Nigeria’s Yahoo Yahoo shame(lessness)

SOMEONE told a circle of his friends recently that his nephew had a ‘Yahoo Yahoo’ case. He said the boy appeared sober in detention but he was shocked by how his mother saw the son’s perfidy as ‘business’. The woman reportedly said: “Is it not owo oyinbo?” Her listeners were shocked. She is a Yoruba. That a Yoruba person – and a woman – took that dangerous bend in thoughts and belched it out in public told them clearly that the house had, indeed, fallen.

I remembered that case when I read what the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Magu, told the press on Friday. He lamented that “we have a situation where we have Mothers of Yahoo Yahoo Association. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of that. Whenever we arrest their children, they’ll gather around our offices pleading for the release of their children.” To be called a thieving brigand is enough shame; but my people will say there is something even more shameful than being caught a thief. That thing is shamelessness.

The biggest news in our country last week wasn’t the sharing of Nigeria’s ministries among principals, principalities and minions. It wasn’t also whether a Chief Imam was sent by our knowledgeable president to go minister at the Basilica. The long, very embarrassing list of 77 indicted Nigerians released by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) was the biggest news globally. With a worried friend at the weekend, I had a long, extensive chat on that case. We discussed the depth of the scandal, the lack of a coherent response and reaction from the highest level of our government. We discussed the whys and hows of the ethnic hue of that FBI list. The names are preponderantly male and Igbo in spelling and pronunciation. I reminded him of an old relevant story we were told twenty-something years ago. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa once shared with Dr Omololu Olunloyo his frustration trying to fight graft in his government: “Dr Olunloyo, I just caught a thief, but they are saying I cannot prosecute him unless I catch a Hausa thief and a Yoruba thief.” We agreed that were Balewa to be alive today, it would not be difficult to balance that equation.

I lamented that while we agonise over banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping from the North, Yahoo Yahoo has become a big embarrassing business, down south –including in Yorubaland. I told him it was a shame that the nation acts helpless as the buffeting sea of crime washes away Nigeria’s future. An average Yoruba person would ordinarily have a sense of shame if another Yoruba was caught committing a crime. But we agreed that there was still a measure of sanity here even as we spoke. The woman who rationalised her son’s scams as reparation did not escape the reprimand of relations who heard her “Sebi owo Oyinbo ni.” No one there agreed that it was ‘a business’. Such rebuke should be heard everywhere else –North, South, East – for all not to be culpable and complicit in Nigeria’s emergent culture of heist.

My friend agreed and waxed very intellectual. He held that Nigeria is an amalgam of very different peoples with different attitudes, moulded by a combination of historical, cultural and national contexts. He spoke on the reality of clashing modes of socialisation. He agreed that “shame is a cultural institution in Yorubaland.” He said “that is why some ignorant people say we are ‘cowards.’” He said the Yoruba “calculate a high chance of winning before getting into a battle. (Mo’ja mo’sa la n m’akinkanju l’ogun…). This is principally because of the institution of shame. This is the reason our warriors of old must ‘s’igba’ (that is, die) if they failed at war.” It’s also the reason wealthy criminals and moral deserters don’t last.

We agreed, looking at the last civil war and the June 12 crisis, that even in contemporary Nigeria, no leader would ever return to Yorubaland a hero after fleeing from battle. The institution of shame won’t let anyone do that. But this Yahoo Yahoo rain appears set on submerging the moral high ground anyone has been standing on. And in addition to that, the Saudi Arabian government released a long list of Nigerians on death row there for drug trafficking. They are Yoruba.

We will be deceiving ourselves if we deny the unfortunate collapse of our country. We have (mis)educated youths unleashing themselves on the world. We have millions burdened by and with good education but without jobs and without hope. An army of violent, uneducated, uneducable, unhinged youths has virtually taken over the North. The South has a special youthful breed of lost, forlorn millions with axes to grind with the state. The boys among them know that they must become men and take on responsibilities. They see that the state has no plan for them beyond denying them hope and asking them to be hopeful. They will get out of hand – and they have got out of hand – to the collective shame of Nigeria. Deputy Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chuks Ibegbu, alluded to this in an interview last Saturday. He said: “Blame our politicians for the desperation and criminality of our people in foreign land. If our economy is good and our leaders are doing well, I do not see any reason for our youths to go to foreign lands to commit fraud.” I agree while I imagine the other crimes being committed daily by thousands in search of hope.

