In Love with Nigeria

Beauty in the eye of the beholder in Africa's most populous country

Corrupt politicians, police brutality, rigged elections—there are just too many ways America outdoes Nigeria. One area in which we surpass Trumpland, however, is in our megachurch pastors equipped with private jets with which to spread the good news of Christ having risen.

According to Forbes, at a net worth of $150 million, Bishop Oyedepo topped the list of the world’s richest pastors in 2018—ahead of such American “institutions” as T.D. Jakes, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen and the aptly named Creflo Dollar. In fact, four Nigerian men of God make the top 10. Not only do we claim the number one spot, but when you adjust for population, Nigeria still beats America hands down. The USA might have more doctors per capita (2.3 per 1000 Americans) compared with Nigeria (0.28 per 1000 Nigerians), but where it really counts—in the saving of the soul from eternal damnation stakes—Nigeria wins.

But what does this mean to the 180 million Nigerians spread across the planet? We know exactly what it means to the world’s richest pastor: he’s on video stating how insulted he is that some think he’s worth a mere $150 million. Following up the recorded declaration of his indignation with a Bible quote that places heavenly riches above gold and silver or something like that—it’s hard to ignore the substantive boast—the man clearly believes he’s worth more, and not in heavenly currency.

And Nigerians celebrate his number one position on Forbes’ list, and at the same time marvel at how many gullible tithers it must have taken to get him there. But we don’t care: he’s the world’s richest pastor and he’s Nigerian and that’s all that matters. When you are Nigerian, you celebrate everything that can be celebrated. It’s a coping mechanism, and I believe it’s the reason for our eternal positive outlook. A national refrain goes, “E go better”—things will get better. It’s a greeting, a form of farewell, a show of commiseration, a prayer. E go better. Positivity etched into the lingo of a people. Thieving politicians? E go better. Neighbour loses a son? E go better. Nigeria crashes out of the World Cup? E go better. Your partner leaves you for a sugar mummy? E go better.

It’s this positive attitude to life that makes Nigerians a great people, and Nigeria a great place to visit. Do not believe Donald Trump. Nigeria is not a shithole. Far from it. It’s the land that produced Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Man Booker Prize winner Chinua Achebe, Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, singers Wizkid and Davido and novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s the country that gave the world Hakeem Olajuwon, Anthony Joshua, Sade, Ben Okri, Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha.  Without Nigeria there would be no Wale, Uzo Aduba, Richard Ayoade, Taio Cruz, Sophie Okonedo, David Oyelowo, or John Boyega.

In all walks of life, you’ll find a Nigerian who has distinguished herself in medicine, literature, sport, engineering, theatre. But why then do Nigerians and Nigeria get such a bad rap? I think I have the answer.

There are 196 million Nigerians in the world. Now consider this: there are 1.29 billion Africans on Earth. That means that roughly 1 in every 7 black people in the world is Nigerian. So every time anything newsworthy happens that involves a black person, there is a 1 in 7 chance he is Nigerian. We are not that much better or worse than other black people, and indeed people in general; but rather, we are just that much more as a population.

What about Nigeria the country herself? Did you know that it’s one of the oldest locations of known human existence, dating back to about 9000 BCE? Nigeria has one of the largest diversities of butterflies in the world; there are more than 250 different languages spoken there; it has two official UNESCO World Heritage sites and the second-oldest surviving ship in the world, the Dufuna canoe, which was constructed in 6550 BCE. It’s also home to the longest bridge in Africa.

What’s more, archaeologists believe they’ve found the resting place of the Biblical Queen of Sheba in Nigeria—never mind that the locals already knew about the Eredo earthworks, which are reputedly larger than any of the famous pyramids of Egypt.

Did you also know that Nigeria now has the second-largest movie industry in the world, second only to Bollywood and ahead of Hollywood? Have you seen Childish Gambino’s “This is America?” You can thank Nigerians for some of the dance steps in the thought-provoking music video.

I’ve called London home now for 20 years now. So what do I miss about the country of my birth? I’ve been on a plant-based diet since the beginning of the year and so far I’ve not felt like killing a cow, but if there’s one thing I still don’t feel prepared to confront, it is the delicious aroma of suya cooking over an open flame.

Suya is Nigeria’s best-kept secret. It’s a thin-sliced, flat beef kebab, covered in a thick rub of ground peanuts, dry chiles, some secret herbs and some magical stuff, sprinkled with groundnut oil, then left to stand for a few hours before it’s cooked to order over crackling coal. The aroma as it sizzles is the smell of joy. It is the smell of Nigerian nights. It is street food at its best, and it’s one of the things that makes me think of my homeland—while simultaneously giving me serious doubts about my veganism. Just the memory of the smell of suya transports me in an instant to the so-called University of Suya on Allen Avenue in Ikeja, Lagos. I can hear the unrelenting traffic and incessant horns. Full beams sweep over the green reflective road signs. A tangle of wires criss-cross above from pole to pole, and just to the side, a few meters from the asphalt, there’s a shop built into a fence. A sign above it clearly announces the University of Suya, and beneath that, just to be precise, it adds: Faculty of Meatology. It’s the unofficial college devoted to teaching the art of suya-making.

Then there’s jollof rice. It has been said that jollof rice has the power to bring world peace. A viral meme declares: “You cannot please everybody—you are not jollof rice.” What is this food of the gods? It’s rice cooked in tomato sauce and spices. It’s that simple and that amazing, and the best jollof rice is made in Nigeria (never mind what Ghanaians say).

So if Nigeria is so great, why do so many of us want to live abroad? It’s tiring hearing the country belittled as corrupt and dangerous all the time. In his seminal book The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe wrote that “there is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else … The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.”

Why are Nigerian leaders so bad? My niece puts it like this: “Nigeria is blessed with good stable weather and we do not have natural disasters like we see on TV. No tsunamis, earthquakes, devastating fires, hurricanes, none of those terrible acts of God.” She opines that “God has spared us all those natural disasters in Nigeria because our leaders are our natural disasters.” And she may be right. But you know what? E go better.


Leye Adenle

Leye Adenle is a Nigerian writer living in London. His debut novel, Easy Motion Tourist, set in Lagos, won the 2016 Prix Marianne. He has appeared on stage in London in plays including Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again. Adenle’s second book, When Trouble Sleeps, will be published in September by Cassava Republic Press.

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