Monday 27 October 2008

Nigeria: Jonathan Elendu - Confusing Western naïveté for great danger

America does not translate elsewhere

Western naïveté and I use those two words with caution but despair, seems to becloud the ability of people to see the dangers when they leave the comforts of their Western existence to ply their liberality in other countries they might call home – I review two very similar cases.

A young woman who is writing her Master’s thesis on women’s rights is no big deal if you are in the United States, when the American-born lady has Iranian ancestry, it becomes interesting and her lecturers might even support her need to research these issues about the country of her ancestry.

It is however looking down the gaping mouth of the lion when she decides to conduct her research in Iran – this appears to be the fate of Esha Momeni [1], an Iranian-American who was arrested on the 15th of October for what was seemingly a traffic violation but is now in the notorious Evin Prison which houses Iranian dissidents and political prisoners.

Evidence we ignore

Esha Momeni would not have been oblivious of the incidents of the suspect incarceration of four Iranian-American citizens [2] for months last year who were in Iran for activities that should not have caused any issues in America but became an undue inconvenience that threatened their liberty and lives.

She might have been inspired by the work of Shirin Ebadi [3], the Nobel Peace Laureate 2003 whose high profile is probably the shield she has against harassment and the menace of the state security apparatus.

From afar or at risk

Ms. Momeni could easily have conducted her research by studying the works of the laureate from the United States and liaising with her to obtain more authoritative sources in Iran as part of a rigorous academic exercise but she had been schooled in the credibility complex that requires you be present with your sources of information or be considered less capable – In America, I would agree, but back in Iran, I think not.

A campaign is now being launched to free Esha Momeni as her friends clamour for justice in a way that they would not have had to gather if she were to have committed the traffic violation in America and the police had found recordings of her work in her car such that they would then go on to raid her home as they did in Iran. The billowing clouds of Western naïveté do sometimes becloud the realities of coming home.

Jonathan Elendu

Another fledgling campaign seems to be gathering moss for the release of Jonathan Elendu [4], an American resident and veritable source of information about corruption and the abuse of office in Nigeria through his Elendu Reports [5] website.

Some say he might even be a sponsor [6] of the more sensational SaharaReporters [7] website which publishes reports of egregious abuse and megalomania in Nigeria, some rather big toes [8] have been trampled upon and the offended are likely to be both cellophane-skinned and menacingly ready to claw out in retribution and revenge.

Remittances or money laundering

In America, Jonathan Elendu plies his trade without let or hindrance and he does have a somewhat high profile amongst Nigerians in Diaspora, he has name recognition and though I sometimes view Elendu Reports, SaharaReporters is a bit much for my sensibilities.

As a resident of the United States, Mr. Elendu probably sends remittances home to family as many other Nigerians abroad do and sometimes pines to see his relations by visiting Nigeria to fellowship with them as any social being would do especially in America.

However, Mr. Elendu is no faceless visitor to Nigeria and as he arrived in Nigeria on the 18th of October 2008 he was taken into custody by the State Security Service [9] for talks that lead to questioning and possibly interrogation, the possibility of facing sedition charges did rear its head – he appears not to have been able to meet his legal representation.

As SaharaReporters [10] reports, Mr. Elendu was handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the charges of money laundering – criminalising benign remittances – might well be a convenient charge to frustrate the man till they emasculate him and make him recant the sterling body of work he has promoted for years.

Drastic measures for release

He has embarked on a hunger strike and one does sympathise because he is not Professor Wole Soyinka [11], the Nobel Literature Laureate 1986 whose writings and profile probably shield him from the menace of harassment and the menace of the state security apparatus and those who have the law enforcement establishment at their beck and call.

Mr. Elendu could have resisted the need to go to Nigeria and he sure must have been aware of the developing and worrying restrictions on press freedom and the episode that lead to the withdrawal of Channels TV’s licence [12] when a rogue message, purportedly from the News Agency of Nigeria linked questions about the President’s health to his imminent resignation.

Between sacrifice and being sacrificed

Individuals like many us blogging from abroad need to be aware of the fact that our quest for the truth and the incisive analysis of unpalatable events in Nigeria might not endear us to those in power – they might not be able to parcel us as diplomatic baggage [13] but once we are in Nigeria we are in the lion’s den except if we know the tamer and owner of the circus.

This is not to say that we should temper our work in seeking a better service of government in Nigeria through advocacy, blogging and exposure of reprehensible conduct in power, but these come with sacrifices as tempering our nostalgic tendencies, preventing relations at home from being associated with our activities from abroad and being smart about the use of sensitive information.

Else, there is a danger that we allow Western naïveté abroad to becloud the possibility of encountering great danger at home, the campaign for the release of Ms. Momeni seems to have a greater sophistication, I would hope there are others who know Mr. Elendu well enough to spearhead a campaign for his release that I would surely support.

Free Esha Momeni! Campaign

Free Jonathan Elendu!


[1] U.S. student arrested in Tehran while working on thesis project -

[2] Freed Iranian-American scholar recounts ordeal in Iran - International Herald Tribune

[3] Shirin Ebadi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] BBC NEWS | Africa | News blogger detained in Nigeria

[5] Elendu Reports - Home

[6] Global Voices Online » Nigerian Blogger Arrested For Sponsoring a ‘Guerilla News Agency’

[7] Sahara Reporters : : News, Interviews, Articles, Reports, Photos, Events and Happenings in Nigeria

[8] Chxta's World: Weep

[9] State Security Service - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[10] [SSS plans to re-arrest Jonathan Elendu from the EFCC as he embarks on hunger strike ] Sahara Reporters News

[11] Wole Soyinka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[12] Nigeria: FG Withdraws Channels TV Licence

[13] Umaru Dikko - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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