Recently in the UK, the media have been talking about the idea of teaching young people about "shared British values" such as tolerance and respect. These are the principles we have ingrained in our culture and in our attitudes. They are the values that our grandparents passed down to our parents, who passed them down to us. I thought to myself , if the British have core values that make them who they are, what are my values as a Nigerian then?
As a Nigerian living outside the country, I am very much aware that we have acquired a bad reputation in the international community. This is due to widespread corruption, fraud and 419 activities committed by many desperate Nigerians. Some of our leaders are not much better, as a few have been caught with wealth from dubious sources. But for every Nigerian criminal that commits a crime, there are thousands more out there who are decent, honest and hardworking people. There are Nigerians living, studying and working in almost every country I can think of causing no trouble. So how would our host nations describe us? What adjectives would I use to describe my fellow country folks?
For one thing, I could describe us as having pride. Most Nigerians I know are very proud of their identity. Sometimes to the extent that we are wary of non-Nigerians claiming to be from Nigeria. Most Nigerians are proud of where they come from. Whichever country we are based in abroad, we usually identify with other Nigerians we meet and we build social networks because of our common background. (Even on blogspot, we have built a strong virtual Naija community!). We are also very proud of our achievements and possessions. Whatever we have, we are proud to show it off. Wealthy and really humble Nigerians are quite rare actually. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes we use it to 'impress' or 'oppress' other people. And then we create a competitive situation. Everybody tries to 'keep up with the neighbours' because they want what the other person has.
Another value I think we have is respect. Growing up in Nigeria, one of the things hammered into my head over and over again was respect. As a child, you are taught to respect all your elders, you must greet everybody you see politely, you must not talk back to your elders, you shouldn't interrupt when an elder is speaking, etc. I used to think it was all a big bother. But now that I'm older, I see it reflects back on me if people perceive me as polite and good mannered or rude and ill-mannered. And I'm glad that I don't have to worry about it because being polite and respectful is already part of who I am.
Nigerians are also (usually) very hardworking. Most of us were brought up with the idea that failure is a disgrace, so were pushed and pushed till we succeed. Parents go all out to ensure that their children achieve their goals. And even if we fail, we don't accept it as the end. No, we must find a way to pick ourselves up and keep trying. (I used to think this was normal until I met people who gave up trying after the first hurdle, and parents who couldn't be bothered about their children's success). This leads me to the next value: we don't take no for an answer. How many Nigerians do you know that have been to the UK or US embassy 20 times? Each time they are turned away, and soon they are back there to try again. We don't give up even when the going gets tough!
I can mention a few more things common to many Nigerians that I know: we are adaptable, we take risks, we love enjoying ourselves, we are quite religious, we are optimistic, etc etc. However, there are some funny things that only Nigerians do. For example, only a Nigerian would have 6 mobile phones, why, because he just can't have one. Only a Nigerian would attempt to take a 45kg suitcase onto a plane when the luggage allowance is 32kg. Still, we are a unique group of people, as diverse as can be, but having many shared values. Yes I'm a Nigerian and I'm proud of it! If you are a Nigerian, please add your ideas of our shared values.