Dr. Farooq Kperogi is a professor of journalism and emerging media at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, United States of America. He recently visited Nigeria and spoke with the Editor, Olayinka Oyegbile. Excerpts
Tell us more about the essence of this your trip home
I came to publicly present a book that I jointly wrote with my friends and colleagues; Moses Ochonu, who is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Orsborne Agwu, a medical doctor in Houston, Texas. It was his (Agwu’s) idea that we bring together a series of our essays and publish them into a book. You’ll probably ask how did we get to meet? Well, he sent me an email some years back and said he had been reading my articles and was fascinated by them, and wanted to find out who I was. I am a sucker for mellifluous prose. His prose was beautiful, and he’s a medical doctor. So, I responded immediately and interestingly, this went to phone then we went to Facebook and so on.
Then, of course, Prof Ochonu was my classmate. He studied history where he took minor courses in English and mass communication. We’re friends because of the common courses in the departments. Agwu has followed our articles and when we became friends, he came up with the idea that we bring some of our articles together. But we also had a joint column, I would say, an occasional joint column called The Chat- just discussing a variety of issues on Nigeria. He poses a question, and there will be responses to that and we’ve been back and forth. We published some of that in Premium Times. We published the book and came for its presentation. It is titled Dis Life No Balance.
Those chats are the first part of the book and the subsequent ones. And then, of course, I was also invited by the Kwara State government to talk to the youth about inclusive governance: how to get youth to participate in governance, and what can be done to enhance their participation. I didn’t know he was already doing that. So by the time I came the Youth Commissioner, welcomed me. I looked at him. It looked like he was 28 or thereabouts. The Speaker of the Kwara House of Assembly is a 30-something-year-old man who turns out to be someone from my area. So there are a lot of young people in governance in Kwara State. I had no idea that this was what I was coming in contact with, but I was very encouraged by the State for including youth in governance.
We decided to pick a pidgin English expression. We realized that in Nigeria, pidgin English, you know, is a demotic language, a lot of people understand it and it resonates very deeply at personal and emotional levels. I’m always inspired by the example of my late friend Pius Adesanmi who wrote a book Naija No Dey Carry Last, and it resonated with the Nigerian public. We came up with that, and we debated it and because it captures the dysfunctions of the country that we write about passionately, it also captures the inequalities that pervade our politics, which is the thematic preoccupation of our writings all through the years; you know all centered around these dysfunctions.
How did you come about the title of your book?
The lack of equality, lack of opportunities for everyone. It encapsulates the thought processes that people can quite give expression to. You know, like there’s an expression “I’m filling one kind.” That is so pregnant. You can write three volumes, explaining “one kind”, “That man is one kind”, “I’m feeling one kind” etc.
So, there is a linguistic richness that has not been explored because we think of Pidgin English as this inferior bastardization of pristine English but it’s not. I wrote a book that’s coming out this year, where I defended Pidgin English as a language in its own right, with its logic of grammar, which is independent of English. Although it draws inspiration from English language, its lexical contents are from our native languages. It emerged from a mishmash of our native languages and English language and it has an independent existence that does not need the approval of English to exist to have legitimacy. I am a great fan of Nigerian Pidgin English and love to be engaged in the depth of the prolapse and the expressions. This is reflected in the title of our book Dis Life No Balance.
Let’s go back to that issue of Kwara State. You said you saw a lot of young people in government. How are we sure they would not be drawn into the rot that is already there?
Well, I have not studied their performance enough to make that kind of judgement. There are occasions where they have discovered people and they became appointed as Commissioner straight from the NYSC. There was this young man that I was with until I boarded my plane, and he just finished his NYSC. He studied computer science, and he was commissioner for information and communications. He looked like he was 20 in the entire first term. So I might guess he was in his early 30s. I asked him how he managed to be a commissioner with permanent secretaries who are old enough to be his grandfather.
