Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

"No Sir, I'm Not a Nigerian..."

Elizabeth Ohene

"It all makes one wonder about what happens to the real Nigerians - do they in real life give big tips to taxi drivers and restaurant waiters?..."
No known cases have yet been documented of all black people trying to pass themselves off as Nigerians in the United Kingdom.

Back in the fifties and sixties when Ghana appeared to be in the fore in all matters and got more than a fair share of the headlines, it was often said that many Nigerians did not try to correct the mistake if somebody called them Ghanaians.

The story is very different now, of course, with Ghanaians being sent out of Nigeria daily and Ghanaians resorting to all strategies to acquire Nigerian passports so that they can be allowed to stay in Nigeria.

The situation has a completely different line outside the West African region and the dangers/joys of being taken for a Nigerian in the UK multiply by the day.

I knew, of course, that there was something seriously the matter when the taxi driver got out of his car and opened the cab door for me! London taxi drivers do a lot of things, but opening doors for their passengers is not one of them. After the third 'Yes Maam', I began to get quite nervous and I started looking around me to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. Nothing that I could see - same blue jeans, same sensible walking shoes, same overstuffed and scratched handbag and the same dishevelled hair.


Oh well, I thought, why be cynical, the cabbie is in a good mood, or maybe his wife has just had a baby or he won the football pools yesterday or maybe the team he supports defeated the local rivals over the weekend, or maybe he has just been invited to tea at Buckingham Palace… when suddenly, "here . we are Maam, I hope you had a pleasant ride".

Now this was getting absurd, the cab had stopped outside the address I had called and the taxi driver had materialised from nowhere to open the door again for me! In a state of total bewilderment, I counted my pennies, and dropped them into the driver's outstretched hands. First the smile froze, then a puzzled frown, then shock and then undisguised anger and a flash of the eye that I could only describe as dangerous. Then he swore at me it came out more like a snarl.


To put it very mildly, I was more than surprised; what on earth had I done wrong? I recounted my money he still held in his open hand, looked back at the fare on his meter, it was correct and there was a 30 pence tip with it, which for me was quite adequate for a £2.70p fare. Imagine my consternation when the cab driver, still in a snarl, said "I've heard of meanness in my time, but to give a 30p tip when you people leave four thousand quid in a phone box and can't even bother to go back for it..."

I understood, and if the cab driver still didn't have this murderous look in his eyes, I would have laughed out loud. But I realised that the poor man had taken me for a Nigerian thus the ambassadorial services in the sure knowledge that a hefty tip would be forthcoming at the end of the journey.

Mind you, the weekend before this incident, the news in London had been all about this Nigerian businessman who had left 7,000 US dollars in a public phone box when he had gone in to make a call, he then left town because he had to catch a flight to Nigeria.

You couldn't blame the taxi driver then when he assumed that Nigerians had money to spare and that when he picked a fare who is Nigerian, he would receive a generous tip.

I set him right very promptly; I am a Ghanaian and not only because I am a Ghanaian, but I also believe that tip is adequate.

He did not exactly apologise, but the look on his face as he went back into the cab indicated that he must have seen those television pictures of miserable Ghanaians scrambling for a loaf of bread during their expulsion from Nigeria. For one awful moment, I had this feeling that he was actually going to give the fare or the tip back to me as his contribution to relief work in Ghana!

Now I was angry, I did not want his pity and I resented very much being taken for a Nigerian. I have nothing against them, but I don't want anybody taking me for a Nigerian simply because I am African.

The problem is that this reputation that Nigerians have got in the UK as being very rich leads to all kinds of complications - estate agents immediately feel an urge to add an extra £20 a week to the asking price of a flat.

Landlords and landladies want to grill you about the prospect of all-night parties and very loud music. If you dare enter a hi-fi shop, all the sales assistants converge on you wanting to show you the biggest TV screens they have in stock and the amplifier of the future.

When you find yourself among businessmen, everybody is trying to talk you into a deal and you are being asked if you know the Governor or that Minister. Somehow the impression seems to be that there are endless numbers of deals to be made in Nigeria. and every other Nigerian on the streets of London has an entry into the corridors of power in Lagos.

It all makes one wonder about what happens to the real Nigerians - do they, in real life, give big tips to taxi drivers and restaurant waiters? Do they keep their neighbours awake all night with loud music and do they all know somebody who would ensure that a contract for lifting oil is signed within one week instead of the obligatory one year?

How does one go about stopping taxi drivers, etc., from their high expectations. Should one wear a badge "No big tips, I'm not Nigerian" or "I don't leave millions in taxi-cabs'' or "I take coins into phone boxes" or "I listen to Radio 2, I don't have a portable transmission station?"

The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.

The Age of Reason

talking drums 1983-12-05 Donor nations to Ghana's rescue