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Brand Malaysia: Looking through the eyes of a Nigerian bystander

Common erroneous assumptions between Malaysians and Nigerians are caused by misconceptions and sweeping generalisations

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By Steven Anu’ Adesemoye

Last month, a journalist friend wrote an exclusive report about the sentencing of Nigeria’s former deputy Senate president at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court in London, for his role in an illegal kidney harvesting case.

In the background to his story, the journalist referred to Malaysia as “a top destination” for organ racketeering. However, he quickly punctured his claim with the following sentence in brackets: “there is presently no sufficient data to back this.”

If there were no facts to back up the claim of Malaysia as a top organ harvesting destination, why and how did this misrepresentation travel this far among some Nigerians? 

I have lived in Malaysia for two years – with my kidneys intact – and a couple of questions keep popping up in my mind. Are my kidneys not good enough? Or are Malaysian ‘organ dealers’ not smart enough to notice I am Nigerian and desperately in need of money?!

A cursory look at some random claims in the ‘news’ points to two common denominators: such claims were not in mainstream media platforms, and all possess the characteristics of melodrama.

For instance, in this story “I sold my kidneys to take care of my family and now they’ve abandoned me – Nigerian father cries out“, the supposedly nameless victim claimed to have travelled to Malaysia with a Schengen visa.

A Schengen visa to Malaysia? The last time I checked, Malaysia was not part of the 27 countries within this free travel zone arrangement.

Another tale caught my eye: “Pathetic story of a Nigerian whose kidney was stolen in Malaysia“.

Yet another similar story: “Nigerian dies in Malaysia after selling his kidney for N6 million“.

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To my mind, most of these blog stories are a self-concocted cache of lies. I have investigated this issue enough to understand that Nigerians do not sell their kidneys, and Malaysians do not harvest kidneys!

So …

“Why the choice of Malaysia?”

“Why not Malaysia?”

This was the exchange between a friend and me when I told him about my plans to further my studies at a Malaysian university. The follow-up conversation revealed some stereotypical myths about Malaysia spread by Nigerians.

The blend of anecdotal evidence and the democratisation of technology might have strengthened the spread and acceptance of certain societal beliefs.

However, common erroneous assumptions between Malaysians and Nigerians are caused by misconceptions and sweeping generalisations.

This prejudice manifests itself in the portrayal of Malaysia as a hub for illicit wealth through drug and human trafficking for young southern Nigerians.

As a result, Malaysians are portrayed as individuals believed to be notorious, wealthy and reckless, both in Nollywood (Nigerian film industry) films and real life. 

Such was the portrayal in the political thriller King of Boys on Netflix. A key villain in the short-season film is named Odogwu Malay. Odogwu is a famous street appellation for a don, though its original meaning is ‘the conqueror’.

Odogwu Malay, played by Nigerian rap artiste Tobechukwu Ejiofor (popularly known as Illblis), is a drug dealer and underworld lord, killing and maiming to earn a living.

The traits and wealth are subliminally depicted to have been influenced by the “Malaysian factor”. 

This factor is equally ingrained in some Nollywood film titles such as Malaysian Money (2015), Malaysia Boys (2016), Malaysian Business (2015), Nelayan (2023) and Akpaka Na Malaysia (2019).

The fixation on Malaysia is obvious, but does the average Malaysian know anything about Nollywood at all?

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One central reservation about Malaysia among Nigerians is the issue of religiosity. The popular belief positions Malaysia as a 100% Muslim country with zero tolerance for non-Muslims. In addition, the choice of capital punishment in Malaysia is wrongly attributed to Islamic extremism. 

The reality is otherwise: although Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others may practise their faiths freely. I believe there are more churches with Nigerian pastors in Malaysia than in Israel!

Some individuals and sects may attempt to go beyond the red line in Malaysia, but the government proactively regulates and checks excesses.

Similarly, until recently, many Nigerians in academia talked down the quality of Malaysian education and questioned the rationale behind the choice of schooling in a “third world” and non-English speaking country. Nigerian PhD holders from Malaysia were once dubbed “Asian doctors” and considered inferior to others.

Yet, many Malaysian universities are champions in research and learning and have employed hundreds of Nigerian professors.

The flip side of the coin, however, is the resentment among some Malaysians toward Nigerians living in Malaysia.

Stories are rife that some Nigerians in Malaysia are engaged in romance and internet scams, illicit drug peddling and cultism. These are unfortunate but evolving social realities that require proactive measures to curtail the devastating effects. 

In many parts of the world, it is believed that almost every crime committed by a foreigner involves connivance with locals.

I do not glorify criminality, but I think there should be a balanced approach in the war against it. Instead of the racial profiling of Nigerians, it would be more effective to fight crime holistically and equitably.

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After all, I believe there are only two races – the bad and the good. 

The principle of maruah kepada semua orang (dignity towards all) should apply. It should not be measured by the colour of my skin, the accent of my tongue or my subscription to a particular faith. Not all Nigerians in Malaysia are criminals, just as not all Malaysians are anti-Nigerian.

From my observations, Nigerian emigrants in Malaysia despise hearing the word “cannot”:

“Cannot rent my house to a Nigerian.”

“Cannot relate with Nigerians.”

“Cannot trust a Nigerian.”

“Cannot go to school with a Nigerian.”

“Cannot marry a Nigerian.”

“Cannot do business with Nigerians.”

If a Malaysian tells you “cannot”, you will need the intervention of God to pull anything through! 

Without mincing words, I feel the indifference of Malaysians to Nigerians is systemic and endemic. Beyond bilateral trade agreements, the Nigerian and Malaysian governments need to do more to improve socio-cultural ties between the two nations.

Anyway, with my liver intact, I am willing to host my Malaysian friends to a feast of sumptuous jollof rice (nasi jollof, a tomatoey rice dish), asun (daging kambing bakar berempah or spicy roast goat) and chilled locally brewed wine (for the non-Muslims) in Nigeria without the fear of scammers, cultists, kidnappers or Boko Haram, as badly propagated by the Western press.

Steven Anu’ Adesemoye, a Nigerian postgraduate student in Malaysia, is a humanist and minimalist specialising in ‘film audiencing’ and ‘glocalised cultures’.

He wrote this piece at a writers’ workshop “Writing for Change” organised by the Department of International and Strategic Studies of the University of Malaya, the university’s International Relations Society, and Aliran

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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Adesanya Oluwafemi Atilade
Adesanya Oluwafemi Atilade
9 Jun 2023 1.30pm

Good work Sir. Lessons learnt. I pray the government of the two countries looked into making their citizens know the truth about their countries to foster better and improved relationship.

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