The just-concluded season of TLC’s reality TV show “90-Day Fiance” had Michael and Angela, whose story together captured millions of viewers across the world. Like other couples on the show, they are expected to play out their relationship to the audience, establishing that they can be together for 90 days (for visa purposes) to allow the couple eventually live happily ever after in the United States of America. For Michael and Angela, things were switched up a bit, with Angela visiting Michael in his home country – Nigeria.
From the first time the audience meets both of them, the producers ensure that Nigeria’s notoriety is addressed. Because, along with the amazing achievements of Nigerians across the globe, we are well known for advanced fee fraud. In the early 2000s, the escapades of Nigerian men were well known. They left a trail of old (sometimes not so old) white women who paid money to imaginary love interests.
The routine was pretty simple: a promise of love. Everybody needs love; it didn’t matter where from. After weeks of conversation, someone would be asked for money – Internet Boo’s mom/sister could be down with a illness so intense, there’d be a need for money to save their lives. For some reason, white Americans fell for this. Until the gag was up. The victims spread tales of how they’d encountered Nigerians; the perpetrators simply moved on, not caring about the damage to the nation’s reputation.
When Angela told her family and friends that she’d met Michael, they quickly raised the issue of the possibility of fraud. She dismissed them, saying she could handle it if it ever came to that. At least, she was the one going over there and she had nothing to lose – it wasn’t like she’d filed documentation for him to come to the US.
Michael and Angela’s story popped up on my radar because little clips of the show were posted on Instagram. I heard the Nigerian accent and saw Angela and knew how this was going to end. Michael, a man in his 30s, was trying to prove that he was in love with a white woman in her 50s – the collective Nigerian reaction was “this guy is looking for a green card”
It is a well known hustle with
some Nigerian men: find a foreign woman (she could be of any race or age – the only imperative factor is the passport), get her to fall in love with you (or have her believe you love her), be involved and be a listening ear. Finally, when you’re well ingrained in her life, propose and marry her.
To the American viewer, Michael’s task was apparently easy: do not aggravate the 52 year old white woman who had come across the world to see if the Nigerian dick was worth it. But every Nigerian watching the entire thing play out knew that it was a train wreck waiting to happen.
First and most important is that misogyny is deeply ingrained in the heart of the average Nigerian. Patriarchy is also deeply woven into the fabric of the society. But, Angela did not have a lot to fear: she is white and American. All Michael had to do was tuck in the misogyny and sexism … for 90 days.
He did try. After they had sex, Michael was asked to describe the experience, to which he responded that Angela was agile and muscular. If that isn’t a man who was trying, I don’t know what else is.
When Angela arrived at the Lagos airport, she excitedly kissed Michael, who wiped his lips. Yeah, that was our first hint that Michael wasn’t going to do a good job of tucking in any of his biases. In his interview with the producers, he said he hadn’t expected Angela to be that fat. However, he was anxious to emphasize her whiteness. He’d never been with a white woman, and on the hustle to Green Card, one had to stay focused. Fatness or age aside, Michael was going to try.
As the show went on, we saw Michael refer to Angela as fat during a scene where they were at the market to buy matching outfits. (Nigerian couples often dress like this – it’s one of the highlights of our culture, symbolizing love, unity and camaraderie) Michael was rewarded with a slap for calling her fat. He smiled and humbly accepted the reprimand.
Green card, Michael. Stay focused on the Green card.
In another scene, Michael told Angela he preferred that she didn’t smoke. Angela said she was going to buy her cigarettes, he didn’t get to tell her what she was going to put in her body or not. For the uninitiated, smoking, drinking and possession of tattoos are seen as unfeminine traits. In fact, women who brazenly smoke in public are stigmatized. Oh, I forgot to mention piercings and ankle chains. But you can figure some of these things out by asking your Nigerian friends.
Anyway, so Angela really wanted to buy her smokes and Michael didn’t want her to, but was once again constrained by the Green Card Quest.
