Buhari’s speech, #NigeriansAreNotCriminals, and why sensationalism hurts us all

Nigeria's President Buhari arrives to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari arrives to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

I try not to give personal opinions on politics because it is not my strong suit. I cannot debate cabals and cankerworms ad nauseam and Nigerian politics in particular always seems a particularly annoying topic to discuss. There is always someone who thinks they know the inner workings of Aso Rock, who speaks as though they were there when Buhari was tying his shoes that morning or when Saraki was making a statement at the Senate.

Seeing Twitter lit over the comments made by Buhari, my heart jerked. I thought “Did my president actually state in an international interview that Nigerians were all criminals?” The status updates on Facebook and the hashtag #NigeriansAreNotCriminals certainly seemed to suggest so.

#NigeriansAreNotCriminals - Buhari 2

I was upset. I have had longstanding beef with Jidenna the Classic Man over just such an issue: he had the opportunity to big up the land of his birth and instead he stated that he had to ship in guns for protection for fear of being kidnapped over the colour of his skin. I will not listen to any of his music, and I do not send him at all even though I am a big fan of Janelle Monae.

Now here was my president doing the same thing. I went to sleep unable to marshal my thoughts or comment on the topic.

This morning, I said let me have a look at exactly what it is he said and work out what could have possessed our president to endorse this negative image.

All #NigeriansAreNotCriminals. But some are.

A quick Google search brought out lesson #1 – social media ain’t BBC. Or The Telegraph. If you get your facts from social media, you may go off on a tangent that just might point you out as being a tad ignorant.

I traced the quote back to the original interview, one given to The Telegraph, and here’s what Baba said:

Some Nigerians claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking

Some Nigerians. Out of these ‘some’ has arisen a difficulty to be accepted because of the number in prisons for crimes.

When, where and how did he say that all Nigerians are criminals?

Secondly, the number of Nigerians in foreign prisons for drugs trafficking, human trafficking and fraud IS high. If I were a president, then I would say ONE Nigerian in prison is one too many. He is right to be concerned. He is right to speak on it. He however did counter the statement by saying: “We have an image problem abroad and we are on our way to salvage that”

#NigeriansAreNotCriminals Nigerian_President_Buhari

I can’t understand Nigerians getting their titties in a flap over this when the man is saying the truth. What did you expect? Inane mutterings about “Yes, we do have some fraudsters, but you see….yams…goats…what can one do”?

Anybody outside of Nigeria who has ever tried to travel on a non-Nigerian passport knows how many times their passport is scanned under the weird light thingie before being let through. Any Nigerian outside Nigeria who has ever worked for the financial or security sector (I no talk funky gateman standing outside Zara o!) knows that they are monitored closer than most of their colleagues.

Most Naija yahoo boys are no longer even sending those scam emails anymore – most of the emails come from Eastern Europe and Eastern Africa now, and yet they are still referred to on the international scene as “Nigerian scam or 419.” I mean, this is what Wikipedia had to say in the definition of advance fee fraud:

The scam messages often claim to originate in Nigeria, but usually this is not true. The number “419” refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges and penalties for offenders.One reason Nigeria may have been singled out is the apparently comical, almost ludicrous nature of the promise of West African riches from a Nigerian prince. According to Cormac Herley, a researcher for Microsoft, “By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible, the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select.”[20] Nevertheless, Nigeria has earned a reputation as being at the center of email scammers,[21] and the number 419 refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code (part of Chapter 38: “Obtaining property by false pretenses; Cheating“) dealing with fraud.[22] In Nigeria, scammers use computers in Internet cafĂ©s to send mass emails promising potential victims riches or romance, and to trawl for replies. They refer to their targets as Magas, slang developed from a Yoruba word meaning “fool”. Some scammers have accomplices in the United States and abroad that move in to finish the deal once the initial contact has been made

I ask again: what has Baba said that’s got everyone all up in their feels?

Lesson #2: Beware the Out-Of-Context Rant

I feel like the alleged statement and the resultant hashtag #NigeriansAreNotCriminals is a result of people needing something to hold on to, to bitch about, to have a moan.

Just like there are many men out there who only know the one verse in the Bible of ‘Wives, submit to your husbands‘ so also there are people who hear one line, one word and base an entire opinion on that sentence. It helps them to justify their unreasonable behaviour, their prejudices and their inability to take responsibility for their own actions.

Reading the interview, the president actually spent a considerable amount talking about Boko Haram and the fact that while bombings and deaths still continue, the terrorist group had lost a lot of the ground they controlled up until late last year.

This would make sense as he was actually at a 3-day summit where world leaders were discussing the Syrian crisis and the war on terror, and not the criminality of the Nigerian people.

Having read the whole thing, I can’t say that I personally have any problems with what President Buhari said.

If you believe #NigeriansAreNotCriminals, get rid of your gateman, give your housemaid access to your master bedroom, purposely overpay for a service and see if they will return your change.

Explain N80m for a website or Dasuki’s misappropriation of funds that were meant for the protection of our brave soldiers.

Some of us are criminals. Fact. The rest of us have to work tirelessly to ensure that this is not the image left in the minds of visitors, tourists, investors and the international scene at large.




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