Otosirieze leaves Brittle Paper as deputy editor over ‘censorship’ of report on El-Rufai’s family


Otosirieze Obi-Young has left his position as the deputy-editor of Brittle Paper following “censorship” by the organisation on a report on members of Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s family.

According to a statement published on his personal website, Otosirieze said he’s leaving the paper and the position he held for four years because “this censorship goes against everything that the platform has demonstrated in the past and that I believe it should continue to stand for.”

Recall that on Monday, April 13, Otosirieze authored a report where he criticised wife of the governor of Kaduna State, Hadiza El-Rufai’s response to an alleged statement on rape by her son on Twitter. The report was published by Brittle Paper.

The report partly reads: “Interestingly, four hours after backlash began to her response, an article appeared on ThisDay titled “Endearing Qualities of Kaduna First Lady, Hadiza El Rufai.” It is exactly as shabbily-written as you would expect of a hastily assembled, face-washing gimmick. But it is not as unintelligent as the one on OperaNews.

“There must be a name for this feminism whose reply to “Tell your mother I’m passing her to my friends tonight” is “I didn’t see any threats of rape.” A feminism that agrees to raise men to be better but says “All is fair in love and war” when their ethnic-bigoted men-children threaten violence on women’s bodies.

“Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.

“Do better.”

However, the report was subsequently edited after pussy publication was pulled down from the paper’s website by Ainehi Edoro, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the paper.

A statement by the paper claimed the report was pulled down because it used “violent and misogynistic language” to address the matter.

But Otosirieze was not pleased with the paper’s decision.

The statement titled “Statement on Leaving Brittle Paper” partly reads: “I am proud of the work we have done, undermined as we were by a lack of funding despite my best efforts. I am indescribably proud that I have done what I set out to do: open more opportunities, make what has for long seemed impossible for the young African writer suddenly possible.

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“I am leaving Brittle Paper because this censorship goes against everything that the platform has demonstrated in the past and that I believe it should continue to stand for: a space of freedom, one that should be able to handle internal criticism.

“I believed that the opposing statements, mine and the platform’s, should have led to a rigorous internal dialogue on what the platform stood for, and I was ready to offer ideas on the way forward, to restore the literary community’s confidence in it, one way of which would have been to constitute an Advisory Board.

“Literature should be the last stronghold of dissent, and if the biggest literary media platform in Africa has strong-armed its editor this way, what hope is there for the writers who have shared their criticism of this First Lady’s family’s human rights issues and the literary festival it supports with us in the past? How do we now guarantee the safety of these writers? How can this platform still offer moral support as we have done in the past to non-Nigerian writers who used pseudonyms to bravely tell stories about their countries where freedom after speech was not a given?”

In response to Otosirieze’s statement, Brittle Paper’s Editor, Ainehi Edoro, also released a statement explaining the reasons for Otosirieze’s exit.

The statement partly reads: “It was not clear why he was accusing two Nigerian newspapers of writing “hastily assembled, face-washing gimmick” and another of being “unintelligent”. And why was the diatribe “shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” being used in what should have been a plain reportage of facts and written statements and tweets? It seemed to be histrionic, inflammatory, even melodramatic and totally not in keeping with the seriousness of the matter he was addressing.

“I felt, and feel, Otosirieze’s outrage. I am both a woman and the mother of a daughter. Suggesting that a woman should be sexually assaulted is unconscionable and needs a hard and swift response. But in condemning such statements, it is important that we ourselves do not stoop to the level of those making them. It is important that we do not abandon completely all principles and ethics in how we write.

“In the age of social media, I have become particularly sensitive to making sure that everything we do on Brittle Paper, from titles to all content are crafted with care. I disdain clickbait and try to minimize the use of coarse language. Using “gang rape” in the title where something like “lewd comments” would have sufficed seemed gratuitous. These were some of the editorial questions running through my mind when I called Otosirieze to tell him that the post needed editing.

“My call with him did not go well. He sounded upset on the phone and seemed unable to completely to see why the paragraph accusing Thisday and OperaNews of unethical behavior without any proof was not only problematic but also potentially libelous.

“After insisting for ten minutes, he grudgingly agreed to remove the last paragraph. Unfortunately, he refused to edit the title, which I felt to be unnecessarily incendiary. He refused to do so, even as I tried to suggest alternative titles. Unfortunately, this all occurred at a time I had to prepare time sensitive lectures for my students, and without sufficient time to edit the post. The time difference between Nigeria and the US also left me with little time to act quickly, so I pulled the post down as the exigent thing to do.

“I have run Brittle Paper for 10 years. In that time, I have made more than my fair share of mistakes, but I have also learned a lot. I have become increasingly aware of how important it is to be careful with language so that it produces meaning as opposed to obfuscation. I am also careful to ensure that we do not accuse without proof, and that we do not defame any persons, intentionally or unintentionally. As a literature professor who teaches a course on social media, words have become even more sacred to me as I watch the public sphere spiral into chaos because non-discerning orators compete for the most irreverent rhetoric.

“I took no issue with Otosirieze’s post except for the highly sensationalized reporting and the potentially libelous reference to two Nigerian newspapers. If any of the journalists whose pieces he mentioned were to sue Brittle Paper for libel, the buck would have stopped with me, and not with Otosirieze.

“I am stunned that what was essentially an editorial matter has spilled into theatrical war over censorship fueled by conspiracy theories. At no time during my conversation did I suggest that the article should not be published or that it was not newsworthy.

“This whole matter could have been resolved if we had managed to come to an agreement about making the story less incendiary and less libelous. Otosirieze hung up on me as I tried explained why the story would have to be pulled down, and refused to engage on this issue professionally.”