The Communitarian Dimension of Nigerians in Thailand
Often, whenever I read some newspapers here in Bangkok and the comments that some people post concerning Africans and particularly Nigerians, I feel rather abashed, embarrassed, disconcerted, unsettled and thrown off balance. These feelings come from the fact that there is a wrong interpretation of African way of life in. Since I am not an expert on "African Community Life", I felt that I needed to consult the write-ups of those great scholars who have written a lot about African world view (www.afrikaworld.net). I found Professor Christopher I. Ejizu interesting and I have decided to juxtapose his points in this ÔÇśreal-life situation' piece of work to help non-academics to understand that traditional African community is still strong even if there are influences creating conflicts about and between Nigerians in Thailand.
It is a well-known fact that the idea of a community is highly appreciated and valued in any traditional African communities and this very important way of life among Africans is noticeable among Nigerians living in Thailand. Most Nigerians view community life as a sacred and necessary norm to be valued and practiced.
This explains why many Nigerians are easily identified in their various corners in Bangkok especially at the Sukumvit Soi 3, popularly known as Black Soi, Soi Africa or put it in another way Soi Nigeria. We have been aware of the fact that visitors to Africa are often perturbed when Africans use the first person plural 'we', in their daily conversations (http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/community.htm).
Therefore, it is important that we should have a way of letting all and sundry understand the basic Nigerian way of life in order to avoid unnecessary hasty generalization. The fact is that Nigerians in Thailand are indeed community people. Community life is natural to Nigerians irrespective of the means of livelihood of the community members.
Many Nigerians have been wrongly associated for the offence of sharing life together with fellow Nigerians. This of course fits into the Western concept of fallacy which says that ÔÇśA' is a good man and since ÔÇśB' follows ÔÇśA', therefore ÔÇśB' is a good man. When the reverse is the case, ÔÇśA' is a bad man because he is a friend of ÔÇśB' who is a bad man. Does it really work in this way? I do not think so.
Even the concepts of "tell me with whom you go and I will tell you who you are" or "Birds of the same feather flock together" do not fit in otherwise one may get involved with the "logical fallacy where one assumes that one thing occurring in correlation to another means that it causes the other". Freedom of association is highly encouraged by the United Nations when it states in its article 20 that "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association".
Therefore, it does not make sense to categorize Nigerians or other Africans as drug dealers because they were seen together. This wrong impression needs to be attended to by those who chose to remain with such wrong impression.
It is also good to note as Professor Ejizu had opined in his article that sense of community life among Africans extends to the extended family, village, town and all those who live abroad. Families normally visit their loved ones either from the city or abroad. Even in the village, friends visit friends and family members visit family members. They also do this when they are about to celebrate important cultural feasts and events (http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/community.htm).
I also agree with the Professor that in a normal African community, financial supports are given to their various family members at the rural community for the improvement of significant tasks. This is also practiced among Nigerians living in Thailand. I wish to state categorically that Nigerians are community people.
The professor also reemphasized what has been a normal belief in the African context, that "individual cannot exist alone". His existence is seen in the community and in life of the forefathers. Thus, a good moment for the individual is a good moment for the community and vice versa. Hence the person in African sense has it that: "I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am. This is a cardinal point in the understanding of the African view of man" (Mbiti, 1990, p.106). Chukwudum Okolo also describes it as "Cognatus ego sum" "I am related, therefore I am". You cannot exist in the absence of the others.
The African man or woman believes that he/she has communities in which he/she is submerged in a compound network or associations, ties and social bonds which entail compulsory duties and responsibilities on members to ensure stability and liveliness. To this effect, it is not wrong to conclude that the Nigerian concept of a person "is an embodiment of body and soul with the community certification based on functional fulfillment within community" (Asogwa, 2000, p.55). This very lifestyle is well practiced by Nigerians in Thailand. I have the strong feeling that this sense of community among Nigerians in Thailand should not be viewed negatively.
This basic understanding of relationship among Nigerians in Thailand remains strange to those who observe Nigerians. These observers always misinterpret this basic sound community life exhibited by Nigerians in Thailand. It is my intention to clarify this issue from my personal point of view using Professor Ejizu's write up as a ÔÇśdirector'. I wish also to encourage my fellow Nigerians who have embraced this very community life style never to give up irrespective of this misinterpretation.
Nigerian Community in Thailand:
When I read more of the points raised by Professor Ejizu, I quite agreed with him that the unity experienced by Nigerians in Thailand comes from the very fact that Africans share the fundamental nature of sociability with people all over the world. Families, age groups and friends generally live collectively and form communities. Africans share life deeply in common. Thus, Nigerians living in Thailand prefer to live closely even in unsafe situations. As a matter of fact, community life for Nigerians in Thailand is tied by natural origin and deep common interests and values.
