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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Moses Ochonu: Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim is a hypocrite

Nigeria has minted some overnight hyper-liberal commentators. In the last two days, they’ve been lecturing us on how the private life of Senator Abba Bukar Ibrahim should remain private; how an intimate transaction between two (or three) adults violates no laws; how the senator’s private actions do not in any way affect his role in public service; and how the only people who should judge the senator are his family.

This is a commendable enunciation of liberal–and libertarian–values. The only problem is that the same libertarian ideals were not extended to Kannywood actress Rahama Sadau, when a video of her caressing a fellow actor was leaked. There were no arguments about adult consensual liaisons being within the province of allowable personal liberties, no arguments about Sadau’s personal morality being nobody’s business but hers and her family’s. Instead, Rahama was vilified, ostracized, threatened, and run out of Kannywood and Nigeria. She was in hiding for a while.



It is interesting to suddenly see some people contorting themselves to embrace a libertarian ethic of elastic personal rights to privacy despite not being known for previously upholding such values. It is amusing to see them pretending not to know the source of the outrage on Ibrahim’s adulterous patronage of prostitutes. Let me remind them why this is not a private matter, why it is newsworthy, since they are pretending not to know:

1. The private shenanigans of a public official on the payroll of the state should be of interest to his employers, the public, especially when such private conducts leak into the public sphere. It is pure fallacy to state that private life does not impact public conduct and vice versa; or that private indiscretions are disconnected from public ones; or, for that matter, that a man’s private choices do not offer clues about what he does in his public role. You sacrifice your right to privacy when you get into public service. The public’s right to know extends to your bedroom or, in this case, your shabby hotel room.

2. This same Bukar Abba Ibrahim it was who implemented the Sharia penal code as Governor of Yobe State, a Sharia legal system that authorized the hudud punishments for adultery and fornication. Even if we set aside the matter of its bloody aftermath, divisive legacy, and the remote complicity of Sharia implementation in our Boko Haram problem, does the lurid evidence of Ibrahim’s hypocritical unwillingness to live by the rules of Sharia not merit outrage? Why is it out of place to highlight scandalous evidence of how politicians manipulate religion for political ends only to thump their noses in private at those same religious prescriptions?
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Moses E. Ochonu is Professor of African History at Vanderbilt University, USA. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which is Africa in Fragments: Essays on Nigeria, Africa, and Global Africanity (New York: Diasporic Africa Press, 2014).




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