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A Case of Stockholm Syndrome, by Saidu Ibrahim Emirokpa

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On 5th December 1973 an incident erupted in Stockholm, Sweden, and this was documented as a famous incident in the history of heist operations. It was a bank robbery attack where bank employees, several of whom developed affinity and sympathy for their captors, were held hostage for six days. During the standoff with the security operatives, and after their dramatic release from captivity, the bank employees refused to testify against the bank robbers and even went further to pool their resources together to defend the criminals in court. 

Stockholm Syndrome was coined by criminologists and psychiatrists who investigated the crime to describe the feelings of that coordinated sympathy shown by some bank employees towards the bank robbers. Like the incident in Stockholm, similar script played out recently in Abuja’s Presidential Villa, Home to Nigeria’s Presidents, and the characters of this horror-like movie were Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, and Aminu Muhammad, a 23-year old student of The Federal University Dutse, Jigawa State.

Young Aminu got released from a mysterious “detention chamber” and charged to court after Aminu’s family, through his Uncle Shehu Baba Azare, got a hint about their son’s mysterious disappearance from school, and raised an alarm. This sparked nationwide outrage with #FreeAminu hashtags trending. Consequently, Mrs. Buhari took “bold steps,” in the words of Justice Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court, and dropped the case. But, like the bank employees in Stockholm, Aminu betrayed the general public with an apologetic tweet to Mrs. Buhari who authorized his arrest and torture. 

“I would like to use this medium to express my sincere apologies,” Aminu posted on his Twitter account, “to those I’ve hurt especially our mother, Aisha Buhari. It was never my intention to hurt your feelings and insha’Allah I will change for the better. However, I am also grateful for your forgiveness.” The reaction that trailed this post-freedom tweet, after he had earlier tweeted “You made my freedom to be possible after God” to applaud NANS and the general public for defending freedom, sounds like a confusing irony. Nigerians who protested against Aisha’s privileged tyranny were left in the lurch, wondering whether or not defending the oppressed is a venture worth taking.

In November, many mainstream media published reports of how a tweet in June, interpreted as “defamatory” in typically elite-class mentality, landed Aminu in trouble. Some moral police, oblivious of the 8-months old ASUU strike that triggered Aminu’s reaction, condemned the tweet and justified his illegal arrest and torture. As recounted in a justice-seeking statement by Aminu’s uncle, Aminu was abducted from school on November 8 and hauled to Aso Villa by security operatives without recourse to justice or notifying his family. Even though a court document from the police countered this position, we all know how the Nigerian security operatives operate especially when the case involved a high-profile citizen. 

Festus Josiah, a police detective in charge of tracking phones at the office of the First Lady, in a court document, revealed that he was directed by Mrs. Buhari’s ADC, Usman Shugaba, to track down Aminu over his tweet. Obviously Mr Shugaba, acting on the instructions of the First Lady, authorized the arrest. Mr Josiah’s document, on many fronts, revealed govt’s stark hypocrisy and how state apparatuses are designed for the elite tribes. So hypocritical that the public anger moved from how young Aminu was brutalized, tortured and unlawfully detained in an “unknown location,” to contextualising the magic wand used by the Nigerian police to track dissidents’ locations but could not track locations of kidnappers bargaining with families of kidnapped victims.

Aminu’s crime was nothing new, it was one of the familiar transactions on microblogging sites. “Su mama anci kudin talakawa an koshi,” Aminu wrote on his Twitter account in Hausa, which loosely translated in English Language into “mama has fed fat on public funds.” To corroborate the tweet, the young lad attached an overweight image of the first lady which looked like obesity-afflicted, and this outraged the first lady. So outraged she was that, while the security agents were brutalising the victim in her presence, in a fit of fury, she tried to join in the beating bandwagon but slipped and fell, fracturing her leg in the process.

Nigerians could not fathom the obvious contradictions because, ordinarily, Presidential Villa or presidential office of any nation is predictably the most civil and humane territory in the country, not a chamber for torturing citizens who merely expressed dissenting opinion. But such media sensationalism is an art every Nigerian, including former Nigerian first ladies, have mastered, and so this “secret arraignment” orchestrated by the First Lady caught everyone off guard.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Dame Patience, the most vilified Nigerian first lady ever, mastered this art of public criticism very well. When she was committing grammatical blunders with her perpetually muffled voice on national TV, some of these emergency keyboard warriors preaching morality over Aminu’s tweet today were the ones who turned her into a butt of daily jokes. On 4 September, 2012, Jaafar Jaafar, Daily Nigerian Editor-in-Chief, even wrote a piece titled “Saving patient Patience” where he mockingly awarded Mrs. Jonathan with Grand Commander of the Order of Grammar (GCOG) for murdering the Queen’s Language. But she ignored the memes because, she knew her target audience were the ordinary people, not the ones who speak fancy English and fly in private jets from Abuja to London.

Another victim of Mrs. Buhari’s excesses was Zainab Kareem, her former social media aide arrested along with Aminu. Unlike Mr Aminu’s, Zainab’s case was managed, temporarily though. She was alleged to have been leaking Mrs. Buhari’s “secrets.” But somehow she was released on condition that she kept her ordeal secret. Unfortunately, the “secret” busted when Aminu’s case emerged. Political figures in Nigeria are wont to undermine the rule of law and this hypocrisy stares us in the face. The society is built on two antagonizing tribes; and what constitutes a crime for “our tribe” does not constitute a crime for the “other tribe.” Else Mrs. Buhari ought to be prosecuted for human rights violations.

The position of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not applied for; it is a privilege and long abused. And, Mrs. Buhari’s battle over the office since her husband took charge in 2015 has been in the spotlight — from her head-on collision with Mr President, including his kitchen and official cabinets, to highlight her relevance, to the present “nasty decisions,” is a privilege taken too far. President Buhari himself had enough of his wife’s meddling in the affairs of the state and, like a slip of the tongue during a media chat abroad, was forced to highlight the boundary his wife must not cross. “I don’t know the political party my wife belongs to.” President Buhari said. “But I know she belongs to the kitchen, the living room and the other room.”

Whether Mr President was quoted out of context or not, the reaction clearly underlines the limitations of his wife’s relevance-seeking exploit as occupant of the office her husband has publicly abolished. But, like the bank employees in Stockholm who betrayed the Swedish police to identify with their captors, Aminu’s apologies to Aisha Buhari is a clear case of Stockholm Syndrome. This is a hard lesson for citizens of a nation antagonizing their elites.

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