At a visit to his mom’s home, Mama Michael laid out a plate of snails (a delicacy, usually reserved for the highest level of guests – because of the cost and the amount of time required to prep it. Also, tasty…) To the uncultured Westerner, Angela’s reaction to her first taste of the snails wouldn’t have been surprising. She whispered to Michael to quickly kiss her, and she spat out the half chewed snail into Michael’s open mouth.
I don’t think Michael saw that coming, but we have already established that the greater goal is the Green Card. His mother and her posse watched in awe as this older woman swapped mouth fluids with Michael. I applaud their ability to remain affixed to their seats.
Everyone was clearly on board. Green Card or bust.
The popularity of this show and the ridiculousness of everything playing out to millions of viewers across the world further highlight the suffering of Nigerian women who have to deal with Nigerian men. I shudder to think about a Nigerian woman doing a third of the things Angela did to Michael.
To assert your agency as a Nigerian woman while you’re in a relationship with a Nigerian man in the manner Angela did is always noteworthy – simply because it is not the norm.
Nigerian women, particularly those raised in Nigeria, are taught that men are king. Nigerian mothers and aunties are also the stalwart defenders of patriarchy. They encourage you to continue to minimize yourself so that the man does not feel emasculated.
The masculinity is so fragile, it can be toppled by something as simple as disagreeing with your man in a gathering of his friends.
If a Nigerian man is seen carrying his wife’s purse, there’s at least one person sniggering, wondering who has the balls in that family. Is his father in law paying the rent? Is the woman paying his bills? Or is there a blue passport at stake?
In the wildly popular Nigerian film industry, Nigerian men who choose to be with assertive, fully formed and aware women are often depicted as men whose “manhoods” have been “stolen.” Somehow, through these movies, men who have women like Angela are continually portrayed as being weak or lacking in masculinity.
Nigerian women languish under patriarchy, but even worse is the burden Nigerian men bear under toxic masculinity.
Be a man.
Don’t be a pussy.
These words are often thrown at Nigerian men who show any sign of perceived weakness, in relationship with women. It is particularly a worsened situation when the man’s apparent net worth is less than the woman’s.
It is presumed that if a man shows kindness and compassion to his wife, he automatically is someone who has lost his balls because he is benefiting financially from the wife.
In the case of Michael, he endured what his peers would ordinarily not abide because of his quest for a green card. To the struggling Nigerian man, the green card is indicative of financial freedom. It is the beginning of the end of his toils under the tough Nigerian economic climate. Whether or not monetary Nirvana lies abroad is a risk he is willing to take.
Michael and Angela’s story also raises the subject of imbalance in inter-racial relationships. Michael mentions Angela’s whiteness so many times, it is clear that it is the only thing he sees when he looks at her. In a scene where Angela is unpacking and displaying the gifts she has brought for Michael, she pulls out a Make America Great Again hat. Michael laughs loudly saying he loves America (bless his heart, the poor guy wants to leave Lagos so bad). He then goes on to say that Donald Trump is his business mentor, one he loves very much.
Someone give that guy his green card already.
The British colonized Nigeria, and even though we regained our independence in 1960, many Nigerians are still plagued with colonialism of the mind. White is seen as right; the Brits did such damage to our psyche that even the most basic, bare minimum white man is often viewed as superior. Service people in Nigeria are generally seen paying obeisance to white expatriates. It is so bad that even Indians and Chinese get the trickle down adoration from everyday Nigerians. (Asians, although, not racially classified as white, but close enough in their eyes. Hello silky hair!) The anti-blackness is real, so it is quite understandable that Michael’s friends and mother (who would ordinarily have probably protested the entire Angela-Michael arrangement) watched quietly, afraid to rock the boat.
It’s the Colonizers all over again, but this time with the might of the dollar – or the imagination of its existence. (Angela nearly suffered a stroke when she found out that $900 was missing from her account.) In any case, as efforts go, Michael has given this quest for Green Card his best shot. And if you know how fiercely Nigerian men hold on to patriarchy, you’d admit that this man has paid his dues. Gender roles become flexible when there is a blue passport or green bills at stake.