Monday, June 17, 2024

Titular sanctity and the age of spiritual cyberbullying

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By Musa Touray
Sandu Kuwonku

In the wake of widespread online harassment on different social media platforms, Gambian Facebook users have for a long time tussled with the extortive advances of a tribe of disguised miscreants who scapegoat the holy title “Mallam” to deceive people.

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While this term actually embodies a reputably profound titular weight, it is exploited and unlawfully adopted by these criminals to prey on unsuspecting users to whom they come off as samaritans. They display spurious images of financial extravagance and claim omnipotence in unsolicited private messages they send to people with an ill-intentioned commitment to changing their lives overnight.

Collins Dictionary defines mallam as “a man learned in Koranic studies in Islamic West Africa.” It further narrows it down to a more specific definition as “a title and form of address for a learned or educated man in northern Nigeria.” These analogous definitions are suggestive of the great reverence attached to the title of which a large segment of Gambian netizens is not aware, and understandably so.

Having virtually interacted with a number of northern Nigerian bloggers, most of whom are Hausa, I cannot help but confirm the veracity of the foregoing definitions.

This is why Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Communications and Digital Economy Professor Issa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, an erudite Islamic cleric who is said to have memorized the Qur’an at a tender age, is sometimes called Mallam in unofficial circles. Coincidentally, he is a cybersecurity expert.

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Although this scholarly title arguably owes provenance to the referential repertoire of northern Nigeria, those who flirt with it to scam people on Facebook are believed to come from Ghana. The evidence for this is the inclusion of the Ghanaian flag and contacts in some of their messages to lure people into hypnotic exchanges.

In their persistent attempts to succeed in conning Gambians, they have strategized ways to make people believe they are organic. They create pseudo-accounts bearing typical Gambian names just to dispel any suspicion on account of nominal strangeness.

It is common to see fake accounts mendaciously inventing stories of “bloodless” encounters with these mallams and how that has delivered them from poverty to a luxurious and financially buoyant life.

Those of us who know a thing or two about their misactions have, as a matter of principle, relentlessly ignored their friend requests and blocked them on other alternative channels like Messenger. That is preventive—rather than remediation—riddance. When some of them feel ignored, they’d either walk back their requests or unfollow us.

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I once came across and shared a funny but factual statement that captures what the phony cyberbullies seem to have missed. It reads: “There are 420 ways to succeed. One way is hard work; the remaining is 419.” This statement transcends the realm of memes to remind us that the only way to succeed is through hard work. 419, by the way, is a euphemistic term that needs no explanation.

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