FBI 80, OBINWANNE OKEKE AND THE BURDEN OF BEING NIGERIAN

Friday, August 30, 2019
FBI list of Nigerian internet fraudsters and Obinwanne Okeke
What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other means would smell as sweet—Shakespeare.

What is in a name? Shakespeare in his classic book Romeo and Juliet was simply trying to say that the content of a person's character cannot merely be judged by the name the person bears. But Shakespeare never met Nigerians.

Today, there is indeed something in a name. There is a burden associated with being Nigerian—a heavy burden that falls on a person when such person's name finds its roots firmly implanted in the national soils of Nigeria.

To be Nigerian is to be perceived differently by the world. The internationally acclaimed Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, wrote and I quote, "To travel with a Nigerian passport… is to feel that you are guilty of something."

Some days ago, I heard the news of Obinwanne Okeke and other Nigerians and how their infamous financial crimes have further soiled our already undignified national name. Yes, there is something in a name. It can be an assured self-regard, a dignity. It can also be a stiff ignobility. And though there is something in a name, we have no say in the matter (if you do not have the redemptive privilege of naturalization—securing for yourself the passport of more 'honourable' nations). We are not responsible for where we are born. We have no say in the matter of our ancestry. Yet, we must bear the burden that accompanies a name.

Obinwanne Okeke is an Igbo man. In Igbo, "nwanne" stands for child of my mother, which implies a familial relationship, a brotherhood. And because of that brotherhood, that connectivity that exists because of a common ancestry, a common language, I, an Igbo woman would be perceived differently by the world because of the disgraceful exploits of my tribal kinsman.

There is no need for me to reel out a litany of the financial crimes committed by Nigerians that is currently creating a buzz on the news. The recent FBI scam bust report listing Obinwanne Okeke and other Nigerians in a massive online fraud. I am drawn to speak on what this implies, on how these crimes would colour the future landscape of us Nigerians. To put is simply, it is hard being a Nigerian.

What is in a name? Weaved into the name "Nigerian" are the words: fraud, corruption, injustice, criminal, scammer, untrustworthy… Of course, these words are not fully representative of the name "Nigerian," and I am in no way trying to disparage Nigerians. Still, there is a painful truth in those words embroidered into the descriptive fabric of our citizenship. I see these words, these negative descriptors, in the people I meet, in my apartment building, in the marketplace, in institutions of learning, in the church. It is hard to miss these negative descriptors.

The apartment building I live in is full of young men, many of whom, I suppose, are in their twenties. I cannot clearly say what they do for a living. They mostly stay indoors, carry laptops and keep their eyes fixated on their phones. They have tattoos, hold up their hair in tinted dreadlocks and cannot seem to survive without electricity—their generators are always brimming with petrol. Surviving without electricity is an important skill you develop when you're Nigerian but not for my neighbors. Their generators do not go off at night, and the common words I hear them say are: "intel," "client," "dollars." Once, during a meeting involving all tenants, an altercation broke out, and one of the young men, angry, spoke out to another young man: "I know what you did in Lagos." These young men who I cannot verify what they do for a living, who like to hide out in their apartments, who throw the loudest parties and happen to have done something in Lagos are the people who reinforce these negative descriptors and give it weight.

One time I was on a bus, the bus driver hailed a disheveled madman and gave him some money. Then the driver turned to tell me that the madman was merely undergoing a temporary insanity and would soon recover and become a rich big man. He said it was the new method of acquiring quick wealth. You undergo a period of mandatory insanity, after which you recover and money miraculously starts gravitating towards you. That's like the NYSC of madness, where you serve and upon your passing out parade, you suddenly become a person whose bank account is bloated from too much money. I lack the words to express the shock I felt when I heard that and I am afraid I can no longer look at mad people the same way again.

That episode on the bus, when carefully examined, reveals the catalyst, the force that drives the negative descriptors of our citizenship: A perverse lust for money. A lust for money that is strong enough to reduce a man to a position where he is willing to accept insanity—an insanity that holds a promise of wealth.

