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Controversies trail departure of Brittle Paper’s deputy editor after Hadiza El-Rufai criticism

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OtosiriEze Obi-Young PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/OTOSIRIEZE

The exit of Otosirieze Obi-Young as the deputy editor of Brittle Paper, a digital literary journal, is generating controversies. 

Obi-Young said in a statement on Wednesday that he was forced to leave Brittle Paper because of its “censorship” and lack of “freedom”. 

The controversies began after Obi-Young wrote an article that was critical of novelist and the wife of Kaduna State governor of Hadiza Isma El-Rufai. 

Mrs El-Rufai’s son Bello had threatened sexual violence against the mother of a Twitter user @thanos_zer’s who disagreed with him on Sunday. @thanos_zer told The Guardian that he will like to remain anonymous “in the meantime”.

Bello El-Rufai tweeted a criticism of the American president Donald Trump. According to El-Rufai, Trump was doing a poor job of leading the United States during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“There is nothing as radioactive as an incompetent leader during a time of crisis,” El-Rufai tweeted on Saturday evening. “The United States of America is a case in point. A few states in Nigeria too.”

In his response to that tweet, @thanos_zer wrote, “How about the absentee president in Nigeria?” El-Rufai was quick to dismiss @thanos_zer and his governor as incompetent. He erroneously profiled @thanos_zer as a southeasterner. 

Unfazed, @thanos_zer responded, saying: “I don’t shield anyone who’s inept. I can’t say the same about you. You’re daddy’s boy and of course, nobody attacks the finger that feeds them. Buhari’s ineptitude is mind-blowing. Yes I said it and you’re not going to make me disappear!”

El-Rufai, a staunch supporter of President Buhari, took an exception to being called a “daddy’s boy” and went to sexualise his antagonist’s mother, noting that he has heard about his mother’s “mind blowing” sexual capabilities. 

Moments later, @thanos_zer posted a screenshot of a direct message he said El-Rufai sent to him in which he (El-Rufai) threatened sexual violence and ethnic slur. 

Although she later denounced her son’s tweets, Mrs El-Rufai’s initial failure to condemn her son’s tirade left many disappointed, including Obi-Young. 

“Don’t @ me. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind,” she wrote on Twitter on April 12. “All is fair in love and war. My belief: Respect everyone, but take no shit from anyone. I didn’t see any threats of rape. I would never condone that.”

The sack
Obi-Young’s criticism of Mrs El-Rufai initial failure to repudiate her son’s tweets was deemed below the editorial standard of Brittle Paper’s founder Ainehi Edoro.

Obi-Young’s article titled “Novelist, Feminist & Kaduna First Lady, Hadiza El-Rufai, says all is fair in love and war after son’s gang-rape threat draws backlash” has been pulled from BP’s website. 

“The Founder called me and expressed concerns about my criticism of a Nigerian newspaper in it and the informal and strongly-worded tone addressing said novelist,” Obi-Young said in a statement posted to his personal website. 

“I edited the post, removing the relevant sections. The Founder called back a few minutes later and said she wanted me to take down the report. That was unacceptable to me. I saw no reason why my post-publication edits, which removed my opinion and restricted it to reportage, were not enough.”

But Obi-Young insisted he was “factual”. Without being informed, he was logged out of Brittle Paper, its social media accounts, and its WhatsApp group – the primary work communication space. 

Brittle Paper’s defence
Edoro said on Wednesday evening that Brittle Paper did not do anything wrong. She said in a statement that the former deputy editor, whom she referred to as “a trusted friend,” defied editorial guidelines. 

Edoro condemned Mrs El-Rufai’s comments about her son’s “odious” tweets as “reprehensible”. But she insisted that her former deputy editor’s article was “impassioned, deeply personal piece reporting”.

“I found the title inflammatory and unnecessarily incendiary,” Edoro said. She said she was “fine” with the article until she got to the end, where she found a couple of paragraphs she found offensive and libellous.

The paragraphs read:

Interestingly, four hours after backlash began to her response, an article appeared on ThisDay titled “Endearing Qualities of Kaduna First Lady, Hadiza El Rufai.” It is exactly as shabbily-written as you would expect of a hastily assembled, face-washing gimmick. But it is not as unintelligent as the one on OperaNews.

There must be a name for this feminism whose reply to “Tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight” is “I didn’t see any threats of rape.” A feminism that agrees to raise men to be better but says “All is fair in love and war” when their ethnic-bigoted men-children threaten violence on women’s bodies.

Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Do better.

Edoro said she had no issue with Obi-Young’s article except for the “highly sensationalized” reporting and the potentially libellous reference to two Nigerian newspapers. 

“If any of the journalists whose pieces he mentioned were to sue Brittle Paper for libel, the buck would have stopped with me, and not with Otosirieze,” she said. 

Public Outrage
Both Obi-Young and Edoro have been vilified on social media. They both also have their backers.

While Obi-Young was criticised for disrespecting Brittle Paper while still in its employment, others slammed the organisation for editing and republishing the article after it was initially removed from the website. 


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