If you are born in Nigeria, you are a “national born” hustler. In this context “to hustle” is anything you need to do to make money and survive in the competitive world of modern Nigeria. The word “hustle” is beloved in this country and appears in numerous contexts. Local rap artists extoll the virtues of “hustling” with the talented Eva earnestly wishing that God might “bless your hustle.” Hustler Music is one of hundreds of Nigerian businesses to use this word in their organization’s name. To westerners the word “hustle” has negative connotations, bringing to mind tricksters and con artists. Perhaps this is why Nigerians are divided in accepting this epithet as an essential part of the national character.
Expatriates quickly become acquainted with the many “hustlers” eager to relieve them of their money. Jeff and I had an amusing experience a few weeks ago at the local supermarket. We managed to keep command of our trolley until we got to the car park and began unloading the groceries. A young employee of a trolley collection company was hanging around waiting to collect our trolley, as would be expected by his employer. I handed him the trolley but when I didn’t give him a “dash” (tip), he pushed it into the side of another car and hurried off. On subsequent visits to the same supermarket I noticed they don’t employ trolley collectors. I suspect this youngster decided to create his own job, complete with uniform. This is Nigerian hustle at its finest and good luck to him!
The perceived need to “hustle” has other more pernicious effects. Many Nigerians are sensitive about their nation’s poor reputation in the international community. 419 (pronounced four-one-nine) Internet scams are inextricably associated with Nigeria but locally the phrase 419 is used to describe any dishonest or misleading activity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the world’s most crime ridden ISP originates in Nigeria, a revelation that would surprise no one. An astonishing 63% of site addresses on Nigeria’s Spectra-Net’s servers were found to be sending spam-the highest proportion amongst 42, 201 ISP’s.
A common Internet scam concerns online dating sites. In one scenario, scammers set up false Facebook pages and use them to send friend requests to attractive westerners. Once befriended the scammer has access to photographs to create fake dating profiles. According to Insa Nolte (a lecturer in the University of Birmingham’s African Studies Department) dating site fraud has become one of Nigeria’s most important export industries. Known as the “Nigerian hustle,” romance scams are difficult to understand. Why do so many victims send money to a complete stranger they know only through an online dating site?
Comments by Nigerians about romance scams suggest the victim’s gullibility encourages some scammers to feel justified in their behavior. They argue the victim must have known they were being duped but participated to have their romantic fantasies fulfilled. Scammers are simply performing a necessary service for the lonely and lovelorn and deserve to be compensated for their efforts. A story from Sixty Minutes Australia demonstrates the addictive nature of Internet romances and the victim’s reluctance to abandon their fantasy lover.
One Australian woman, having already lost $100 000, was back on the Internet sending money to another scammer days after discovering her handsome American paramour was in reality a young Nigerian working for a Thai crime ring. The presenter, Liam Bartlet, attempts to talk some sense into the woman, “Unless they are looking you in the eye and buying you a drink, it’s not real.” She answers sadly, “No one ever buys me drink, that’s the problem.”
The international notoriety created by the 419 Internet scams takes its toll on the national psyche. While researching this article, I discovered a site called the 419 Project, which, “Aims to challenge the perceptions of Nigerians and Nigeria.” Nigeria, it is argued, is mainly known for kidnappings, human rights abuses, election fraud, corruption and Internet fraud. Listing Nigeria’s shortcomings on a site designed to counteract negative stereotypes shows questionable judgment but the aims are laudable.
Co-ordinated by Rosemary A. Ajayi, the 419 Project asks Nigerians to contribute 419 positive comments about Nigeria. People can also send in videos and photographs to illustrate their stories. Most comments highlight the resilience of Nigerians in the face of adversity. Life in Nigeria and Lagos in particular is difficult and only the most persistent survive. Adversity has forged a tough and adaptable national character that can weather the hard times and make the most of opportunities as they arise. As one commentator says, “We love our hustle- we get educated, get jobs or get a business going on.”
Another Facebook page, The Nigerian Hustle, “Is dedicated to the hustle by Nigerians to create a new Nigeria”. The Nigerian Hustle discusses the economic and political issues facing Nigerians and what should be done about them. Prominent on the site is Richard Branson’s condemnation of the Nigerian government and his company’s determination not to do business in the country again. This page takes the Nigerian concept of hustle and uses it in a positive sense to highlight the work that still needs to be done.
Young Nigerians are rejecting the idea that corruption and criminality will continue to shape the nation’s reputation and future. They are re-framing the concept of “hustle” so that it highlights positive attributes such as hard work and the importance of education. This demonstrated on the Nairaland Forum where one young woman’s question, “Is it still worth going abroad to hustle?” is met with responses arguing that going abroad to “hustle” for legitimate work is acceptable but breaking the law in a foreign nation is not. Respondents urge her to stay in Nigeria and get an education before trying to work abroad. Hustling to get an education and becoming globally competitive is increasingly the focus of young Nigerians.
God bless your hustle!