"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: May 2021

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Celebration of Kabiru Yusuf’s Election as NPAN President

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

I’m certain that many people will be astonished by the thematic core of today’s column: the extolment of someone who isn’t dead and whom I have a good reason to resent for capitulating to pressures from the Presidency to squelch my voice in his paper.

In December 2020, two significant events happened in Nigerian journalism: Malam Kabiru Yusuf, the founder and majority shareholder of Media Trust, which publishes the Daily Trust, was elected president of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Chairman of the Leadership Newspaper, died.

I wrote this column in December 2020 to reflect on these events but kept putting it off because more pressing issues kept emerging that eclipsed it. 

Well, people who’d said the unkindest things about Nda-Isaiah when he was alive wrote eloquent praises about his incomparable professional, moral, and intellectual strengths. But I’m unaware of anyone who used the occasion of Yusuf’s election as NPAN president to write about his character, professionalism, and intellectual vitality.

Why do we see the good in people only when they’re dead but obsess over their foibles when they’re alive? I think part of the reason we’re reluctant to celebrate the living is the fear of being misunderstood as angling to win their favor through flattery. Well, people who are familiar with the breakdown of my relationship with Daily Trust know that if I were to obey my gut inclinations, my reflections on its owner would be clouded by negative emotions. But I choose to transcend that.

I have known Malam Kabiru Yusuf since 1998 when he employed me as a reporter— on the recommendation of Professor Attahiru Jega, his childhood friend who was my mentor at Bayero University, Kano. In more ways than he is aware, he taught me a lot, shaped my professional sensibilities, and fast-tracked my journalistic growth and maturity.

He loves to give a chance to young people almost as an article of faith. He prizes competence and youth over longevity of experience for its own sake. A lot of the people who have held important positions in the Trust newspapers were in their late 20s. He appointed me news editor at the Weekly Trust (and later of the Daily Trust) when I was in my 20s and nominated me to represent him at places where older, more experienced editors gathered. 

Although I was one of the youngest people in the newsroom, he recognized my professional journalistic training and would occasionally devote a good portion of the editorial meetings to request me to teach my colleagues and my seniors about professional news writing conventions. This both flattered me and boosted my professional self-confidence.

Abdulaziz Abdullahi, Habeeb Pindiga, Nasiru Lawal are other examples of Daily Trust editors who didn’t have extensive reportorial experience before they became editors and who were in their late 20s/early 30s when they became editors. The paper’s current Editor-in-Chief, Naziru Mikailu, is in his mid-30s.

I think Yusuf’s almost compulsive thirst to thrust young people into positions of leadership draws from his own biography. He was editor of the Daily Triumph in Kano in his 20s. When he was editor of the Today newspaper in Kaduna, he was also in his 20s. By all accounts, he gave a great account of himself.

Yusuf also embraces the unconventional. When he started the Weekly Trust in early 1998, he hired a smart, quick-witted political science university teacher with no prior journalism experience by the name of Isyaku Dikko as editor. Dikko’s professional “outsidedness” gave him fresh, out-of-the-box perspectives that made the paper stand out.

He also appointed Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, an accomplished broadcaster with no prior print journalism experience, as Daily Trust’s second (and first substantive) editor. It wasn’t just an unconventional move designed to creatively disrupt settled and familiar professional boundaries in print journalism; it was also, I suspect, an intentionally expansionist move to centralize the margins of the North in the paper. Kawu is a Yoruba-speaking Kwaran from Ilorin who traces distant patrilineal descent from the Fulani but who speaks neither Fulfulde nor even Hausa with any proficiency.

And this leads to another attribute of Yusuf’s that is rarely recognized. Although he has his own primordial loyalties like most Nigerians, he is extremely cosmopolitan and urbane. That’s why the Daily Trust has more “federal character” than the Federal Character Commission—and any newsroom in Nigeria. I heard him on more than one occasion tout the virtue of ethnic and religious diversity in the reportorial corps of newsrooms for practical reasons.

Yusuf challenged his reporters to think big and had no hesitation to let them materialize their ideas. One day in 1999, we debated what our cover story would be, and a lot of people suggested we do a story on the cries of “marginalization” by the elites of the North only a few months after Obasanjo was in power.

Just when everyone thought we had a good story, I opposed it. I said political exclusion from the orbit of the power structure was not a faithful rendition of the real meaning of “marginalization,” insisting that the only truly marginalized people were the underclass, the economically and socially disaffiliated: people who slept under bridges, Ogoni people whose land had been despoiled by years of oil exploration, communities on the edge of existence, etc.

