By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Buhari’s administration is shaping up to be perhaps the most intolerant and petulant civilian administration in Nigeria. But it isn’t the intolerance and petulance in and of themselves that are disquieting; it is the crying incompetence of this government’s handling of dissent, which often ends up popularizing and lionizing nonentities.
It started with Indigenous People of Biafra’s Nnamdi Kanu. He was spewing his rib-tickling inanities on the fringes of the Internet and on a barely known radio station. Then, suddenly, when he started attacking President Buhari, Nigerian authorities moved in swiftly to contain him. They announced that they had successfully jammed his radio station, but came back a few days later to refute an alleged libelous falsehood the station made against Buhari!
Of course, news of the “jamming” of the radio and the press release refuting what the station reportedly said against Buhari (after it was supposed to have been jammed!) caused the station—and the ideology it espouses—to make national and international headlines. And there was an enormous spike in the number of searches for “Radio Biafra” and “Nnamdi Kanu” on Google and other search engines.
This, combined with Buhari’s unambiguous antipathy toward the southeast, has sparked a resurgence of Biafran and neo-Biafran movements and periodic sanguinary communal upheavals. This was completely avoidable. If the government had ignored (or quietly diluted) Kanu and his Radio Biafra and demonstrated even token large-heartedness toward the southeast (and the deep south) in the immediate aftermath of Buhari’s epochal electoral triumph in spite of opposition from the region, we wouldn’t know of Kanu and IPOB. But Nigerian authorities couldn’t stomach an insult at Buhari.
Now another man by the name of Joe Fortemose Chinakwe has become an international celebrity. He has been arrested, detained, imprisoned, and charged to court just because he named his dog Buhari. This is the height of petty intolerance.
Worse bile was directed at previous civilian presidents in the country. Tafawa Balewa, Shagari, Obasanjo, Yar’adua, and Jonathan were often at the receiving end of so much thoroughgoing hate, but the world didn’t know about this because no one was arrested and imprisoned. (Comedian Ali Baba said he named one of his dogs “Obasanjo” during Obasanjo’s administration and publicized it. In northern Nigeria, Jonathan and Attahiru Jega were called some of the vilest names I have ever heard—and in songs, too.) Public office is not for huffy crybabies.
I have read many Muslim commenters point out that giving a dog a Muslim name was offensive in and of itself. I agree. The problem is that the name wasn’t given to the dog to spite Muslims; it was given to make a political statement. If Buhari’s name was Smith Punapuna, the dog would be named precisely that.
But Buhari isn’t even a Muslim name in the strict sense of the term. As I pointed in previous articles, the name Bukhari (which we render as Buhari in Nigeria because many Nigerian languages don’t have the guttural consonant that the phoneme “kh” represents), is derived from Bukhara, which is the name of a town in what is now Uzbekistan in the former USSR.
The person who popularized the name is a 9th-century author of hadith collections known as Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mughīrah ibn Bardizbah al-Ju‘fī al-Bukhārī.
In Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi, “i” is added to the name of a town to indicate descent from the town. So “Bukhari” simply means someone from (the town of) Bukhara, what Hausa speakers would call “Dan Buhara.” It’s like someone taking offense because someone named his dog Dan Kano, Dan Daura, Dan Hadejia, etc., which, though names of towns, are borne by some northerners as last names (without the “dan”).
But that’s not even the most important point. How many people will the Buhari administration arrest for getting under the president’s skin? In other words, how many people will this administration make undeservedly popular because of its intolerance and incompetence? Many frustrated people who feel they have nothing to live for in light of the present economic crunch in the country are going to name their dogs after Buhari. Watch out. It’s now the surest way to cheap popularity, and the intolerance and incompetence of this government will ensure that they get all the attention, and possibly financial benefits, they crave.
But it isn’t only after Buhari that dogs will be named; dogs will also be named after key ministers of the government.
As I am writing this column, I read that a woman by the name of Ada Ogbonna has named her dog after the comically loudmouthed Lai Mohammed. “Meet my dog, Lai Mohammed,” she wrote on Facebook. “I named it after someone I admired.”
There will be several such publicity baits. A competent government with some clue won’t swallow such easy baits. This is all part of democracy. I live in America where the president of the country is called all sorts of dreadful names without consequences. For instance, many racists named their dogs Obama, but Obama disarmed them by naming his dog Bo, which is short for Barack Obama.
We can’t pretend to be practicing democracy and clamping down on people for merely saying hurtful things that get on our frail nerves.
This is particularly telling coming from a government that is caught flatfooted in almost everything, a government that daily inflicts misery on its poor citizens while its power structure feeds fat on the misery of the poor. It’s troubling when a government that took six months to appoint a predictable cast of characters as ministers wastes no time to arrest a person for naming his dog Buhari. It is concerning when a government that is mute in the face of the horrendous mass murder of hundreds of Shiites in Zaria arrests inconsequential people because they got under the skin of the president.
Maybe Buhari is not even aware that someone has been imprisoned because he named his dog after him. Maybe. But people who are close to and love the president should tell him that the emerging pettiness and intolerance of his administration are becoming intolerably embarrassing.
You can’t be paying over-sized attention to minor, inconsequential irritants while the country burns under your watch.