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BBC: Nigeria’s ‘National’ Radio

Some hours later, the phone rang. It rang and rang. I ignored it, pulling a pillow over my ear to smother the sound. The call…

Some hours later, the phone rang. It rang and rang. I ignored it, pulling a pillow over my ear to smother the sound. The call came in again. I ignored it. I even wanted to displace the receiver so that it would ring busy when next someone called but, because of safety concerns as advised by the children’s school in case they needed a parent in emergencies, I didn’t. And the phone rang a third time. Thinking it could be something important, I reluctantly answered.

 “Hello,” I mumbled sleepily. “Assalamu Alaikum Mallam,” a voice on the other side said. Despite the voice being familiar, out of irritation I asked, “Who is it?” “It is Mansur.” (Mansur Liman, the same guy who interviewed President Yar’adua). “Oh Mansur, what do you want now? You know I just finished my night shift and am deeply asleep.”

 Mansur Liman, a Phd, was my senior in many respects: senior colleague at the BBC Hausa Service as he had been there years before I joined; senior colleague as academics when we both taught at Bayero University, Kano, he in the Faculty of Science and I at the Mass Communications Department; and senior colleague even in Hausa, as he hailed from Daura (Mother of the Hausa States) and I from Kano (the First Daughter). Having known each other for so long before we met again at the BBC, only Mansur could wake me up so…late?

 “I have been directed to recall all staff who are off duty today,” Mansur said. “What? Why? You must be joking,” I retorted. “Wallahi I am serious, Mallam” said Mansur. He always called me Mallam; such was our mutual respect. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “What is the matter?” “Something is happening, or has happened, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.” “What?!” I exclaimed. “Tell me more.” “On condition you take the next train back to work,” he said. I agreed. “Abacha is dead!”

 And there went my sleep.

 It was not April, so there was no fool. Knowing Mansur as a really serious and dedicated fellow, and a kind heart to a fault, he would not be frivolous with issues so serious. And he didn’t laugh. It was indeed serious. “Abacha? Dead? How? Coup? What?” I asked as I stood up. “Just make your way to the office. The details when you come,” said Mansur and hang up.

 And so it came to pass that it was from the BBC Hausa Service that most Nigerians, including many at the echelons and corridors of power in Abuja who had been physically blocked from reaching the Villa that eventful morning, first got to know that their Head of State was dead.

 And to Allah be the Glory and the Plan! Again, it was my Goodluck that one July morning in the same 1998, I had again left the BBC after yet another night shift (no, we didn’t do night shifts every night, it was just my coincidental good luck) and had gone home.

 I was again deep in sleep when the phone again rang. And rang. And rang. Finally picking up the courage and the energy, I answered. It was the same Mansur . With a touch of irony, he said, “I have been directed to recall all staff who are off duty today.” It was not March, so there could be no Ides. So with a greater sense of irony, I asked, “And who is dead this time?” With all seriousness, Mansur replied: “Abiola is dead.”

 And there went my sleep, again.

 And so again it came to pass that it was from the BBC Hausa Service that most Nigerians, including perhaps those Americans who were the last guests of the Bashorun at that Guest House, learnt of the death of the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Elections.

 My Goodluck didn’t hold and my Patience was wearing thin when, lo and behold, one August morning in the same 1998, I had again left the BBC… (you now know the story). The phone again rang! I didn’t let it ring a second time before I answered. Who do you expect to be at the other end? You guessed…Mansur. “No, please, not Abdulsalami! Please, no!” I shouted down the line.

 And there went my sleep, naturally.

 For the first time in his calls, Mansur burst out laughing. “No, not Abdulsalami. It is the Nigerian Economy that is dead, and a young man had just come into the BBC eager to share ideas with Nigerians in the Diaspora on how to raise the economy from the dead, and worked for a certain Think Tank called PIMCO set up by General Abdulsalami, and would like to know if you can join a meeting…”

 And that was how I met Nasir el-Rufai.

 So whoever doubts for a moment that BBC Hausa is not Nigeria’s ‘national’ radio is only fooling himself. The National Assembly, which is not all Hausa-speaking, has stamped that fact; Mansur’s interview with our ailing President is enough a letter, So Long A Letter, to transfer power to the Lucky One. And the most interesting denouement in all this is that those who ingeniously manoeuvered to have the BBC, and not Radio Nigeria, do the interview have now been hung by their own rope. What goes round comes round. It has proven to be disingenuous and clever by half.

 And yet another thing. Many top Nigerian and Nigerien and Northern Ghanaian Hausa-speaking politicians confided in us at the BBC more than they could confide even in their wives. They trusted us because they know we would keep their confidence. They would tell us things that happen in their countries which, were they to come out, more than hell could break loose. For example, some of us at the BBC knew every last detail of the horse-trading and elephant-dealings of how a fresh-from-prison Obasanjo was foisted on the PDP as presidential candidate one very late night during the PDP primaries in Jos at the end of 1998. Some very prominent politicians kept their phones open, ‘gisting’ us live. And we kept their confidence.

 The British did not set up the Hausa Service (or, for that matter, the other 50 or so language services at Bush House) out of philanthropy or because they loved the Hausas. It is for a propaganda purpose, pure and simple, especially targeted towards those peoples (Hausas and Somalis for example) who have refused, despite colonialism, to change their world view to that of the West. Little wonder then that there is no Yoruba Service or Igbo Service at the BBC.

 One anecdote from all this was that, back during the June 12, 1993 crisis, a Studio Manager at the BBC (originally from one of the South Western states of Nigeria) famously told his colleagues and friends and all who wished to hear that as soon as Abiola was sworn in as Nigeria’s president, the Hausa Service would be shut down (and perhaps the broadcasters shot down).

 Finally, I hereby suggest to the National Assembly to recommend that Mansur Liman be awarded a National Honour of Merit for his ‘Letter’ which has solved Nigeria’s constitutional crisis. I suggest he be awarded ‘Member of the Order of the Letter.’ His patience and good luck have paid.

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