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Reflections on reactions

TWO weeks ago (on Sunday June 14), Vanguard published an article in which I complained about the fact that the innocent Ogoni elders – Edward Kobani, Albert Badey, Sam Orage and Theophilus Orage – who were assassinated in l994 by supporters of the late writer/activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, had been forgotten…
…while Ken, who was hanged by Abacha for inciting the above murders, had almost (unjustifiably, in my opinion) been canonized.

By Donu Kogbara
I also expressed the view that those who blame Shell for Ken’s death are being unfair. And I was gratified by the largely positive reaction that my article received from the general public.

Because I’d tried to be objective – I also praised Ken’s strengths, said that I regretted his execution and described Shell’s overall track record as unsatisfactory – hundreds of people contacted me to say that they felt that I’d handled a sensitive and complex topic in a balanced and mature manner.

But you can’t please all of the people all of the time (or even some of the time!).

And I’ve also been criticized by a handful of individuals (friends as well as foes), who either disagreed with some or all of the points I made or simply felt that my article was too divisive…and that I should have urged my fellow Ogonis to forget about the bitter mistakes of the past, instead of highlighting internal rifts.

Since I’m democratic and communicative by nature, I don’t automatically resent people who challenge me.

I actively enjoy the stimulating debates that can arise when intelligent and well-meaning folks confront me with their differences of opinion. I even, on occasion, wind up agreeing with my detractors.

It isn’t unknown for me to admit (sometimes grudgingly!) that I am guilty of errors of judgement.

But I can also be stubborn; and I feel obliged to stand by my article about Ken because I think that it was reasonable.

I also, while understanding those who would prefer factional grievances to be suppressed for the sake of peace, feel that anyone who wished to listen should be told various home truths…such as the fact that Ken was no saint and was not the only distinguished victim of the Ogoni crisis.

And I welcome this newspaper’s civilized willingness to allow people who disagree with its columnists to air their views; but I was somewhat irritated when I read the hostile remarks that flowed from the pen of Patrick Naagbanton, an Ogoni from my village whose article was published in Vanguard last Sunday (June 28).

Naagbanton described my essentially rational article as a “convulsion” that was “gluttered with falsification”.

He also accused me of “Goebbelian adroitness” and “infantile philippics” and assured readers that I had exhibited “a hidden hatred for the personality of the late Saro-Wiwa and his literary and journalistic legacies”.

All I will say in response to Mr Naagbanton is that some (though not all) of the points he made were utterly nonsensical…and that he should, if he has enough guts, go meet the Kobani, Badey and Orage families and try to persuade them to share his view that their beloved patriarchs were “not murdered by a pro-Ken mob”.

In praise of Nigerian journalists

NIGERIAN journalists rarely attract the high salaries and high levels of respect that their foreign counterparts attract.

And yet, they are sometimes more courageous, more objective and more intellectually rigourous than journalists in other countries.

I would like to seize this opportunity to commend the Nigerian media colleagues who reacted humbly and supportively when I told them that I reckoned that their Ogoni coverage had been unfairly biased in Ken’s favour for too long.

Every single Nigerian journalist I approached responded with a generosity of spirit for which I will be eternally grateful.

They did not take my criticism personally or carry on as if they believed that they could do no wrong. They just quietly asked me to explain my position to them and then offered to publish the article in which I had expressed my controversial alternative viewpoint.

They didn’t all necessarily agree with the points I made. But they gave me a fair hearing.

Most of my foreign media colleagues, on the other hand, reacted evasively or arrogantly when I urged them to focus on both sides of the Ogoni story.

They behaved as if I had unjustly accused them of a heinous crime…and as if anyone who dared to imply that they were not lofty paragons of complete objectivity was either a lying upstart who deserved to be ignored or a dangerous troublemaking element who was trying to destroy their reputations and careers.

I don’t often conclude that Nigerians are more honest than Oyinbos because Nigerians are not usually more honest than Oyinbos.

But I must say, on this occasion, that the Nigerians were more interested in professional ethics than the foreigners. And I applaud them for giving me a chance to speak my mind.

Special thanks, by the way, to Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, Editor of Saturday ThisDay, who was particularly willing to hear me out and give me space.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.