When we were in primary school, there was a subject that was a subset of the English language- Comprehension. Along with Composition and Spellings, they formed part of the English language curriculum which were taught separately and intentionally. If I remember correctly, the WAEC English Language examination also has sections for comprehension passages and essay writing. Unlike Pythagoras theorem and algebraic logarithms which I was forced to learn, and still yet to apply in any way to my everyday life; the value of learning language comprehension has continued to remain vital to my very existence.
Every day Nigerians go online to read the news as it breaks. Unfortunately for a lot of us, not many comprehend what is written or inferred, and because it is the digital age, many proceed to write comments or rebuttals that only serve to showcase our ignorance. Take for instance the Sahara Reporters/Afenifere report that generated outrage during the week among the Muslim community in Nigeria. It was the scathing rebuttals I saw even before reading the actual article. At the risk of being labelled an ambivalent Muslim, there are some issues we need to discuss and learn from the Sahara Reporters report.
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Firstly, let us tell ourselves a bitter truth- A lot of Nigerians lack basic comprehension skills. I read that article and nowhere was there any comparison between Sunday Igboho and our holy Prophet Muhammed (SAW). What the writer tried to justify was the emigration of Igboho to Benin republic. He, the writer, likened Igboho’s running away to the migration of Prophet Musa or Moses when he feared being prosecuted by Pharaoh and that of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he migrated to Madina. The writer was therefore referring to the famous ‘hijra’. However, most of the collective outrage I have read was that the Prophet had been insulted. I, therefore, realised that once again a lot of us did not understand what was written. A lot of people read without understanding. And some people just read the headline and started gathering ammunition, which leads me to the second lesson learnt: Sensational titles are part of Nigeria’s security problem.
Sahara Reporters is a tabloid online media house. It has always been so. Since inception, they have risen to fame on the back of gullible Nigerians through sensational, half baked headlines. For the benefit of those who did not read the article, the headline screamed: “Igboho Is Like Prophet Muhammed Who Fled Mecca for Medina Over Persecution”. Pray tell, what manner of nonsense journalism is this? Even for Sahara reporters, this is a new low. That they have an editorial team who read the piece and approved for it to be published shows how bigoted we are in this country. How can we ever hope for peace when some people take delight in starting fires? The Yorubas know, as do Sahara reporters, hell! the whole world knows, how sacrilegious Muslims hold the prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Even the most lukewarm Muslim, will be hard-pressed to make a careless remark about the prophet of Islam. The headline was therefore intentional, intended to stoke emotions and cause outrage. Many Nigerians do not read beyond the headlines and so, even though the writer elaborated on the headline in the body of the story, the damage had already been done. For Muslims, all over the world, the fact that Igboho was mentioned in the same sentence with our prophet, is enough to spark outrage.
But like I said, it was intentional. If not, why not use the prophet Moses on the headline instead?
Thirdly, a while back, I wrote an article titled ‘To tweet or not to tweet: The fallacy that is freedom of speech. In the column, I made reference to the limitations where freedom of speech is concerned and referenced remarks about our prophet Mouhammad (SAW). After Sahara reporters tendered their apology and pulled down the article, some people raised an alarm about their right to freedom of speech blah blah blah. Do they know that in many countries, there is a ban on anyone that dares write anything defamatory about the Prophet SAW? And these are not just Muslim countries. Have we forgotten the Charlie Hebdo shooting so soon? When two brothers, who were part of the Al-Qaeda group, entered a newspaper building and killed twelve people? When we have not finished battling Boko Haram, some people want to cause another havoc? Are the kidnappings, banditry and rampant terrorism not enough for us in this country that we have to create another wahala? Why are we like this, abeg?
There is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Know this and know peace.
You know the saying- ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’? Well, Sahara reporters just reminded me of that lesson. They wanted the negative publicity. They anticipated it. Hell! They even courted it. Their apology, half baked as it were, was purposely done. I am willing to bet a tidy sum, that the apology was written even before the outrage. So, they apologised; and so what? Their ratings still went up! People went looking for that article to read. And despite all the ‘Say No to Sahara Reporters’ hashtags and people reporting their page to Facebook, the fact still remains that they got a lot more publicity this week than they previously have in a long time.
In fact, let him tell you how the editorial group probably sat down to a meeting and discussed their agenda. It was revealed to me in a dream last night. A group of men sat in a dark room, had some drinks, smoking and feasting on peppery ram meat.
“Oga Sowore, E don tey wey we shake table. E be like say Naija people don dey forget us.”
“Na so? Na who trouble we go find na? E be like say those northerners don dey tire for Buhari matter. Dem no dey provoke again fa!”
Their Oga who has previously been quiet and picking meat out of his teeth with the aid of a broken broomstick suddenly speaks up.
“No be Sallah meat we finish chop so? We suppose return the favour. Make we harass these Muslims small!”
“Oga! You too much! And na dem dey provoke pass sef”
“Oya, Mr Monday- knack us better headline!”
And just like that, we rose to the bait. Allah ka iya mana, ameen.