In Nigeria, You’re Either Somebody or Nobody

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, New York Times, February 9, 2013

In America, all men are believed to be created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. But Nigerians are brought up to believe that our society consists of higher and lesser beings. Some are born to own and enjoy, while others are born to toil and endure.

The earliest indoctrination many of us have to this mind-set happens at home. Throughout my childhood, “househelps”—usually teenagers from poor families—came to live with my family, sometimes up to three or four of them at a time. In exchange for scrubbing, laundering, cooking, baby-sitting and everything else that brawn could accomplish, either they were sent to school, or their parents were sent regular cash.


Melancholic singing was not the only trait they had in common. They all gave off a feral scent, which never failed to tell the tale each time they abandoned the wooden stools set aside for them and relaxed on our sofas while we were out. They all displayed a bottomless hunger that could never be satisfied, no matter how much you heaped on their plates or what quantity of our leftovers they cleaned out.

And they all suffered from endless tribulations, in which they always wanted to get you involved.

The roof of their family house got blown off by a rainstorm. Their mother just had her 11th baby and the doctor had seized mum and newborn, pending payment of the hospital bill. Their brother, an apprentice trader in Aba, was wrongfully accused of stealing from his boss and needed to be bailed out. A farmland tussle had left their father lying half-dead in hospital, riddled with machete wounds. Their mother’s auntie, a renowned witch, had cursed their sister so that she could no longer hear or speak. They were pregnant but the carpenter responsible was claiming he had never met them before . . . Always one calamity after the other.

Househelps were widely believed to be scoundrels and carriers of disease. The first thing to do when a new one arrived was drag him off to the laboratory for blood tests, the results of which would determine whether he should be allowed into your haven. The last thing to do when one was leaving was to search him for stolen items. {snip}

Every family we knew had similar stories about their domestic staff. With time, we children learned to think of them as figures depressed by the hand of nature below the level of the human species, as if they had been created only as a useful backdrop against which we were to shine.


Bigots and racists exist in America, without a doubt, but America today is a more civilized place than Nigeria. Not because of its infrastructure or schools or welfare system. But because the principle of equality was laid out way back in its Declaration of Independence. The Nigerian Constitution states, in Section 17(2)(a), that “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law.” However, this provision is in a portion of the document that contains “objectives” of the Nigerian state. It is not enforceable; it certainly isn’t reality.

The average Nigerian’s best hope for dignified treatment is to acquire the right props. Flashy cars. Praise singers. Elite group membership. British or American accent. Armed escort. These ensure that you will get efficient service at banks and hospitals. If the props prove insufficient, a properly bellowed “Do you know who I am?” could very well do the trick.

This somebody-nobody mind-set is at the root of corruption and underdevelopment: ingenuity that could be invested in moving society forward is instead expended on individuals’ rising just one rung higher, and immediately claiming their license to disparage and abuse those below. {snip}

Some years ago, I made a decision to start treating domestic workers as “somebodys.”  I said “please” and “thank you” and “if you don’t mind.” I smiled for no reason. But I was only confusing them; they knew how society worked. They knew that somebodys gave orders and kicked them around. Anyone who related to them as an equal was no longer deserving of respect. Thus, the vicious cycle of oppression goes on and on.

Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest economies; it produces around two million barrels of crude oil per day. And yet, in 2010, 61 percent of Nigerians were living in “absolute poverty”—able to afford only the bare essentials of shelter, food and clothing. {snip}


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  • NYB

    I’ve always believed that one of the greatest strengths of whites is that we do not make willing slaves. We fundamentally believe all men are equidistant to God, and we bow to no one.
    When we have had enough of tyranny, we revolt and hand the tyrants their heads.
    When Obama speaks of disarming whites – like we were his peasant subjects – we should set our thoughts to asserting our right to live like citizens.

    • LastBastionOfHope

      I disagree. Many white people are modern day slaves to blacks unfortunately. Who are these willing slaves? Hardcore liberals, hipsters, professors, etc. There are many whites who feel so guilt-ridden that they honestly think they need to let blacks walk all over them to prove they are not racist. We cannot speak about blacks doing anything other than positive things or we are “racist”. How is this not slavery?

      • Joseph

        “Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.” – Sallust

    • HamletsGhost

      The origin of such words as “frank”, meaning free, is born of the Germanic tribe that gave its name to France and franchise, among others.

