If they see it, it is because it is there.
This is an expression I picked up from a mentor about 10 years ago and one which has helped me reflect on criticisms whenever I am criticised. It is often not a very pleasant task, but then like a mirror is not obliged to flatter one’s image, people’s opinion of us may not necessarily be flattering, for indeed the veracity or mendacity of a criticism expressed by others does not lie in its pleasantness.
I saw the result of a Google search for Nigeria on someone’s page recently and tonight I decided to do a search for the word “Nigerian” on Google and the results were dismaying. I have attached the images of the results in this write-up. Apart from the Wikipedia entry that was returned first in the search, which by the way was a stub on the Nigerian-Biafra war, 4 of the next 5 entries were disparaging articles (including one which was a parody on how to pick up Nigerian women). 3 of these 4 centred on fraud. Online newspapers and journals links made up the remaining.
The image search even returned more disturbing results. Of the first 6 entries, 5 were ridiculous pictures – or so I am inclined to think – whilst the 6th was the Nigerian flag.
Whilst I am not going to let a search engine determine my identity for me, it is sad nonetheless that for the nearly 1 billion people in the Western world who have access to the internet and who may want to use it as a quick reference tool, these are the first images they would see of our country. Given that Google uses some indexing method to rank web pages and relevant words, someone may challenge the company on the keywords that have been associated with or have become synonyms for “Nigerian” and may demand, like Dora “the Explorer” Akunyili, that such offensive stereotyping be removed.
I would imagine some geek at the Palo Alto offices of Google chuckling and thinking to himself (or herself) if these ignorant Nigerians do not realise that some algorithm or another governs the operations of a search engine. Even if Google decides to make an exception for us and come up with a bespoke search program within its search engine which applies only to Nigeria, the question is how long would such exceptions be made for us?
These images and text results would not represent virtually anyone reading this article, principally because most of us reading this are statistical outliers that are not representative of the Nigerian average. Take out that slice of Nigeria that is employed in jobs that pay more than £7,500 p/annum (or its equivalent in Nigeria) and you are left with a chunk that would look more like this Google search.
Yet, our epileptic government rants about progress made and the gains of democracy. The same government officials are quick to get bristly when their performance, or lack of it in most cases, is challenged in the local press or pilloried in Western media. The recent comic appearances and pronouncements of Prof(?) Mrs. Dora Akunyili and Chief Ojo Maduekwe only paint a more grotesque picture of Nigeria and Nigerians in this regard.
This search results make me sad, because they are an unfair representation of what we could be. Yet I can hardly fault the search results, because they are representative of how the world sees us. And until we take matters into our hands, this image, or worse, would continue to be what the world perceives us to be, a tin-pot republic.