Tuesday, December 04, 2007


A Nigerian friend was leading a training workshop recently. In terms of project and programme management, there are few people with more qualifications: Prince2 certified trainer, PMI certified trainer, Six Sigma certified etc. etc. He has worked for quite a few blue chip companies on high level programme implementations around the world. If you have a project to run, no matter how complex, he's one of the guys you might turn to.

Imagine his dismay at the workshop, with his all-Nigerian team (many of whom are almost as accomplished), when the (public sector) client asked/commented: "where are the white trainers? We need white trainers."

Underneath all the bluster of Nigerian super-confidence and pride, there remains an internalised racial inferiority complex - an identity crisis lurks and circulates. The sub-conscious pattern logic is: nothing good comes from here. Everything good comes from overseas, and must therefore be white."

How do we break this pattern? Its gone on way too long.


Simon McIntyre 9:43 a.m.  

This is said indeed, but certainly not uncommon. The real challenge is for white trainers to not allow themselves to become the token face, hence enabling the problem.

Chxta 12:46 p.m.  

Beg to differ Simon. The challenge is to break the pervading mentality that if it's white, it is good, if it's black there's a problem somewhere. And that mentality permeates the world over...

Akin,  1:14 p.m.  

Imagine the struggle to prove oneself in Europe only to return home and meet an even deeper expertise discrimination because I am not a whiter shade of pale.

However, there is also the issue of those who have put themselves forward as experts and have fouled up projects that people are forced to bring in the white cavalry.

Then there is belittlement - as a 24-year old I was a co-owner with 30% of a company with a man twice my age who was a director of UBA who thought I was using my brain to gain advantages that others grovel for - many times he tried to emasculate, belittle, patronise and denigrate me but none of his schemes worked till I told him I had had enough and moved on.

What grated him most was that he could not treat me as an employee, I had many projects going.

I contrast that with another project also in Nigeria where the American consultant was not performing and I was trusted to deliver on those projects which I did.

People have to be ready to promote and defend their expertise with producing viable results and there would be no reason to be supplanted by others - white or black.

Wilf 1:45 p.m.  

That's why a friend of mine has two white partners. Opens doors for him in Abuja all the time.

Aspiring nigerian woman 2:06 p.m.  

Hey jeremy, Thanks for letting me know Oh. Myself and a well accomplished UK trained black Nigerian are planning a similar event in niaja next year. This is one issue we have been delibrating on for a while now.We have no intentions of bringing in any white faces and I don't believe Nigerian trainers should feed his crazy mentality.Let the good work speak for itself. We must force this change.

Anengiyefa 3:16 p.m.  

I think that this is about a deep seated inferiority complex from which many black people the world over suffer. This is why it is common to find many West Indians, for instance, who because they bear names that are European and speak no African languages, wrongly believe that they're somewhat closer to the white man, and therefore better than the average African.

The black race has too readily, and too easily given in to the ideas of the West. It was originally the white man's idea that blacks are inferior. We seem to have accepted that, and reinforced it in our own attitudes, and our behaviour towards the whites.

Anonymous,  5:38 p.m.  

So what do you say, Jeremy, which is worse: the anti-oyinbo sentimentality that you often complain about or the internalized racism displayed in the above story? Which is more prevalent in Nigeria?

I suspect they exist concurrently, in some kind of symbiosis.

You've often posited that insularity is holding Nigeria back. While I firmly believe that the outside perspective is crucial for progress, my mind reflexively thinks of situations like the above, where foreign=white and white=superior.

Uche,  10:13 p.m.  

How do we undo 40something years or internal brain-degradation??
That's like asking how do you undo 40something years of Political degradation ala bribery and corrupt figures in office.

Still a long way to go.

But hmmmm somehow i agree w Chxta...its all over. The mentality that the wyte man's ish is better. Maybe its not just an African thing, even though Nigeria's own churns my stomach.

Nkem 10:23 p.m.  

And people wonder why I say Africa wouldn't necessarily be the best place for a black journalist to practise...

Omodudu 12:26 a.m.  

A certain minister for a certain ministry once told me that (hard to translate, it was in a local dialect)..."Do not look to get into that sector (niche brokerage), because in Nigeria we already have white people doing that"

Garba,  4:14 a.m.  

white trainers? i got Nike, Reebok,umbro which one?

im planning to starting in naija with my polish friend who i'm teaching English, his girlfriend is going to be the face of the business,i'll be pulling the strings- there's money to be made mon ami.

Anonymous,  2:04 p.m.  

Hi Jeremy
1) Thank you for bringing up such a "sensitive" subject, nothing like getting all out in the open - so to speak.

2) All this talk of Nigerian pride and all that has been shown to nothing but a hollow illusion or just plain hype. The people abroad don't believe it and neither do the people in Nigeria believe it, maybe they should just drop it, be humble and concentrate on working quietly and assiduously like all progressive nations do.

3) I find this rather cool response here, to the fact that a Nigerian, can say such a thing and get away with it - a double standard.
If a non-black person, be it in Nigeria or UK , America or somewhere like that had said it, black pundits, the press etc would be after their blood and the person would be branded racist. This is a person openly stating their preference for a white trainer. When patients in the NHS in the 60's said this, the English medical staff deemed this unacceptable behaviour and acted on it.

