In the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich murder, once that truly harrowing video had surfaced and the Nigerian connection was first mooted, I found myself cast in the unwilling role of the Nigerian ‘expert’ at work. For most of the people in my corner of the world, I was the most handy Nigerian they could talk to. The odd attempt to parlay it into banter did come up, but for the most part, these were people looking to get some perspective on what was both vicious and senseless.
My initial response was one of disavowal. Afghanistan has never really being a bog standard concern of the typical Nigerian as far as I am aware, neither is the typical Nigerian so disconnected from self preservation that he/she would take to causes without a personal dimension of gain involved. Additionally, the name being bandied about that night on twitter wasn’t Northern Nigerian in origin, precluding a Boko Haram connection.
The initial media reaction predictably focused on the Nigerian heritage of the two suspected attackers. The BBC’s Nick Robinson went as far as using the cringe-worthy turn of phrase ‘of Muslim appearance’, which he later apologised for. There were a number of ‘reprisal attacks’ – the likes of the EDL using the opportunity to perpetuate their own brand of dialogue.
Interestingly, within the wider circle of my (Nigerian) friends and colleagues, there was a certain reluctance to discuss the attack. Eventually, the reluctance did seem to go away, replaced by two main narratives – one largely focused on the privileged life the perpetuators led (these were young men born and bred in Britain, so the narrative goes, who were radicalised in the UK and had nothing to do with Nigeria) and the other focused on how just much harder the lives of law abiding Nigerians the world over, already stigmatised enough by the green passport , would be thanks to the additional scrutiny they would be afforded at border posts.
Barely a year ago, the likes of Mo Farah, Lutalo Mohammad, Nicola Adams and others were roundly feted as heroes post the London Olympics. In fact, a few days after Woolwich, Andrew Osagie, a name as Nigerian as they come would be roundly hailed for his performance at the IAAF Diamond League Meet in new York.
I suppose therein lies the conundrum of the visible immigrant – acceptance is tenuous at best, predicated on good behaviour, and heroic action. 😦