There is an estimated 2 million Nigerians living in the United Kingdom. This number, also represents the largest African sub-community living in the country with easily half of the number concentrated in London alone.
Nowadays, here is hardly anywhere or any part of British life that you will not see a Nigerian, and that ranges from NHS Consultants to TV production crew. Nigerians own businesses, many that can be seen on almost every high street of London and are represented in even the top echelons of the community such as Local Council chambers and the House of Parliament.
There are at least 3 Nigerian newscasters and several TV presenters on the BBC TV alone and even one of the UK’s major airport is owned by a Nigerian.
But this community isn’t being fairly represented in mainstream television programming.
Media organisations talk so much about diversity & cultural inclusion, but you will very rarely hear or see anything about Nigerians on your TV except as a butt of some racist comedian’s sick jokes or as a point of criminal reference in some dreary drama. It has become almost normal to hear “Nigerian” mentioned as derogatory taglines in TV dramas, comedy shows or soaps. And the few times you do see a “Nigerian” character on TV, it will be either as a crazed funny speaking pastor, ritualists, a hospital porter or cleaner or badly dressed delegate at a conference.
I still cringe when I remember the portrayal of Sir Richard Taylor in the Damilola Taylor Story and just yesterday, I saw an old episode of BBC drama “Silent Witness” where a man who was meant to be a Yoruba pastor could not even pronounce the simplest Yoruba name, and he spoke like he was on anti depressants!
Many Nigerians living in the UK, including British born Nigerians who grew up in Nigeria but returned to the UK as young adults in the 80s and 90s, now settled with families of their own, and Nigerian migrants who have made the UK their home for decades, are educated, hard working, family oriented, law abiding citizens. Contributing into the economy and playing serious roles in several endeavours.
But if one was to go by the media and production houses portrayal of these people, one would not see them as anything but lazy, criminal minded, drug dealer, benefit cheats and fraudsters who hardly understand English or speak the language with ridiculous accents!
Hundreds of thousands of kids have been born into Brit-Nigerian families over the past 2 or 3 decades and many of them are grown ups, haven been through the British educational system and now fully involved in all areas of British life.
Nigerian households in the UK contribute a great deal into the UK economy and the BBC TV licence that comes from the Nigerian community must easily run into hundreds of thousands of pounds annually. But how does the BBCpay back the Nigerian community? With very little acknowledgement.
It is common for the UK media or press to tag heroes and achievers as British or English. But when they are unfortunate enough to be caught in and unsavoury act, that is when the press remembers they are Nigerian born.
Currently, Nigerians back home are preparing for general elections taking place next month – one of the most fiercely contested for decades. These particular polls featuring most importantly, the presidential election between the incumbent and a controversial former Vice President sees a new trend in Nigerian politics electioneering with Nigerians both home and abroad and taking serious interest in the process, with tensions and emotions rising over the pending elections. But surprisingly, none of the media houses or even the BBC, has deemed it fit to give just 5 minutes to talk about or feature this highly explosive and emotive situation.
Eastenders, the BBC’s main soap drama set in London, is watched by many Nigerians in the UK – yet there is not a single African, never mind Nigerian character on the show. In fact the only black family eventually had to feature the stereotypical criminal, single parent, jobless element! ITV’s Coronation Street set in Manchester currently has no blacks at all and each time a black character is introduced, they are either insane, weird or a cheat. Emmerdale is not doing badly, but they just could not resist adding a dose of the criminal element!
In 2019, TV and media houses need to wake up and realise that the Nigerian community in the UK is now a large part of the mainstream and not just a bunch of immigrants who live under the radar, claim benefits and do the odd cleaning jobs.
Clever production executives will realise that there is potential for great storylines that can be exploited from the Nigerian community. We are an intense, colourful, dramatic, boisterous, self indulgent, funny and fun loving set of people. But we are also focused, goal oriented, ambitious and hard working. We have issues as families, as individuals and as a community. But we also have great initiatives and objectives. Our community is laden with high achievers and great success stories.
But most importantly, we are a force to be reckoned with because of our sheer number and the achievements of Nigerians and people of Nigerian descent living in the UK.
Surely, Nigerians now deserve to be recognised as part of the mainstream UK community.