Aberrant, deviant Nigerian youths are committing heinous crimes home and abroad and a troubled world is reacting so decisively. There were reports that a financial outlet in the United States has suspended legitimate money transfers to Nigeria. The reports said this may go global. What impacts will this have on personal finances and on the national economy? A Lagos-based editor wailed online last week that he was profiled and specially frisked at an airport abroad. He wrote: “when I was heading out to Atlanta from London, I was flagged for a second search at the boarding lounge of Virgin Atlantic. After they were done searching me, I decided to ask why I was singled out and the fellows called on the head of the team since they had no answers. When he came and I demanded to know why I was singled out for a second search, …he claimed he had no idea but that my name was just flagged and he showed me in his papers, where I was flagged. Just like that.” We read his experience because he had the confidence to write. Thousands have suffered this and will suffer more in silence in vicarious liability for others’ crimes. It is the price people pay when they share a nation with criminals in power and on the streets.

A failed state is a state that has comprehensively failed its youths, its present and its future. Somalia is the reigning metaphor for a failed country. Everyone is a warlord in that collapsed nation of big and small wars. The tragic reality of state failure appears to have walked in here in Nigeria. In the absence of a government of knowledge and values, everyone with guns now rules his space in our jungle. It is either soldiers are killing policemen or policemen are killing unarmed suspects or mobs are killing cops while the government hosts criminal feasts and distributes toothpicks after great meals. Fish eating fish to live and grow is pleasant only in games. In the depths, it is an unsafe world for creatures unfortunate to be weak.

A national newspaper this past weekend reported some policemen arresting a driver for using Google Map to locate his destination: “I was sandwiched between the two (policemen), who were not in uniform. Inside the car, they saw my phone; I was using Google map to get the best route to work and one of them kept saying that it was an offence to use Google map while driving….” The driver knew his rights. He knew the policemen were wrong but he was in a hurry to get to work. The policemen saw that urgency in his restlessness and pressed harder. They wanted N120,000. No, their catch said. The bill started climbing down like traffic light. “At the end of the negotiation,” the victim said, “they took me back to Maryland (Lagos) and parked by the roadside for me to go and withdraw money at the Wema Bank ATM (they had asked for the money to be withdrawn at the ATM). While one of them went with me, the other three stayed back in the car.”

He is still asking why his country’s policemen did that to him. He won’t get the answers. Now, how do we want the world to see this? What other meaning has system collapse if not this? I am not sure things were this bad when Alan Paton wrote his ‘Cry, My Beloved Country.’

That out of the 80 names released by the FBI, 77 are Nigerians should make the country weep. That out of the 77 Nigerians, not less than 74 are Igbos should take tears from every Igbo person. That all the names of condemned drug traffickers recently released by the Saudi Arabian government are Yoruba Muslims should be enough to call a conference of that ethnic nationality for soul-searching and to cry and ask why. Whenever a country has failed in its core mandate of guaranteeing people’s security and welfare, a key manifestation is what we see today. Survival by all means becomes the norm; all mores and values become worthless. When a man grows to feel his own value-lessness, his vulnerability and disempowerment as a man, he becomes desperate. We’ve been seeing it in Somalia since the early 1990s; we are grappling with it right now in Nigeria. Somalia, as a state, collapsed in 1991. The Rift Valley Institute, in a February 2016 report, noted Somalia’s ignominy of being ranked as “one of the worst places in the world to be a woman,” “the worst place on earth to be a mother,” and, “one of the worst places in the world to be a child.” Similar judgments have been passed on Nigeria in recent years. Check.

If your gluttonous neighbour eats strange, poisonous insects and you look away, when the consequences of his bad eating habit comes, you will lose more than your sleep. Nigeria is a diseased pretty, premium harlot. All its prized clients, home and abroad, must feel its pangs. The international community must take its blame here. It is potentially risky (and suicidal) to see only money and resources each time Africa and its misgoverned territories come into focus. In a globalised world, what and who make a nation’s governing class must be of interest to all. Decades of abetment of evil in Nigeria by successive western regimes cooked this deadly brew being piped all over the world today. Nigeria is too violated, too destroyed and too allowed to rot and stink for too long for the world to feel safe and be safe. The country in its present poisoned form can only breed more dangers for itself and the universe.

It is, however, not too late, even this midnight, to recalibrate Nigeria’s engine; reset and realign its wheels. The world cannot afford a further ‘Somalised’ Nigeria beyond what it presently is. The world needs to pay greater attention to the health of Nigeria and the perverse ways of its ruling caste beyond the reactive measures of arrests, indictments, naming and shaming of its felons. There is the urgency of state retrieval, readjustment and revival. The needed desperate stitches and sutures cannot continue to be entrusted to the rapists who caused the tears.

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