Before President Jonathan's Men Murder Another Journalist

I thought I would not comment on Nigerian politics for a long time. I have become so thoroughly disillusioned with the astonishingly overwhelming vulgarity, intolerance, and lack of self-reflexivity that have taken over our country's politics in the past few weeks that I'd resolved to block out Nigerian politics from my mind.

But when I read the truly terrible and shuddery column of Hajia Zainab Suleiman-Okino's, the Sun's new Editor-at-Large and Daily Trust's former Managing Editor, where she narrated the death threats she has received from Jonathan's men for daring to opine that by repudiating PDP's regional power-sharing arrangement Jonathan was jeopardizing the political aspirations of politicians from minority ethnic groups who, because of their numerical disadvantage, would always need some sort of positive discrimination to rise to prominent elective positions, I couldn't resist coming out of my self-imposed moratorium on Nigerian political commentary.

I am not concerned here with the merit or demerit of Hajia Zainab's argument; I am only concerned that an opinion as innocuous as warning the president to be mindful of the implications of his overweening ambition for people from minority ethnic groups (Hajia Zainab is Ebira and therefore from a minority group both in Nigeria at large and in her home state of Kogi) is sufficient to earn her death threats. I didn't know that our politics had degenerated to this low-water mark of primitive, murderous intolerance.

In her weekly column called "Rendezvous" in the Sun newspaper, Hajia Zainab wrote: "At exactly 10:08pm on Wednesday, September 8, I received a call from this number, 08037408669, and the man at the other end began to intimidate me. He poured venom on me and added for good measure: ‘Zainab, if you don't stop your Rendezvous column, I will deal with you. I know your office and your house. So, stop that column before it is too late.'"

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Hajia Zainab Suleiman-Okino

Intimidation of journalists for doing nothing more than comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne famously characterized the job of journalists nearly one hundred years ago, is not new, especially in transitional societies such as ours that are still wracked by a "deliberation deficit." But threatening to cold-bloodedly murder a mother of 5 children, who less than a month ago lost her son to brain tumor, for expressing a legitimate, if controversial, opinion is truly perturbing. This should concern not just journalists and law enforcement agents but everyone who has any milk of human compassion running in their veins.

Look, this is no idle, impotent threat. These despicable, homicidal thugs in politics can do anything to silence alternative perspectives. We all know that in the recent past several journalists in Nigeria have been savagely murdered in mysterious circumstances. Bayo Ohu,Guardian's assistant news editor, whom I knew very well when I worked in Katsina, was murdered in the course of his journalistic duty. Godwin Agbroko, the gutsy ThisDay columnist, was also brutally murdered by people who couldn't stand his searing critiques of the politics of Nigeria. Edo Sule Ugbagwu, a journalist with the Nationwho was my senior at Bayero University, Kano, was similarly murdered by hired assassins. The list is much longer.

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Godwin Agbroko

It's entirely imaginable that before these journalists were murdered they had received death threats from their would-be killers. But they probably dismissed the threats as the pitiful wails of people who were merely discomfited by their critical journalistic work. Thankfully, Hajia Zee has chosen to let the world know what Jonathan's minions have in store for her should she continue to express opinions that are critical of their boss' ambitions. Only God knows how many more journalists they have threatened and marked for elimination.

This is unacceptably crude and barbarous. Nobody deserves to die for merely expressing a different opinion. Unfortunately, journalism in Nigeria is becoming progressively more dangerous than it even was during the dark era of viciously absolutist military regimes, prompting the Committee to Protect Journalists to note that, "Reporting in Nigeria has become an increasingly hazardous profession as the list of unsolved journalist murders in the country continues to grow." We mustn't allow Hajia Zainab to be an addition to this growing list.

I have known Hajia Zainab for more than 11 years. She isn't just a former colleague to me; she is also a family friend. I know about her triumphs and her falls, her joys and her sorrows, her struggles, her battles, her dreams. I know her to be an exceptionally kind-hearted woman, an exceedingly hardworking journalist, and an uncommonly caring and nurturant mother and wife who always wants the best for her family. She is one of the most harmless, tolerant, and obliging human beings you can ever wish to meet. And she's still grieving the loss of her son. Fear of the assassin's bullet is the last thing she should be worrying about now.

President Jonathan's men should not only OFFICIALLY dissociate themselves from the death threat to this gentle, benign woman but should implore the security agencies that they control to investigate it. The caller's phone number, 08037408669, is the first lead. Thankfully, a new law requires every mobile phone user in Nigeria to be registered with all identifying information.

If Jonathan's people don't publicly disavow this threat and thoroughly investigate it, the only conclusion we would draw from their insouciance would be that the death threat has presidential imprimatur. In that case, we should all watch out!

Author can be reached at farooqkperogi@gmail.com. He blogs at www.farooqkperogi.blogspot.com