By Hassan Gimba
We have had such heckling in the past when Nigerians in the Diaspora vented their anger on leaders who they felt had been short-changing Nigerians at home. That was quite understandable as it never took the colouration of a tribe or religion. The leader was not heckled because of his tribe, region, or religion.
Perhaps protesting abroad with placards against whoever is our president started, or gained popularity, during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. He did not escape the hecklers over the Chibok girls. Apart from being booed locally, for political reasons, he was booed in South Africa because they thought not much was being done to fight Boko Haram. But his tribe, region and religion were not made the source of the attack. They attacked him based on perceived incompetence. Those hecklers were without doubt not urchins. Frustrated, they were, but not because they were mischievous. They were frustrated because they thought the country was not being run the way it should.
Then in January 2012, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mrs Viola Onwuliri, was heckled at a Town Hall meeting in Chicago, United States, but it was while speaking on the deregulation of the oil sector in Nigeria.
At the meeting held at the Chicago South Loop Hotel, two Nigerians, Dr Malcolm Fabiyi, a former Student Union president of the University of Lagos, and Mr Segun Olapojoye protested that the minister’s speech was dragging too long and there would be no time for those who wanted to ask questions on the state of the nation.
The post-Jonathan hecklers started on what many patriots thought could be in order. At first, it was when President Muhammadu Buhari was hospitalised in Britain. There were many Nigerians who, rightly or wrongly, thought the president should have remained in a Nigerian hospital rather than going on a medical tour. A lot believed he could have caused a world-class hospital, even if specialised in his ailment, to be built and equipped here, and attract superb medical brains from home and abroad. And that it would have benefited many Nigerians who cannot afford to travel abroad.
Therefore, those belonging to this school of thought were happy when Nigerians in Britain heckled him and demanded that he returned home for his medication. The thinking was, perhaps on his return, he would cause such specialist hospitals to be built in each state. If not possible because of cost implications, then at least one in each geopolitical zone with some big states having at least one each. Nigeria might have become a medical tourist centre of sorts by now.
If the heckling of the president, including that of Jonathan, in a foreign land, can be excused for the above reasons, the ones happening now are inexcusable. Apart from betraying the lack of home upbringing of the hecklers, it also depicts them for what they are—frustrated urchins.
When looked at closely, they present a spectacle of those who have failed to make it at home and rather than take up the challenge of catching up with their juniors who have outstripped them in all walks of life, they run off abroad, seeking a utopian greener pasture.
However, instead of seizing the opportunity for a second life that such moves portend, they are those who attract awful names to the country by constituting themselves into some nuisances. You find them in all crime scenes, engaging themselves in cult wars and practically dragging the name of Nigeria in the mud they roll in.
Exploiting the freedom of association and expression their host communities used to build great nations, theirs is to pull down our promising nation to their level—a little above that of pigs wallowing in a pigsty.
Some weeks ago, a video of a supposed Nigerian abusing the Falcons, our female football team, in a foreign land trended. The man was insulting them together with their officials as people representing a zoo. From his poor grammar and uncoordinated vituperations, you will swear he was a failed drugs seller who couldn’t make it at home despite dealing in contaminated and expired drugs. He ran abroad only to find out that it’s easier to survive in Nigeria as a crook than over there. And having run off with customers’ funds, burning bridges, he cannot return. And so every Nigerian official he sees annoys him, and he must embarrass him.
Then recently, at a United Nations event, some started heckling and insulting any Nigerian they saw dressed in caftan and cap as a Fulani. Without knowing that person from Adam, they called him a cow, a man without a certificate, a Fulani thief, etc. But what is ironic is that these people accusing a Nigerian diplomat as one without a certificate cannot string three good sentences together in English.
Then there was another one where they were heckling Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. Kingibe was a lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University and a special presidential speechwriter in the 1970s when their parents had probably not even graduated from wearing shorts.
Babagana Kingibe, a proud Kanuri man, if there is any, from Borno, and who may take offence if identified as anything but Kanuri, was heckled and insulted as a “Fulani”! Even though he was in suits, his facial appearance marked him out as a northerner and a Muslim and therefore he must be a Fulani!
The Fulani has become the bogeyman, the personification of the north. To mobilise against the north, symbolise it and then ceaselessly attack that symbol. Fulani is that symbol. Some time back, March 29 precisely, I wrote on this page:
“The way people fear the tiger because of its tigritude qualities or animals hate the scarecrow on the farms is the same fear and hate that, by deliberate design, some people want to transfer to the Fulani. Even though the Fulani have their fair share of criminals, it has now become fashionable to attribute every violent crime to them. The “Fulani” commits every crime, especially from Benue to down South, as if the people there had never known crime. Though in most cases it turned out to be a bogey, the accusers show no remorse, nor do they apologise for their folly. But why should they? After all, they use the Fulani just as a bogeyman to get at the actual target.
“The target is not President Muhammadu Buhari, as some are wont to adduce. No, not at all. The target is the North. Some think unless the North is vilified, hated, feared, even if for false reasons, they can never have power fall on their laps. The belief is that that was what happened in 1999. And so to them, that is only achievable through coarse blackmail, raw intimidation and the mobilisation of the gullible non-northerners against it. Northern minorities and Christians too can be carried on board, they reason.”
However, the problem with this sort of hatred is that it is self-consuming. Little wonder that prominent indigenes in the South-East are now full of fears. A Frankenstein monster eats its master. One by one, this class of frustrated urchins will pick them up. This is because these hecklers have an axe to grind with all who are well-to-do. Currently, these Frankenstein monsters bred in the laboratory of hate, fed with lies and clothed in mischief look like they are fighting “Fulani” but with time, even the southern well-to-do will get the same treatment because “Fulani”, to them, is just a symbol.
It will not remain just the northerner or Muslim for long. It will go full circle to what it actually will be—the symbol of the well-to-do, irrespective of whether they are Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, Muslim, Christian or atheist.
Voltaire, born Francois-Marie Arouet, a French enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher, said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities”. Those who use the gullible to hate and commit atrocities against other Nigerians – based purely on lies and mischief because they thought it’s the only way they can get power – will soon realise the effect of their actions when it boomerangs.
But the negative trajectory can be reversed. The effort will not take place in the Diaspora or anywhere but from home. People of the South-East must, in the fashion of people of the North East, take back their land from insurgents, and rise against any form of terrorism. They must stand up to the few disgruntled heckling urchins in their midst.