CNN Attacks On Nigerians In Houston & Why Nigeria's Image Matters

Houston-Texas, United States generated two very dramatic events in the last days of May 2006.

A trial court in Houston, through its jury announced the convictions of Enron founder Mr. Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the former chairman and chief executive respectively, of the now defunct Enron Energy Corporation, that was in its heydays, headquartered in Houston, and Enron was a Houston renowned institution, I might add. But then, Enron engaged in fuzzy math and it landed in legal hot waters!

Enron was once the toast of the financial markets and the darling of Wall Street. Enron had a spectacular rise to phenomenal heights on the rockets of success, at the end, Enron was a victim of its success, its fictitious success to which it was catapulted, with funny mathematics.

Why did CNN focus on a few Nigerians in Houston Despite the Enron Catastrophe in Houston? Is this just a matter of perception and perspectives? How did CNN manage to neglect the forest of the Enron debacle, while CNN was in hot pursuit of a few crumbs of trees by way of a few Nigerian immigrants involved in frauds?

Time Magazine described the Enron debacle in these words; After a four-year investigation, 16 weeks of testimony and less than six days of deliberations, a jury of eight women and four men decided the decline and fall of Enron weren't just bad press and bad luck, as the two had claimed.

The rot came from within. For all the Porsches parked in the company garage, it turns out Enron didn't have much in the bank. Forensic auditors have discovered that cash flow in 2000, the money left over after the bills are paid, was a negative $153 million, not the heady $3 billion claimed. The nearly $1 billion profit was bogus. Forget 2001/ Even the auditors couldn't fathom the books that year. Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, who financed Enron's schemes with stock and bond offerings, have already agreed to pay $7.3 billion in restitution to shareholders. Sentencing for Lay and Skilling is set for September, but with the trial over, 16 other Enron employees who turned state's witness can also be sentenced.

Enron's stock price was up 36% last week, despite the news that founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling had been convicted of lying to investors and employees as the company sank into bankruptcy in 2001. The once mighty energy firm, which traded at $90 a share six years ago, is selling for 15¢, up 4¢ on the day after the verdicts. It would be laughable if so many people hadn't lost so much--stockholders lost $60 billion in market value, long-serving employees lost more than $2 billion in pension money, and 5,600 people lost their jobs.

Today not much is left of the pipeline company that Lay, the preacher's son from Missouri, turned into a high-flying purveyor of wind and water, electricity and energy emissions and, ultimately, hot air

The moral victory is won, says Steve Berman, a Seattle attorney representing some 21,000 employees who lost their pensions. Enron joins WorldCom, Adelphia and Tyco among the big companies busted by President Bush's Corporate Fraud Task Force, which has won 1,063 convictions, including guilty verdicts against 36 chief financial officers and 167 corporate CEOs and presidents. The 64-year-old founder faces up to 165 years of hard time; Skilling, 52, is up against a possible 185 years.

The jury found that Lay criminally touted the stock even after whistle-blower Sherron Watkins gave him her famous memo in August 2001 warning that Enron's accounting was deeply flawed; Skilling had quit only days before. Both men were found guilty on every charge of fraud and conspiracy in the indictment--six against Lay, 13 against Skilling. While Skilling was acquitted on nine charges of insider trading, he and Lay were also convicted on various other charges involving stock sales and audits.

Sam Buell, an early member of the Enron Task Force, remembers how difficult it was to assemble a case back in January 2002--a month after the company's bankruptcy and with the suicide of Enron's vice chairman Cliff Baxter seared into everyone's conscience. "Enron was the 9/11 of the financial markets," says Buell, now a visiting law professor at the University of Texas, "but nobody wanted to be a witness." Slowly, the task force's prosecutors turned the screws on the bad guys."

It is funny how CNN, an American media giant, known worldwide, chose to focus on the petty crimes of some Nigerian immigrants in Houston, while a court in the same Houston, was rendering verdicts in corporate greed that led to the Enron debacle. It goes to show that it is all a matter of prisms, perceptions and perspectives. Where you stand on issues, is determined by where you sit. Arizona according to The New York Times, is the identity theft capital of America and not Houston. STOLEN LIVES; Technology and Easy Credit Give Identity Thieves an Edge Phoenix-Arizona, In a Scottsdale police station last ... highest rate of identity theft complaints in the nation ... to print checks in his victims' names. So, why did CNN focus on the Nigerians in Houston? Is it because the thieves in Arizona are not Nigerians?

