There are challenges, but there are also things we can crow about in Nigeria, argues SEUN AWOGBENLE

Recently, while I was watching BBC Breakfast, one of the popular morning news programme in England, they showed the promotion for a documentary soon to be aired about a certain British journalist who had recently visited Nigeria and would be sharing his experience. In the less-than-a-minute promotion, I noticed that more than 20 seconds were dedicated to images, which I suppose are from Makoko, a coastal settlement in Lagos, dubbed Nigeria’s biggest slum, with minimal highlights from the urban and more cosmopolitan parts of Nigeria.

Immediately, I saw the highlights from Makoko, I sighed not because I was expecting much from a news media that was potentially looking to reinforce its perception about Nigeria, but because for every one thing that is not working in Nigeria today, there is at least one other thing you can point to that is working or in the process of reform. And I have always held the belief that the obsession of foreign media with branding Nigeria as the symbol of global underdevelopment is both unkind and uncharitable.

One of the things that takes me aback more frequently is when non-Nigerians ask me questions like whether or not we have a functional banking system, if we have functional schools, or if there are holiday destinations in Nigeria. A friend who works with one of the big communication networks recently told me that his manager once expressed shock that he could speak English fluently. One of my mentors also recently shared how someone had asked several years ago if there were modern houses in Nigeria, and he responded in sarcasm that everyone lives on trees.  From my experience, I sometimes feel like non-Nigerians, especially those from the Global North, think that most Nigerians probably live in a cave. But I am hardly offended when such vexatious questions come up. I have simply taken it as the result of the ceaseless demarketing of Nigeria by foreign media, enabled in part by Nigerians, who cannot stand up for the country when it matters.

Recently, an English woman was telling me about her intention to visit Nigeria later in the year but was unsure about her safety. With the news of abduction and kidnappings everywhere, I had to spend another 30 minutes explaining to her that kidnappings in Nigeria are not the norm. I went ahead to show her videos that I personally recorded in August last year, during the visit of John Cleverly, the United Kingdom Home Secretary to Nigeria. I reassured her that Nigeria was a safe place to visit and that she was assured of her safe return.

Today, I know that pessimism and cynicism are the new order; to put Nigeria down is considered more sensational than to admit its progress. However, it is unfortunate because this is a trend that I have found more among Nigerians than with people from other parts of the world, especially those from countries that are also plagued by the same challenges. You are not likely to find someone from South America, Eastern Europe, or even other parts of Africa who puts down their country like most Nigerians gleefully do, especially those who have just migrated.Make no mistake about it. I admit that Nigeria has multifaceted challenges of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, and out-of-school children, among other key challenges, but there are also a number of things that are working, like our highly subsidised education, communication services, banking services, technology services, creative and digital economy, capital market, improved rail and road infrastructure, emergency response system in Lagos State, and a number of other key developments.

The work of nation-building is an eternal endeavour. Sometimes I am also frustrated by our slow pace of development, but the reality is that, however incremental, Nigeria is turning the corner. Some of the countries we benchmark with Nigeria have existed for far more years, and I know some would ask, What about the countries that came just after us? The peculiarities of Nigeria in size and population especially pose a special kind of challenge. By the way, I have never been the one to excuse the failure of our political leaders. I have always believed that Nigeria could be far better with more purposeful leadership, but that does not take away from the progress we have recorded.

One of the most recent speeches by President Bola Tinubu immediately comes to mind. The speech is even more appreciated, seeing that he delivered it extempore, and I think the message conveyed is timeless. Tinubu said, “Do not condemn your own nation,” and went on to say, “Yes, this leader is bad, fine. Wait until the next election to change him, but do not condemn your country. Do not curse Nigeria. This is a beautiful land.” I don’t think it could have been said any better. We can knock our leaders without putting down our country; we can criticise the country and also emphasise the things that work.

For emphasis, the point I am trying to make is that if we must change the way the world sees Nigeria, we must be fair in our assessment of the country. We can admit our challenges as a nation and also acknowledge our progress.

The job of reimagining our country must start from within, and it must start with every Nigerian seeing themselves as brand ambassadors of this country. If we must change our image problem, then the change must begin with us.

 Awogbenle, a development and public policy professional, writes from the United Kingdom. He can be reached via

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