Yet it's ok for this person to say such things, and at the same time influence others. Why does no one say, "what he said is WRONG". Why does no one do anything about it? Yet people bemoan the fate of Nigeria. Basic things like this are simply tolerated and accepted.

In Britain, they are working to "kick racism out of football", one can't help but thinking that if such behaviour manifested itself there, nothing would be done about it. I'm not saying Britain is "all that", but at least when there is wrong-doing in society, they take action.

Nigerians, when they are in semi-decent situation ie in Europe or America, are the first people to accuse the authorities of being racist. Yet they are some of the most biased and bigoted people I've come across, they like no one else, not even each other. They can only come up with snide remarks about other ethnic groups in Nigeria. Now I view such remarks coming from them as nothing but idle chatter. I feel little sympathy for them, when they can't even recitfy the mess in their backyard, or even amongst themselves.

4) The way black people in the diaspora (USA, Europe etc) have suffered to over-turn such prejudice, one would have thought that at least other black people would be more understanding and sensible about such notions (look at the struggle of black people in South Africa). It seems some people in Africa are as ignorant as they are stupid. They only have themselves to blame for the treatment they suffer at home (be it exploitation by foreigners or disrespect) or abroad.

5) If people just accept it, then maybe the KKK (Klu Klux Klan) and other people that hold such attitudes are right. Maybe colonialism and slavery is what black people deserve. After all they still like being treated like an infant in this day and age.

6) If you can't respect yourself, then don't expect anyone else to.

seeker,  7:30 p.m.  

This certainly matches my experience working in several African countries. Whenever I arrive at a new place, I find that I always have to prove myself. whereas for a white person who is similarly,less or even unskilled, it is taken for granted that she knows what she is doing. White man good , black man bad. sad.

trae_z 11:29 p.m.  

somehow i just don't believe this story, it doesn't sound right coming from Nigerians with such education. the statement could be false, could have been taken out of context, could be a joke or maybe your friend wasn't at his best on that day and that was just an expression of the students wanting someone better etc. whatever, there's always two sides to a story.

Anonymous,  2:32 p.m.  

this happened in my home. my mom got a letter from a south african organisation that tried to convince them to go to a conference in cape town. when they arrived the first thing the person put forward to organise their accomodation said was... i got them an expensive hotel, i thought they were white.
i think it should start from nursery school... i saw a programme on channel 4 (uk) where a 6 year old girl said they started throwing things at the tv in her school when a black man appeared on it. enuf said.


ps, i dont think its just about whites... ghanians get special treatment too in my experience... and people tend to be happier to give nigeriEN kids money on the roads than they are nigerians.

Jeremy 3:32 p.m.  

Sorry Trae there's no additional context to add that changes the meaning or gives a different side. As the other commentors have said - it is a common phenomenon in Nigeria. I'm often positioned as the White Expert - people try to use me in this way. Its quite disgusting.

Anonymous,  2:29 a.m.  

Seeker, this is not a new thing... from the beginning of time,the message that white is good and black is bad has been subliminally imposed on the world. white, (light )has symbolized good, and black,( dark) has symbolized bad..illustrated in the crusades, goth times..we have good, white angels and bad black angels. Black belleh means evil and jealousy, . One is said to possess a black heart or be white hearted- only thing that perhaps doesnt have judgement attached isChocolate. Black and white are equally good, just a matter of preference, altho ironically, the taste of black chocolate whether you enjoy it or not is bitter... i could develop this idea further but its 1 am and i'm f'ing tired.

Anengiyefa 11:32 a.m.  

"..this is not a new thing... from the beginning of time,the message that white is good and black is bad has been subliminally imposed on the world.."

Anonymous, what you say is true. What I think is that the notion that white is good and black is bad (and therefore inferior), is itself a white/European idea, and was a tactic used by the Europeans to subjugate the black African. The tragedy is that the black African seems to have embraced the idea wholeheartedly, and we have passed it on from genration to generation. This is not peculiar to Nigeria, and it is more or less the same in every country where there are black people. In places like Cuba and Brazil with large back populations, fair skin is a social advantage.

The same tactic was successfully resisted by the Chinese and the Japanese. Indeed, the Japanese in particular, believed that it was the white Europeans that were inferior, and regarded them as barbarians.

Anonymous,  2:29 p.m.  

May be those organiser promised them to fly in trainers from God knows where in New York or Sillicon Valley ...with some white sounding name ...but now black skin ! paid them the white fee and was expecting a white treatment

Certain things you dont know here ..since this is public sector, they might have been penciled to go outside the coutry for a training with all the estacodes ..now they missed that and you are not giving them at least a somthing similar to what they want .......oh Nigerians are not that modest ...
it is however a deep rooted mentality. One a gate-man ( security guard) was on the phone to introduce me and my black american visitor to a NITEL official in Port-Harcourt...He is light skinned , more like a mullato , but speak the american english ..hear the gate man :
yes one of them is a naija ..the other one speak like america but he looks like a yellow man .....

from where i think ...in between !

but really this shouldnt be an issue the statement those guys seems to be making is that ...you cant compare the white man country with ours..and by extension the experts out there that makes it work .... they made the mistakes that some of those experts are black skinned....we all make mistakes

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