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The country that love to overachive

In a lifetime of feverishly aggressive Scrabble-playing, I’ve solely been defeated by six earthly beings. Rising up, my mom’s nickname for me was “speedometer”, and I started educating myself German on the age of 9 with a purpose to catch as much as the ten languages my dad and mom spoke between them. For Nigerians like myself, a aggressive streak is as pure as spicy jollof rice at a marriage.

The truth is, excelling in all circumstances is so deeply entrenched within the Nigerian psyche that the nation’s unofficial motto is “Naija no dey carry final” (“Nigeria by no means comes final”).

This successful mentality is seen at house and overseas. Nigeria is essentially the most populated nation in Africa and, in line with Bloomberg, now has the continent’s largest economic system – incomes us our well-known sobriquet, “The Big of Africa”. Glittering examples of Nigerian success will be seen within the literary world, worldwide music charts and all through the diaspora.

Lagosian celebrity Wizkid topped the Billboard Sizzling 100 chart with the tune One Dance alongside Drake and was the primary Afrobeats artist to headline a sold-out present at London’s Royal Albert Corridor. Nigeria is house to Wole Soyinka, Africa’s first black African playwright to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose novel Half of a Yellow Solar was not too long ago voted the most effective e book to have received the Girls’s Prize for Fiction within the final 25 years. In keeping with the Migration Coverage Institute, 61% of Nigerian-Individuals over 25 maintain a graduate diploma, making them probably the most “profitable” ethnic teams within the US. Oh, and my Scrabble prowess is not random: Nigeria has received three of the final 5 World English Scrabble Gamers Affiliation Championships.


Whereas this inside drive to succeed and get forward could not appear evident to outsiders, there are numerous alternatives for travellers to witness Nigerians striving to get forward – if you recognize what to search for.

Throughout Nigeria, aspiring Scrabble champions apply in low-key lounges, palm wine joints and folks’s houses, and the mental recreation is now formally categorised as a sport by the Nigerian authorities. Stroll by means of Abuja’s buzzing Wuse Market and you’ll inevitably encounter sensible patrons striving to snag the most effective costs by trying to barter with merchants in their very own languages – and with greater than 370 tribes and 500 spoken languages within the nation, that is no small job. In case you occur to see (and listen to) the boisterous affair that’s the Nigerian marriage ceremony, you would possibly discover standing statements displayed by means of girls’s apparel: sky-reaching gele headscarves, ostentatious designer gadgets, imported Dutch Wax materials and gold jewelry. Every are instruments for one-upmanship and promote “a ti de!” (“we have now arrived!”).

So, what’s behind this “Nigeria by no means comes final” mindset? Lofty expectations are bestowed upon Nigerian kids from an early age. We’re taught to marry effectively, amass a number of levels and earn sufficient to handle our dad and mom in previous age. The firstborn carries the brunt of those expectations and may ideally assist youthful siblings, too. There are plentiful warnings towards “non-traditional” careers within the arts in favour of worthwhile vocations that provide respectable titles like physician, barrister or engineer.

Together with lullabies and folklore, we develop up on a eating regimen of tales of our dad and mom’ tribulations; tales from the Biafran civil conflict, the navy dictatorship or how complicated issues have been when the British have been in energy earlier than we gained independence in 1960. If our dad and mom may come out on the opposite aspect and make one thing of themselves, then our internet-powered era actually can, too.

“There’s an inherent component in Nigerian tradition that kids should do higher than their dad and mom in each manner”, stated Victor Physique-Lawson, a Lagos-born architect, artist, developer and educator at Columbia College in New York. “In consequence, dad and mom push their kids, drive them to attain, and the youngsters are indoctrinated on this cultural perception.”

Nigeria is taken into account a collectivist society. People pursuing success are a dedication to the wellbeing, delight and prosperity of the household or tribe. We’re due to this fact extremely incentivised to keep away from disgrace linked to failure or recklessness. Quite tellingly, even our nationwide anthem features a pledge to achieve “nice lofty heights” and a stern reminder that “the labour of our heroes previous shall by no means be in useless.”

Because the daughter of a Nigerian diplomat who frequently dined with presidents, I had a lot to dwell as much as. A front room {photograph} of my father with Nelson Mandela hung over us as a reminder of what was attainable and tacitly anticipated of us. We had a peripatetic upbringing dwelling between Namibia, the Netherlands and Nigeria, nevertheless it was my childhood years within the latter that woke up my have to excel.

As early as main faculty, Nigerian kids are ranked from first to final for every topic and general on the finish of every faculty 12 months. Once we moved to Nigeria, my 7-year-old friends have been already conversant with the periodic desk and had schedules full of extra-curricular actions, after-school studying and church.