A lust for money. This is what drives the economics of financial crimes. This why Obinwanne Okeke betrayed our familial relationship, the brotherhood of country and tribe. This is why Nigerians, at home and abroad have devalued their lives, embarking on an amoral quest for money, and do not mind if they inflict hurt, if they make it more burdensome to be identified as Nigerian. This lust for money is a national culture. It is a way of life. It is the reason a mother would say to her son who is working a low paying job as a school teacher: "Is this how you will become somebody?" The Igbo equivalent captures it so well, and I am sorry if you don't understand the language. "O ifa ka i ga eme we buru mmadu?" Having little is a sin. The desire is to have more, so much more. And it is a powerful desire, a desire that transforms people into unrecognizable versions of themselves.

It is in our songs. If I no make money wetin I gain. If you no get money, hide your face. Na money be koko. We have a culture that glorifies wealth. A culture that accords respect on the basis of how much money a person has. I have heard of village meetings where young men shut the mouths of elders with large wads of naira notes. "I am dropping the sum of two hundred thousand naira so that this old man will shut up!" Ours is a culture that ascribes value to quick wealth. Nobody bothers with process, with growth. We want it big and we want it now!
FBI list of Nigerian internet fraudsters and Obinwanne Okeke
And the church is in no way exempt. In my previous church, I could predict what my pastor would preach about. Central to many of the sermons was the promise of money. Today I came with a financial anointing to make you billionaires. Sermons that appealed to the people's lust for money. Sermons structured to get people to give money to the church in the hope that they would become overnight millionaires and billionaires. You cannot expect a big financial breakthrough and not give a dangerous offering. Try God. Close your accounts for God! Money is a ransom for a man's life.

Money is a ransom for a man's life? I was seated in my former church, listening to my then pastor preach about how money is the ransom of one's life and talk about another Man of God who was preserved from an assassination because he gave a large offering in church. The pastor was, in essence, telling me that I could not trust God for my protection. If I wanted protection, then I had to pay God to protect me. So, money becomes more powerful, even rivaling God.

To be Nigerian and to not believe in God is a luxury that I cannot and do not want to afford. Being Nigerian means being accustomed to the deficiencies and ineptitude of the government. Being Nigerian means looking to God, and not to the judiciary systems for justice. Being Nigerian means putting your faith in God and not the police or the army for safety since this is a country where soldiers kill policemen and free criminals. So to be without faith in God in a nation like mine is to live a life of luxury. Yet, I am not belittling faith. Faith is important and I have faith in God. My aim is to cast light on what our problem is, a problem that keeps sinking our name into a deep, dark well of disrepute—an inordinate desire for wealth.

What is in a name? Because to be Nigerian means that the world will make unfavourable assumptions about me before truly knowing who I am, I am saddled with a great burden of self-consciousness. A burden that demands that I impress, that I be on my best behavior. A burden that demands that I live my life in a constant pursuit to disprove the stereotype that Nigerians are fraudsters. This is our burden as Nigerians. I am truly proud of Nigerians who gallantly bear this burden, who daily prove to the world that we are not a people who can only be described as "unworthy of trust."

Thank you for reading. Please comment and share this post.

You may also like this post- Shit happens: Why we are a nation of remorseless open 'defecators'.



10 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Indeed, it is such a sad truth. Thank you for reading.

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  2. Well captured. Beautifully written

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  3. Thank you very much, my Anonymous reader.

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  4. PAGE 1 OF 2
    Four things
    One, I think it is unfair to push away the bad stereotypes to any demographic. If you were to do that to women on the score of any particular thing, it would be dismissed as sexism. If you were to do that to the Igbos, it would be dismissed as tribalism. And rightly so. We are all in this together, every Nigerian. Invictus Obi has not committed any crime that we are not all guilty of as Nigerians. Every year in Nigeria, more than 80 million bribes are given. So this shit is not a stereotype, it’s just too real. The first thing the world knows about all Nigerians and probably all Africans is corruption. And this is long before Invictus Obi was even born. For instance, Obama on his first visit to Africa spoke about corruption. And it is not so much about young men who sex-chat lonely white women and beg them for money but about almost every Nigerian, including, as you rightly pointed out, pastors and members. Presidents, senators, street kids, etc. are all guilty of this. Just imagine how the fact that our politicians steal billions of naira no longer moves us but that a kid does the same makes the news. The fight then is for image not really for reality.

