Mark Zuckerberg’s three-day visit to Nigeria has left a trail of excitement, hopes and joy, especially for those in the tech community in the country.
But for two “friends” who worked for former President Goodluck Jonathan, it was heated words on the topical issues of ethnic identities, Northern domination, and political persecution.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a former two-time minister and former director of media and publicity for the Goodluck Jonathan re-election campaign and Reno Omokri, a former aide on new media to the President Goodluck Jonathan got into a Facebook fight that will be remembered for a long time.
Fani-Kayode took to his Facebook page to express reservation with Zuckerberg’s description of the Hausa Language as “unique”, but Omokri, decided to “reprimand” the former minister for his comments, suggesting that Fani-Kayode was “making Hausas the enemy”.
Fani-Kayode wrote, “Kerry comes to the North, and sees the Sultan of Sokoto, Buhari, and northern governors. One week later, Facebook founder comes to Nigeria, and says Hausa is a “unique language”, which he has included on Facebook. Think! Nigerians think!”
Reno Omokri commented:
“Olufemi Olu-Kayode I do not understand why Kerry did what he did, but as for Zuckerberg, all he did was state a fact. After Swahili, Hausa is perhaps the most widely spoken language in sub Saharan Africa. That is why BBChausa, Voahausa, Deutschewelle and other world radio services all have broadcasts in Hausa. We must applaud what Zuckerberg has done and not cast suspicion around it. Doing so may encourage him to add other indigenous Nigerian languages as Facebook languages. That said, I appreciate a lot of your writings and suggestions. Well done.”
In response to Omokri’s comment, the former aviation minister wrote a politically charged comment:
“Thanks for taking your time to respond to my post. Permit me to respond to you very briefly.
“What Mark Zuckerberg said about the Hausa language being “unique” is not a fact but an opinion. And it is an opinion which, in fairness to him, may well be honestly held.
“It is also an opinion which you evidently share and which both you and he are perfectly entitled to. I am, however, entitled to disagree with you on that opinion especially where I have good reason to do so.
“You see unlike most I do not post, speak or write lightly. I take my time, I do my research and I am very precise. That is my style and nature.
“The choice of Hausa being put on Facebook is not just a matter of “linguistic uniqueness” I assure you. And to honestly believe that it is borders on pure naivety.
“There is nothing unique about the number of countries in West Africa that speak Hausa and I do not believe that Hausa is the most widely spoken language in West Africa though many often say it is.
“It is rather like the common refrain that the Hausas number more than any other nationality in Nigeria when we all know how and when that particular dirty lie came about and how the British constructed it by counting the cows of the North and adding them to the number of northerners that they counted in the first census.
“If the truth be told even then and up until now the Igbo and the Yoruba are more than the Fulani and the Hausa.
“If you doubt my assertion about the lack of uniqueness of the Hausa language please. Do the research and find out how many countries that Yoruba, for example, is spoken both in West Africa and outside of the African continent in South America and the Caribbean.
“Also read up on the history of the BBC and VOA Hausa Service and why they were set up by their respective governments. Ditto the German Hausa radio service and others.
“It made perfect sense because most Hausa men carried radios around with them everywhere they went whilst their southern compatriots, being far more advanced and educated, prefered reading newspapers and watching television.
“It is not just a matter of linguistic uniqueness I assure you but evidence of the fact that the British particularly always had, and still have, a strong partiality for the Hausa Fulani compared to any other nationality in Nigeria.
“The reasons for that are legion so I won’t go into them here. Needless to say though, the history on this matter is very clear and I suggest you read up on it.
“It appears that the American authorities, at least the Obama/Kerry/Clinton brigade, are following in the footsteps of the British colonial masters in terms of their preferred friends in Nigeria and indeed American private companies like Facebook, just like the giant British private trading companies did in the former British colonies before them, are towing the line of their respective governments. It is not too difficult to work that one out for the intelligent.
“I guess only time will tell if I am right but these are my views. In any case I wonder how many Hausa-speaking people are on Facebook when compared to Yoruba and Igbo.
“I read far more into this matter than you do because I am not just a politician but a historian. I also have my views about the social media generally, its link to the top western intelligence agencies and what its ultimate objective is.
“I have been proved right in the end on most of my assertions about unfolding events in this country and indeed world affairs as you may or may not know. I doubt that this will be any different.
“Unlike most people I do not let my friendship or personal-liking or disliking of an individual becloud my judgement.
“My reasons for believing what I believe will be made manifest at the appropriate time.
“If you are really interested in knowing what those reasons are I suggest you exercise a little patience and you will find out.
“You may even learn something from it. By the way, unlike you, I think it would be an excellent innovation if Facebook introduced other Nigerian languages like Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, etc.. As far as I am concerned the more inclusive it is the better.
“I wish you well and please keep writing those excellent essays on the situation in our country. Shalom.”
To the non-so-brief comment, Omokri replied:
“You say I am naive for accepting, as Zuckerberg does, that the Hausa language is unique. Really? Hausa language is the only indigenous African language that is officially spoken in five African nations including Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cameroun, and Sudan. If your argument is true and I am indeed naive then you would have to agree with me that BBC News, Radio France Internationale, Voice of America – VOA, DW Deutsche Welle, China Radio International and Voice of Russia are equally naive, because, like Facebook, they all have a Hausa language service.
