Is It Possible That AG Malami Suffered From Unconscious Bias? If So Forgive Him

By Prof. John Egbeazien Oshodi

Even if the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami do not consider himself to be prejudiced, his recent behavior and conduct, showed otherwise. All humans show signs of implicit bias—unconscious bigotries that power our actions. An implicit bias is an unconscious association, belief, or mindset toward any social group.

The fact that Malami made undesirable and impractical statements, does not mean that he is necessarily bigoted or inclined to discriminate against Southern people. It simply means that at the time his brain was working in a way that makes such generalizations, discriminatory in output. As a result of implicit biases, people may often attribute certain qualities or characteristics to all members of a particular group, a phenomenon known as stereotyping.

Unintentional bias on the part of Malami could have influenced the way he treated certain religious and ethnic groups especially as it relates to southerners. Most of us are unaware that we hold such biases, which can unknowingly contribute to statements or actions of prejudice and inequalities.

His bias became very explicit when in a disproportionate way he showed more favor towards the Fulani and Cows, leaving himself to be regarded as a closed-minded, prejudicial, or an unfair Minister of Justice.

It is important to understand that one’s implicit biases can become an explicit bias, and this happens when one become consciously aware of the prejudices and beliefs he or she possess. That is, they surface in your conscious mind, leading you to choose whether to act on or against them. This is where AG Malami got into big trouble.

As the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Malami tried to fault the ban on open grazing by some State governments, asserting it violates the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of movement. As I recall freedom of movement is for human beings, and not for Cattle or Lions.

During an interview granted Channels Television, while condemning the recent resolution of Southern governors, who banned open grazing, in one of his troubling responses, Malami compared open grazing by the Fulani with the selling of motor spare parts in Northern Nigeria, asking how Nigerians will react if Northern governors also ban those who sell spare parts in the North.

For many in Nigeria this way of talking was a veiled reference to the Igbos of south eastern descent, who dominate in trading motor spare parts. These words are directly wrapped with stereotypical judgements and, negatively affects his own capacity to be seen as an objective and impartial judicial officer.

Malawi assumptions about a social group in the South and generalizing it to all Southerners as informed in his language, specific attitude, and actions although in subtle ways, makes him look like a tribal arbitrator.

The fact that he appeared engrossed in evoking ethnic/regional descriptions that are particular to one tribal social group makes him seen as a tribalist.  Due to his explicit and implicit biases he looks like an Attorney General who, is with unconscious ethnic biases, overt tribal bias, unethical manners, and a force of fear to persons who are not of his ethnic and religious experience. He is now seen as a Minister of Justice that pushes unequal treatment based on ethnic, religious, and commercial affiliations. An Attorney General who ethnically profiles certain social group in Nigeria, especially when a chief arbitrator of the people and the justice system is supposed to be neutral in ethnic and regional disputes and remain an enforcer of the rules of the game equally while ensuring that he is always in service of all people.

An Attorney General cannot be seen as siding with businesses of cattle and prejudicial to motor spare parts trading, just because each business invokes different tribal customs. He cannot be viewed through his public statements as one taken actions that are so plainly ideological, so nakedly tribalistic and deeply inappropriate for Nigeria’s chief law enforcement official. He cannot be seen as an Attorney General who because of unconscious and explicit biases support rampant illegality such as destroying of farms, trespassing, killings, and raping due to the menaces of open grazing of cows.

I have had indirect professional contact with the Attorney General who from my way of reasoning is a person of professional diversity and progressive values, and a believer in a free society. He and others could gain from some training on this issue.

So, I will suggest that next time he should focus on seeing people as individuals, not tribes. Rather than focusing on stereotypes to define people or what they do for a living, he should spend time considering them on a more personal, individual level. He should work on consciously changing his stereotypes. He should take time to pause and reflect. To reduce spontaneous reactions, he should take time to reflect on potential biases and replace them with positive or neutral examples of the stereotyped group. Next time, if he recognizes that his response to a certain tribe or persons might be rooted in biases or stereotypes, he needs to try to consciously adjust his response, especially on TV.

He must remember, as long as he is in that position as the chief law enforcement officer, and the Minister of Justice for Nigeria, and the central public servant of the people, he should lead with fairness and impartial administration of justice on behalf of the Nigerian people.

Prof. John Egbeazien Oshodi, an American-based Police/Prison Scientist and Forensic/Clinical/Legal Psychologist. A government Consultant on matters of forensic-clinical adult/child psychological services in the USA; Chief Educator and Clinician at the Transatlantic Enrichment and Refresher Institute, an Online Lifelong Center for Personal, Professional and Career Development. The Founder of the Dr. John Egbeazien Oshodi Foundation, Center for Psychological Health and Behavioral Change in African settings especially. In 2011, he introduced the State-of-the-Art Forensic Psychology into Nigeria through N.U.C and the Nasarawa State University where he served in the Department of Psychology as an Associate Professor. The Development Professor and International Liaison Consultant at the African University of Benin, and a Virtual Faculty at the ISCOM University, Benin of Republic. Professor John Egbeazien Oshodi is the Vice-Chancellor and President, of the proposed Transatlantic Egbeazien University Of Values And Ethics 100% virtual (TEUVE). Author of over 36 academic publications/creations, at least 200 public opinion writeups on African issues, and various books.

Prof. Oshodi was born in Uromi, Edo State, Nigeria to parents with almost 40 years of police/corrections service, respectively. Periodically visits home for scholastic and humanitarian works.

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