Adesegun Ojo is a professor of Political Science and International
Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, USA.
Against the backdrop of the indictment of 77 Nigerians by the United
States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Ojo speaks with
SAHARAREPORTERS on the impact that may have on Nigeria and its
SR: What impact could the recent indictment of Nigerians by the US
government have on potential investors?
Ojo: In the actuality, this should have nothing to do with potential
investors in Nigeria. Nigeria is a country of over 200 million people.
Yes, it is disappointing and embarrassing to continue to hear about
these kinds of stories and the notoriety of some Nigerians in these
types of criminal activities. Yes, we may all feel a pang of anxiety
or a feeling that we may all be tainted by the actions of just a few
hundred. Yes, when you travel overseas, immigration and law
enforcement agents are on the ready when they hear that you are from
Nigeria. But overall, if you have no criminal background and not
engaged in any illicit activities you don’t really have to worry.
When it comes to potential investors, my fear is that the conditions
in Nigeria lend themselves to corrupt practices on the part of all
participants sometimes. Even when foreign investors come with clean
hands and see the potential in the Nigerian economy or its people,
they know that the level of corruption is high to the extent that they
are conditioned to also game the system for their benefits because of
the lack of ethics and endemic corruptive nature of our system. Every
level is tainted by corruption and these investors are well aware of
this before they step onto our shores. They know what they have to do
to achieve success. They know government officials who are in charge
of public trust are themselves corrupt and the population that are to
be served are neither as clean as you might expect. These criminal
activities have been going on for years but are becoming more
pronounced because of social media. We now hear more about these on
Facebook, Twitter and all.
And I might add that while Nigerians are in the news because of the
arrests, we also have citizens of other countries carrying out illicit
activities. This is not an excuse but this is a strong signal to the
Nigerian leadership to address the foundation of such problems in
Nigeria. Our priorities must change. We cannot continue to see public
service as a means of acquiring wealth and not expect some others not
to aspire to do the same. We cannot continue to glorify ill-gotten
wealth, and expect some of our citizens not to dream of and hopes to
one day be celebrated with same.
SR: How does it affect the perception of Nigerians who are going
abroad for career/academic advancement?
Ojo: Of course, right from the port of departure here in Nigeria to
the point of entry abroad, there is the trepidation that you might
meet an overzealous border agent who might be biased based on the
notoriety of the Nigerian fraudster. As I said earlier, if you are
honest and you do not engage in illegal activities, though it might be
disconcerting but you have nothing to fear at all. The past few
decades have seen an increase in the number of Nigerians abroad in
their respective careers. There are successful Nigerians all over the
world and their host countries recognize this and Nigerians in the
diaspora will continue to excel in their chosen fields of endeavours.
SR: Does this have any influence on xenophobic attacks on Nigeria.
That is, will foreigners be more likely to attack Nigerians abroad
because they feel they are fraudulent?
Ojo: In actual fact, in many of the cases of xenophobia, particularly
in many other African countries such as South Africa, it is not only
because of the fraudulent activities but because also, of the fear
that Nigerians are doing well and therefore taking jobs away from host
citizens. This is a misdirected anger because their situation is a
product of the lack of employment as well as a result of the
ineptitude of their leaders. Nigerians also face the same problem here
at home. Dreams have been killed because of lack of opportunities,
which pushes some out of the door to seek greener pastures abroad.
Nigerians are as much a victim of incompetent leadership demonstrated
by a lack of vision to address the problem of basic amenities,
employment, and socio-political and economic development. It just
happened that it is a case of double jeopardy for Nigerians. They ran
away from a Nigeria with lack of opportunities and also become victims
and blame for the ineptitude of many other developing nations.
SR: Is it possible that the indicted Nigerians have foreign accomplices?
Ojo: Depending on the nature of the criminal activities, it will not
be surprising that there are local accomplices aiding and abetting
some of these people. Criminal intent is not solely a Nigerian disease
but a human problem all over the world. What makes it easier today is
the advent of the new media, where you can be in a remote village in
Nigeria and with a simple access to Facebook or dating sites, you are
able to reach out to millions of people in different countries around
SR: How does this affect the perception of Nigeria in the comity of nations?
Ojo: There are so many problems plaguing Nigeria and this is just one
of many. Our incompetent leaders and their activities and stealing
from the Nigeria coffers, affect the perception of Nigeria in the
comity of nations. The unachieved potential of once a giant of Africa
affects us and how others see us. The activities of fraudsters are
just one of many issues plaguing Nigeria today. We need a total
overhaul of the Nigeria socio-political and economic infrastructures
to enable Nigeria-oriented policy initiatives. Many see Nigeria merely
from the perspectives of their ethnic origin thereby creating tension
within the Nigerian political leadership. And until this process is
reversed and the government actually governs, people or other nations’
perception of Nigeria will never change.