Farooq Adamu Kperogi, 47, Associate Professor of Communication at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA, is a non-apologetic critic of the Buhari government – as he was also of the Jonathan government. The Kwara State-born media scholar had been a reporter and news editor at various Nigerian newspapers including the Daily Trust, where, until sometime last year, he wrote two weekly columns. He was between 2002 and 2004, one of the speech writers of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He currently writes a column for The Nigerian Tribune.
Kperogi, who has a huge social media followership, is extremely popular with the opposition and government critics, who savour his pungent, well- researched, even if biased, uppercuts against the Buhari government – sometimes delivered in a language some people would regard as irreverent. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who campaigned against Buhari’s re-election, once quoted Kperogi in one of his open letters to the Daura General in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election.
I confronted Professor Kperogi with a series of no- holds-barred questions.
I mentioned three renowned creative writers and public intellectuals – the late Zimbabwean novelist Dambudzo Marechera who famously said he was against war and also against those who were against wars; Camilo José Cela, the late Spanish novelist and 1989 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, who reportedly said that a writer is necessarily a denunciation of the time in which he lives (which implies that a writer must necessarily be anti-establishment), and our own Wole Soyinka, the first Black African Nobel laureate in Literature, who is often accused of raising rudeness into an art form. I asked where he thinks he falls among these three writers.
He said he aligns himself with the “philosophy that invests journalism with the ever-present responsibility of holding people in power to account. I am first a journalist before I am an academic. I see critical scrutiny of people in power as my abiding obligation. This sort of neatly dovetails with Camilo José Cela’s notion of the role of a writer.”
He said he is also driven by the famous Socratic dictum, which says that “The Unexamined Life is not worth living”.
“I don’t take people’s claims at face value”, he declared. “I examine them. Being a government critic is no reason to uncritically valorise you. I am aware that, this makes me come across as a compulsively inveterate contrarian.”
He feels that Dambduzo Marechera’s philosophy of being against war and also against those who are against war was rather anarchic because the “object of criticism should be to correct a wrong in the interest of progress.” On Soyinka, he said: “I admire Soyinka’s valour, rhetorical sophistication, and commitment to speaking out against injustice. However, I was disappointed by his uncharacteristic silence between 2015 and 2019.”
Surely, every government must be getting at least one thing right. I challenged him to mention areas where he feels the Buhari and Jonathan governments deserve some commendations.
“I’ve tried hard and frankly haven’t found anything any of the governments you’ve mentioned have done that is worth making a song and dancing about. Perhaps because I’ve lived in a fundamentally functional society for more than a decade and a half, my bar for measuring success in governance is high. Any government that can’t fix something as basic as electricity, that can’t provide even middling healthcare for its citizens, that can’t protect lives, etc. can’t be said to have done anything right.”
I reminded him that Buhari’s media aides are known for coming hard, sometimes rudely, on any one who picks on their principal and asked why he thought Buhari’s media team have largely ignored his criticisms of their ‘oga’. I asked whether he thought they are afraid that he will fight them back in a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) manner, utilising ballistic vocabularies that will not exclude humiliating them with the correction of their grammar and challenging their competence for the job.
“If I tell you I know why Buhari’s spokespeople have not personally attacked me, I would be lying to you. But there are several probable reasons. One, as I’ve pointed many times in the past, Malam Garba Shehu was my teacher at Bayero University, Kano. He was a part-time lecturer in journalism when he was Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor of the state-run Triumph Newspaper. Although I disagree with the government he serves and how he defends it, I still respect him a lot as a person. The respect, fortunately, is mutual”
“Buhari’s other media aides probably have no need to respond to me directly because they have an entire online troll factory that is dedicated to smearing, libelling, and fabricating falsehoods against me. They are known as the Buhari Media Center (BMC).” He said the N-Power beneficiaries have now been conscripted into the group.
“ You’re right that if someone with an official title or name recognition attacks me, I’ll be sure to set the records straight using the entire rhetorical arsenal at my disposal,” he declared.
I asked him to compare race relations in the USA under Donald Trump with ethnic relations in Nigeria under Buhari.
For him, race relations in the US have suffered tremendous stress under Donald Trump, whose presidency is a “boon to white supremacy and right-wing domestic terrorism”. He sees a parallel between racism and ethnic/religious bigotry:
“They are both animated by maximalist politics and by the impulse to exclude ‘the other.’ Nonetheless, because of the years of struggles against racism in the United States, there are legal protections against its most visible forms. Sadly, in Nigeria, people who are victims of racial and religious bigotry have no legal recourse to redress it. But both Trump and Buhari, through their conscious narrow-mindedness, preside over visibly fissiparous polities.”
How does he think the current COVID-19 pandemic will impact on perceptions of the West and China?
“Africa used to be stereotyped in the global popular media and in the global popular imaginary as the diseased continent, as the birthplace of inscrutable pestilences. With Africa being one of the least affected continents during this COVID-19 pandemic—at least for now—the stereotype is being reversed or at least challenged. China is now emerging in global consciousness as the springboard of pandemics, as the unsanitary, devious country that endangers the whole world. Whether this stereotype is justified is left for history to judge. Similarly, the symbolic and cultural capital the West used to enjoy in the world is being diminished. Of course, the passage of time might reverse my observations.”
How does he see Farooq Kperogi, the man behind the ‘angry keyboard’, I asked? And how does he relax when he is not engaged in artistic pugilism? What puts smiles on his face?
He described Farooq Kperogi as “a mild-mannered, self-possessed, even-tempered, and somewhat introverted person. I know this self-characterization is at variance with my public persona. But this is true of most human beings. There is always a disjunction between people’s public persona and who they really are.”
“I can’t tell you the number of times people who have met me after reading me for years say they’re taken aback by what they call my humility; they imagined that I was an arrogant, fire-spitting radical who would passionately disagree with them and stop them mid-sentence. They thought I was a cantankerous, venomous-tongued conversationalist who would not allow his interlocutors to get a word in edgeways, who would correct their grammar, and insist on being right all the time. In reality, I am mellow, gracious, a bit shy, and allow extroverted people to dominate conversations. I am talkative only when I meet overly introverted people because I hate the awkwardness of dull moments.”
“I mostly relax at home with my family when I am not working. I find immense joy and comfort in the company of my wife and children. I don’t party. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t womanize. I am a boring person. My family is my biggest source of joy.
“I also enjoy yard work and landscaping—mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, mulching, edging the driveway, curbs, and sidewalks, etc. I put a lot of pressure on my neighbours to keep their lawns clean and healthy.
The full interview is available at The News Chronicle on: https://thenews-chronicle.com/i-was-disappointed-by-wole-soyinkas-uncharacteristic-silence-between-2015-and-2019-farooq-kperogi/