By Rufus Kayode Oteniya
The British Press calls him British but Nigerians want his Nigerian root to be acknowledged or perhaps be called a Nigerian outrightly. It is unbritish to share a glorious moment!
The British are right to call Chiwetel Umeadi Ejiofor, the Oscar nominee and British Independent Film Awards winner a British man; he was born and raised in Great Britain. And Nigerians are also right to call him one of their own; his dad, Arinze Ejiofor was a Nigerian doctor practising in the UK when he died in a fatal auto accident in Nigeria in 1988 while visiting with his son, Chiwetel, who, as fate would have it, was the lone survivor in the mishap; and also his mum, Obiajulu, a UK based pharmacist is also a Nigerian.
The British culture is to lay 100% claim to success! Anything great is Britain’s, anything British is great! Anything short of that is shared with the isles and where inapplicable, then with other countries.
It is a known fact that Andy Murray is British as long as he is winning; otherwise, he is a Scot! It is the same measure for other sportsmen.
The British Press is neither ignorant of the Jamaican root of Jessica Ennis-Hill nor has it forgotten that Mohamed “Mo” Farah only came to join his father in Britain when he was 8 years old but as long as they remain great as they are, they can only be British. Their roots will hardly be mentioned.
In contrast, when your surname is Adebolajo, notwithstanding the fact that you were born and bred in Britain and you have never visited Nigeria, your Nigerian root takes precedence with the British press.
The story of Kweku Adoboli, an investment bank whizz kid and promising young British trader who just overnight became a Ghanaian rogue trader is still fresh in our memory.
Unlike the saying that ‘success has many fathers, failure is an orphan’, to the British, success has only one father while failure has many fathers. Obviously, the lone father is Britain!
What about Nigerians? Are Nigerians very different from the British Press? No!
We are a people often divided along the major ethnic lines and to a lesser extent, by religion! More than ever, the north and south dichotomy is more pronounced under the current administration and is only overshadowed by the fierce Hausa-Ibo-Yoruba unhealthy rivalries, suspicions and superciliousness. These are the three major ethnic groups in the country.
The animosity among these tribes cannot be better captured than what Azuka Onwuka, the erudite columnist wrote a few weeks ago in an article titled ‘Why the South-South has the upper hand’ when he said:
“…any time an Igbo, Yoruba, or Hausa-Fulani in any sphere of authority takes any action or makes any comment, no matter how innocuous, it is viewed with suspicion and subjected to the strictest scrutiny, to ascertain its underlying ethnic motive. Most times, it is even extrapolated, embellished and twisted to suit long-held suspicions…..”
Regardless of this seemingly ethnic detestation and suspicion, the same people unite to celebrate achievements and successes of their compatriots.
In the time of success, we often forget our ethnic colouration. We forget someone is Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or other tribes; we only remember that they are Nigerians.
Every Nigerian regardless of his/her ethnicity celebrates the literary heights attained by the likes Chinua Achebe (of blessed memory) and Wole Soyinka or the business success of the likes of Dangote. In a like manner, we proudly celebrate our sporting teams whenever successes come their ways.
In January 2013, when Stephen Keshi, the Nigerian national football coach named his 23-man team to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the team was scornfully regarded as an Igbo team by many because majority of the players were of Igbo extraction; some even called it a Biafran team in reference to the secessionist state in south-eastern Nigeria that existed during the civil war. The same Igbo team that Keshi took to South Africa returned to Nigeria as a celebrated national Super Eagles team to the delight of all; that is of course after winning the 29th edition of the continental football championship.
When the news are great, our national identity comes to the fore as Nigerians. We proudly unite to celebrate our country or countrymen for their strides to greatness but when the news are ordinary or unpalatable, we scornfully deplore the ethnic tags like Ibo boy/girl, Omo Ibo, Yamurin, A’jokuta mamomi, Ndi ota oji, Molar, Malo, Omo mola, Ndi Ofe Mmanu, Ngbati Ngbati, Ndi Ngwatingwa, Bairabe, Omo Yoruba….
Can you imagine If Chiwetel was involved in a scandal, the other tribes would have hastily disowned him; called him different ethnically scornful names; attached only his Igbo root to him; and then attacked his entire Igbo ethnic group for bringing Nigeria’s image to disrepute.
Success is it that unites us. But as a nation, we should be united beyond instances of success. We should be united in the good times as well as the bad times. We should identify with the successes and failures of our compatriots from other ethnic groups.
As the British press must have to accept that their system that produced the Chiwetel Ejiofors also produced the Michael Adebolajos, so must we accept that Chiwetel Ejiofor and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab are Nigerians. Sadly, we have to accept that as a nation, we will always have them.
There is no great nation without some less greatly behaved people; there is no champion/winner who does not lose? Britain Press must come to terms with the fact that a losing Murray is worthy of being a British as a winning Murray and as long as the Ejiofors are British, the Adobolis should be or if Kweku is a Ghanaian rogue trader, then Chiwetel is also a Nigerian actor. Every nation has the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not great to embrace the good and abnegate the others.
“If you have some thorns in your back, somebody needs to pull them out for you. We need buddies. The sense of belonging is born in the family and later includes friends, neighbors, community and country. That is why the idea of a nation is really important.” -Hiroo Onoda (1922 – 2014), the Japanese soldier who kept fighting in WWII 30 years after it ended, in his book “No Surrender: My Thirty-year War”
And to Chiwetel Ejiofor, ‘nke a ka wu mbido. I meela wetere anyi ugwu.’ Thanks for doing us proud and this is just the beginning! You will forever be a Nigerian and a British man. And more aptly, a British born Nigerian or a Nigerian born British.
Rufus Kayode Oteniya – firstname.lastname@example.org