Why Matthew Ajibade’s Killing Deserves Attention
He was mentally ill and died for it
The issue of a black man who died while in police custody at the beginning of 2015, haunted me from the moment it appeared on my radar.
Like so many before him — he had fallen into the deceitful hands of racist jailers.
He was actually Nigerian.
Matthew Ajibade — like so many before him — came to America to seek a better life.
A recent study shows that Nigerians are the most educated group of immigrants in the U.S.
Despite encompassing a tiny fraction of the U.S. population — at least 37 percent of Nigerians have bachelor’s degrees and 17 percent boast master’s degrees — while 4 percent hold doctorates.
Even White Americans who are considered the elite race can’t compete.
Nigerians are notoriously ambitious. This is because we simply have a lot more to lose if we don’t succeed.
Our families depend on the realization of our hopes and dreams. We are required to garner high paying professional jobs so that we can contribute to the consistent well-being of our acquired dependents.
This is a non-negotiable pact and there is very little room for error. The cost of flying across the world can be quite hefty in more ways than one — and you are constantly reminded of that sacrifice.
Matthew Ajibade, who was an impressionable young man, in his late teens when he moved to Savannah, GA — must have been quite optimistic about his chances of making it in America.
He was most likely fed a sugarcoated version of what life in the United States would entail.
You can bet your bottom dollar that if he had been privy to the fact that he was moving to a country that rates him less valuable than a stray dog — he would be alive today.
He would have endured the sweltering nights without electricity at the University of Lagos.
A small price to pay for dignity and freedom. A rarity for men of color in America. A fact that became tragically clear when it was already too fucking late.
I wonder what he was thinking when the plane made its dramatic descent.
Did his eyes widen with expectation? Did his heart pound with feverish anticipation as he excitedly pondered the next decade of his life?
This guy was ironically aesthetically suited for the landscape of America the Beautiful.
He was young, handsome, and charismatic. He harbored desires of conquering the fashion industry. He also had a keen interest in photography.
He seemed well-equipped for a bright future.
But there was a catch.
He was mentally challenged. A characteristic that is very un-Nigerian.
Nigerians have very little patience for imperfections especially when it has a tendency to lead to a public spectacle.
Having an illness that can’t be readily or astutely diagnosed is a shameful an burdensome disposition that renders the sufferer to “leper status”.
You are automatically categorized as a curse.
An unfortunate resultant of a tribal feud that was evidently not amicably resolved.
Ajibade’s family clearly believed he would find solace in America— far from the maddening crowd and corrosive gossipers.
They were wrong.
On New Year’s Day 2015 — Ajibade, an art student who also juggled two jobs — was violently stuffed into a police car and driven away.
He never returned home.
The timeline and details are recognizable to Black America since it’s standard procedure.
If a young black girl can be physically abused by a police officer — in front of her classmates as her teacher ignorantly observes — what chance does a mentally ill Black man have?
Ajibade was bipolar. His family rallied around him. The support definitely encouraged his ability to manage his symptoms.
But he was human.
The times when you are unable to trump the magnitude of an attack will leave you vulnerable.
We all have bad days.
He had a bad night. We survive our bad days and nights with the fragile courage we can muster.
On that fateful night — he was helplessly enduring his curse.
He was blindly torturing himself and his girlfriend. They were both huddled under a blanket in his room.
She was terrified but determined to save the man she loved from himself. She was unable to contain him. So she did what she was supposed to do.
She called the police.
They arrived — and after deeming him incoherent — they carted him off like a wild animal.
He was then tossed into an isolated chamber and promptly fastened to a “restraining chair.”
He died in that chair. Chained like the beast of burden.
But before he died — he was humiliatingly bullied.
He was kicked repeatedly — and when it seemed like he was accommodating the hits like a champ — he was subjected to Taser treatments that were specifically aimed at his genitals.
If you need another reminder that men in uniform are legally clothed gangsters — watch this video.
The policemen that responded to the victim’s girlfriend’s call for help were supposed to assist him.
They ended up killing him.
But she fought for his life. She even offered up the medication he was taking at the time — as evidence of his ongoing illness. But they didn’t give a fuck. They never do.
Neither does the Nigerian media.
Not so long ago, when the missing Chibok girls became a global phenomenon — armed with their very own branded hashtag — every major outlet from the corners of the Diaspora and beyond pledged allegiance.
It was an amazing effort. Remarkably, that same perseverance never registered for Matthew Ajibade.
Not long after his murder — his devastated cousin who had encouraged him to move to the States, Chris Oladapo, appeared on CNN, begging the media to pay attention to what happened to his deceased relative.
None of the premium news stations or outlets in Nigeria were rattled enough to cover this heart-wrenching story.
Sahara Reporters — globally recognized for their precision when it comes to exposing undercover schemes and corruption — in a manner that permanently places them on the government’s “Wanted List” — contentedly ignored this story.
If not for the aggressive adherence of the American media — the story of the Nigerian student who became a casualty of a system validated by bigotry — would have remained under the radar.
I am a Nigerian-American.
I understand my people and I know why most of us were generally not invested.
It’s because he was crazy.
If Matthew Ajibade had been enrolled at an Ivy League university, pursuing a degree in Architecture or Finance — there would have been a resounding uproar.
Friends at home and abroad would’ve been actively challenging the appalling treatment of a fellow Nigerian who was senselessly killed at the height of his life.
But, as we like to say in jest when someone playfully riles us up — his head was not correct.
Nigerians on social media eagerly and tirelessly demonstrate their ability to be on the pulse of anything that pertains to our homeland.
Which is why it was incredible that there was very minimal interest or acknowledgment when it came to the curious case of Matthew Ajibade.
This, of course is very telling and excruciatingly sad.
It’s also destructively abhorrent.
We, as a people, only support the ones who fit the distinguished label. They have to be perfectly packaged scholars and excel in ways that are far-reaching and worthy of praise.
How dare we champion the need to #BringBackTheGirls, but choose to ignore how Ajibade’s death envelopes the sphere of what it means to be an immigrant —innocently navigating the complex terrain of foreign territory.
His misfortune wasn’t that he trusted the false promise of the “American Dream.”
It was his deficiency as a Nigerian.
Rhode scholars are inspiring — but so are mentally challenged young adults who despite their disposition — do the best they can to manage the currents that threaten to devour them.
Mental illness is real and it is rampant.
My bad days are not quick and easy and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
It’s time that Nigerians comprehend that we are not inhumanly infallible, and stop hiding behind rose-colored glasses.
We can’t be cripplingly regulated to festivities bloated with music by the likes of King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti — and complimented by tables layered with Jollof Rice and Egusi soup.
When the bad stuff happens to our people — we need to answer the call first.
Matthew Ajibade needed the support of his brethren — and we pretended not to hear it.
It’s too late for him.
But he definitely won’t be the last crazy Nigerian hoping to become a sane American.
When the nightmare ensues again — lets fight like hell for the one who slipped through our fingers.