Nigeria Image Matters

All Nigerians should respond vigorously to CNN's offensive and unacceptable generalizations about Nigerians in Houston and Nigerian immigrants in the Americas as a whole. Nigerians should write protest letters, phone calls and emails to CNN to debunk CNN's claim to the effect that forty percent of Nigerians in America are into frauds and crimes. Such claim by CNN is erroneous and it is baseless. The spurious numbers that CNN used are not based on empirical data or analyses.

Sabella O Abidde wrote an excellent essay titled Images from and about Africa , an article to which I wrote a rejoinder, A Response to: Images from and about Africa by Sabella Abidde and that was before my attention was drawn to the full impact of the CNN story about Nigerians in Houston. I abhor all crimes and criminals. But that does not allow CNN, the press generalize about Nigerians and Nigeria. And law abiding and hardworking decent Nigerians should not feel the need to bow their heads in shame.

 I work eighty hours a week in New York City and there are many Nigerians who hold two jobs in America. The great majority of Nigerians in America are decent and dignified persons and we have no apologies to make to anyone for the behavior of a few Nigerians. We resent being measured and grouped with miscreants or criminal elements.

Unless the new logic is that all Americans should bury their heads in shame because of the frauds and criminal acts of Mr. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling of Enron? All Americans should be ashamed for the criminal behaviors of the executives of Enron which joins WorldCom, Adelphia and Tyco, AIG, Halliburton etc, all of them, American companies that have engaged in the most egregious corporate frauds.

Unless the new logic is that all Americans should now bury their heads in shame for the brutal killings by some American soldiers in Haditha in Iraq, and the now infamous abuses by American military personnel in Afghanistan or Abu Gharib in Iraq and at Guantannamo Bay prisons in Cuba or the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam. Decent Nigerians in America and worldwide have nothing to apologize for or be ashamed about!

We must be clear therefore, that every actions and words by persons or media that impact Nigeria's image negatively, should warrant vigorous response from all of us. It is all about us. Regardless of who is president of Nigeria and regardless of what form of government operates in Nigeria at the given time. It must be clear to all Nigerians, at home and abroad, that what affect Nigeria affects all of us. Nigerians must make offensive generalizations about Nigeria an expensive proposition or undertaking. There should be consequences and heavy price to pay by anyone who generalizes about Nigerians and Nigeria.

Africans must engage in self-definition and self-assertion, there are no alternatives! As we define and assert ourselves, we must also always respond to mischaracterizations.

Africans have been the recipients of an unfair amount of meddling, interferences and outright interruptions by external forces of evil. There are of course, in Africa, people who are human beings, like every other human being on earth, who are not in possession of plentiful virtue, but instead warped attributes or vices.

It has become exceedingly easy, sexy and even entertaining to be extremely critical of the African continent and its travails.

Africa's litany of critics, are conversely unwilling to critically examine the role and impact of external factors, and external players that have created, that sustains and even exacerbates the crises and sufferings in Africa. Adversities and perversities have sources and causes remote and immediate, internal and external.

I wondered why he did not question why BBC, CNN, Fox etc never talk to or about Nigerian/African medical doctors, lawyers, bankers, stock brokers etc why the fixation and auto focus on adversity and perversity? Or the man bite dog angle? There is a stock exchange in Nigeria and there are brokers there, there are companies there… let CNN and the BBC talk about the Nigerian Stock Exchange for a change!

Let the Western media talk to some Nigerian/African doctors and lawyers and business persons for a change! Let the western media leave their voyeurism for a week and talk instead about marriage, birth, death, sunrise and sunset in Africa. Human angles presented without the usual gory adversities and perversities. Is there joy in Africa?

If you watch or listen to Western media long enough, you will start to believe that there are only wars and famine and ebola in all of Africa every time, anytime and all the time!

Cable New Network otherwise known as CNN worldwide, attained its reputation partly because it is trail blazer in many respects and partly, as well, because it practice journalism by the book. CNN became household name with instant name recognition.