    Two, economic crime, and in fact, all crimes, is not always about more money, but about personal power and this is something every human being is constantly searching for. This is what makes crime stories, when told from a distance, very palatable. The easiest example to give is The Godfather. They all deal with the myths of personal power. If I were to write a story about Invictus, it would be a cultural phenomenon. I’m sure of that because I have lived with his types and I can idealize and isolate in them the myth of personal power the same way the Greeks isolated it in their own failed heroes and the same way Chinua Achebe isolated it in Okonkwo. Et cetera. The ideological justification that most Yahoo boys give for their work is that they are stealing back from the white people what they once stole from us during the slave and colonial era. This is standard memory verse for Gameboys.

    Three, economic crimes are also a reflection on the fragile nature of technology and in reference to the young men in your apartment, emotional fragility of all human beings everywhere. Every year more than 22 million American accounts are hacked by Chinese hackers. But Chinese are not known for economic fraud. It’s just, on the part of Americans, a warning to increase the security of their cyber space. We can say the same of corruption in Nigeria, it is a reflection not on the moral fiber of the people, but on the fragile nature of our public institutions. I always argue with people that there is nothing morally out of order with Nigerians, that it is just social deterministic factors that make people become corrupt. In better societies, Nigerians come good, easily. For instance, if you were to walk into a public office and demand for a service, they’ll ask you ‘Oga do something na. Shake body na. Oga give us money for fuel na’. That is a language that every Nigerian understands. But when you walk into a bank, they serve you and you are off. These two situations are in the same Nigeria! So instead of dealing with politics as a moral problem and the society as a moral organism, like the great Chinua Achebe, I’d deal with it as a failure of our institutions. That way, you have a good enough view of the problem and to see a problem for what it is means that half of the work is done.

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  5. Page 2 of 2

    Finally, and fourth thing: one thing I learnt from listening to hip hop music is that the ‘bad eggs’ in society for instance, gangsters, drug dealers, pimps and killers are all part of those shaping our communal fate. In hip hop, they celebrate alongside black leaders, mothers, revolutionaries, etc., pimps, drug dealers, gangsters and murderers, because they are part of the reality that is mirrored in the communal life that hip hop reflects. No one is exempt. It is too romantic and too deceptive to pretend that we are all good people. The fate of one member of the community is the fate of all and if we cannot share in the guilt of any member of our community, we do not have the right to ask to share in the glory of another member of our community.

    Let’s be sure about this: it is not identification that we do not want, it is identification with the negative elements in the lives of other individuals who belong to our group. When an individual is successful, other people who belong to his group are proud of the association and claim it. But when they fail, they are isolated and are forced to bear their shame and guilt alone. For instance, Warren Buffet has been described as a modern exemplification of the American hero as has been Abraham Lincoln or Benjamin Franklin each in their own time. Even Billy Graham has been described in those terms. The Americans have claimed the evangelist as their own and unsurprisingly, the American media have protected his image as a saint, their saint. If the all-powerful, all-knowing and all-seeing American media wanted to scandalize the evangelist, they would have done it effortlessly and with good effect. But for some reasons, they adopted the evangelist as a true representation of what an American should be and protected him. In the orthodox churches, people are claimed as saints, as the word the church speaks to the world about itself and their lives idealized. But does it not happen in Christian circles, for an instance, that when there is a scandal, everyone retreats and dissociates with the person in question? Accepting stereotypes means sharing in the guilt of those who are identified with us. If we are not willing to do so, if we are always trying to argue ourselves out of any accusations on others who are part of our community, then we do not have the right to associate with those who have succeeded. The punchline on the subject is as dropped by the Apostle Paul thus: “As by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience, many will be made righteous.”

    Hail Invictus.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Anonymous, thank you for reading and for your very longgggggg response.

      It is not my intention to push bad stereotypes on a particular demographic, in this scenario it would be Igbo people. Fraud and corruption are national problems, but I can't coat the fact that there are many Igbo people involved in internet fraud and related crimes, and their crimes paint a picture to world regarding the Igbo people. I was merely trying to speak on how what Obinwanne did does infact strengthen the stereotype associated with being Igbo and Nigerian. However, it is a national problem and like you said, it wouldn't be fair for only one ethnic group to bear the burden of the crime.

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