This is not my style. But today I will depart from the norm. I will reference, generously, another because he wrote to the core of the subject of today’s intervention. It is about a uniquely weird and insane Nigerian who enjoys hogging the limelight, often for evil. Our departure from the norm also has to do with the realisation that the writer we are about to quote below has obviously had previous encounters with our subject. And none of the encounters were charitable or ennobling. They left sour tastes.
But before we proceed, let us dispense with the basic issue in the headline of today’s discourse. An online Britannica dictionary defines a “con artist [or man] as a manipulator who cheats, or tricks, others through persuading them to believe something that is not true”. For instance, “through deception, they fool people into believing they can make easy money when, in fact, it is the con artist who ends up taking the victim’s money”. There is this character who goes by the name Mahdi Shehu who fits the bill of a con artist. And he is one. He has recently been all over the Nigerian political and social space especially in the social media spewing lies and hate. He is like what he says. He is despicable. But we should not be deceived. Mahdi speaks the mind of a few but well placed people in our country especially from the northern part. Unfortunately, a significant number of those who are capable of being decent from amongst the people from that part of our world have allowed themselves to be led by the noose.
Presently, Mahdi is obsessed with the Igbo. He is preoccupied with profiling and maligning people of the south east and their kith and kin in the Diaspora simply because one of their own, Peter Obi, is vying to be elected president of Nigeria in 2023 on the platform of the Labour Party [LP]. To Mahdi, Obi’s offence are many and they include but not limited to: 1] How dare an Igbo person aspire to be president of the country in which he is supposedly a citizen? 2] The Igbo are actually not bonafide citizens of Nigeria but if they feel that they are, then they must be content with playing the second or third fiddle, or no fiddle at all in Nigeria’s political and governance space. 3] Why should Obi or any Igbo for that matter raise his head and voice in Nigeria at a time some of their kinsmen are canvassing for restructuring of Nigeria and even self determination which, in our country, is considered a capital sin by a section of the ruling elite? 4) And, how could a people who were defeated in a civil war barely 50 years ago aspire to the highest office of the same country they waged war against?
But first, we will deconstruct this con artist Mahdi Shehu, the new avid Igbo hater and self acclaimed promoter and defender of the interests of the peoples of the northern region of Nigeria as told by a northerner, Mahmud Jega, in a recent newspaper article. Jega is well acquainted with Mahdi and that familiarity accords enormous credibility to his story. Jega wrote a telling character portrayal of Mahdi thus: “The elaborately sensational story that Kaduna-based businessman and activist[?] Mahdi Shehu told in an Arisetv interview last week [mid-September really] raised many questions that are begging for answers. The first problem had to do with Mahdi’s credibility after the elaborate medical scam he perpetrated last year in order to deceive a court. He had been arraigned in a Katsina court for making corruption allegations against [Katsina state] Governor Aminu Bello Masari’s government. The activist[?] pleaded ill health but when the court insisted on his personal appearance, he arrived in court posing as an invalid, with crutches, held by aides, clad in medical foot, neck and head gears that he apparently took from his well stocked Dialogue Pharmacy [outlet] in Kaduna. According to video recording it took Mahdi nearly half an hour to walk the short distance from the entrance to the court room, moving with [assumed] great difficulty and sat down with great pain’’
Jega continued with the story of the practiced con man by saying that “unknown to him [Mahdi], while he was in the court room, government agents sneaked into his cell at Katsina prisons and installed a camera. Mahdi Shehu returned to the prison with the same elaborately staged difficulty and pain. As the camera recorded, however, as soon as he entered the cell, he put aside the crutches, removed all the other medical accountrements, put them aside, immediately became his normal self and proceeded to lead the congregational [Islamic] prayer in the cell, with several of his mates behind him”.
The footage was made public and it went viral in the social media. In a saner jurisdiction, con man Mahdi Shehu should have been in jail for false allegations and attempt to obstruct justice. But this is Nigeria. So Mahdi is not in prison. He is out there spewing hatred and strutting about town, playing the role of surrogate for the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
What was the central message in Mahdi’s recent toxic video? Obviously promoting Alhaji Abubakar, he said Christians of the North should not vote for a southerner in next year’s presidential election, presumably, including the candidate of the All Progressives Congress [APC], Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is from the South though a Muslim. They should particularly not vote for Labour Party candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, because, though he may be a good man, but he is Igbo; Christians of the South despise and discriminate against Christians of the North. In a crisis, southern Christians kill both northern Christians and Muslims without regard for their faith, and, that southern Christians expropriate northern Christians. Though it is obvious that Mahdi is working and speaking from the scripts of those who incited and perpetrated genocide in Rwanda between April 7 and July 15, 1994, during which close to one million Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were massacred, the irony is that genocide and pogrom are not alien to Nigeria, if only we are willing to cast our minds back to the bloody events of 1966/67 in the defunct Northern Region.
It is instructive that the man for whom Mahdi Shehu is stomping, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, has not found it needful to disclaim his surrogate and repudiate his toxic message. Not taking a stand is taking a stand. So it was Atiku who was speaking hate, stoking ethnic and religious bigotry and fanning the embers of national conflagration in that toxic video. Well, it would appear to be in Atiku’s character. Was he not the same man who deleted a tweet in his name in his verified Twitter handle which condemned the gruesome murder of Miss Deborah Samuel in a school in Sokoto by her supposedly Muslim school mates. Her crimeblasphemy. Atiku deleted the tweet and disowned his staff because murderers of Deborah and their sympathizers who asserted their Muslim bonafides threatened not to vote for him in 2023. By the way, part of Atiku’s unique selling point for 2023 is that he is a unifier. Nigerians should make the call on a man who cannot even unify his troubled opposition political party.