“You may be right about the British/American conspiracy. I never delved into that and I defer to your superior knowledge of history and statecraft. My point of departure from you was strictly and solely as touching your insinuation against Mark Zuckerberg.
“The mistake we in the South often make is to see ordinary Hausa as our enemies. Not true. The Hausa as a people are some of the most decent Nigerians and are to be differentiated from the feudalists who have retarded their progress as an ethnic nationality. What they need from progressive and freedom loving Nigerians is solidarity not hostility. This was the point of view that the late Aminu Kano tried to pass across to us down South.
“What Facebook has done deserves commendation and not condemnation. Again, having said this, I must maintain that I have a high regard for your intellect and this intervention should not be interpreted as a confrontation.”
Fani-Kayode, finally lost his cool and reminded Omokri that he “was probably in diapers” when he (Fani-Kayode) fought the Abacha military junta. He accused Omokri of abandoning people detained by Buhari’s government just because they supported a Christian president in the 2015 elections, and many other accusations.
He also accused Omokri of sitting in the “relative safety of California” to criticise the Buhari government while others are risking their lives in Nigeria to do the same thing.
“Reno Omokri, now I am beginning to get a little irritated by you… In any case, are you the spokesman of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, or indeed that of the Hausa people of northern Nigeria? Is that your new job since you stopped working under my friend and brother Reuben Abati at the Villa and managing social media for the Jonathan administration?
“And if you insist on being their defender-in-chief, when were you appointed? Honestly, Reno my dear little brother, you need to have your little bottom spanked for being so cheeky and naughty.
“I have known the north and interacted with northerners far more than you and for far longer, so I don’t need lessons from you or anyone else about who or what they are, either for good or for bad.
“And neither do I need to say only things that are politically correct about them. Or anyone else because, unlike you, I have paid my dues politically and in terms of public commentary for over a period of 27 years.
“I worked in the presidency as President Obasanjo’s spokesman as far back as 13 years ago. I don’t know where you were then. I ran, not one, but two federal ministries as the Hon. Minister over 10 years ago, and since then I have been in the thick of the political fray and drama.
“I know who I am and I don’t need to please anyone with what I say. I was in NADECO risking my life fighting against military rule and for the late Chief MKO Abiola’s June 12th mandate when you were probably still wearing diapers.
“I know the north, and indeed this whole country far better than you ever possibly could, and over the years I have gained and gathered a lot of experience.
“I have also suffered for Nigeria far more than you have. I say this all with the greatest humility knowing that it is only God that made it so, and that enabled me to survive it. The result of all that is this: I do not suffer fools gladly and I say things as they are.
“You dare to lecture me about northerners and I wonder how many you actually know? I wonder how many you have ever fought for or defended in the past?
“Our mutual friend, Nasir El Rufai, often warned me about you but I never listened to him. Now you have proved him right and all because you want to please your foreign and newfound northern friends.
“Not even 100 million Reno Omokiris can stop us from doing that, and neither can they make us love those that commit these heinous crimes.
“Maybe you should come home and see what is really going on here rather than writing those great anti-government articles from the relative safety of California.
“If you can muster the courage to do that, you will discover that political correctness is a very expensive luxury which we simply cannot afford.
“Some of us are right here and we have refused to run away from the evil that has gripped the land even when we had every opportunity to do so.
“Please endeavour to do the same then perhaps we may take you more seriously. Hundreds of your fellow Niger Deltans and southerners are languishing in jails all over the country today simply because they supported a southern Christian called President Jonathan during the election, yet you have not even cared to visit any of them.
“You were in the last government with them and many others but you couldn’t even stand in solidarity with them when they needed you the most. And if you did you insisted on doing so from a safe distance. It is a shame.
“The truth is that you are the naive one. You alone and not them. If you really believe the garbage that you wrote here, then you are not just naive but dangerously naive and far dumber than I first thought.
“If only you knew what we as a people in Nigeria and Africa suffered in the hands of the western imperialists over the last 100 years, you would appreciate this intervention instead of attempting to treat it with contempt just to impress your friends at Facebook and in California.
“I urge you to continue to attempt to appease those that see you and those that think like you as nothing more than glorified monkeys and see how far it gets you.”
Omokri just had to have the last word. He said:
“Since it has reached the stage where you are irritated with me, I think it is best to leave well enough alone. Let us agree to disagree without being irritated by each other.
“I have said all I need to say on the matter of Mark Zuckerberg’s description of the Hausa language as being unique, and I have heard all you have to say. Thank God we are both professing Christ followers and are thus familiar with the advice of Saint Paul in 2 Timothy 2:24 “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.”
“By the way, I was in Nigeria two weeks ago. I preached at Holyhill Church, Abuja. The pastor, Sunday Ogidigbo, publicized my visit. If I was a coward as you claim and was speaking from the safety of California, why would I visit Nigeria after my strong and very public criticism of the current administration?”