Marxian notions of injustice were still fresh in my brain and, as a former ABU- and Toronto University-educated Marxist himself, he nodded and said he would give me a chance to bring my idea to life. He approved my request to travel to Ogoni land, including Ken Saro-Wiwa’s hometown of Bane, rural communities in central, southern, and northern Nigeria, and so on. It turned out to be one of our most consequential cover stories.

He also showed empathy in ways that weren’t always apparent to people who looked at his cold surface. I recall in 2000 that he assigned me to cover the raging Kaduna Sharia riots where scores of people were being murdered.

After the editorial meeting in his office, I came to the newsroom and told my then girlfriend who later became my wife that Malam Kabiru wanted me dead. I didn’t know he had left his office, was in the newsroom, and heard everything I’d said.

I froze when I saw him. But what he said and did touched me so deeply it’s still as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. He said, “Farooq, I cherish you too much to want you to die, but I do understand your reluctance. To show you I don’t want you to die, I’ll go with you to do the story.”

He was calm and had no hint of anger. He drove me around Kaduna amid the killings. I wore a shirt and trousers and could be mistaken for a southern Christian. Wherever we were stopped in Muslim-dominated areas, he would make sure to say in Hausa I was “dan Kwara” or “dan Ilori” and that I was a Muslim. 

I also remember his humility. It isn’t self-conscious, self-advertising humility. It’s natural humility. During production nights in Kaduna, he stayed the nights and dined with us. He hated red tape, excessive bureaucracy, and elaborate formalities. He’s had the same (and only one MTN) phone number since mobile telephony started in Nigeria!

When a now late colleague of mine at my university returned from a world journalism conference in 2014 from somewhere in the Middle East and told me he met a former “colleague” of mine there who sent his hellos to me, I frankly didn’t think it was Yusuf, although I know him as someone who disdained vainglory. 

It turned out that Yusuf recognized that he taught at Kennesaw State University and asked if he knew me. My friend asked how he knew me, and he said I was his “colleague.” When I told my friend that Yusuf was not only my boss, he owned at least 40 percent of the newspaper I worked in, he said that was some sky-high modesty even by American standards!

It’s also not often known that Yusuf is one of Nigeria’s finest prose stylists in English. It’s sad that he has stopped writing. I was fortunate to read not just his occasional pieces in Weekly Trust and Daily Trust but his past columns in Today and Citizen. He has a distinctive style that privileges freshness in word choice and imagery, and that shuns clich├ęs with what seems like a religious zeal. 

When everyone overused words and expressions, he’d choose everyday but nonetheless distinctive alternatives, which gave his writing originality and admirable stylistic sparkle. He was probably a poet in his youth.

I congratulate him on his election and hope that he brings his extensive experience to bear in the running of the NPAN.

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

My Outrage Fatigue About Nigeria

 By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

In the last few months, I’ve noticeably scaled down the frequency and intensity of my social media involvement with Nigeria, and scores of people have reached out to ask why. The short answer is that I am suffering from a psychological phenomenon called outrage fatigue.

Late African-American civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer colorfully characterized this state of mind as being sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is instigated by sustained sensations of powerlessness, hopelessness, mental exhaustion, and cynicism, which ultimately lead to indifference and even compassion fatigue.

My outrage usually flows from a wellspring of righteous indignation over injustice, avoidably missed opportunities, elite cruelty, and preventable existential catastrophes. It is nourished by expectations that its forceful ventilation will jolt people to act and cause policymakers to make amends for the good of the society.

That was what Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist James Earle “Jimmy” Breslin meant when he said, “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”

But outrage, rage, and even compassion are not a permanent condition; they are intrinsically temporary. It’s impossible to keep your sanity while you are in a perpetually agitative emotional state. In other words, outrage fatigue is an unconscious self-defense mechanism. It’s the mind’s way to decompress and regain equanimity.  

It’s bad enough when outrage changes nothing and when both the people on whose behalf you’re outraged and the people whose bone-headedness activated your outrage use you for target practice in throwing vituperative darts for daring to be outraged. But it’s worse when people pretend that the consequences of ignoring well-intentioned outrage are unanticipated. 

Today, every section of Nigeria is enveloped in profound existential turmoil thanks to both the inability and unwillingness of the Muhammadu Buhari regime to confront the problems that afflict the country. 

Boko Haram, which the regime used to brag about “technically defeating,” has now established a foothold in Niger State; several rural communities there now periodically pay the terrorist group millions of naira that they can’t afford just to buy fleeting peace. And Niger State is contiguous with the Federal Capital Territory. It’s only a matter of time before the group takes over Abuja.

