March 4, 2021

FBI 77 and the Nigerian shame problem

On Sunday, while granting an interview with a television station, presidential media aide, Garba Shehu, remarked on the case of the 77 Nigerians recently indicted by the FBI. He promised that Nigeria would extradite them if necessary, and it was important their crimes do not tarnish the image of millions of other Nigeria everywhere doing legitimate business. Before then, Chairperson of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa had also advised those on the FBI list to turn in themselves. She too mentioned the importance of not letting the allegations tarnish the image of other Nigerians.
Like many Nigerians who have reacted to the issue, both Shehu and Dabiri-Erewa are needlessly quivering under the shame of these incidences, and that is getting in the way of their judgment. There is too much concern about how the white/western world gazes on us after the allegations of the crime, and that attitude is a problem. Making official statements about their readiness to throw Nigerian citizens under the bus is not the way to go. Yes, they should cooperate with the FBI. They should ask for the case files of the accused domiciled in Nigeria and try them at home. If it is necessary to surrender anyone of them to the US, the Nigerian Consulate in the USA should get a lawyer for them and ensure they get a fair trial. That is what the US would do for its citizens. That is how they communicate to the world that no matter the sins of an American, their citizenship inoculates you from indignities. We might not be at that level yet but it is not a bad idea to feign that Nigerian citizenship too matters.
This article was to be written months ago when the case of five Nigerians robbing a bureau the change in Dubai, the UAE, happened. After their arrest, Dabiri-Erewa, privy to information about their identity, released it to the public. The five happened to be Igbo men and in a polarized country like ours, her motives came under scrutiny. Buckling under the shame of their tribesmen committing crimes, people turned her Twitter feed into a battleground for contesting their dignity; bigots too used the opportunity to empty their putrid insides. Watching people drag in the profiles of successful Igbos to counterbalance the narrative of “Igbo crime culture” was painful.
My thought then—and till now—is that we are a defeated people, and our psyche has been conditioned towards self-justification. The biggest frauds in the history of the USA –some of them running into billions of dollars—were committed by white men, but their race does not run errands of self-exoneration on social media. The 2008 global financial crisis happened because of the greed and predatory capitalism of some Americans. That crash affected many countries, including weaker ones that did not have the in-built stabilizer to protect them from the impact. The culprits were not even jailed, and nobody moaned about the image of almighty America being destroyed in the world. They take it for granted that crimes are an inevitable part of capitalist culture, and the best they can do is improve on their economic systems to preempt the possibility of re-occurrence. So why should Nigerians always push themselves into the default position of self-defense and carry on as if the alleged crime of these 77 people is the end of the world?
The history of financial enterprises such as banks, investment advisors, and bureau the change is replete with incidences of robbery and scams. When that happens, they find the blind spots in their security system and improve on it. Yes, transnational organized crimes such as this one can bring a whole level of inquiry on a country, but they are neither novel nor they about to stop. With the way technology is shrinking the world and making more people more mobile across national borders, there will be more of those crimes in our future. Organizations like the FBI and Interpol were not set up because of Nigerians; they exist because the human tendency to steal does not respect borders. We have nothing to be ashamed of, and we need not dehumanize ourselves with self-justification.
I think part of the problem is that our race/continent/country has a sparse record of achievement in all human spheres. On those occasions when an individual among us cut through the clutter of ordinariness and rises to eminence, we appropriate their success and make it a collective achievement. Those singular feats justify our existence and reassure us that we could have done better if our destined glory were not eclipsed by the corrupt leadership that plagues our nation. We so rest the weight of our human validation on our countrymen’s exploits such that when a Nigerian commits a crime out there in the world, it hits us just as hard. We should know that Nigerians are not a peculiar people. If there are lots of successful –and of course, criminals–Nigerians in the world today, it is the law of averages at work. We are the largest gathering of black people in the world, and that means our feats and foibles will be hyper-visible. We should take the good and bad in our stride, and stop the bother about our tarnished image in an imperfect world.
Some of those who have complained about the impact of the FBI 77 are right that other Nigerians will face increased visa scrutiny. Indeed, there would possibly be more outright visa refusals for Nigerians, denial of offshore cash transactions, and other economic restrictions imposed on us. Most of these fallouts, however, are a consequence of global anti-blackness, an attitude exacerbated by our failure to pull our weight in the world. China has the highest number of hackers in the world, while the US is the world capital of cybercrimes, but their citizens are not subjected to the indignities Nigerians face even when they have Ph.Ds. appended to their names. The solution is not self-flagellation; we need to develop more ways of insisting on being treated as humans. We spend a lot of money to travel the world; our population makes us a huge market for global trade, and we should get some courtesy on those accounts. There is no El Dorado future where all Nigerians, whether at home or as global travelers, will put on their best manners. Telling ourselves to be better-behaved so our humanity can be guaranteed is mere self-punishment.
Finally, some Nigerians have suggested we need to look into aspects of our culture that glorifies materialism and leads to the crimes these 77 committed. In another instance, it is a suggestion worth considering. This time, however, I will not spend a minute of my day navel-gazing how our habits of consumption and taste for luxury goods predispose us to crimes. Conspicuous consumption, a feature of late capitalism, is not exclusive to Nigerians. It manifests in every section of this global plantation where, driven by the capitalist propensity to perform status, we aspire towards enhanced humanity through consumption. There are restaurants in New York, Tokyo, and Dubai where well-heeled people buy food sprinkled or dipped in gold dust so they can—literally–shit gold. The rise of the affluent class in Asia created a tribe of crazy rich Asians for whom indulgence in luxury items is a religion. The internet brings these habits of compulsive consumerism to us every day, inspiring other folks to calibrate their human worth based on such show-offs. Nigerians have not reached their level of exhibitionism, why are we so hard on ourselves?
Those who want to apologize for their Nigerian existence should be my guest; they should just spare us from turning “sorry” into a national policy. That will be the real shame.

opele

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