Ethnic Slur: Vanguard editorial board chair apologises

Ochereome Nnanna
Ochereome Nnanna

The chairman of the Vanguard newspapers’ editorial board on Sunday sought the forgiveness of Nigerians after his ethnic slur against the Yoruba cast him in an humiliating spotlight.

Ochereome Nnanna, a columnist of over two decades’ exploit, said he had also forgiven those who condemned him for his controversial and inflammatory remarks on Facebook on Friday. His apology comes two days after he was criticised for his comments, which many saw as divisive for someone holding top position at Vanguard, a newspaper with national spread.

Demands that he should step down or be fired by his employers also escalated over the weekend.

“From the bottom of my heart I thank you for expressing your feelings. I have forgiven all. Forgive me too. Let’s be friends again,” Mr Nnanna said in a Facebook update Sunday morning.

He said he would use his column on June 12 to address issues bordering on “ethnic hatred” as part of his appraisal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.

PREMIUM TIMES reported on Sunday that Mr Nnanna on Friday slammed the Yoruba ethnic group as “sophisticated morons” in a Facebook thread over the award of Nigeria’s highest honour to Moshood Abiola.

Mr Abiola, a prominent Nigerian of Yoruba origin, was the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election that was voided by Ibrahim Babangida, military dictator from 1985-93. President Muhammadu Buhari on June 6 conferred the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) on Mr Abiola, a posthumous honour that came 20 years after his death.

The move has been warmly received across the country, but many Nigerians have also questioned its motive with elections months away.

Critics have accused Mr Buhari of seeking political advantage amongst the Yoruba, most of whom voted for him in 2015 but are now increasingly wary of giving him a second term in 2019.

Mr Nnanna was ostensibly debating the political dimension of the development with his Facebook circles on Friday when someone suggested it would be surprising if the Yoruba fall for the gambit as they are seen as “the most sophisticated ethnic group politically in Nigeria.”

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“Sophisticated morons more like,” Mr Nnanna retorted. His comments elicited widespread condemnation, and his employers were compelled to issue a statement.

“While we are carefully interrogating the circumstance that led to that comment, with a decisive response to the author, we wish to acknowledge that the statement was made entirely as part of a private conversation,” the Vanguard said in a statement Saturday. “Vanguard dissociates itself totally from such unwarranted but careless, private outburst.”

The paper said Mr Nnanna’s outburst contravened its institutional values, adding that an investigation would be conducted and a “decisive response” would be meted out to the columnist.

Mr Nnanna initially declined to apologise when reached for comments by PREMIUM TIMES Saturday evening, insisting he was quoted out of context by his detractors on the Internet.

Nonetheless, he absolved himself of all allegations of ethnic intolerance, saying he has ample friends, bosses and other colleagues who are Yoruba and with whom he relates without discrimination.

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