And he said, there was no crisis of any sort and many people respected that. He discovered that he’s young and that he was overly respectful. He is a very intelligent young man. I was just curious; how could you be a commissioner if you are maybe 26 years old and the permanent secretary is probably 55 or 60
How did you get along? I don’t know. I think some people probably would criticize it and say they are not experienced enough to be commissioners. I think that’s a legitimate criticism. But I also think that it’s revolutionary that he’s thinking out of the box. One of the good things about youth and young people is that they tend to have a way of looking at the world as different from those of us who have been in it. So I’m hoping that someone would assess the performance of these young people. How did they perform, what have been the effects of their participation in governance in the last four years, that has happened? Have they had any positive effects? That’s the next thing I’m hoping that journalists will explore. Or even myself when I do my independent investigation.
You seem to be very passionate about Nigeria. I’m wondering what’s your philosophy. How does it make you feel?
I feel horrible. Now, let me explain. You know, they say your home is where the heart is.
My heart is in Nigeria. I’m an American citizen, but my heart is in Nigeria. I live in a country that works for the most part. And I know that Nigeria can work as well. And I see people who had institutions and who make things happen, and I see that they’re not, you know, smarter, they’re not better, some of them are not even half as smart as a lot of them. And I know that we can make things work.
I think my being outside accentuates these anxieties; it makes me feel like we can be that way. It’s possible to be that way. In all of Africa. You won’t find a country with this rare collection of talents. Wherever you go outside, we excel but when we come together, we don’t because we do not have the framework to succeed and it happens in even our soccer team.
So, a lot of people asked me, why are you concerned when you can afford to not be unconcerned? And I said, you know, it’s an emotional issue. Emotions are not subject to logic. That’s why they say when someone is in love, you do illogical things.
For me, I have very deep emotional investments in Nigeria and I probably can’t help it. I frankly can’t even help if I wanted to divorce myself and Nigeria. A lot of times I’ve said, I’m done. This is just too much, but after a few months, I’m back. My wife knows when I say that she says, Okay, I give you one month, two months and I’m back, so because of that, I’m ashamed to even tell her that I’m frustrated. Frankly, I can’t help it. I was telling someone that maybe it’s because my umbilical cord is buried here.
In the last eight years, your position has been clear. In the few months of this (Tinubu) administration, do you see any departure from the past?
Yes, I’ve seen some departures. I see some continuity. Departure in the types of motions, not movements. We tend to think that motions or movements are the same. We had a previous government that was in power for eight years and never filled something as easy as boards of companies. The civil service is the engine of the country. I kept writing about it and hoping that someone would call the president’s attention to it, because a lot of civil servants reached out to him and said, we have a project to execute but we cannot, because, by law, we need a board to set and approve these things. I thought this was a low-hanging fruit.
First of all, use it to even reward people who supported you in your election. I’ve seen a lot of appointments now. I have my criticism of some of these, but at least there is some symbolic presence and this was the subject of my column a few weeks ago. At least there has been a presidential visit to the site of the accidental bombing in Kaduna State. There were several similar incidents during Buhari’s tenure he never as much as acknowledged that something like that happened personally. There was Imran, a small village in Borno State. The military bombed the place twice and killed nearly 300 people and when I read it, I was overwhelmed with emotions and grief. But the President did not even acknowledge it. The next day he travelled to Gambia to solve their political problems there and I wrote a column about it. The only thing he did to acknowledge was to ask his aide to send a tweet that he regretted the incident. There was no presidential visit of any kind.
But this time around when something similar happened, the Vice President visited the victims. At least someone has gone there and apologised and said we are going to compensate you. We are sorry, that happened. That won’t happen again. So, in that wise, I’m seeing changes, but in terms of sensitivity to the needs of everyday folks, things have not changed.
In April I wrote a column in which I said that if Tinubu removed federal subsidies, he is going to have a hard time governing, and I gave a lot of reasons. I live in the United States, we are fully subsidised right now. Americans are paying less for petrol than Nigerians are, and it doesn’t make any sense when the minimum wage is $8 per hour. We have one of the lowest minimum wages in the world. Salaries have not increased. People are suffering and they are increasing fuel prices, because you say, well, you need to free up money to do other things. It affects me because I come from a poor background. I have family and friends whose quality of life has nosedived. In that way, I don’t see any difference between the two governments. If it’s concerned with the everyday realities of folks, I don’t see a difference. I just see the same people being self-interested, self-loving, and not caring about everyday folks.