It is a noticeable shock to one Australian woman in Bangkok, who observed that Nigerians use the word ÔÇśfamily', ÔÇśsister', ÔÇśbrother', ÔÇścousin', ÔÇśnephew', ÔÇśnieces' in a way different from the Western interpretation of the word. For an average Nigerian in Thailand, so long as you are a Nigerian, you are a brother or a sister. Therefore, when Nigerians relate, they do so deeply and mutually. This very good "network of relationship" among Nigerians in Thailand has been wrongly interpreted in a manner that tends to attack Nigerians within the frame work of personal interest and not the international acceptable standard and respect to other peoples' way of life.
When for instance, I go to the Sukunmvit Soi 3, I do not go there because I am a drug dealer or a scammer. My reason for going there is derived from the fact that it is a selected tourist zone in Bangkok. Another reason is because I need to cut my hair in an African style which the barbing salon there offers better than other places in Bangkok. Many Nigerians also go to Sukunvit to eat the best of African foods or Nigerian food well prepared by Nnamdi -ND. We have got these services in other places but Sukumvit Soi 3, remains the best.
I am fully aware that this basic community pattern is alien to so many Westerners and sometimes to Asians. However, the truth is that this life structure is held up to people in Africa as model, one in which we identify with ourselves and care for ourselves in a mutual love and respect. Of course, this kind of get together does not encourage breaking the laws of the residential country ÔÇôThe Kingdom of Thailand (http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/38675/narcotics-cops-to-target-africans).
Anyone seen breaking the law should be handled by the competent law enforcement agency but the point I am concerned about is the hasty generalization by some people namely that Nigerians seen in Sukunvit Soi 3 are drug dealers. This is not true. I have always maintained that as we have Nigerians who break the law (http://m.bangkokpost.com/topstories/220109), we also have many Nigerians who obey the law ( http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/articles/guest-articles/why-are-nigerians-in-thailand-the-positive-outlook.html)
In addition to this, the nature of our African Traditional Religion is essential in the encouragement and actualization of harmonious inter-relationship among individual Nigerians and the community life here in Thailand. Our ancestors are seen as models to be copied in the attempt to stringently stick, safeguard and pass on the customs and norms of the community. Nigerians come together to fulfill this basic ancestral needs towards a mutual existence (http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/community.htm).
I therefore submit that, associating Nigerians with this basic fundamental cultural need will help many people understand the real reason behind getting together by most Africans in Bangkok and most Nigerians in particular. It is a good way of life and should be seen as such. This community life should not also be seen as perfect one but still it is a way of life of a particular group that should be respected.
Some media reporters do not comprehend the many and varied means through which Nigerians in Thailand try to communicate and enhance the important value of "harmonious community-living". I boldly state that the lifestyle of most Nigerians in Thailand is powerfully communitarian in substance and in direction. Nigerians do not come together to break the law. Nigerians come together to celebrate their cultural values and way of life. Thus the correct interpretation of the community life of Nigerians must be within the correct context.
On another note, Nigerians in Thailand are not bunch of immoral people. The area of morality is another pertinent area through which this community life has contributed a lot in trying to form people and reinforce in them the imperative scheme and value of pleasant-sounding community-living.
Every social set like various Nigerian small communities in Bangkok has got its distinctive ethical code. Every gathering place like Nigerian restaurants in Bangkok has its norms of acceptable behavior and prohibitions. Nigerian students in Thailand have in addition, educational characteristic and incentives through which compliance to the norms of approved behavior and social ideals are encouraged in their various universities in Thailand.
There are also disciplinary procedures that try to discourage and control the tendency to commit crimes. Thus, Nigerians in Thailand are law abiding citizens whose behaviors are aimed at defending the community and promoting peace and harmony. Nigerians in Thailand no doubt have made remarkable contributions in many fields in Thailand namely: teaching, business, sports and education. As I expect Nigerians to be respected, I also expect Nigerians to respect themselves too.
Besides, just as Nigerians are human, whatever happens where there are humans happens wherever Nigerians gather to share their concern with one another. Some Nigerians are themselves in very serious quarrels with each other which have affected the cooperative and peaceful existence.
There are sections of Nigerians in Thailand. There is also the issue of ÔÇśgod-fatherism'. Some Nigerians also have been known to be happy and in jubilation upon hearing that their fellow Nigerians are in trouble. Influential Nigerians in Thailand have also appeared to have formed a group which fights the other group. Somehow peace appears to be out of reach to some Nigerians in Thailand.
