The commentator’s burden

July 14, 2011
6 mins read

IN my column of Thursday, June 24, 2011, entitled “Boko Haram: Even with the bombings, there is no alternative to dialogue”, I had criticised Ochereome Nnanna’s call for an “iron fist” to deal with the problem of Boko Haram. He was “petrified” that government opted for a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to the problem.

He would rather that a state of emergency was imposed to “delete the Boko Haram louse from Borno.” I stated that his view was within the context of the anti-North and anti-Islam bias he has canvassed for years in his writings. I also accused him of “Biafranism.”

An incensed Nnanna replied me in a three-part essay, which attempted to refute my accusations, while also throwing broadsides, about my competence to be a public commentator as well as a mischievous publication of the content of a text message he allegedly received, as a result of “the inciting article Kawu wrote.” He concluded that the “violently threatening text”, “came from the same source [this writer] or a reader who was simply copy-catting [sic] the writer”. I will ignore the ridiculous allegation.

Ethics of Fulbe life
The code of ethics of Fulbe life (I am Fullo or more commonly, Fulani), is encapsulated in what is known as PULAAKU. At the heart of this compendium of behaviours, is modesty. Until it became necessary, I would not have written a clarification about myself, my worldview (what Germans call WELTANSCHAUUNG!), or contributions I have made to the public space, which made VANGUARD newspaper to kindly invite me to be a columnist. But Ochereome Nnanna threw an insulting challenge when he wrote that “those insufficiently exposed should not be allowed to pretend as commentators on national issues. They will pass their ignorance to unsuspecting readers.

Being able to string together a few words in the English language is not enough.” The gentleman was not done: “I have questions for Kawu. How many states outside the North has he visited? How many of his friends are non-Northerners? Has he read any literature on Igbo, Eastern, Yoruba or Western affairs? What does he understand by Christianity and the world view of Christians, who make up the other half of Nigeria outside the Muslim community?”

Kawo’s incompetence
Reading between the lines, our gentleman obviously felt I was not competent to write on  pages of the newspaper where he has penned his doggerels week in, week out for years. He said for 17 years; and I believe we must thank Herr Nnanna for his service, including the 24 years “as a full time practicing journalist.” In the gerontocratic tradition of Nigerian professional groups, Ochereome should know that I am his SENIOR (and I say this jocularly), because I have been ‘a full time practicing journalist’ and broadcaster for 34 years, since February 1, 1977, when I was first employed by Radio Nigeria.

I have been a continuity announcer, disc jockey, newsreader (I read news on the Network Service of Radio Nigeria at the age of 20 in 1980), producer, ceremonials and sports commentator. Some of my colleagues from those years  include Soni Irabor, John Momoh, Mani Onumonu, Frank Oshodi and  Bisi Olatilo, to mention a few.

For ten years, I reported for Radio France International; contributed to the programmes of Radio Netherlands and was a reporter for the BBC World Service. I made Features contributions which the BBC acknowledged as outstanding, such as one on Onitsha Market Literature, which was BBC’s pick of the week in early 1996; the Brazilian indigenes of Lagos; Forced Labour in the Tin Mines of Jos, 1942-44; the Lebanese Community in Kano, amongst several others.

It was from the BBC that I was appointed pioneer General Manager of the Kwara State Television Service, Ilorin, in February 1977, after coming first in an interview done for seven shortlisted people for the position. I held the position till 2002, when I resigned and was subsequently appointed Editor of Daily Trust, after a competitive interview. I later served as Chairman of the Editorial Board, Columnist and Africa Editor, until I resigned on April1st, 2011.

School days
I attended the University of Lagos for a Diploma in Mass communication, in 1980, and was President of the Marxist League. It was my generation of activists which prepared the famous Nigerian Students’ Charter of Demands. I was an outstanding student and my teachers included Professors Alfred Opubor, Idowu Sobowale, Andrew Moemeka and Akin Oyebode. My documentary on the history of the Nigerian labour movement was a reference point. In those years, I was active in the Nigerian socialist and trade union movements helping to organise educational programmes for the Civil Service Technical Workers’ Union. SOZ Ejiofor was Secretary General of the union.  I was chairman of the workers’ union at Radio Kwara for ten years; vice chairman of the Kwara NLC between 1984 and 1988, and editor of its newsletter.

Educational programmes
We helped to create educational programmes for construction workers; medical and health workers; iron and steel and railway workers; printing and publishing; civil service technical and many more. It was the NLC which sent me to study Philosophy and Political Economy at the Hochshule Der Gewerkshaften in the former GDR in 1986.

I attended Bayero University Kano, and each session won a scholarship for being top of the class. I graduated best student of the Department of Mass Communication and of the Faculty, winning the NTA Award. I did a master’s degree in Political Science, with Attahiru Jega, supervising the thesis I wrote on the reportage of labour in the Nigerian media. I speak six languages and understand four others.

I am proud of my multi-cultural identities and come from a background of scholars whose roots date back hundreds of years as contributors to the building of the societies of the old Western Sudan (Bilad As-Sudan). In Professor Hodgson’s NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVES, there is a translation of my grandfather’s “TALIF AKBAR…” written in 1912; a source material on Nigerian history.

Nnnana said he participated in writing ‘my own portion of a biography of a distinguished Northern Nigerian’; fine enough. I have never taken interest in the biography of ‘distinguished’ individuals, Northern or not; my interest is the working people and the poor, and that has been the central preoccupation of my ouvres, since the age of 16.

He “personally monitored” an educational programme  in Jigawa; but I helped  in constructing the philosophical platform of what he ‘personally monitored’. Nnana should cross-check with Adagbo Onoja and Sule Lamido. Some of the comrades I worked with over the years, include Biodun Jeyifo, Femi Falana, Toye Olorode, Dapo Olorunyomi, Idowu Obasa, Segun Osoba, Dipo Fasina, GG Darah, Kayode Komolafe, Issah Aremu, Yahaya Hashim, Jibo Ibrahim, Rauf Mustapha, Chom Bagu, Tar Ukoh, as well as leaders of the trade union movement. As for travel, there is no part of Nigeria that I have not visited and I count amongst my friends, the great writer and broadcaster, late Cyprian Ekwensi who facilitated my research on Onitsha Market Literature, in 1995.

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