Two Of My Favorite Nigerlites Are “Fighting,” By Farooq Kperogi

I’m not from Niger State, although many people mistake me for a Nupe person because of the “gi” in my last name.

Well, while the “gi” in my native Baatonu language is a morpheme that denotes nativeness or ownership (Kperogi literally means native of Kpero, which is a corruption of Kperu, the ancient name of my hometown that literally translates as “stone”), “gi” in Nupe, I’m told, is a suffix to denote a diminutive, i.e., the smaller form of something, such as “booklet” being the diminutive form of “book.”

Anyway, although I have only superficial familiarity with the politics of Niger State, I have friends from there. Two of such friends are politically at “loggerheads” now, and I just feel an urge to intervene.

Alhaji Mohammed Idris Malagi, the Kakaaki Nupe and publisher of Blueprint Newspaper who has been a treasured friend since 1998, is running for governor of Niger State.

And Dr. Ibraheem Dooba, Daily Trust columnist, IT expert, and prose stylist whom I’ve called a friend since at least 2007, issued an earnest, heartfelt statement of “seven concerns about Malagi” on behalf of “Concerned Stakeholders of Niger APC” that appears to be designed to slow Malagi’s political momentum.

Well, first, here are a few encounters that strengthened my connections with these two people.

In the year 2000, when I was a journalist at the Weekly Trust in Kaduna, I fell victim to scammers who wiped out my bank account— with my own consent. I was young and naïve.

I needed another N30,000 (which was a lot of money at the time, at least to me) to further finance the scam. I went to Malagi to ask for a loan. He was the only one I could think of asking for help from without fear of judgement. That gives the reader an idea of the bond we shared.

He looked at me intently and said, “Farooq, I’ve never known you to ask for money from anyone. Are you sure you’re not being scammed?” I assured him that I wasn’t. He believed me and gave me the money.

But I couldn’t repay the loan on the day I promised I would, which reinforced Malagi’s suspicion that I was being scammed. Later, the scales fell from my eyes, and I confessed to him that he had been right all along. Guess what? He forgave the debt! I’ve never forgotten that. He came through for me in my most vulnerable moment.

When he told me two years ago that he would run for governor of Niger State, I wished him good luck and said the state would be lucky to have him if he can bring to governance the character, compassion, intelligence, passion, perceptiveness, and go-getting spirit that I’ve known him to possess. But I honestly didn’t think he’d go anywhere with his bid because he isn’t a politician. Now he’s a frontrunner.

Dooba is also a great guy. His strength of character came to the fore when he was made the Chief Press Secretary to the current Niger State governor in 2015. He resolved to discontinue the tradition of buying the silence— and favorable coverage— of correspondents posted to government houses. He sought my opinion. I gave him my blessing and promised to defend him in the event that his decision provoked untoward consequences.

As you would expect, it did. The correspondents were riled that he’d cut the monthly bribes they’d become habituated to and made him and his principal the objects of false, vicious media attacks. Before I got a chance to defend him, he resigned rather than compromise.

Malagi and Dooba are my kinds of people. Malagi is kind, compassionate, and empathetic and Dooba is principled, honorable, and honest. That’s what I know about them.

They also share another quality: admirable facility with the English language. While Malagi has a BA and an MA in English and taught it a higher education institution for years before venturing into public relations, advertising, marketing, and publishing, Dooba is an IT professional who nonetheless writes with such commendably sophisticated simplicity and clarity you would think he studied English.

I understand Dooba’s “Seven Concerns About Malagi” as an acknowledgement of the seeming inevitability of Malagi’s emergence as APC’s candidate and the need for him to make some amends, particularly in the area of more robust accessibility to the grass roots, to secure his chances.

It’s also possible that Dooba wrote because he’s rooting for a different candidate, which is perfectly legitimate.

What I take issue with, however, is the barely detectable but nonetheless visible forms of soft prejudice in some of Dooba’s seven points.

Dooba characterized Malagi as an “outsider” who is being “selected by people outside Zone A where he comes from and to which the gubernatorial seat has been zoned” about whom there’s a “seventh concern” that he “wouldn’t share with the public— at least for now.”

I see three familiar ills of “identitarian essentialism” (as we call pretense to primordial purism in social science scholarship) in this characterization.

The first is ethnic purism. Malagi is paternally Nupe from Niger but is maternally Hausa/Fulani from Katsina. Dooba is subtly implying that that isn’t insider or pure enough.

The second ill is what I call Bida metropolitan condescension. Malagi isn’t from Bida, the cultural capital of the Nupe people where Dooba is from, but from a small village near Bida whose name he bears as his last name. Dooba implies that this makes him unworthy to represent Nupe people.

The third is political cliquism. Malagi isn’t a career (APC) politician in the state. Dooba suggests that governorship should be a reward for being a longstanding party man and that Malagi shouldn’t aspire to be governor because he “didn’t labour for the party.” That isn’t progressive thinking. Politics and governance are everybody’s business; they should not be the exclusive preserve of career politicians.

I’m sure Dooba is well-intentioned, but some of these claims are a little disappointing, particularly for a man of his learning and exposure. I defend everyone, including even Bukola Saraki whose politics I intensely despise, against the tyranny of identitarian essentialism. I won’t let someone I know suffer it without an intervention from me.

Muslim northern Nigeria has transcended the limitations of identitarian essentialism more than most geo-cultural zones in the country. People have been elected governors in states where their natal ethnicity isn’t native to the states that elected them. Sabo Bakin Zuwo and Ibrahim Shekarau, for example, are neither Hausa nor Fulani, but they were elected governors of Kano State.

To delegitimize a person’s political bona fides because of the accidental circumstances of his birth, which he had no control over, is a hit below the belt.

Interestingly, in all the years I’ve known Malagi, he has always associated with, and been proud of, his paternal Nupe ancestry. His “high yellow” (as Americans call very light-skinned Black people) skin tone and Fulani phenotypic features are modulated by his transparent Nupe facial marks. (His dad knew what he was doing!)

In other words, Malagi embodies Niger State’s ethnic complexity without “shortchanging” the zone he represents. That should be celebrated, not slyly invoked as disqualifying.

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