The country of my birth is not a factor that should be used in determining my criminal tendencies. Of the various life choices that I can make, neither the circumstance of my birth nor who my parents are was within my power of choices, the reality is that others made these choices for me, before I had my first breath on this planet. This holds true for each and every human that shares this space called Earth with me. What each of us can then only do is to live out our lives within the confines of these two choices that have been made for us.
As Martin Luther King rightly looked for, many today are still looking for a world where they will not be judged by the colour of their skins but by the content of tbeir character. Unfortunately, this simple dream made public at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on 28th August 1963 remains a dream for many almost fifty years after MLK groaned it out.
I was born in the rainforest of Nigeria to a family of modest means. In my years of existence on this part of eternity, I have jealously protected my name and created an expectation around the name – one that many have come to agree stands for honesty, justice and godliness. I stand untainted by blemish, of any form. This is my little light that I am making to shine. To be fair, given the thick darkness that pervades my environment, my little light shines really bright.
Unlike many that share the same circumstance of being Nigerian with me, I have been favourably smiled at by the creator who has taken me to the far and near of this wonderful world that he made in six days. Starting with road trips to the Republic of Benin, my world sojourn grew to encompass other countries as the United Kingdom, the United States and then France. My travel map covers such countries as South Korea, Germany, Hong Kong, Thailand, Qatar, UAE, China and South Africa. Oh I forgot to mention Singapore as well. Yes, same Singapore which I visited visa free in 2006.
In these sojourns, I had gone through various experiences at the hands of immigration officials, some not so good and others simply wonderful. The very first was in California in 2005 while trying to cross the Pacific to Korea. My family and I got pulled back, from the entire passengers that were to board the United flight, for bomb tests .Of course, I protested that this was racial profiling.
I had always told the world, at least those who cared to listen, that when it comes to acts of terrorism, the world should focus its energies somewhere else away from Nigeria. It was a sound argument, and it held true, until my countryman Abdulmutallab decided to give a Christmas gift to Nigeria by becoming the first recorded Nigerian suicide bomber. Arguments abound as to whether one can truly regard him as a Nigerian, given that he spent more years out of Nigeria than he did within it. However the reality is that he carried a Nigerian passport. Shortly after, I was leaving Houston and words are not enough to describe the humiliating experience of being pulled aside and being thoroughly searched because I some from a country of interest. Thank God that, with much outcry, the United States soon changed her policy and the Nigerian passport does not necessarily put you on the radar for special treatment.
I thought I had seen it all, how wrong I was! It all started with a desire of the family to vacate somewhere outside Australia. The plan was to spend a few days in the Phillipines and since we would transit in Singapore do same as well in Singapore. We sent in our papers for Visa to the Singaporean embassy, paid the required fees and gotten the eVisa. Remember, as at 2006 when we visited this country, as a Nigerian you do not need a visa. The pre-approval for the Phillipines Visa came a little below two weeks before our planned departure. To send our passports to the consulate for tbe phillipines visa was adjudged high risk as we may not get this back before our planned travels. So we decided to spend all the travel days in Singapore.
We arrived Singapore in the early morning hours and then going through immigration, I was reminded of my reality that I am a Nigerian when the official pulls my son and I apart for further examination. We watched as the entire passengers of our flight were allowed through immigration and no other persons were pulled aside. We were taken to a different room and our passports subjected to such scrutiny as a medical researcher would do to a specimen under a microscope. Then followed the barrage of questions – Who were we, what were we doing in Singapore, What do I do In Australia and on and on. Thirty or more minutes passed and we were then handed over our passports. I asked the official why we had to go tbrough this and he said it was because we are Nigerians. And why was that an issue? Simply they’ve had issues with some Nigerians that were travelling on fake passports.
When I got reunited with my wife and daughter, my girl in the innocency of a child asked “Daddy, why were you taken away and nobody else was from the passengers? How do I start explaining to her that it is the burden that comes with carrying a Nigerian passport? How do I complain to the Singapore officer that what he just did was ridiculous and is racial profiling? Given the news about the monstrous atrocities of the Boko Haram sect in Northern Nigeria, the MEND in the south and the continued piracy along the coasts of the Nigeria state, how do I convince the Singaporean officer that subjecting me to such scrutiny in their desire to protect their people and border was wrong?
I was angry, angry that my family and I had to go through this ridicule, angry at each and everyone of our citizens that has made the name Nigeria synonymous with 419 fraud, religious bombings, public corruption, moral delinquency and a tendency towards a failed state. I was angry at myself that I have not done enough in changing the trajectory of that country. My anger was more about us as a people and less about Singapore.
The very next morning, my son drew my attention to an article in a Singapore Magazine stating that a Nigerian Internet Service Provider leads the world when it comes to sending out sham mails – 62% of the addresses controlled by the ISP were noticed to be sending out spam.
As you read this piece would you join me in being the change that Nigeria needs. Remember, our little lights will shine brighter and will eventually overcome the thick darkness.