"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: 03/13/10

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Conspiracy Theories, Women’s Rights and Nigerian Child Geniuses

By Farooq A. Kperogi

What a weird title for this week’s column! What have conspiracy theories got to do with women’s rights and Nigerian child geniuses? Well, this schizophrenic headline actually encapsulates the dilemma I faced when I sat down to write this week’s column.

A whole host of competing ideas kept jostling for prominence in my mind. Should I respond to the letter I published here last week where a reader made several claims on and mischaracterizations of both my take on the conspiracy theories on Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab and the meaning of the notion of conspiracy theory?

Or should I suspend that till another time and instead do a comparative analysis of women’s rights in America and Nigeria in the spirit of the International Women’s Day? Or should I write about the record-shattering accomplishments of two Nigerian infant prodigies in Britain who passed A-level mathematics exams at the age of 7?

Well, I decided that since these are all time-sensitive issues, I will write a few lines on all three of them, hence the awkward title.

Conspiracy theories
Most of what Al-Amin Abba wrote in response to my article isn’t worthy of a response. But his claim that “conspiracy theories” are “potent analytical tools” and that quoting “American sources” to support a conspiracy theory about America makes such a “theory” hold water would have been laughable if it wasn’t outrageously na├»ve.

“Conspiracy theory” is, by definition, a pejorative label used to describe fringe, unscientific, uncorroborated explanations that attribute historical or contemporary events to grand, scheming, almost superhuman and perpetually conniving, conspiracists. To describe this as a “potent analytical tool” is beyond ignorant.

There are conspiracy theories about everything in the world. There are, for instance, conspiracy theories about Islam that are too blasphemous to repeat here. And they quote Muslim sources to support their claims. Would Mr. Abba regard them as credible and as being “potent analytical tools” on account of deriving the basis for their claims from Muslim sources?

There are, for that matter, conspiracy theories about conspiracy theory itself! People who compulsively churn out or believe in conspiracy theories, for instance, have been psychologized as suffering from such mental disorders as paranoia, denial, schizophrenia, and what’s called “mean world syndrome.”

I, of course, strongly disagree with this. As a communication scholar, I know enough to know that conspiracy theories flourish in an atmosphere of insufficient or non-existent official information or of widespread, often well-founded, incredulity over the authenticity of official versions of events.

But whatever it is, conspiracy theory is NOT an “analytical tool.” And my article was not a response to any single individual, as the writer suggested. I was merely wondering aloud why the theories don’t factor in a major component of the events leading up to Mutallab’s alleged act. A few weeks ago, however, I read an American conspiracy theorist who claimed that the senior Mutallab is, in fact, a CIA agent who willfully sacrificed his son in the service of a grand “illuminati” agenda for world domination! How bizarre!!

Nigerian vs. American women workers
I have always wanted to compare the rights and privileges of the Nigerian woman worker to those of her counterpart in America. This desire derives from my discovery that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, the Nigerian woman worker appears to have a better deal than her American counterpart in at least one respect: the privilege of maternity leave with full pay.

I have taught a final-year class on media management for the past two years, and one of the things that have always struck me when we discuss the subject of “women in the media” is the profound surprise my students show when I tell them that Nigerian women workers (including journalists) enjoy a three-month maternity with full pay each time they are pregnant.

American women don’t enjoy that “luxury.” When they get pregnant, they are often forced to choose between family and career. The most generous offer they can get from their workplace is a one-month maternity leave without pay. Leaving their jobs for three consecutive months in the name of maternity leave will get them fired.

Yet, women here are so politically powerful that I have often been tempted to describe America as a social matriarchy. Women have won the rights and the power to send their husbands to prison for “spousal rape,” for instance. In the event of a divorce, they win and take all—child custody, alimony, child and spousal support, you name it. They are literally the heads of families here; they make household spending decisions, give names to children, and so on.

In spite of these powers, which would make women elsewhere green with envy, American women have not been able to get their society to grant them something as elemental as a three-month maternity leave to take care of their newborns. I wonder if Nigerian women workers would change places with their American counterparts.

Nigerian child geniuses in Britain
Two Nigerian twins, Paula and Peter Imafidon, called “Wonder Twins” by the British press, made news two years ago when they broke a record by passing Advanced-level mathematics at the tender of 7. They are back in the news again: They are going to high school at the age of 9, the youngest age ever for anybody to enroll in high school in the history of British education.

Unfortunately, the British press is denying Nigeria the luxury to vicariously share in the glory of these young geniuses. The media almost always never mention the kids’ Nigerian heritage. They merely describe them as “inner city” kids (a euphemism for poor black kids) and attribute their prodigy to the excellence of inner city schools.

A friend of mine who is incensed by this wrote: “Contrast this with the Mutallab story where his Nigerian roots were loudly pronounced in every single paragraph. He too got all the help his rich father could buy from Mother Britain and see what he turned into. This is the international media for you.”
What more can I add to that?

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