Do you have a Nigerian edition of your book because of the cover price?
It’s published in Nigeria. In the speech that I gave, I said we have published most academic studies and books in the United States. One of the contradictions is that we write books about Nigeria and they are not accessible to Nigerians because they are published by US publishers, who target libraries and trustees and people who study Africa in Europe. The price is so prohibitive that people here will not be able to buy the books and publishers are not even able to liaise with the publishers in the United States to publish here. When we came up with this idea, we said, let’s sort of reverse that and look for a publisher in Nigeria. So, this is published in Nigeria and sold to Nigerians in bookstores. It’s accessible at just ₦10,000.
How do you see the 2023 elections?
Let me tell you: the outcome of the elections did not shock me. At some point in June 2022, I wrote that Bola Tinubu would win if he got the ticket of his party. I had concluded at that time, and the primary election hadn’t taken place. But from my sources, I got the feelers that the intrigues of the Aso Rock cabal had failed. Buhari did not want Tinubu to be the nominee, and he had a plan to impose Ahmed Lawan. That plan collapsed. Once that collapsed, I knew that he (Tinubu) was going to win the primary election and the Presidential election. Why? The opposition was divided: One we had Kwankwaso with one million plus votes, you have Peter Obi, who took the South East. He performed way better than a lot of traditional politicians thought he would. And then Atiku of course. But of course, the conduct of the elections was horrible. Like most elections, and you know, with Nigerian politicians, even when they were going to win the election they would still rig. In 2003, Obasanjo rigged Ogun State so much that there were more voters than anywhere else. He didn’t need to do that because, at that time, his support in the Southwest was solid. But he still needed to rig or he felt he needed to.
Yar’Adua did the same thing or it was done for him. He was so ashamed that he came out to apologise for that election. Even if he slept without campaigning, he would have won because Buhari was unelectable at that time; he was a regional champion. He was seen as the biggest fanatic, and he certainly will make an effort to expand his scope beyond the Muslim North. Even within the Muslim North, it was the Hausa-speaking Muslim North. He didn’t even campaign in Kogi and Kwara States and all in other places where there were Muslims. He thought he would win national elections? There was no way he could win. Yar’Adua knew that. Yar’Adua had been accepted in the Southwest, Southeast and in North Central. And he was from Kastina, so he was going to divide votes with Buhari, but he still went ahead and rigged so much that the man, who was the beneficiary of rigging was so ashamed that he initiated the processes for electoral reforms that led to Prof Atahiru Jega emerging as INEC Chairman.
What do you see the South East getting wrong towards the aspiration of producing a president?
Well, I will just say they have not made the right alliances. Politics is about alliance, coalition, or realignment of forces and interests; it is not about morality. If you want to bring the moral argument, yeah, the South East should produce the president because it’s a strong constituent part of Nigeria. They have supported several candidates and have transcended their ethnicity to vote for candidates that are not from their ethnicity. For instance, in 2003 when Ojukwu who was like an iconic Igbo man ran against Obasanjo, he didn’t win any votes. Obasanjo defeated him in Igbo land.
People who have that kind of history of supporting people from even outside, deserve to be given shelter, that’s a moral life but politics is not about morality. You learn from what the South West did. The South West had always been in the opposition since pre-independence. But the moment certain elements in South West said we’ve been in the opposition for too long. Now, let’s move to the centre. What do we need? Alliance politics began, and they reached out to an unlikely person like Buhari. Buhari is very provincial, he is extremely uninterested in anyone other than himself and his ethnic group. He has a concentric circle of preferences: Fulani and Kanuri. They are the first for him. Because his father was Fulani and his mom was Kanuri…and then, maybe other Muslims. He never makes any valid pretence.