By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Every region in Nigeria has its stereotypical vulnerabilities. From religious extremism, to endemic child abandonment, to 419 email scams, to “baby factories,” to child trafficking and prostitution in foreign lands, to disabling alcoholism, to kidnapping, etc. Nigerians can, and often do, easily territorialize crimes within their national space.
These stereotypical territorializations of crimes are often considered offensive when they are uttered by “outsiders” but tolerated, sometimes praised even, when they are uttered by “insiders.”
That is why Mrs. Aisha Buhari caused offense to southerners, particularly people from Edo State, when, in a campaign speech in Benin City, she said the biggest problems confronting Nigeria’s deep south are girl child trafficking and the mistreatment of widows.
“In each zone of the country, we have peculiar problems. Our problems differ,” she said. “For me, in this zone, girl child trafficking should be considered one of our problems, though I know there is unemployment…. There must be a design, a cultural design, that can accommodate the widow, and then a design that will make a girl child feel comfortable wherever she is in this country. She doesn't need to leave her country to go and prostitute elsewhere. It is not her potion; her potion is to have a highly standard moral society for her to live, get married, have children, train them, and to support them to become the future of our leaders.”
Weeks earlier, First Lady Patience Jonathan had outraged the sensibilities of northerners when she ridiculed them as irresponsible parents who bring forth hordes of children they can’t take care of. “Our people no dey born shildren wey dem no dey fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throw away for street. We no dey like the people for that side,” she said at a campaign rally in Calabar, Cross River State. [Translation: “Our people [i.e., southerners] don’t give birth to children they can’t count. Our men don’t bring forth children that they throw away to the streets. We are not like the people from that part of the country [i.e., northerners].”] Many northerners, as you would expect, took umbrage at this.
It is perfectly understandable why the statements credited to Mrs. Buhari and Mrs. Jonathan caused offense. As I said earlier, people generally take exceptions to being told home truths about themselves by outsiders. If Mrs. Buhari had said exactly what Mrs. Jonathan said and Mrs. Jonathan had said exactly what Mrs. Buhari said, we would probably never have even heard about the statements because journalists won’t find them newsworthy, although it must be admitted that Mrs. Jonathan’s characterization of the almajiri problem in northern Nigeria appeared to be more ill-willed than Mrs. Buhari’s characterization of girl child trafficking and discrimination against widows in Nigeria’s deep south.
While Mrs. Jonathan created an explicitly divisive we-versus-they binary, Mrs. Buhari appeared to be more sympathetic to what she identified as the deep south’s major problems. But both could do with more tact and discretion because people resent being told unpleasant truths about themselves by outsiders. That’s why. for instance, black American hip-hop youth call themselves “nigga” but will go to war if a white person as much as says “nig.”
I had an interesting conversation about this with my American students some years back. A white student wondered why American blacks call themselves the derogatory name “nigga” and tolerate being told unpleasant things about their culture by black celebrities, but take offense when a white person does the same. A black student in the class gave a perfect analogy in response. He asked the white student if she ever fights with and insults her siblings, and she answered in the affirmative. He then asked her if she thought it would be OK for another person to fight with and insult her siblings just because she does the same. His point sank in.
This is all natural. What isn't natural, however, is the campaign of intentional lies against Mrs. Aisha Buhari by people who are offended by the unpleasant truths she said about the deep south. Lies are being spread on fringe websites and social media sites that she was married when she was only 9, and that Buhari is a pedophile. This self-evident lie is taking wings and is being spread wildly even by people who should be discerning.
Unfortunately, there is insufficient official biographic information about Mrs. Buhari in the public domain, and this is helping fuel the lie. But from the little that is available about her, we know that she was born in 1969 (some say 1971) to the family of Nigeria's first defense minister, got married to General Buhari in 1989, and has a grandchild. It's bio-chronologically impossible for a woman born in 1979 (as is being alleged by her traducers) to have a 26-year-old daughter—and a grandchild. She would have had to be 8 years old when she was married--and be pregnant at 9-- to have a 26-year-old daughter.
I hope the Buhari campaign will release the real age of Mrs. Buhari to quell the lies that are being spread about her on the Internet. It isn't fair to let her be defined by the intentional distortions of mischief makers.
This presidential election cycle will certainly go down in the annals as the most vicious, mean-spirited, and vulgar. Even from faraway America, I feel the incredible nastiness of the electioneering and can’t wait for it to end today.