English is the official language in Nigeria and having a overseas accent denotes larger schooling, wealth and basic success. Due to this fact, many Nigerians dabble in accent switching to look extra “refined”. We discuss with it as “blowing phoneh” or “phonetics” and it’s a tangled transatlantic accent that isn’t British, American or consultant of any Nigerian group. However curiously, this non-accent pinpoints a Nigerian wherever on the planet.

 younger man I met in The Hague as soon as tried to sweet-talk my good friend utilizing a definite false twang, which immediately informed me he was a fellow countryman. Once I requested the place he was from, he stated, “Pennsylvania, United States”. I shot him a figuring out look and requested what a part of Nigeria he was from. “Ogun State”, he chuckled.

This accent alchemy is totally linked to social mobility. When my sister returned to Nigeria after 15 years abroad, a lot of her previous classmates spoke to her with an “American accent”, even if they hadn’t left the nation. For travellers in Nigeria, employees at retailers, eating places and bars will regulate how they communicate to you after assessing your clothes, intonation and whether or not you might be oyinbo – a colloquial time period for a Caucasian or non-African-passing individual. You may additionally hear this false accent on the nationwide information broadcast and in movies.

Social mobility, riches and “making it” are additionally prevalent themes in Nollywood motion pictures. Nigeria’s movie trade overtook Hollywood in 2009 and is now the world’s second-largest movie trade behind Bollywood, producing roughly 50 movies each week. Nollywood’s highest-grossing film to this point is The Wedding ceremony Social gathering, a rom-com depicting the tumultuous union between an eligible inheritor and a girl beneath his social class. The rich mom of the groom makes use of a complicated overseas accent, whereas the bride’s dad and mom flit between native tongues. A frazzled marriage ceremony planner additionally makes use of a quasi-British accent, however reverts again to Yoruba and Pidgin English when the well-heeled shoppers that she seeks to impress are gone.

On the coronary heart of this eternal aspiration is the truth that Nigerians place nice worth on being revered; they’re tenacious, hard-working, status-driven, and aggressive. With greater than 195 million Nigerians to cope with, a roll-up-your-sleeves mentality is actually advantageous.

It’s not unusual for Nigerians to carry a number of jobs or have a aspect hustle promoting meals or clothes. Nigerians typically introduce themselves utilizing their skilled titles, even in casual settings. They may also fortunately reprimand those that don’t greet them appropriately. On no account must you name an elder solely by their first title. You may be reminded that you’re not their “age mate” and should name them “Aunty” or “Uncle”, if you recognize them; or “sir” or “madam” should you don’t.

Energy, success and connections aren’t solely nice-to-haves however are considerably important for every day life in Nigeria. Even seeing a financial institution teller requires figuring out somebody that works on the financial institution who it’s important to “kind out” with a “sprint” (a present or bribe) every time you go, so it’s advantageous for travellers to inquire with their lodge, host or any native mates if they’ve contacts that might easy the method. To easily get by in society, it’s important to be “anyone” or “anyone’s baby”.

Dr James Yeku, assistant professor of African Digital Humanities on the College of Kansas, believes Nigerians’ drive to succeed springs from hardship. “Nigerians who perceive infrastructural precarity are a number of the most entrepreneurial folks on the planet, and to point out off the success of their work is a method of asserting relevance.”

Yeku says that Nigerians outline success by what folks have and what they will present for what they’ve. In case you’re invited right into a Nigerian front room, you’ll probably spot a larger-than-life commissioned portrait of the home heads, a transparent image of getting made it or “hammered”. And once you meet an acquaintance on the road in Nigeria, you possibly can count on to be regaled with tales of latest achievements, excessive scores and journeys overseas.

In keeping with Kimberly Ihekwoaba, a Nigerian copywriter, the nation’s aggressive streak and tendency to overachieve has its drawbacks. “The common Nigerian is hard-working; nevertheless, the draw back is fixed comparability between folks. As a result of standing is relative, there’ll all the time be brighter and higher,” she stated.

The drive to be educationally and professionally profitable may be linked to Nigeria’s well-known optimism. “When your tradition is preternaturally optimistic regardless of typically brutal political, well being and social circumstances, optimism drives and evokes you to count on success in virtually any circumstance,” stated Nigerian-American Afam Onyema, who was named one of many High 10 Influential Migrant Africans within the US by WorldRemit for co-founding the celebrity-backed GEANCO Basis.

This optimistic spirit is seen in widespread Nigerian names: Blessing, Testimony, Mercy, Godspeed and Goodluck – the title of our former president. In 2011, we have been topped the most optimistic nation on the planet for the second straight 12 months and possess an unfaltering perception that regardless of the hardship, “no situation is everlasting,” as we regularly say.

Nigerians are actually educated to work exhausting and play exhausting, and take nice delight in the truth that they “by no means come final” — not at Scrabble, and definitely not at overachieving.

Why We Are What We Are is a BBC Journey collection analyzing the traits of a rustic and investigating whether or not they’re true.


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