By Comfort Obi
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, is in trouble. A section of the country – the Igbo – is angry with her. She has unwittingly stepped on the toes of the Igbo. And the people, ever on their guard, are angry with her. They are crying blue murder. They are accusing her of discrimination. Don’t blame them, much, if you think they are being overly sensitive. They probably have reasons to. At times, they have been brazenly discriminated against in their own fatherland.
Here’s one recent example.
In some parts of Lagos state during the recent general elections, they were marked out for special treatment. They were not allowed to vote. Those who did watched, in disbelief, as their votes were publicly burnt. A number of them, recruited for election duties, were shut-out and, stopped from performing their duties. Nobody was punished for that criminal disenfranchisement of a people. I have digressed.
So, how did the ever sure-footed Abike put the wrong foot forward? As you know, the office she holds requires tact. You know, diplomatic niceties. But as you also know, politics was not her turf. Nor was foreign and Diaspora affairs.
Before she joined politics, she was a journalist, one of NTA’s star reporters. Journalists are not usually diplomatic. They are trained to present the facts as they are. So, because of her background, when she became a member of the House of Representatives, she was, naturally, expected to chair its Information committee. I don’t remember now if she ever did. But, we woke up one day to hear that she has been appointed the Chair of the House Committee on Diaspora. Not a few of us were, at once, both disappointed and angry. What’s that?, we asked. We felt somebody, somewhere, are on an over-drive. They don’t want her to shine, to show her talents. Nobody had heard of that committee before. Newly created, it was not expected to make any impact.
But Abike disappointed whoever the coup plotters were. She took it in her stride. She did her homework. And before anybody knew what was happening, Abike had made the Diaspora Committee the envy of many of her colleagues. She was everywhere. Her committee was so busy there was no breathing space. She was the star.
That’s how come she was appointed Mr President’s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora – the first to be so appointed. That’s how come she is more known, by not a few Nigerians, than the Minister for Foreign affairs and/or the Minister of State. No jokes intended here, but in March of 2018, I asked a policeman, intent on a Peace Mission posting, to tell me the name of our foreign minister. Without wasting a second, he responded: Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa. See? That’s how come many Nigerians in the Diaspora refer many of their challenges, directly, to her. That’s how they see her as Nigeria’s face. And that’s how come she has talked herself into this trouble with the Igbo.
It started last Tuesday when the news broke that a Nigerian woman had just been beheaded by the Saudi government over drug offences. The previous day, news had also broken that a gang of five armed robbers, all of them, Nigerians, had slurred our dear country’s image with coal tar in Dubai. The guys got to Dubai and, within 48 hours of entry, planned an armed robbery attack. They, successfully, robbed a Bureau de Change to the tune of millions in every currency. The collective shame of a nation.
Given the office she holds, and how so often she rises in anger against the injustices her compatriots face abroad, Abike must have been very embarrassed. The two incidents in Saudi and Dubai are worrisome. But she issued no statement. She bore her embarrassment with calmness, perhaps, waiting for clearance. Her office is at the Federal Secretariat. But being an aide to the President, she gets called up to the Villa when needed.
So, this Tuesday, she went to the Villa. And, on her way out, she was cornered by State House Correspondents. Cheeky fellows! They put her in this problem. They may have sensed why she came. So, they wanted her to address our shame in Saudi and Dubai. She had no choice.
In addressing the case of the beheaded woman in Saudi, she did not disclose her name. She identified her as one woman. No first name. No surname. Nothing. She even gave the impression she may have been innocent, considering the unwholesome roles some airlines play.
At times, she revealed, their staff smuggle drugs into the luggages of unsuspecting Nigerian pilgrims. She briefly made mention of two airlines which staff may be guilty of that wickedness. True? If so, the questions are: Why has this not been made public until now? And, what is the FG doing about it? Have the airlines been reported, before, to their countries of origin? Or, are we just talking? This allegation is serious and disturbing. But, again, I digress.
So, Abike also added that the executed woman brought to eight the number of Nigerians so executed in Saudi. And this: 20 more are waiting same fate. Again, she mentioned no names. Then, the crux of the matter. Abike proceeded to the armed robbery in Dubai. While, rightly, condemning it in very strong terms, she revealed their names one by one. Unfortunately, all are of the Igbo ethnic group. Our shame! How dared she name them?, some Igbo queried. They took offence.
Why should Abike mention the cursed alleged armed robbers by name, and not the drug pushers – beheaded or alive? Why should she name and shame them, and not the other people? So, they are alleging ethnic bias. They are saying she named and shamed them because they are Igbo? Or, what will be her reason?, they ask.
So, in a Whatsapp message that has gone viral, they not only took on Abike, they also engaged in a tit for tat. They listed the names of those executed for drugs (there was no Igbo), and those in waiting (I saw one Igbo name).
At times, I can be unbelievably slow-witted. When, I first got the Whatsapp message, I thought nothing of it. I was like: hey, more news. It was the second day when the person who forwarded it to me asked me “Has Abike reacted?” And, I was like: to what? It was then l put two and two together. And, I felt low for my people.
And, my questions to nobody, in particular were: What’s all the nonsense about? Are these people trying, by any means, to suggest that our boys, the alleged armed robbers, ought to have remained anonymous? Na lie. Perish the thought. They should be named. And they should be shamed. There is no competition in crime.
For the records, I am proudly Igbo. I love our business mindedness. Our independence. Our ruggedness. Our industry. Our survival instinct. Our self- esteem. Even our hustle and loudness! But, hey, I will never read ethnic meaning in the condemnation of any crime?
Meaning: I don’t see what Abike did wrong. She was doing her job. And, it doesn’t worry me whether she named others or not.
Many things should worry the Igbo instead. The questions should be: Were those boys armed robbers or not? Did they travel to Dubai to go and rob or not? Was it okay that, barely two days after they arrived Dubai, they embarked on such a disgraceful act? Did they not remember their lgboness when they were disgracing their tribe and country?
What should worry the Igbo is the shame the young boys have brought on their tribe, and to other Nigerians living in Dubai, and doing their legitimate businesses.
Now, no thanks to them, every Nigerian youth going to Dubai will be looked upon with suspicion, as a potential criminal. They may start denying them entry. The businesses of those who already live there will be scrutinized and re-scrutinized.
Many of our people are doing so well in the diaspora. They are working hard. And the commendation we give them is to export armed robbery, drugs, prostitution and 419 to where they live? And somebody is thinking of ethnic bias?
Crime has no colouration. A crime is a crime, it doesn’t matter which ethnic group any criminal comes from. It is our collective shame. To think that, perhaps, the Igbo are deliberately being singled out to be named and be shamed is a no-no. It doesn’t gel with me.
The Igbo, as well as other ethnic groups, should worry about the lifestyles of some of our youths which encourage crime; which encourage get-rich quick by all means; which encourage irresponsible lifestyles. Did any of these people read the story of the four youths, students of FUTO, all Igbo, who soaked themselves in drug and sex and died therein? That is not the Igbo. We are better than that. The Igbo should do away with this persecution syndrome. No youth should, in any way, be encouraged to embark on crime because others are doing it. If they get away without being named and shamed, you may not.
Finally, this is to whoever constructed, and began the circulation of that Whatsapp message. You did the Igbo a great dis-service. The true Igbo spirit abhore such crimes. You have drawn a negative attention to them. That’s neither the Igbo spirit, nor what the Igbo stand for.