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Michael Afenfia: Forget the Germans, What About Us? Have We Treated Ourselves Better?

Michael Afenfia

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The World Cup is finally over; France has won and the other thirty-one football crazy nations that took part in the competition and didn’t do quite as well as France have another four years—starting now—to prepare for Qatar 2022. Hopefully, Nigeria would be one of them.

I started out with Nigeria being my favourite team… Okay, that’s not true at all. So, you caught me in a lie there. Don’t get me wrong: I am patriotic, very much so, but my patriotism hasn’t moved me to the point of believing in the implausible yet.

As much as I cheered and even bought two bootleg jerseys and a tracksuit to prove my support and loyalty to my country, I just knew we wouldn’t be going far.  So, let me do that all over again.

I started out with Mexico being my favourite team to win the tournament because I liked how they performed in their first match. Then it became Russia only because they were hosting and they had exceeded all expectations, including those of their fellow Russians. Because Kevin De Bruyne is my all-time favourite footballer and a Manchester City player, and I’m a fan of the club, it became Belgium at some point. But when they were knocked out by France in the semi-finals, I did what most Nigerian fans did; I packed my bus on France’s side.

Like most Nigerians, at least those I follow on social media and a number of my football buddies, my reason for supporting France was because of the number of players from African descent they had in their team. From Paul Pogba, to Kylian Adesanmi Mbappe, Samuel Umtiti, Thomas Lamar, to Alphonse Areola and all of the other lads that can trace their ancestry to the motherland, the French team could pass for one of us.

Being behind France in the final, because of the colour of the skin of so many of their players and more so because they are of immigrant descent with roots in Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and a number of other African countries, does that make me racist? Hmmmmm, maybe you can help me here.

Because the issue of racism has been brought up, I would say this. I know the game is done and dusted and all the major prizes handed out, so we already know that Luka Modric of Croatia was the best player of Russia 2018, but to me, the real Player of the Tournament and the best player for 2018 emerged after the competition wrapped, and that player is the German and Arsenal winger, Mesut Özil.

Before you come for me, please read on. This week, his bravery in calling out the German football federation for racism caught the attention of the world. His quote, “…I am German when I win, but I am an immigrant when I lose,” has to be the quote of the year.

Within hours of the release of his statement announcing his retirement form the German national team, Twitter Nigeria was on fire and that got me thinking. What really is racism?

Without consulting a dictionary, and I hope I am right, it is any act by a member of a particular race intended to claim or suggest supremacy or superiority over a person of another. A victim of racism, whether open or subtle, goes away with a feeling of inferiority and unworthiness.  A victim of racism feels like a second-class citizen. The words and actions of Reinhard Grindel of the German football federation made Mesut Özil, a Turkish-German, feel like a second-class citizen.

But come to think of it, I’m here in my country, and there are days, many of them, that I feel like I am a second-class citizen and that I don’t count because of where I am from or who my parents are, who I know or what I’m yet to accomplish in life.

It’s not racism, but they are cut from the same cloth – ethnicity, nepotism, favouritism and godfatherism. That’s how I feel any time I miss out on an opportunity because of ethnicity, status, lack of connection or not being part of a cabal. That’s how I feel every time I hear how much our rich politicians have grabbed for themselves and their families as if they are on a mission to annihilate the poor.

The political class treat people in other parties or anyone that opposes them like common criminals and thugs to be hounded and harassed into submission, not minding the rule of law or civility. Common interest or parity in status is all that counts.

Once someone is opportune to serve as minister or chairman of a board, the next thing: that ministry or agency is flooded with family members and people of the same tribe and ethnicity, and merit is thrown overboard.

So we are quick to call out Germany and condemn the treatment Özil received from his country, but have we here treated ourselves any better?

Recently, Prince Harry married Megan Markle, a black American actress and we were all jubilant in our retelling of those fairy tales we read as kids. But just think, would an Emir allow my son marry his daughter, no matter how in love they are? Would anyone give me a shot at being the governor of Anambra state no matter how long I have lived in Onitsha, knowing that I am from the Niger Delta? Wouldn’t people think I’m crazy if I there was a job opening in my current position and I didn’t try to get in an Ijaw men and women instead of looking for the best candidates?

I’ve worked in places where there were all sorts of cliques and cartels, many mornings I woke up not even wanting to be in that space. If you’ve experienced it, then you must know what it feels like not to ever get what is due you on your job unless you beg and kowtow and generally do ‘eye-service.’

This is not intended to shake any Yoruba tables, but I once worked in a corporate establishment in Lagos, where staff meetings were conducted in Yoruba dialect. I don’t speak or understand the language, so you can imagine how sidelined and unwelcome I felt at the time.