CNN however is fast becoming a bastion of shoddy and sloppy journalism.

This erstwhile dignified and respectable cable television network with international reputation now wallows in sensationalism in its reportage. CNN now practices yellow journalism of the worst tabloid types!

In recent times, CNN has had to retract series of false and inaccurate stories

On behalf of Nigerians in the Americas and on behalf of Nigerians in the motherland and worldwide; we must protest the offensive and stereotypical portrayal of Nigerians by the Cable News Network, CNN. Media houses are increasingly desperate for advertisers dollars. And as a result, they resort to sensationalisms and voyeurisms to attract readers and viewers, which in turn attract advertisers or sponsors.

We are outraged by CNN's cavalier and most perversely convenient presentation of some Nigerians in Houston alleged to be engaged in unsavory activities. CNN's presentation created the impression that Nigerians have a particular bent for identity theft crimes.

It is my belief that such portrayal is malicious and a demonstration of lazy journalism.

CNN is supposed to be a highly esteemed news network. I am are very disappointed that CNN chose to castigate and label Nigerians and Nigeria as CNN did, in a manner that suggested that Nigerians in America and Houston in particular are engaged in criminal activities in a pervasive way. Why does CNN paint Nigerians with such negative broad brush generalizations?

Nigerians are hardworking people and law abiding citizens in America and elsewhere in the world. It is journalistic irresponsibility on the part of CNN to portray Nigerians in Houston as if they posses a peculiar predisposition for identity theft crimes.

And as such, CNN has in an intellectually lazy storyline, portrayed Nigerians in Houston as some sorts of monolithic lot. Watching that CNN feature, one will come away with the impressions, that Nigerians in Houston are a bunch of bad guest in their host American communities. If a Nigerian medical doctor or a Nigerian lawyer was to say that she believed that Nigerians in a particular locality in America constituted forty percent of her particular profession, would that make it true, especially when such assertion is not supported with empirical data?

I am are certain that CNN and the rest of the world know or at least, ought to know that there are virtues and vices within every community on God's earth.

I am are certain, as well, that CNN knows or has reasons to know that there are Nigerians in Houston who have excelled in various fields of human endeavors. There Nigerians in Houston and all over America, who are medical doctors, lawyers, nurses, taxi drivers, security guards.

CNN ought to be interested in Nigerians who have contributed immensely and added value to Houston and other communities in America that are host to Nigerians.

We demand that CNN do a follow up story about Nigerians in Houston and other parts of America who are doing positive things.

There are Nigerians who are volunteers.

The overwhelming majority of Nigerians in Houston and other parts of America are law abiding, tax paying and voting neighbors of others as Americans or resident aliens.

CNN has engaged is gross misuse of its renowned medium to disseminate stereotypical information about Nigerians. CNN engaged in an extremely perverse generalizations regarding involvement by some Nigerians in identity theft.

Were the folks at CNN interested in a fair or balanced story, CNN would have sought Nigerians in Houston who are involved in legitimate work. Some Nigerians in Houston and throughout America hold two jobs simultaneously.

CNN's depiction of Nigerians in Houston and all of America, as specializing in fraudulent activities, including identity thefts is most offensive and unacceptable.

There are over two million Nigerian citizens residing in the USA, including bonafide Nigeria-American citizens and permanent resident. CNN and the world should be aware that the average Nigerian immigrant in America has a college degree and higher education in comparison to most, this, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Nigerians in America are employed and they continue to make meaningful contributions and continue to add value to their local communities here America. It is mischievous and a disservice to peoples of America and Nigeria, for CNN to create these wrong impressions about Nigerians who are in fact model immigrants.

CNN has engaged in pedestrian journalism with its generalizations about Nigerians. We are sure than CNN would not generalize about Italians Americans because of a few who are involved in organized crime or Mafia. And I am sure that CNN will not portray all Colombians in America as cocaine dealers, because of the act of a few Colombians. CNN knows that it will be wrong to portray every Afghan in America as a Taliban terrorist!

Nigerians worldwide object in the strongest of terms, to CNN's false and stereotypical depictions and negative portrayal of Nigerians carte blanche.

Lawcareer@msn.com