    • So CAL Snowman

      The Roman empire enslaved a hell of a lot of White people. The Persian empire enslaved a hell of a lot of White people. The Huns enslaved a hell of a lot of White people. The Romans sure as hell did not believe in all of that equality non sense. No race is a willing slave, slavery is forced upon one at the point of death in most cases. What separates the White race is that we ENDED slavery in our lands. I would consider the average rural Chinese peasant to be a slave of Red China, just like I would consider the average starving african to be a slave to corrupt despotism.

  • Garrett Brown

    No one will care since a black country is proclaiming it.

  • The average Nigerian’s best hope for dignified treatment is to acquire
    the right props. Flashy cars. Praise singers. Elite group membership.
    British or American accent. Armed escort. These ensure that you will get
    efficient service at banks and hospitals. If the props prove
    insufficient, a properly bellowed “Do you know who I am?” could very
    well do the trick.

    How is this any different from most American blacks? Who are basically the same kind of west Africans, “enhanced” with a bit of white DNA, and largely ghettoized in major cities or mega-ghettoized in big rural chunks of the South?

    • gemjunior


    • “Do you know who I am?”

      No, but I know what you are.

      • Brian

        My vote for the best answer ever to that question.
        “Yeah, we know who you are. You’re a f—wit”.

    • StillModerated

      It would help if our very own Africans spoke with an “American accent” rather than going boobledy beebledy bop n $#!+ gnome sane?

  • IstvanIN

    Sounds like American blacks.

  • The__Bobster

    In America, all men are believed to be created equal…

    That’s a load of crap. The statement said that all men had equal rights, not that they were equal. There is a difference. And the Founding Fathers weren’t even considering darkies when they signed the document.

    • George

      Almost, Bobster.

      I believe the wording to which the author alludes is: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights’, etc, etc,

      You are, of course, 100% correct that they weren’t considering their human property when they wrote these words. The most liberal-minded amongst them, such as Thos. Jefferson, would, at best, have supported emancipation followed by another free cruise back to Africa.

      • The Worlds Scapegoat

        “You are, of course, 100% correct that they weren’t considering their human property when they wrote these words”

        I think you mean farm animals.

  • bigone4u

    These personal observations about Nigeria help explain a good bit about the mindset of the present occupant of the White House and his wife. “Do you know who I am?” Indeed, Obongo and Moochelle, we certainly know who you are. The USA is a formerly first world country being run by a husband and wife with third world minds, never mind their educational credentials. Tis a pity.

    • IstvanIN

      The new Michele and Baby Doc.

  • HamletsGhost

    Blacks had the master/slave mentality long before the first white men in wooden ships hove to in the Bight of Benin. It seems to follow them everywhere they go.

    In Haiti, they call them Restavecs, and they get the same sub-human treatment as they did in the old country. Whenever there are human traficking/enslavement cases in the USA, more often than not it’s blacks at the bottom of it.

    • “Restavec” means literaly reste avec, living (reste) with (avec)’


  • LaShaniqua

    No need to worry about Nigeria at all! All those nice gentlemen in Boko Haram, the Al Qaeda associated terrorist group in northern Nigeria, will certainly bring in human rights, the dignity of all men and women, gender and religious equality, an end to tribalism, and other great things just as soon as they possibly can.

  • Tim R

    Quite beyond any Nigerian dichotomy of “somebody/nobody” , an English language
    encyclopedia I came across, first published in 1927, clearly reveals the common perception
    about observed differences. First, it is good to note that even by 1927, much of Africa
    remained simply local population clusters that had long evolved rather independently of
    other clusters. Some clusters/ tribes / were local “cultures” distinctly superior to
    most other clusters in the region and so accknowledged by common consensus. A great way
    to produce equality is to draw all such tribes into a degraded urban mass.

  • George


    I had to double check the calandar and byline date to make sure it didn’t read April 1.

    I simply cannot fathom how the most liberal rag in America, the one that’s always sweeping American black transgressions under the carpet, is publishing words about blacks’ feral scent. Their voracious appetites. Their lying schemes to defraud. Their mournful spirituals. Their recognition of fellow blacks as mere animals. Have I died and gone to heaven? Has there been a revision of editorial policy at the NYT? Have they come to their senses?