This is in addition to daily and ceaseless mass deaths and abductions in almost every part of the country—and calls for dissolving the Nigerian union in the East and in the West. Even for those of us who live outside Nigeria, the emotional toll is enormous.

But in several past columns, I’d warned about the dangers of allowing Buhari to come back for a second term. I warned that Buhari’s almost congenital incompetence and degenerative mental decline, not to mention the coterie of duncical babysitters that surround him and rule on his behalf, should cause the nation to not allow him to rule for a second term.

 The persistence of my warnings, in fact, caused the presidency to pressure Daily Trust to stop my column in December 2018, but the paper wrote a front-page comment this week lamenting exactly the same things I prevised the nation of. 

I foretold what is unravelling now since at least 2017. For instance, in a December 16, 2017 column titled “There Must be an Alternative to Buhari and Atiku,” I wrote: “Given Buhari’s provable incompetence and undisguisedly subnationalist proclivities, which have plunged the nation to the nadir of fissiparity, allowing him to rule for another four years could sound the death knell for the country. This is no hyperbole.”

In an April 21, 2018 column titled “Buhari: From Criminalizing and Dividing Nigerians to Dissing Nigerian Youth,” I wrote: “If Buhari’s second term, which he appears poised to get, doesn’t end Nigeria as we know it, nothing ever will again.”

In an October 13, 2018 column titled, “Atiku’s Emergence and End of the Road for Buhari,” I observed that “There is no question that Buhari is the absolute worst president Nigeria has ever had the misfortune to be burdened with. He is thoroughly and irredeemably incompetent, not to mention unapologetically bigoted and lazy. Only a sick country would reward such a person with a second term.”

I ended the column with the following ominous words: “A Buhari second term will end Nigeria as we know it. Of that, I am sure.”

In a November 19, 2018 Facebook update titled, “NextLevel: Follow Detached Leaders to Your Death,” which I later developed into a full-length column, I wrote the following:

“The creativity deficit in APC’s NEXT LEVEL campaign slogan and graphic is truly unnerving, but it powerfully encapsulates, without intending to, the frighteningly escalating sense of foreboding that a Buhari second term would mean for Nigeria. The photo shows Buhari and Osinbajo insouciantly detached from the people they are leading. Buhari appears as a clumsy, clueless leader who can’t even get his steps right: unlike Osinbajo, he skips a step on the staircase as he leads Nigerians to perdition.

“Both the leaders and the led wear sheepish, vacuous grins as they head to their damnation like moths to a flame. The photo shows them climbing up the edge of a cliff from where they'd fall into the cruel, unforgiving blue ocean that surrounds them. This is a depressing graphic, but I give it credit for its fidelity in capturing the ruination that Buhari is inexorably leading Nigeria to.

“The ‘NEXT LEVEL’ slogan is also a powerful linguistic affirmation of the depressing future the graphic evokes. There’s no question that Buhari’s record as president these past three years has been an unrelieved disaster. Nigeria now leads the world from the bottom in almost everything. Insecurity used to be limited to the northeast, but it has now become democratized nationally. Prices of commodities have gone through the roof. Governance has ceased. Governing boards of several federal agencies are still not constituted, which means the nation is literally at a standstill. The economy has tanked, and everyday folks are writhing in unspeakable agony, but the president bragged about never being in ‘a hurry to do anything.’

“Imagine what the ‘next level’ of this would be. That’s what the Buhari campaign is warning you about.”

In a December 15, 2018 column titled “Death of the Electoral Bill and the Coming Electoral Theft,” I said Nigeria and the world “can't afford the tragedy of a war-torn Nigeria, which a Buhari second term will surely precipitate.”

In another update, I wrote: “Buhari isn't even misgoverning; he isn't governing at all. I call it ‘ungovernance.’ Buhari is by far the worst president Nigeria has ever had since independence. And I don't say this lightly. His second term would signal the death of Nigeria as we know it."

There are several such warnings littered liberally in most of my columns and social media interventions before the 2019 election. Of course, as l always remind my readers, I have no prescient or oracular powers. No human being does. But every perceptive person can make informed predictions about the future based on a knowledge of the past and the present.

It was always easy to see that a Buhari second term would spell doom for the country, democratize bloodbath, and push the country to the edge of the precipice. No one deserves admiration for knowing this.

A popular leftist American bumper-sticker slogan says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Well, I am paying attention. It’s just that I have reached the elastic limit of my outrage because Nigeria’s current tragedy is self-inflicted, predictable, and preventable.

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