Like Özil, I felt like I was a staffer when it came do getting the job done, and an outsider when it came to decision-making and privileges. So before we worry too much about Özil and what the Germans did to him, how about we take some time to make the people around us feel like they are Nigerians too? To act any different would be unkind.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A proud son of the Ijaw nation and lover of Nigeria, Michael Afenfia associates with everything good and exciting about Nigeria.His ongoing work, the Mechanics of Yenagoa, is published on his blog every fortnight. So far, he has authored three critically acclaimed novels and a number of nonfiction writing, including a biography. He is @MichaelAfenfia on social media and can be reached via [email protected]

13 Comments

  1. Jummy

    July 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Exactly! People, including me used to think racism had to be the worst vice to exist in human history.

    At the end of the day, it’s no different from an Igbo man who doesn’t want his daughter to marry a Yoruba man based solely on his tribe.

  2. Dust

    July 27, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Your situation is different from Ozil’s situation… Ozil is German born not Turkish born…

    Nigeria is a combination of different ethnic nations so if you get a job outside your ethnic nation or geography you should know luck is on your side.. If you start a company and put the headquarters of the company outside your ethnic nation then you have a mental problem even if that ethnic nation provided or has the infrastructure to aid your development .

    Lagos is in the Yoruba nation… If the Yorubas weren’t too unconscious or complacent you would never get that job.. Go and look at company pictures on instagram of companies in U.S you can count the number of black AMERICANS in the company…

    One of your major goals should be encouraging the Bayelsan govt to improve the economic situation of the indigenous ethnic nations in Bayelsa…

    Every ethnic language should be the default language of any company in that ethnic nation…

    If you had learned Yoruba or had to take COMPULSORY yoruba lessons in order to keep that job you wouldn’t be complaining of language barrier..

    Most “Nigerians” speak their language when they are amongst “their people”..

    Its a good thing to know that there are some Yorubas/”Nigerians” that have not been BRITONIZED….

    what language would you speak if the company had Ijaws in majority?

    • jah rule

      July 27, 2018 at 5:23 pm

      what are you on about??

    • jah rule

      July 27, 2018 at 5:26 pm

      i mean i don’t understand your comment

    • Patty boo

      July 27, 2018 at 6:14 pm

      I swear down, I thought it was a me thing lmao. Pls when he explains to you come and explain to me abeg.

    • Baba

      July 27, 2018 at 8:05 pm

      The comment simply means that most tribes in Nigeria behave the same way when they are dominant in a workplace…and that is true!!!!!Also inter tribal marriages are more frowned upon by most tribes outside of Lagos…it could be Yoruba,Hausa or Igbo!!! Also,this comment highlight how other tribes outside of Lagos are not very accommodating.. how many Yorubas for instance stand a chance in the east…Let us be a nation first before we cry racism!!!

    • Eniola

      July 27, 2018 at 5:54 pm

      I think you are entitled to your opinion, just as the writer does have his too.

      I actually quite understand what the writer is talking about and I am sure that quite a number of Nigerians have suffered because they are not from a particular place. My mom, for instance, couldnt become a principal in the Ogun State civil service because she hailed from Ondo State. That’s even though both states are Yoruba-speaking. These things really do happen in Nigeria.

      “Every ethnic language should be the default language of any company in that ethnic nation.” Really? So, expatriates who do not understand our dialect/language should be disenfranchised because they do not understand your language or dialect? How about those who are originally Ijaw, for instance, but do not speak or understand their dialect, should they also be excluded for that reason?

      Personally, I’ve worked in places where people spoke Hausa in the office environment,and I literary felt like fish out of water because I couldn’t speak the language. They even would left me out of some deals that I could have benefited from.

      Speak lingua franca in an office. Simple! Especially at meetings!

  3. ijebujesha

    July 27, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Kylian Mbappe is Cameroonian. This urge to ‘Nigerianize’ any and every good person is becoming distasteful. Stop it already!

    • E

      July 27, 2018 at 10:05 pm

      Na joke naa. You no see the italics?

    • Anon

      July 28, 2018 at 10:41 am

      He is not Cameroonian. He is French, born and bred.

    • Ojuolape

      July 30, 2018 at 9:06 am

      LOL. Calm down na. There’s an italics somewhere there – meaning it’s not originally his name. It’s the same way Naija people gave Serena an Venus Naija names na. Calm down.

  4. Dust

    July 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

    you can’t get a job in some countries if you do not learn their language, so the expatriates should learn the language of the place they want to start a business in..

    Your mum’s case happened bcos like I said most Yorubas are not conscious, as long as a person is from that region/nation that person should be supported by their fellow tribes people.

    It takes less than 6 months to learn a language…

    stop victimizing yourself by making language a barrier when you can learn it..

    Nobody is forcing you to CONTINUE working in that company.

    Your lingua franca is your indigenous language.

  5. zzzzzzzzzzz

    July 28, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    I beg to differ, if it is a Corporate environment , English should be the means of communication. Do people forget that Nigeria has 250 languages and not just the major 3?

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