Eze

    July 31, 2014 at 12:32 am

    It is easy to stand at a “safe” distance and watch or in this case, choose the most convenient side to lean on. I see this often with many Nigerians who have been chanced to live in America or those who are born and bred there. I had a friend who had left for the US and two years after he left was always asking me, “Why are you people always in crises?” I’m like, “Dude you just left here two years ago after you grew up here your whole life. Common!” One may choose to deny Nigeria but is it possible that when things get better in Nigeria, that same person may identify again with Nigeria? I mean, everyone loves success, at least to associate with it, just like Chika does. But no where wey trouble no dey, even for that America sef. I just watched a protest by some residents in Chicago over some water problem. I think say water wahala no go reach there o. Crucify me, but I have given a bit of my 2kobo. That said, we, and I mean Nigerians living in Nigeria, should consider retelling our stories of survival, loss, hunger, joy, triumph and every other issue in between. Our music industry is a typical example. Till we started celebrating our own was when the international community began to take us seriously and 106 and park grudgingly began playing naija tunes. Personally, I have been compiling stories too long before now, for I believe that it is in telling and retelling our stories that we will be able to regain whatever confidence we have lost in our nation and as a people that others may see us maybe differently but in better light.

    • Emeka

      July 31, 2014 at 2:08 am

      Thanks for the comment. We’d be glad to publish your stories if submitted! Telling our stories are important.

  10. marietta

    July 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Mr Chuckwemeka Mba-Kalu Nigeria is NOT full of people who we “actively try to make the world a better place.” Maority of us coudn’t care less about making the world a better place, 4 in 5 of my foreig trained friends have “the nigerian zeal” which is (as harsh as this may sound) to make a crazy, disgustingly amount of money in a short time, just like the average nigeria.
    on another note, I do love your article and your website seems very well thought-out. as the chinese say “jia you!”

  11. kolapo04

    July 31, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    the issue for all Nigerians, Africans and the Black World seems to be the same not really peculiar per se, is the lack of sense of history to fall back on, and hard to explain line of thinking and perception, very myopic , and unsustainable and it has been that way for ages. Sadly since the Europeans came and left, we have consciously convinced ourselves that we shall not build on the templates the colonialism gave to us, sooner as the Whiteman left, our ignorance , reasons and causes of comprehending this legacy was jettisoned, the Europeans learnt and took so much from the Romans Colonialist. in knowledge, social affairs, politics and the administration of law & order, and the education of the youth, to enablement of their citizens in a orderly fashions , but “we” have decided to have “9ja” code of behaviours & conduct, a sure way to decline.
    so many tribes ? so what, so much resources to generate enough funds, to create a new society meshed together in love and respect . but being what we are (Africans) I fears the opportunity may yet be squandered

  12. Garfunkel

    July 31, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    From some of the comments and Chika’s essay on the blog, I see a common thread with the question “what has Nigeria done for me?” I believe this question is part of the problem of Nigeria. As JFK said – and I’m paraphrasing – this is the wrong question to ask. We should instead ask, “what can I do for my country?” I know it is the country’s responsibility to provide security and a conducive environment in which to live and work, and Nigeria has abdicated those responsibilities so far, but Nigeria has also provided you with an identity and a place to call home. It is your responsibility to mold that identity into one you would be proud to associate yourself with. Nigeria needs selfless people who will not look for ways to take from the country, but look for ways to add to the country. Let us, for a second, not only think of ourselves, but also think of ways to make the lives of people around us better. Only then will we move forward as a country.

    • Pink

      August 1, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      God bless you for this comment!

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