Monday, May 31, 2010


Dateline: 'Lost but found' file!

Although I was harassed by a freezing cold weather (10 degrees) as soon as I landed Tegel Airport in Berlin, Germany from Madrid, Spain; it was the warm, beautiful truth in the phrase 'German machine' that got to me.

From pick up at the airport to the guest house, it was a display of efficiency from my hosts. This seamless arrangement was to be the routine throughout the duration of my visit. Thankfully, ‘African time’ and the hustle and bustle of Lagos life became extinct as one was exposed to Berlin. I also realized for a truth also that Germans were usually on time - from the arrival and departure of buses, subway trains, delivery of goods and services to keeping of every day appointments. It was also refreshing to know that one could literally browse the internet at the speed of touch.

“You cannot visit Germany and not eat a Donne Kebab,” I had been told. Of course, it was my first meal when I arrived. Besides Donne Kebab and other types of food on offer, I tried as much to feed my curiosity on Berlin’s sights and sounds during my stay. Sometimes, being in a foreign country does something significant to your sense of patriotism, especially when you hear Yoruba and Ibo speaking Nigerians conversing on the subway train in far away Berlin!. That was how my Nigerianness got the better of me, after I was twice confronted by warped up images and impression of Nigeria. There and then, I became an unofficial ambassador and spokesperson for the Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation rebranding campaign.

The first time was when my Vietnamese friend revealed that he thought that the Nigeria of 2003 was actually how it was portrayed in the 2003 Hollywood movie, Tears from the Sun, starring Bruce Willis. I had to thoroughly lecture and ‘rebrand’ him in the image of seeing Nigeria in a positive light. “I would really love to visit your country,” he told me afterwards. Good job, I smiled to myself, I wished Dora Akunyili was here to see this.

The second time was when I, along with some foreign friends, went to the Sony Centre to watch the premiere of the movie, The Informant, starring another renowned Hollywood actor, Matt Damon; a story about a top executive in a company who ended up being a spy for the U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and then leaving behind a trail of lies. At the end of the movie, I was miffed with the numerous Nigeria and 419 references contained in the movie. “But 419 actually started in Nigeria,” one of my foreign friends, a Ghanaian, explained while I tried, painfully so, to edit the implication of some comments made in the movie linking Nigeria to the practice of advanced fee fraud, better known as 419. It seemed District 9 and that Sony (Play Station 3) advertisement was not the only visuals that seemingly portrayed Nigeria in a negative way after all.

Unexpectedly, Nollywood came to my rescue. Some days after those ‘rebranding’ incidents, my Ugandan friend went on and on about the popularity of Nigerian home videos in her country; just like it was so in most other African countries (although the prevalence of voodoo in home videos was a sore point of the discussion). Maybe, the federal government could learn a thing or two from their American counterparts – movies, apart from their avowed entertainment value, are also a powerful weapon to telling your own stories to the rest of the world, instead of waiting and watching while others malign it for their own interests.

Despite the cold weather, which I came prepared for; Berlin was a very beautiful and enriching experience. With its historical landmarks and large percentage of youth population, you can’t but fall in love with the city, which offered so much in terms of infrastructure, culture and lifestyle.

From being part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall at the famous Brandenburg Gate (where I heard about Nigeria’s dramatic qualification for the FIFA 2010 World Cup), to making a trip to Hamburg (where I later gathered that the Golden Eaglets lost to Switzerland in the final of the Under-17 World Cup); travelling being another learning experience never had a more meaningful meaning.

Although as much as one enjoyed every bit of his stay in such ‘sane’ and functional society, it was also a jarring reminder of many things that don’t work, but should be working in Nigeria; where citizens are forced to provide their own electricity, security and water; where simple traffic rules are broken endlessly, where lawmakers are also law breakers…the list goes on and on - a reminder of the systemic failure of leadership in Africa’s most populous country. Again, I was forced to wonder like Femi Kuti why Nigeria’s leaders, past and present, turn a blind eye to implementing the development they see in their frequent travels to Europe. The only snag I had with Berlin was not having enough time to explore the city… and once getting lost in translation, then paying an extra fifteen euro (never budgeted for) to buy another phone recharge card. My saving grace was that I learnt early enough that maps and a German dictionary are handy tools for any first time visitor.

Nevertheless, the sweltering heat and the stark difference of living conditions and working systems in Nigeria compared to Germany, it felt so exciting to be back home, in Lagos (Africa’s New York) with a treasure chest of experience and fond memories. Not even the policeman at the car park, who ‘asked’ for any small thing (to grease his palms), could dampen my enthusiasm. There is really no place like home. As we drove out of Murtala Muhammad International Airport, into the streets of Lagos, where most buildings were mercifully being powered by generators, I silently prayed that things would get better for Nigeria and Nigerians. At least Governor Babatunde Fashola has so far proven that some things can be done right. True national rebranding should actually begin with each and every single Nigerian, everywhere.

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