A senior Buhari administration official who has slammed arbitrary fines on media organisations for allegedly broadcasting hate speeches has himself been caught spewing vicious propaganda on WhatsApp.
Modibbo Kawu, director-general of National Broadcasting Commission who has led the charge against government-defined hate speech, shocked many in a WhatsApp group of northern editors and intellectuals on Thursday morning after going on a hate-filled tirade targeted at Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Mr Kawu, also of Kwara State, ventilated about Mr Saraki’s influence on Kwara people and said the situation has gone beyond normal.
“It is not the “natural” human condition to continuously vote for a kleptocratic hegemony such as Saraki has imposed on our dear Kwara State,” the NBC chief said shortly before 9:00 a.m. Thursday.
He then went on to detail a slew of nasty and uncorroborated assertions against the Senate President, all to the consternation of the group’s members who immediately carpeted the top bureaucrat for using the platform to further the cause of ethnic and sectarian tensions.
“Bukola Saraki’s hegemony has been responsible for a systematic underdevelopment of Kwara; the entrenchment of a pattern of cult killings and blood letting that’s unique.
“And over a three year period, 2010, 2011, and 2013, tens of people were killed in stampede in front of the offices and residence of the Saraki. Even the Offa “robbery” where 33 people died was far more like their pattern of ritual killings than robbery!
“How much money do they have in Offa banks that 33 people had to be killed? These are questions people ask in Kwara. Hopefully the incredibly arrogant Bukola Saraki, whose family has no Asali whatsoever, has finally arrived at a denouement! Nothing lasts forever; not a kleptocratic hegemony; not an oppressive domination of a state by a family, which really isn’t even from our state!” Mr Kawu said.
Mr Kawu blamed Mr Saraki’s alleged wrongdoings on his ancestry which he said was questionable.
“That’s why he doesn’t share the values of our community; looks down at our people and carries himself with so much contempt!’ Mr Kawu said. ‘Even his names tell anyone who knows Ilorin that this is an “alien” individual. His full names are OLUBUKOLA OLABOWALE ADEBISI (sic).”
“These are not names an Ilorin person would normally be called. And he didn’t have a Muslim name until he wanted to run for governor in 2002-2003! They first named him Muktar after his grandfather and that was then dropped for Abubakar, the name his father was also “borrowed” in Ilorin. These are the facts!” Mr Kawu said.
Some members of the WhatsApp group were enraged by the level of ethnic and religious epithets emanating from Mr Kawu, who was once an editor of Daily Trust, and took turns to condemn him. and preach oneness instead.
“We should not allow politics to becloud our judgments and hence destroy all the principles we claim to stand for,” a member of the group Zainab Okino said. “We cannot build or grow a nation, when we remain stuck in the past; that one is not qualified for this or that because he’s not from so so state.”
“Instead we should work towards being citizens of one nation identified only by residency, without labelling or profiling. This is an ideal which I thought Modibbo espoused.
“How will he feel if Kwara people also disclaim him, having traced his origin to Wurno in Kebbi or may even be farther to Futa Jalon in Guinea, Senegal or Mali.
“We all come from somewhere, so it should not be a yardstick to assess individuals, even if they do not represent what we stand for,” Ms Okino added.
Another member of the group, Ibrahim Sheme, put a simple question to Mr Kawu about Mr Saraki: “Is he a Muslim or not? I thought he was.”
Mr Kawu did not return PREMIUM TIMES requests for comments between Thursday and Sunday.
Mr Kawu’s bilious rants were apparently aimed at consoling himself and other supporters of Mr Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress for the recent events in politics. The APC has lost scores of state and federal lawmakers within the past week, with many defecting largely under the influence of Mr Saraki.
Mr Saraki dumped the ruling party after several months of tension between him and the Buhari administration. The APC blamed the top lawmaker for its woes, and his latest political exploits had been seen as highly pivotal and potentially caustic for Mr Buhari’s re-election bid.
