Tears For Nigerian Conspiracy Theorists, By Jaafar Jaafar
Have you ever queried why ‘conspiracy theory’ is called a theory despite lacking in ‘testability’ or empirical features that make a theory? Why should hearsay, urban legend or superstition be termed a theory without subjection to the rigors of research?
When Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, then governor of Kano State, suspended polio vaccinations in Kano State in 2003 on the suspicion that it bore components that reduce fertility, the gullible cheered the governor. Other credulous subjects even believed the vaccines contained HIV virus. The political decision really earned the governor a cheap political point at the time. After eight months moratorium on the vaccination led to the escalation of polio cases in the state, the governor vowed to local and international pressure and lifted the ban. The people were very unhappy with the decision, heightening anathema for the vaccine on the premise that the Western World has laced the vaccines with family planning substances. Ironically, an individual would prefer to sire dozens of children and send them hundreds of kilometers away from home in the guise of Qur’anic education pursuit. What a way to plan family!
In a dustbin economy like ours, in a country that could not invent Cafenol or Robb, the West can simply add the anti-fertility substance in either red-and-yellow capsule or Panadol.
From an old tittle-tattle in the North that Maggi cube was made of lepers’ blood, to the recent lynching of old women suspected of witchcraft in the South, it tells one Nigerian society is still living in the dark ages. The Nigerian theorists exist in all strata of the society, ranging from leaders, clerics, intellectuals to students, artisans and peasants. They tend believe every apocryphal anecdote suiting their ears. I once heard a local Imam telling worshipers that computer and video game were created to distract Muslims from going to mosques on time. “Computer, video game and many appliances are Jewish and Western inventions against the Muslim. They sat and created computer as the only thing that will distract the Muslim and make them not come to the mosque on time”, he said to a nodding approval of worshipers.
To the gullible and sometimes educated Nigerian Muslims, manufacturers of airplanes have to always recite a special verse in the Holy Qur’an before the plane have ability to take off. But what proponents of this school of thought fail to ask themselves is why wouldn’t they simply recite the secret verses in, say tricycle and fly around?
The most popular view in the North is that President Jonathan and CAN leadership are behind Boko Haram, while the most popular view in the South is that all Northern Muslims are Boko Haram members and that Boko Haram kills Christians alone. The inflaming paranoia in the South is seemingly tragic as security agents operating in the region themselves see Northern traders as members of the sect. Equally annoying is the belief among the Southerners that Boko Haram was created to destabilize the Jonathan presidency, or the saying Northern leaders/elders have refused to talk to Boko Haram to lay down arms. The leaders which Boko Haram burnt their palaces and made them flee their domains? Or, do they mean elders Boko Haram killed like late General Mamman Shuwa or late A.A Girgiri Gashua? Or, religious leaders they assassinated like late Sheikh Jaafar Adam or late Sheikh Albani of Zaria? I pity Nigeria!
In the North, there is a belief that former Military Head of State Ibrahim Babangida and the current Minister of Defense Aliyu Gusau are agents of the CIA. Although nobody among them can give you evidence to support this argument, you risk a blow for discrediting the charge from a pugnacious friend. “IBB and Gusau are CIA agents. They will not do anything against the interest of the West”, a university lecturer once told me. I pretended I believed him.
An enlightened Imam, who is versed in both Western and Islamic education, would tell worshipers during sermon that a woman in America, Pakistan or Haiti recently metamorphosed into monster owing to blasphemy. And in no time, one smart Alec would design a poster with the picture of a woman before and after becoming the monster and palm it off on the credulous public. The poster will become instant hit — a motor park bestseller. Or, an Imam will explain to worshipers that when one turns the bottle of Coca Cola upside down and anagramatize, it will read “No Mohammed, no Mecca” in Arabic. You dare not question such tale!
Out there in Lagos, Pastor TB Joshua would tell his followers that Boko Haram jets hovered around his church minutes before it’s collapse. And the worshipers would nod in approval and chorus “Amen” to the pastor’s curse.
There was a story that recently went viral on social media that Muhammadu Marwa Maitatsine was a Christian, and the father of late Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf was a member of the Maitatsine sect. The report went to say Maitatsine was even receiving support from the Vatican. Although nobody could show the church Maitatsine attended, or heard him preaching the gospel or saw him carrying out evangelical work, social media users treated the story like a revelation. But those who could show the mosque Maitatsine led Muslim prayers risk being called names for doubting the story. Why shouldn’t we ask ourselves some pertinent questions before believing in such bull***t?
Conspiracy theorists among Nigerians have made the leader of Boko Haram terrorists Abubakar Shekau appear like the mythical Arabian bird, Phoenix, which was worshipped in the ancient Egypt. Not for the legendary bird’s lordship that it bore parallelism with Shekau but for it’s ability to cyclically rise from its ashes, fully alive and rejuvenated after several years of death. A man has appeared in a video, talking with confidence about recent events, making no attempt to fake a voice or expression, but people still want to believe he is dead! I really want Shekau dead but to abuse Nigerians with the story of death and resurrection of Shekau is what I detest.
Since in terms of firepower Boko Haram surpassed the Nigerian Army as the theorists believe, it may be possible that the terrorists beat Nigeria again in medical breakthrough when the sect’s genetic engineers, for the third time, successfully cloned a full-grown bearded adult altogether with cognate ability inherent in adult and marksmanship to down an aircraft. Kai jama’a!
Those who believe in mythology may adopt the Phoenix or cat with nine lives story, while those who believe Boko Haram have expertise in biotechnology and have the genetic engineers who can clone their leader may tend to adopt the cloning theory.
The theory Nigerian military officials repeatedly told us was that Shekau is dead but none among the Shekau killers was ready to lay claims to the $7 million bounty placed on his head by the US. And despite the enormity of the amount, perhaps because they decided to believe the story, some Nigerians still don’t query why nobody lay claim to such huge amount of money.
President Jonathan’s “America will know” mentality tells you even in the high places a belief that America sees everything you do in your bathroom exists. Surprisingly, however, when American magazine recently “knows” that he is the 6th richest African leader, he doubted their infallibility.
In defining the hallmark of urban legend theory, Mary Diane Cantrell said in her thesis submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Wake Forest University, North Carolina: “They (urban legend) are often intriguing tales of woe and corporate misdeeds with appalling details that excite – and sometimes incite – their audience. While often containing just a shred of truth, or perhaps none at all, they are generally accepted as factual and enjoy rapid dissemination.”
In the Nigerian case, most of these tales incite than excite the public. Egyptian scholar Abd al-Munim Said says conspiracy theories hamstring people from confronting their problems. “The biggest problem with conspiracy theories is that they keep us not only from the truth, but also from confronting our faults and problems”, he said.