Since last week, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has been criticised for releasing the names of the five Nigerians arrested for robbing a Bureau De Change to the tune of Dh 2.3 million in the Sharjah Area of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The robbers were caught on CCTV and the incident was circulated around the world. In fact, one of them had only just arrived the country.
The ex-federal lawmaker had, in a statement by her special assistant, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, given the names of the suspects as Chimuanya Emmanuel Ozoh, Benjamin Nwachukwu Ajah, Kingsley Ikenna Ngoka, Tochukwu Leonard Alisi, and Chile Micah Ndunagu. The suspects’ action, she said, was “despicable and shameful,” bringing the country to disrepute. Earlier in a tweet, she had said: “We need to tell our brothers behaving badly to behave. Let’s get the names of those involved and shame them.”
On the issue of not naming Kudirat it was only proper to inform the family of her execution before mentioning her name. When that has been done by the mission, her name was made public.
To all intents and purposes, Dabiri-Erewa’s postulations are likened to public servants and they are completely free of ethnic stereotyping. From all the available records, at no time has the presidential aide ever called out errant Nigerians on the basis of their ethnic group or religious affiliation. Crucially, her latest statement that is gradually being misconstrued by mischief-makers contains no suggestion of ethnic or religious stereotyping, but merely suggested a globally recognised strategy for tackling crimes in the country. The world over, naming and shaming is deployed to unmask criminals masquerading as patriots, be they drug traffickers or sex offenders. In the United States, for example, there are usually calls for women falsely accusing men of sexual assault to be named and shamed in order to deter those intent on pursuing a similar course of action. These calls become strident, particularly in cases where those wrongly accused had already served punishment for a crime they never committed, only for the truth to emerge after their release. Those familiar with the now rested Megyn Kelly show on US cable TV would surely attest to the point being made here.
Pray, how is naming and shaming criminals equal to ethnic stereotyping? Are the critics suggesting that they are proud of the robbers who brought monumental shame to the country and battered its already sullied image in the UAE simply because they are a particular ethnic group? Interestingly, even in the tweet earlier referenced, Dabiri-Erewa still referred to criminally minded compatriots as “our brothers,” urging every Nigerian to name and shame them. Is it not better to name and shame those who cause innocent Nigerians untold misery on foreign soil with their aberrant behaviours instead of mollycoddling them because they belong to our ethnic cleavages? The endless suffering that innocent Nigerians experience at the hands of racist law enforcement officers abroad is public knowledge, but how can such Nigerians make a valid case in the face of the monumental crimes committed by their fellow Nigerians almost on a daily basis? How do you persuade the British public, for instance, that an officer conducting a search on your person in a rather offensive manner is actually racist when your own flesh and blood continue to feed the prejudices of such officers with their unholy acts?
On the other hand, President Muhammadu Buhari and Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa have always lauded Nigerians who do well abroad. The President himself has always interacted with such Nigerians and commended them whenever he travels abroad, encouraging them to do more because only Nigerians who are law-abiding, who have genuine businesses and who are contributing positively to the economy of their respective countries of residence can give Nigeria dignity, honour and prestige. What is bad in celebrating the good and condemning the bad? In any case, over the years, Dabiri-Erewa has spoken out consistently in favour of Nigerians maltreated abroad, whether through Xenophobic attacks in South Africa or over false allegations in India. Dabiri-Erewa is on record as vigorously protesting the killing of 116 Nigerians in South Africa in 2017 and this year, the closure of shops owned by Nigerians in Ghana, among others.
Now with respect to the issue of Nigerians arrested for drugs in Saudi Arabia, according to media reports, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been alerted on the impending fate of 23 Nigerians on the death row in Saudi Arabia (apart from the 11 serving various jail terms for drug trafficking in the kingdom) but did nothing about the privileged information. The Consul-General wrote twice to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, namely on December 3, 2018 and February 6, 2019, raising the alarm over the plight of Nigerians and asking him to use Nigeria’s diplomatic bond with Saudi Arabia to seek pardon for all our compatriots condemned to death and for those serving various jail terms. The media report also drew attention to the security lapses at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano, which is being used for massive drug trafficking. Members of a syndicate in cahoots with greedy airline officials at MAKIA were checking in extra bags containing prohibited drugs, using the particulars of innocent passengers and baggage tags to smuggle drugs, with this leading to the arrest of Nigerians who had no links with drug trafficking. Said the report: “The outcome of investigations by the Nigeria Police and NDLEA absolved these victims of complicity in the crime of peddling drugs into the Kingdom. The investigations further established beyond reasonable doubt that the victims were unaware of the drug-laden baggage that were checked in bearing their particulars by unknown persons at MAKIA, Kano.” What has been done to put paid to this ugly trend?
If a memo of such magnitude that involves human life was sent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry four months ago, what then happened? Did the minister get the memo and if he did, what steps did he take to save Nigerians on death row? Why couldn’t the minister take a cue from his predecessor, Ojo Madueke who, on being informed that the Indonesian government was going to execute some Nigerians for drug trafficking, met with officials of that government and pleaded with them to temper justice with mercy. Even though the Indonesian authorities did not accept the plea, they at least admitted that they had been under tremendous pressure from the Nigerian government and, what is more, Nigerians themselves agreed that there was nothing more that their government could have done to save the condemned Nigerians. They saw the government in action working to protect the interests of Nigerian nationals. Why couldn’t the Minister at least have initiated a meeting with his counterpart in Saudi Arabia?
Besides, what is the role of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and sister agencies at our airports in all of this? Why is it so easy to get drugs out of Nigeria? Could it be that these agencies have been severely comprised by drug barons or is it that drug detection facilities are obsolete? For how long are things going to remain this way? Unless and until these questions are satisfactorily answered, stories of Nigerians executed for crimes abroad will persist. It can only be hoped that patriots like Dabiri-Erewa will continue to speak out against crime and not be deterred by the antics of ethnic jingoists and apologists of crime. The woman executed in Saudi Arabia, Kudirat Afolabi, unfortunately, is one of the 20 that have been sentenced to death. The 20 all had drugs hidden in their bodies.
Sadly, amidst the outcry over the planned execution of 23 Nigerians, yet another Nigerian, Saheed Sobade, is facing the prospect of death in Saudi Arabia after reportedly being nabbed with 1,183 grams of cocaine powder in Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port city on the Red Sea. Kudirat, unfortunately, is one of the Nigerians that have been sentenced to death. They all had drugs hidden in their bodies. This madness has to stop. Drug traffickers must realise that they face the prospect of certain death. Crime has no ethnic group and no religion and must be addressed with all the arsenals at the country’s disposal. Drug traffickers must have a rethink. Failure to do that can only spell doom for themselves and their families in particular and the nation at large.
• Isibor contributed this piece from Department of English and Literary Studies, University of Benin, Edo State.