The Nigerian literary community is currently engulfed in controversy over the sack of the Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper, Otosirieze Obi-Young, resulting from an article he wrote addressing Hadiza Elrufai’s reaction when her son threatened to “pass” someone’s mother around to his friends.
On Sunday, April 12, Bello El-Rufai, in a series of tweets, had threatened to “pass” the mother of another Twitter user to his friends after describing the woman as a “whore.”
Bello wrote in a private message to the follower after they argued about politics: “Tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight.”
“No Igbo sounds please!” Bello El-Rufai added an ethnic attack, having thought the Twitter user was Igbo.
Twitter users were incensed by this and they tagged Bello’s mother, Hadiza El-Rufai to tweets about her son’s threat to gang rape someone’s mother.
Hadiza El-Rufai responded: “All you people talking about @B_ELRUFAI Don’t @ me. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.
“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.”
Her response attracted criticisms from Nigerians who accused her of supporting her son’s rape threats.
She later issued an apology, stating: “When I posted the tweet below, I assumed it was just the usual Twitter gbas-gbos. Having read the tweets chronologically, I have had conversations with Bello. Never ever should sexual abuse be employed as ammunition in public/private exchanges, no matter the provocation.”
Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper, Otosirieze Obi-Young wrote an article condemning Hadiza El-Rufai for her tweet supporting her son and it was published on the Brittle Paper platform.
However, the 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” was pulled down from the platform on April 14 and Brittle Paper released a statement saying that the article was pulled down because it did not meet the editorial standard.
On April 15, Otosirieze revealed that he woke up to see that he had been logged out from all Brittle Paper accounts. He added in the lengthy statement that he had been fired from BP where he worked for 4 years.
Otosirieze said that despite editing the article as Aniehi instructed she still called him and informed him that she was pulling down the whole article completely and fired him from his position.
He wrote: “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. I edited the post, removing the relevant sections.
“The Founder called back a few minutes later and said she wanted 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.
“I saw no reason why her concern about my lack of objectivity was not something that could be fixed by her own edits or rewriting. So I cut short the conversation: I said I no longer wished to discuss this report, that she should take it down if she wanted.”
He added that he was then fired without reason.
He continued: “Removing me from Brittle Paper is part of the political agenda to subsume Nigerian literature and make it difficult to be an honest writer here. Their takeover is now complete.”
Otosirieze’s statement had a far-reaching effect as Nigerian writers took to various platforms to call out Brittle Paper, known to be one of Africa’s leading literary platforms that encourages writers to express themselves freely.
They accused BP of silencing and censoring writers in Nigeria. Nigerian writers then indicated that they were boycotting Brittle Paper and some asked that their articles published on the platform be pulled down.
Chibuihe Obi, a contributor to Brittle Paper who also won the platform’s anniversary award, also released a statement stating that he was rescinding the award BP gave him and asked that his works be pulled down from the platform.
“I am publicly rescinding the award Brittle Paper gave me in 2017 and will forthwith return the cash that came with the prize. i have written to ainehi edoro to demand that my works be pulled from their site.” Chibuihe wrote on Facebook.
US-based Nigerian literary critique, Pa Ikhide Roland Ikheloa, also condemned BP, writing: “?Let me suggest this to readers of conscience: Boycott Brittle Paper until its “high” editorial standards stand up for justice and the truth, and do not coddle despots, genocide enablers and rapists. Do not read Brittle Paper until it apologizes for protecting thugs like Elrufai.?”
Elnathan John, author of Born on a Tuesday, who once wrote that some members of the Nigerian literary community have been bought over by the Kaduna State Government, also condemned Brittle Paper, writing: “My final word on Brittle Paper shame… In the words of Lagos philosopher Brymo: Person wey befriend rat e go chop shit.”
A number of other people also called out the platform, leading the publisher of BP to respond.
Ainehi Edoro, who is the founder/publisher of Brittle Paper explained in her statement that Otosirieze flouted editorial guidelines of the company “and was unwilling to make changes in the report.”
She said her problem with Otosirieze’s article was that she “found the title inflammatory and unnecessarily incendiary”.
She added that the report seemed fine “until I got to the last paragraph. It was then that alarms rang in my mind.”
She said Otosirieze’s last paragraph which “did not only sound strong but also criticised other Nigerian papers.”
The last paragraph of the article in question reads:
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.
Ainehi wrote in her statement: “It was not clear why he was accusing two Nigerian newspapers of writing “hastily assembled, face-washing gimmick” and another of being “unintelligent”. And why was the diatribe “shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” being used in what should have been a plain reportage of facts and written statements and tweets? It seemed to be histrionic, inflammatory, even melodramatic and totally not in keeping with the seriousness of the matter he was addressing.
“I felt, and feel, Otosirieze’s outrage. I am both a woman and the mother of a daughter. Suggesting that a woman should be sexually assaulted is unconscionable and needs a hard and swift response. But in condemning such statements, it is important that we ourselves do not stoop to the level of those making them. It is important that we do not abandon completely all principles and ethics in how we write.”
She also faulted the use of “gang rape” in the title where she said, something like “lewd comments” would have sufficed.
She explained that Otosirieze agreed to delete the last paragraph but “he refused to change the headline – which led to the misunderstanding.”
She added: “Unfortunately, this all occurred at a time I had to prepare time sensitive lectures for my students, and without sufficient time to edit the post. The time difference between Nigeria and the U.S. also left me with little time to act quickly, so I pulled the post down as the exigent thing to do.”
She also revealed that “the ex-Deputy Editor hung up the phone when she attempted to have a conversation.”
She further stated that contrary to public opinion, Brittle Paper has never been funded by the Kaduna State Government.
Ainehi Edoro’s statement further divided members of the Nigerian literary community as some took sides with Ainehi, accusing Otosirieze of trying to spoil the company’s name while some said Ainehi’s comment doesn’t add up and that she could easily have edited the parts of the headline she had a problem with and left the article up.
@KateCHampton tweeted in support if Ainehi: “This cancel culture is getting completely out of control. Trying to bring down a respected publication with YEARS of proved integrity based on hearsay of one angry bro trying to call a professional, intellectual woman a gang rape apologist? Pls. If that’s not sexism, what is??
“She made the only responsible choice in that situation and he still managing to screw her. Imagine if he’d begun this vendetta and still had access to their site and accounts? I’ve seen too many toxic ‘feminist’ men in literary communities to buy any of what he’s serving.”
While writer Sally Kenneth Dadzie took Otosirieze’s side, writing: “Ainehi saying that she didn’t have time to edit the title of the article makes no sense to me. How many seconds would it have taken her to erase the part she claimed was problematic and insert a more appropriate title she was certain would have sufficed?”
She added: “Clearly, @ainehiedoro you were the one who didn’t want to be reasonable. How did you go from having a difference of opinions to logging your editor out of @brittlepaper? How did that happen so fast? You couldn’t even call, text or email. No notice? Haba! You messed up.”
Otosirieze took to Facebook amid the controversy to issue another statement after Ainehi’s response.
He wrote: “When you speak truth to power, when you dare refuse to be compromised, there will be consequences. You will be maligned, marked to be destroyed. You will be up against all their machinery, all lies to deceive the public. But if you can afford it, please stay true to yourself. Nothing is better than waking up with your dignity intact, being true to yourself. It is the foundation for a happy life.
“Remember what was said and what was done. Remember who did. In time, the truth will shine.”