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The “Sophisticated Morons” Ethnic Slur And The Bigotry Of Vanguard Newspaper By Churchill Okonkwo

June 14, 2018

Dear Vanguard Newspaper, you have for a long time given "bigotry" a voice in mainstream media in Nigeria. Your bigotry problem predates the exposure of the “sophisticated moron” comment by your Editorial Board Chairman, Mr. Ochereome Nnanna.


Dear Vanguard Newspaper, you have for a long time given "bigotry" a voice in mainstream media in Nigeria. Your bigotry problem predates the exposure of the “sophisticated moron” comment by your Editorial Board Chairman, Mr. Ochereome Nnanna. Your penchant for promoting ethnic and religious division is not masked; it is in your DNA. Your Editorial Board’s decision to publish genocidal diatribe by the bigot Femi Fani-Kayode, where he referred to some prominent Yorubas and Hausa-Fulanis as vermin and cockroaches was an anticlimax. 

The puzzle is: why have you surrendered your platform to bigotry? Who are your paymasters? The question that Ochereme’s reference to Yorubas as “sophisticated morons” presented to you the management of Vanguard Newspaper is: was Ochereome’s rant a verbal stumble or intentional bigotry? 

Unsurprisingly, in your response, you performed some mental gymnastics; obviously designed to avoid asking your Chairman to do the right thing by resigning. Your pedigree as one of the “widely circulated” papers in Nigeria adds gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for poisonously harmful, over-the-line tirades. It is thus, the right time to call a spade a spade. Vanguard, you are xenophobic and that’s why bigots have a free access to your platform 

It is these kinds of utterances that allowed you to attract bigots on all sides of your online platform, and it remains your ideological through-line as a newspaper. Your fan base comprises of those with flames of ethnic-religious anger. Stroking ethnic tension has been your greatest success to date and may well be your most lasting accomplishment. Your rhetoric sends the clear message that it is okay to demean other ethnicities. Ochereome’s representation of such bigoted, offensive view while still serving as the Board Chairman makes you, Vanguard Newspaper a platform for hate. 

Ochereome in an apology that took him 4 days to muster referred to his bigotry as a “familial joke” (whatever) that “did not come out the way [he] intended it”. He showed regret and pleaded for forgiveness from the Yoruba people. I want to join him in pleading for forgiveness. I, however, believe that he was not sincere when he referred to his bigotry as “one moment of madness”. It is not. Bigotry is what Ochereome and you, Vanguard, propagate. It is your culture.

Though Ochereome epitomizes the celebration of bigotry in Vanguard Newspapers, his “29 years of living and working in Lagos… should not be threatened”. He can stay on as a staff but his suitability to run your Editorial Board has been compromised by his bigoted rant. You need not honor him with the Chairmanship of your Board simply because his comment betrays your mission: “To impact positively on our Readers/Clients and society by providing high quality, reliable and affordable media products for promoting knowledge, political stability and economic prosperity.”

Unfortunately, you, Vanguard Newspaper have been delivering the opposite of this mission statement. Just in case your Management have forgotten, bigotry in the present Nigerian context has consequences, especially when you, Vanguard Newspaper is promoting it with a megaphone. You should thus, stop using your platform to endanger the lives of Nigerians. You should conduct a thorough review of how your editorial policies may have allowed hate groups and political jobbers to stoke ethnic-religious resentment and violence using your platform.

Your Editorial Board should be reminded that freedom of speech, legally speaking, as we saw in Rwanda does not cover genocidal comments nor does it entail stroking ethnic tension that could lead to violence. So, even though journalists, columnists, contributors, opinion writers, regardless of political alignment, should be allowed to express themselves, those who promote ethnic disharmony, Islamophobia, or any other kind of bigotry should never be given a space on your Newspaper, not alone the Chairmanship of the Editorial Board.

It’s not too late for you, Vanguard Newspaper, to come to your senses and stop the promotion of bigotry that endangers the lives of millions of Nigerians. Some of the phobia festering in the country is fed by extremism fostered by you, Vanguard Newspaper. Bashing of other ethnicities leads to bad blood in a county that is already tense and who knows how much you have contributed to the bloodbath in the Middle-Belt. Your promotion of bigotry for IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu championed by Ochereome resulted in the needless death of scores of Igbo youth and the pointless human suffering for the families. 

While I agree that the idea of providing “balanced” media coverage for people with extreme viewpoints should not be suppressed. Offering your platform to Islamophobic and Hausa Fulani bigot like Femi Fani-Kayode who is notorious for promoting hatred to ‘balance out’ his perceived enemies is not serving to inform the public. Stop offering your platform to bigot enablers and bear in mind that keeping Ochereome as your Board Chairman only serves to reinforce the rampant of hate and prejudice, which is your mission. 

Vanguard, your tolerance of intolerance makes you a bigot.I am thus challenging you, to challenge prejudice, censor outright lies and bigotry that is inimical to ethnic harmony in Nigeria. I call on the members of your Editorial Board and journalists to choose your words carefully and provide context to your intentional divisive reports and analysis.  

Just in case you guys at Vanguard Newspaper are not aware, I am proud of my work in promoting ethnic and religious harmony in Nigerian and grateful for the platform it provides me. I understand that some media outlets like you, Vanguard are equally passionate in the opposite direction, contriving to advance your prejudices to the point of sanctification. But your disgusting bigotry must be combated with vitriolic contempt. 

For you, Vanguard Newspaper and those wondering why I am disparaging you: I will say this: if you find yourself offended by my criticism, then you are precisely the type of person worth offending. Certain feelings deserve to be hurt and bigotry is on top of that list. I hope that in some small way I can encourage my readers and Nigerians to feel the same way. We should not let bigot enablers stifle our voice. We should not shut up; rather, we will speak the truth and call a bigot a bigot. We are letting you, Vanguard Newspaper; know that bigotry should have no right to your platform. 

Together, we can.

You can email Churchill at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi