Abike Kafayat Oluwatoyin Dabiri-Erewa, 56, known for short as Abike Dabiri-Erewa seems to have walked into the trap of tribal jingoists and they want to eat her raw. Abike is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora. In that position she feels able to make occasional comments on issues that relate to her portfolio particularly as they concern Nigerians who live or travel abroad. The most recent of such statements have been on the five young Nigerians arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for alleged robbery of a Bureau de change.
She mentioned their names and all the names sound like Igbo names. Then there was a lady, whose name sounds like a Yoruba name, who was convicted and killed for drug-related offences in Saudi Arabia. Abike mentioned the incident, too, condemned the execution in very strong terms on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria. However, she did not disclose the name of the lady. Some fellows, principally Igbo, have accused Abike of discrimination because she mentioned the alleged robbers by name but not the drug convict by name. They think she should have either made full disclosure in both cases or should have hidden the identities of both sets of criminals as evidence of her fairness across board. Aren’t we carrying ethnic jingoism too far? Or are the Igbo who want Abike’s head chopped off suffering from a persecution complex?
The logic of those who are putting Abike in the dock of public opinion seems to go like this. Abike is Yoruba. So she hid the identity of the Yoruba woman killed in Saudi Arabia for drug offence. She probably doesn’t like the Igbo. So she revealed the names of the gang of five who are Igbo but who are only arrested but not convicted for the alleged robbery.
I haven’t been able to see what Abike has done wrong. She has the option of revealing or not revealing the identity of Nigerians caught for criminal offences abroad. And whether she does the revealing or not the world has reached such a technological level that almost nothing is hidden under the sun today. I don’t think Abike had any intention of hiding anything even if she felt ashamed that a Nigerian, a fellow female, had brought shame to her country. From time to time cases of Nigerians languishing in prisons and detention centres abroad pop into our consciousness. In the first place every Nigerian is responsible for his or her conduct either here or abroad.
The responsibilities of our government to Nigerians abroad are twofold. One, to advise Nigerians to obey the laws of the countries in which they reside or to which they travel. Two, if Nigerians are arrested for civil or criminal offences abroad our embassies in those countries must stand guard over their trial to ensure that there is fair hearing and no miscarriage of justice. It seemed to me to be “medicine after death” when our Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited the Saudi Ambassador to Nigeria for explanation on the conviction and execution of the lady drug convict. The Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia ought to have followed her trial closely since her arrest and until the court reached a decision. This apparently was not the case.
It does appear that the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia was taken unawares. Is it that there are no Nigerian groups in Saudi Arabia known to the Nigerian Embassy that could have informed the Embassy of the arrest and trial of the woman? In this country we have seen how foreign embassies react sharply when their citizens are arrested for civil or criminal offences. They put the cases on their radar until they are disposed off. It is doubtful if Nigerian embassies abroad pay such meticulous attention to the affliction of Nigerians abroad.
From what we know so far the five Nigerians arrested in Dubai are suspects. They have not yet been convicted. Nigeria must stand by them and ensure that their rights are protected throughout the trial. We might think that it was an act of foolishness for them to attempt a robbery in a highly automated society like Dubai irrespective of what tricks they may have learnt from Hollywood or Nollywood movies or burglary thrillers. In Nigeria, hoodlums rob banks effortlessly sometimes in broad daylight and most times they get away with it. This is because of the low safety automation in the banking industry and the generally poor security in the country as a whole. For several years now the Police authorities have been urging the banks to invest more money in security gadgets including bullet proof bullion vans. These pleas have largely fallen on deaf ears even though the banks are making obscene profits yearly.
It was an act in futility for the Nigerian government to query the Saudi government on the execution of the Nigerian female drug convict. Saudi Arabia is a conservative society with very strict, stringent and despotic disposition to life. Their laws are Talibanic in nature and anyone who steps on that soil must be ready to submit himself to those primitive laws which, strictly speaking, have no place in a modern society. It is only recently that Saudi women were granted the permission to drive cars, something that women in Nigeria take for granted. The laws in Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries are severe but anyone who wants to live there or to do business there must abide by them.
All of us must worry about what our brothers and sisters do abroad which tend to bring our country into disrepute. What they do blackens our green passports and makes us all look like criminals. I learn that in some countries officials are specially trained to take a careful look at Nigerian travellers. This puts us in a special group of visitors that our potential hosts treat with suspicion irrespective of what we are at home. In other words, we are considered to be criminals until we actually prove that we are not. This must bother us because we do know that the criminals are a small, negligible population of our huge population. The bulk of us are honest, hardworking people of integrity whether we are Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa or Ijaw or Efik. That is the unvarnished truth. The rest of us who are non-criminals must therefore support the authorities to reduce the level of crime amongst our people whether in Nigeria or abroad.
Abike has done nothing wrong. She is a seasoned public official who has an excellent public service record. She worked for NTA for 15 years anchoring the iconic Newsline programme that focused like a laser beam on issues of social justice and the underclass. Then she became a parliamentarian from 2003-2015. While at the House of Representatives she did chair the Committee on the Media and Publicity as well as the Committee on the Diaspora, a position that seemed obscure but which she breathed life into and made it worthy of our close attention and admiration. Abike is a decent person, cosmopolitan, refined and cultured and does not deserve the pidgeon hole that her traducers try to put her in. I don’t see her as a tribalist or someone who seeks to hurt anyone on account of tribe or religion. She is a Moslem but many people do not know.
She was born in Jos when Jos was a city for the civilised and the hoodlums and architects of anarchy had not set their feet on that piece of exotic tourists’ haven. The refinement of that environment where she was born has remained with her till this day. I don’t believe that she was profiling or stereotyping the Igbo because she knows that there are millions of decent Igbo who are not stained by the tar of the few wayward ones. This applies to all the other tribes in Nigeria. All of us must recognise and condemn a crime when we see it, irrespective of who the criminal is, what tribal marks he wears or what language he speaks.
Some of us have been condemning Fulani herdsmen who maim and kill innocent persons. It does not mean that all Fulanis are criminals but if the specificity hurts may be the decent ones can tell them to back pedal. For centuries the activists in the Niger Delta have been labelled “militants.” Does it mean all Niger Deltans are militants or terrorists? No. Some people in the Niger Delta may feel that they are performing a useful function for the Niger Delta people in which case they are actually “freedom fighters.” But even Niger Deltans including this one call them militants because that is what they are.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa did no wrong either by naming or not naming those who bring shame to our dear country. It is her prerogative to decide whether to reveal or not to reveal their names. It has nothing to do with tongue or tribe. It is just an exercise of her discretion as a public communicator. Those who feel offended by it only need to tell those who bring ridicule to our country to desist from doing so. They are leaving the ball and kicking the leg instead.