An off-the-cuff comment by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, about the importance of Hausa language, has pitted two prominent opposition figures on social media against each other.
Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation and unabashed critic of the ruling APC, sparred with Reno Omokri, a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan and social media strategist, in a series of harsh exchanges on Facebook Wednesday, with Mr. Fani-Kayode wishing he could have Mr. Omokri’s “little bottom spanked for being so cheeky and naughty.”
A Facebook user had on Tuesday afternoon drawn the attention of Mr. Zuckerberg, who is visiting Nigeria, to the Facebook Hausa language option and urged him to consider adding other major Nigerian languages —especially Yoruba, Igbo and Fulfulde— to the platform to reflect the country’s diversity.
“Thanks! I’m glad we support Hausa and we’re planning on supporting a lot more languages soon,” Mr. Zuckerberg responded.
Facebook introduced the Hausa language option about a month ago.
Mr. Fani-Kayode said the decision to add Hausa to Facebook was aimed at advancing a purported age-long agenda of Britain and America to prioritise the interests of the people of Northern Nigeria while suppressing the fortunes of the Southerners.
Mr. Fani-Kayode also highlighted a conspiracy in the timing.
“Kerry comes to the north and sees the Sultan of Sokoto, northern governors and Buhari. One week later, Facebook founder comes to Nigeria and says Hausa is a “unique language” which he has to be included on Facebook,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said. “Think Nigerians think.”
As with most of his posts, Mr. Fani-Kayode’s statement elicited divergent reactions from many Nigerians on Facebook, including Mr. Omokri.
“I do not understand why Kerry did what he did. But as for Zuckerberg, all he did was state a fact. After Swahili, Hausa is perhaps the most widely spoken language in sub-Saharan Africa.
“That is why BBC Hausa, Voice of America Hausa, Deutsche Welle and other world radio services all have broadcasts in Hausa. We must applaud what Zuckerberg has done and not cast suspicion around it.
“Doing so may encourage him to add other indigenous Nigerian languages as Facebook languages,” Mr. Omokri said.
But Mr. Fani-Kayode saw his ally’s take as an attempt to undermine his long-suffering cause to liberate his people from the “yoke” of “Western imperialists” and “internal colonial masters”.
“I read far more into this matter than you do because I am not just a politician but a historian. I also have my views about the social media generally, its link to the top Western intelligence agencies and what its ultimate objective is,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said.
“I guess only time will tell if I am right but these are my views. In any case, I wonder how many Hausa-speaking people are on Facebook when compared to Yoruba and Igbo.”
Unimpressed, Mr. Omokri doubled his efforts to knock down Mr. Fani-Kayode’s argument, saying the embattled former minister, who’s currently standing trial for graft charges, was missing the point.
“By including Hausa as an official Facebook language, Zuckerberg recognises the fact that while there are literally tens of millions of Yoruba, Igbo and other indigenous Nigerian language speakers who can communicate in both their native language and English, the same cannot be said about Hausa speakers,” Mr, Omokri said.
Mr. Omokri said, although Facebook may have shown interest in Hausa speakers by adding their language to its platform, the company was making investments in start-ups that are situated in the southern part of the country, adding that those were the consequential issues that deserved mentions.
“You may recall that Zuckerberg and his wife recently invested $25 million in Andela. That would be a most strange way to undermine the South given that all of Andela’s founders and most of their fellows are from the South,” Mr. Omokri said. “Talk is cheap but money makes things happen. Zuckerberg talked about Hausa, but he put his money in a Lagos tech hub.”
At this point, Mr. Fani-Kayode indicated that he could no longer swallow Mr. Omokri’s lectures, which were delivered with apparent respect, saying the comments were superfluous as he had not actually condemned Mr. Zuckerberg or Facebook.
“Now I am beginning to get a little irritated by you,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said, adding that Mr. Omokri’s rebuttal to his observations constituted a betrayal of trust.
“If I wanted to condemn you, him or anyone else, I would do so loudly, openly, clearly and gladly,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said. “But I haven’t done that: I simply disagreed with you and I was very civil about it which I really didn’t have to be because you don’t deserve it.”
Mr. Fani-Kayode also dragged the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, into the crossfire, saying the former FCT Minister had repeatedly warned him about Mr. Omokri.
“Our mutual friend, Nasir El Rufai, often warned me about you but I never listened to him,” Mr. Fani-Kayode said. “Now you have proved him right and all because you want to please your foreign and new-found northern friends.”
Mr. Fani-Kayode then listed other areas in which Mr. Omokri allegedly betrayed his former colleagues in the Jonathan administration.
But Mr. Omokri responded by saying he would not join issues with Mr. Fani-Kayode out of respect.
The feud spilled over to Twitter on Thursday morning, when PDP supporters on social media sued for peace.
Messrs. Fani-Kayode and Omokri have been playing a critical role in distributing populism messages on behalf of the PDP on social media, where the lingering economic crisis has helped the party regain its voice.