    The article writer notes in a snipped portion that:

    Nigeria is one of Africa’s largest economies; it produces around two
    million barrels of crude oil per day. And yet, in 2010, 61 percent of
    Nigerians were living in “absolute poverty” — able to afford only the
    bare essentials of shelter, food and clothing. In one state in northern
    Nigeria, where extremist groups like Boko Haram originate, poverty
    levels that year were as high as 86.4 percent.

    An oil-rich nation, one of the most prosperous black-run countries in the world still leaves nearly 2/3 of the population unable to meet the bare minimums necessary for survival. And the New York Times publishes it in their opinion section. Surely this op-ed is too big to be a misprint. What gives?

    • StillModerated

      The article was printed on page D-27 — right next to the tire ads.

    • Xerxes22

      American Blacks don’t get upset about an African criticizing fellow Africans. Now, if someone White or Black writes an article critical of American Blacks than they go ballistic. That’s when the Rev. Al, the Rev. Jessie, NAACP etc. come out of the woodwork.and scream racism. That’s why the N.Y. Times let this item through.

      • George

        Apart from Bill Cosby or Thomas Sowell, I usually don’t much care what American blacks think about anything, truth to tell.

        It’s the American liberal whites that irk me, with their sanctimonious delusions. And, let’s be honest here…there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of blacks that read the NYT. It’s a paper by (mainly) white liberals, for white liberals. They’re the ones that are big on censorship of ideas.

  • Comrade_Bob

    Most white people understand that black people enjoy talking on cell-phones in America. A good educational and cultural awareness exercise is to listen in on their conversations. I tried this today at Wal-Mart. The black man was discussing the fullness of the fried potato wedge supply-tray at the fried-food counter. Not sure with who.

  • pcmustgo

    African immigrants are so much more pleasant then American Blacks- until they are second generation or go to college and pick up the whole “oppressed victim” socialism act.

    • Cannot Tell

      Nothing irritates me more than to see African blacks wrongfully criticizing whites. I am a Nigerian-American myself and I can attest to the fact that many African blacks – even the first generation Americans and the immigrants themselves – have a “blame whitey” mentality. Many of them don’t deserve to live in the West.

      • williebrown

        There’s no such thing as a nigerian american. you’re just an african.

    • Joseph

      I knew a lady from Benin, a very good student. She told me (in her French accent) how frightened she was of “African-Americans” and that her “bebes” were not safe around them. She also complained “They are sooo lazy!” She actually told me this and how nice that white people had been to her. I replied “You can say that because you are black”. I have sometimes wondered what ever happened to her.

    • williebrown

      No. African immigrants aren’t any more pleasant than American Blacks. Listen, the last thing an african should try to do is post on a white racist website trying to ingratiate himself in with said white racists. Don’t you read the postings on this site? Do you hate yourself that much? Nigerian-American, what a damn joke!!!!!!

  • genetics

    This is why the tribal chiefs sold millions of their reject nobodys to the white slave traders beginning 500 years ago that last 250 years but as we know completely ruined the entire hemisphere top to bottom and in the middle. Even their tribal chiefs didnt want them since believe it or not there is a pecking order in Africa as the story says. Its in the genes.

    • StillModerated

      Indeed there’s a pecking order. The biggest are the leaders and the small, weak ones are the nobodies — that’s simply the way it is in disorganized societies. And, on another scale, lighter-skinned ones tend to be distrusted because they just might be more intelligent and by association; cunning. And albinos are prey.

      • honolulu

        This is why blacks in America are so 100% pro- race mixing yet regardless still get to call the offspring mixed similar to the Obama mutt as black only and never white. When is the last time Obama was referred to as half white or even mentioned in silent whispers as being associated in any way with the white race? Its a secret thats not so secret and of course its mostly slutty white whores who get discarded like used trash once they give them what they want.

        Obamas whore slut white liberal mother was dumped in the trash and she ended up with some SE Asian mongoloid taking her muslim mutt son Barry there where he learned to eat dog meat, snake meat, grasshoppers and who knows what else in his wonderful life. Funny how he ended up back in in white man America where everything was laid out free for him and a path cut straight into the WH thanks to his big name helpers like Bush and Bush who surprisingly never got a thank you note but neither did the North or Union forces 150 yrs ago even to this day. Dumb is putting it mild for some white tools.

        Never do anybody a favor if you dont want them to stab you in the back especially those colored types.