Ultimately, it is my belief that many of these influential Nigerians should and must lead Nigerians towards a better future in Thailand. Some of us can read and write Thai Language and as such should be recognized and appreciated. I call upon all Nigerians to emulate the footstep of a Nigerian Embassy official who saw the need of individual empowerment when a noble Nigerian Mr. Gilbert Ndigwe Akudo was recognized via a letter from the Nigerian Embassy in Bangkok (2009) for his "demonstrated humanitarian disposition and eagerness to help his fellow Nigerians". The same good Samaritan (Mr Akudo) has been arrested several times when he ran to the help of a fellow Nigerian who had allegedly broken a law. He is on bail now. We hope that he will win his case as he has always done in similar cases of the same nature (http://www.nationmultimedia.com/home/Police-arrest-three-Nigerians-with-drugs-30147719.html).
Apart from Mr. Gilbert Akudo Ndigwe, I have no doubt that many Nigerians have shown this fundamental communitarian life which is indeed an African style of life. We need not give up in being our brothers'/sisters' keeper here in Thailand. We have no other country but Nigeria. Our communitarian dispositions should be seen as good life which every responsible country across the globe should emulate.
Conclusion and Suggestion:
All in all, my understanding is that conflict is a fact of daily existence among communities, folks and social groups. Conflict is co-natural with human but what matters most, is the management of this conflict. However, well-informed leaders always attempt to avert its acceleration any time it manifests itself.
Thus the new leadership of the Nigerian Community in Thailand would have to invest all that it has to bring all Nigerians together. To this effect, I say farewell to the past executives of Nigerian Community for the work well done. It is further expected that the Nigerian Community Association Thailand should be governed and be led by people with clean and credible records here in Thailand and at home.
Many Nigerians have always believed in the principle of dialogue as a means of settling conflicts and arriving at amicable and lasting solution to issues. Nigerians in Thailand should all come together like noble men and women to repair their relationship and move as one strong indivisible force. This is a ÔÇśmust do'.
We will be at the right track when we have learnt to always respect the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand as a way to show our appreciation and support to the country. The love for the community would mean that everybody should be given his/her own respect. Certain anti-community attitudes must stop, for example: to get a student visa even when one cannot attend classes does not help the genuine students. This kind of attitude will rather put the good students in the bad light. Therefore, such manner of life should be discouraged and be considered as anti-community life.
We must ply the path of trust instead of distrust. Within us we must follow the path of understanding instead of obstruction. Cooperation should be encouraged instead of separation. By doing this, our career aspirations will be secured since there will be peaceful environment and atmosphere to properly direct our focus in life.
We can unite to speak loud and clear as one indivisible body. The world will appreciate it if we all heed the call to duty and prove to the world that we are a noble people, and that with commitment and dedication we can do things right.
It is in fact not in the interest of the Nigerian community for a fellow Nigerian who is not an immigration officer or consular officer to collect the passport of his fellow Nigerians with a promise of a visa after collecting money yet could not give back the money or return the passport to the rightful owner. This is indeed disgusting.
I do not think that it is a sign of a good community to invite any law enforcement agency to arrest a fellow Nigerian for a personal agenda other than that inspired by the laws of the Kingdom of Thailand. A sound community begets sound and good thinkers. I personally think that Nigerians would have a lot to contribute if we really want to stop the inflow of Nigerians in Thailand who have no genuine business in Thailand(http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/38713/street-of-shame-revisited).
I strongly recommend everybody to read more on the points raised by professor Christopher I Ejizu on "African Traditional Religions and the Promotion of Community Living in Africa" (http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/community.htm). I have tried to apply all that he said to the situation we are confronted with in Thailand. Interestingly, both the Africans and non-Africans should be educated on the correct interpretation of communitarian nature of African people.
I conclude with the strong statements from one of the colonial masters who was said to have been shocked with the nature of the African life witnessed among the Igbo Nigerians, for him, "...They are, in the strict and natural sense of the word, a truly and a deeply religious people, of whom it can be said, as it has been said of the Hindus, that "they eat religiously, drink religiously, bathe religiously, dress religiously, and sin religiously". In a few words, the religion of these natives, as I have endeavored to point out, is their existence, and their existence is their religion". (Leonard, 1968, p. 409). Suffice it to say that the words above are relevant to the situation experienced by Nigerians in Thailand.
Therefore Nigerians in Thailand should be accorded the respect like any other humans living in a human community. Every other country has its own community life style. The community life style of Nigerians in Thailand is that they are deeply communitarian for the good of the communities. This communitarian nature of Nigerians in Thailand should not be (made to be) seen as bad simply because few Nigerians were caught with drugs in the street of Bangkok. In the same way, African communities in general should be respected and be viewed positively.
Emmanuel Nweke Okafor is a PhD Student in Graduate School of Philosophy/Religion, Assumption University Thailand. He is presently the Supervisor in Language Laboratory Center, Siam University Thailand. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org