Nigeria at 50Will the 'Giant of Africa' become a real giant of Africa?

CHIKA ONYEANI | 4/12/2011, 5:23 p.m.

Last year, at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., I was having lunch with two Kenyans, Robert Okello and Timothy Onyango. We were having a discussion about how different Africans confront the white man/woman.

And I told them the story of Keith Richburg, who was the bureau chief of the Washington Post in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. In his book, "Out of America: a Black Man Confronts Africa," Richburg told a story of how he knew he would hate Africa before even going there, but part of his anger was that at one time at a super market in Nairobi, Kenyans had lined up to pay for their purchases, but a white lady just strode to the front of the line and nobody challenged her. He became indignant and went and confronted the lady to tell her where the line ended and she should go to the back. "Oh, I didn't know you were not Kenyan," he quoted the lady as saying.

Both individuals, who had been to Nigeria, agreed that the white woman would never have dared do such a thing in Nigeria, as Nigerians would have roundly abused her for insulting them. They admired the Nigerian character of not yielding to the white man or woman.

In my visits across Africa, I am always amazed how many highly educated Africans want to go to Nigeria. There is something about the Nigerian character that they love very much, and most times, I wonder if these individuals talking about the same country that I come from.

In my upcoming comprehensive article, "How Nollywood Has Irrevocably and Positively Changed Perception of Africa Throughout the World," I look at an industry started by a ragtag group of traders that has generated almost $500 million in revenue for Nigeria, thereby becoming the third largest film industry in the world. The influence the movies from Nigeria has created throughout the world is quite immeasurable in terms of how Africa and Africans are now viewed by others.

A few months ago, with high-class individuals in attendance in our home, the movie, "Widow" was shown. The impact on these ladies was very startling. Whether it is in Africa, in America, in Europe, in the Caribbean or even in South America, Africa is seen in a different lens because of how Nollywood has portrayed and brought the richness of Africa to the world, just as the image of Africa had been defiled by Hollywood. Gone are the days of Tarzan, with his leaf-attired African and a monkey, being paraded on the screen to the shame of Africans in the diaspora, as now through the Nollywood lens, they see a different people.

As a member of the fourth estate, I can categorically state that I am very proud of the fierce role that the Nigerian media has played in defending the freedom of speech of Nigerians. Even, through the years of repressive and dictatorial military rule, the Nigerian press fought fervently for the right of Nigerians to know what is happening in their country. Even with the murders of vanguard journalists like Dele Giwa and others, the imprisonment by state securities of others and the latest kidnappings of journalists, the Nigerian media has maintained of forward movement. Yes, one of the soldiers might be down, but another would take his place. The tip of bayonet, the approach of the on-rushing ammunition or the parcel bomb have never deterred them. Just as with Nollywood, the Nigerian media can pound its chest and roar with great cheer about what they have done in the last 50 years and what they are going to do in the next.