While Mr Saraki has faced heavy backlash for his manoeuvres, including murder allegations without evidence and attempts to remove him as Senate President, top Buhari administration agents largely avoided using charged invective against the lawmaker.
When Lai Mohammed spoke about Mr Saraki’s alleged betrayal of the party, he only reportedly demanded that political appointees seconded to federal offices by Mr Saraki should immediately vacate their seats.
But even if some aides chose to disseminate hateful diatribe against Mr Saraki for political gains, Mr Kawu’s personal and professional undercurrents do not give him much latitude to get involved, said political analyst Lilian Eronini.
“This is a disgraceful conduct by Mr Kawu,” Ms Eronini told PREMIUM TIMES Sunday morning. “A public official who has been going about preaching against hate speech and imposing heaving fines against journalists and media houses should not be seen doing this.”
A career journalist, Mr Kawu was appointed head of NBC in May 2016 by Mr Buhari. His immediate task was to “re-organise the NBC and transform the Nigeria broadcasting industry into one that can compete with the best in the world.” By December 2016, he announced the Nigeria’s launch of digital switch-over, a project initiated and built by the previous Goodluck Jonathan administration.
But he is perhaps more known for his campaign against hate speech. He, alongside Mr Mohammed, have been championing the cause for a civil and highly responsible media space.
Within the past two years, Mr Kawu has has delivered lectures against hate speech, threatened heavy sanctions against errant media houses and sanctioned scores of media houses for alleged infractions against the guidelines.
Even though the government’s definition of hate speech remains largely vague, broadcast stations have continued to comply with its fines, which had been criticised as arbitrary and unjustified.
As part of stringent measures aimed at moderating speech in public space, Mr Kawu also ordered broadcasters to minimise audience participation in phone-in programmes as a way of censoring citizens’ ventilation.
The measures had been condemned by free speech advocates and other commentators who said they confirmed fears that Buhari administration was only interested in curbing speech which it does not like. Although the government denied the allegation, an APC chieftain Joe Igbokwe was recently caught also circulating fake news online without any disciplinary action being taken by his party.
Earlier this year, an APC senator proposed a bill that sought to punish convicted hate speech purveyors with death.
Only last week, Daar Communications announced it had paid heavy fines imposed by Mr Kawu for alleged use of “provocative, inflammatory and decisive” comments during July 24 edition of ‘Political Platform,’ a popular morning magazine programme on Ray Power FM.
Although the station said it would contest the action in court, it had to first comply to avoid being forced out of airwaves by the NBC.
Ms Eronini, a Lagos-based lawyer, also slammed Mr Kawu’s excoriation of Mr Saraki for allegedly adding “Abubakar” to his name in order to widen his political appeal in a predominantly Muslim Kwara State.
She said Mr Kawu lacked any moral justification to accuse anyone of modifying their name because he also added “Modibbo” to his name allegedly to ingratiate himself to the northern elite.
Mr Kawu was formerly widely known as Olanrewaju Kawu throughout his formation years and well after he had graduated from the university. It was when he became a professional whose activities were largely concentrated in the north that he added “Modibbo” to his name, those familiar with his background told PREMIUM TIMES.
“It is really difficult to imagine his level of hypocrisy,” Ms Eronini said. “He is supposed to be relieved of his post, but we know the kind of government he serves.”
“This government does not engage in fairness or obey the rule of law,” the lawyer added. “That is why they would not punish a man who should be disgraced out of office for passing hate speech against a Senate President who has not done anything outside the law.”
Mr Mohammed, who supervises Mr Kawu’s agency, did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ messages seeking comments about the impact of Mr Kawu’s action on the administration’s larger campaign against hate speech.
PREMIUM TIMES reached out to Mr Saraki’s spokesperson, Yusuf Olaniyonu, but he declined comments on Mr Kawu’s claims, including the part about using Offa robbery deaths for ritual, saying he was not appointed to comment on everything about his principal.