Nasir El-Rufai and son, Bello


Earlier this week, Mr. Bello El-Rufai, son of Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, caused outrage on social media for lashing out at a twitter user, Consiglere, @thanos_zer, and threatening pass his mother to his friends in a private message which he later shared.

Following the backlash, he tendered an apology on Friday, days after he made the comments. And after he had justified it severally and even threatened Premium Times journalist, Samuel Ogundipe, for reporting the abuse.

In the entire exchange, which was also initially supported by his mother, one prevailing trait is a certain animosity towards the Igbo, and it’s common among a section of the social media crowd, the pro-Buhari crowd.

The problem between Mr. El-Rufai and @thanos_zer was otherwise a mere political disagreement which began when the latter responded to the former’s criticism of United States president, Donald Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic in his country. But it inadvertently dovetailed into a ‘we versus Igbo affair,’ not on its own merit, but on account of preexisting biases.

Mr. El-Rufai had noted that, “There is nothing as radioactive as an incompetent leader during a time of crisis. The United States of America a case in point, a few states in Nigeria too,” to which @thanos_zer responded by asking, “How about the absentee president in Nigeria?”

The question apparently angered the governor’s son who went off on a tirade, and subsequently sent his adversary a private message asking him to “tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight. No Igbo sounds please! Tueh.”

Most attention have been focused on the implied threat of gang rape, but reading El-Rufai’s messages, it’s quite obvious, I imagine, that it’s a veiled attack on the Igbo race. In other words, he didn’t have a problem specifically with @thanos_zer, but with the larger Igbo ethnic group.

But it’s not just about El-Rufai, the anti Igbo stereotype is a the most dominant trait among most of the supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari on social media. And in my own estimation, more than anything else, it is their rallying point.

As a regular participant in the so called “dragging” on twitter, I have since noticed that for most Buhari supporters on the platform and indeed, other social media platforms, the Igbo are the enemy. Often, it didn’t matter what the topic of debate was, and whether or not one is Igbo, once one disagrees with them consistently, the next they do is to abuse one as “Biafraud,” a reference to the Biafra agitation in the Southeast, which has since become, for them, a term ascribable to every Igbo person whether or not he supports the agitation. Indeed, once one opposes Buhari, he is inevitably “Biafraud.”

Over the past few days, a certain Australian Imam of Peace (Imam Tawhidi) has focused attention on criticising Buhari. And of course, it is only natural that for a president who has largely squandered his goodwill and disappointed many people, many would side with his critic. Tawhidi has since become popular with a vast number of Nigerians across religious and ethnic divide on twitter. But for some reasons, many of the pro Buhari crowd have begun to suggest that he is popular with only the “Biafrans” implying the Igbo, and hence is “Imam of Biafrans.”

But one doesn’t really have to be Igbo to be abused as such. For many of the so called Buharists on social media, anyone with a Christian name, or whose name is not expressly Yoruba or Hausa/Fulani, is Igbo, especially if he doesn’t sing the president’s praises. They have since, apparently configured it in their minds that the Igbo are the enemy of Buhari and the anti Igbo venom derives there from.

It is instructive too, that Mr. El-Rufai had directed his abuse on the ‘Igbo mother of @thanos_zer’, having, without much thought, immediately passed him off as Igbo, even though he is actually from Cross River State. That, I’m afraid, is just one instance. It is a pattern; a dangerous pattern. And it’s not just about the social media. In homes and political gatherings, such narrative appear to be common place.

Wittingly or unwittingly, Buhari has succeeded in making himself a rallying point for people who have a problem with the Igbo. Of course, the president has since, through his lopsided appointments and disregard for the Igbo, portrayed himself as an enemy of the Igbo. Thus for a great number of his supporters, their support has nothing really to do with his performance in office, but his capacity to, as much as possible, push the Igbo to the fringes of political power.

I have often noted, and from experience, that the key criteria for one to be a staunch supporter of Buhari, is to be an Igbo hater. It is rare, even in interpersonal conversations, to see a strong Buhari supporter who has positive feelings about the Igbo. This, of course, also applies to the Igbo themselves who are in that camp. For the most part, they hate being Igbo; are almost apologetic about their Igbo identity, and would go to whatever length to undermine Igbo interest, just so to prove they truly belong.

When for instance, vice president, Yemi Osinbajo had a helicopter accident in Kogi State, one of the rabid supporters of the administration, an Igbo lady, went ahead to, suggest that it was the Igbo who wanted to kill the Vice President because they didn’t like the Buhari government.

Now, as unreasonable and as mind boggling the allegation is, many in her pro Buhari social media camp actually promoted it, and a few days later, she was in the state house taking pictures with Osinbajo. Another testament to how politicians encourage ethnic profiling and rabid irredentism.

This sort of ethnic profiling is dangerous, and especially in a volatile polity like Nigeria’s. The country, as I have pointed out in the past, has gotten to a point where it will take a miracle to avoid a major crisis going forward. As the economy stagnates, and as poverty and desperation increases, people will begin to look for scapegoats; those on whose necks they will hang their problems. Profiling such as this, provides such springboard. And the Igbo, being a people who have vast populations outside their home land, can be easy targets.

It therefore behoves on the government of the day to change the narrative, and as much as possible, make it clear to its followers that ethnic profiling cannot be encouraged. The government cannot continue to reward people whose only expertise is on spreading hate on social media with appointments. It encourages others, and can be costly in the long run.


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