By Rudolf Okonkwo in his Column ‘Correct Me If I Am Right.’
“I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy oh no! Oh.”
– Bob Marley
Since I first heard Bob Marley’s song, “I Shot the Sheriff” I have not stopped wondering what difference it makes if you confess to shooting the sheriff but not the deputy. You’re as guilty as hell. And you’re going to pay, anyway.
Well, now I know the difference.
In the last few days, I have found myself singing, I wrote the cable. But I didn’t leak the sassy piece, oh no! Oh.
On the day that the former speaker of the House of Representative, Oladimeji Bankole was arrested, I wrote a satire I called “US Diplomatic Cable on the Arrest of Oladimeji Bankole.” It was to be published under the series, “Correct Me If I’m Right.”
As usual, I sent the first draft to my two readers. My readers’ task, for over five years now, has always been to go through the first draft and tell me if it made sense or if I should discard it. If I get the go ahead to continue, I then begin work on the second, third and maybe fourth drafts.
When I did not get the feedback of one of my readers, I called him. For some reasons, he was so excited about the title that he did not know it was just another work of mine. He had thought it was a real cable just released by wikileaks that I brought to his attention. (I forward “must read’ stuffs like that to him.) He had already forwarded the work to a friend of his when I called him. Just like that, my imaginary cable leaked before I could publish it.
I did not know how far it had gone. I simply continued to work on it. And soon after, it got published on Nigerianewsday.com. That was the last I thought of it.
One week after, it was brought to my attention that the Abuja-based Peoples Daily weekend newspaper had published a story based on the cable under the title: “How America Pushed Jonathan to Order Bankole’s Arrest- US Diplomatic Cable.” Unknown to me, the cable story written by Yusuf Ozi-Usman had been playing out in the Nigerian media. Reporters who read the content of the cable as published by the Peoples Daily asked the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria if it really instigated the arrest of Bankole as suggested by the cable.
The American embassy denied that it “arm-twisted Jonathan to order the arrest of Bankole.” The embassy called the cable, ‘comical.’
The cable was indeed a deliberate attempt to be comical. Starting with the codes used, I intentionally used abbreviations like AREWA, FRSC, SMC, AFRC, MASSOB, OPC, NUC, and ASUU in the codes. I also used some U.S. colloquial phrases that are not seen in any official correspondence.
The real giveaway was in an imaginary conversation between President Jonathan and two American officials. I had one American official say, “That’s my boy!” as Jonathan agreed to their proposal. As soon as I sent that first draft, I realized that it was unbelievable. In fact, it was over the top. In the second draft, I had the U.S. ambassador whisper, “That’s my boy!” into the ears of the Undersecretary.
I made adjustments like this. In some cases it was in an effort to bring the conversations closer to what could happen. In other cases, it was in an effort to show that it wasn’t real.
Incidentally, this wasn’t my first attempt at using a mockery of wikileak US diplomatic cable to put a spotlight on socio-political issues. My first cable was called, “An Evening with Ambassador Ade Adefuye.” It was based on things that actually happened last December at the Chinua Achebe Colloquium. When that cable was published, many readers dismissed it as fake. In fact, the Bankole cable in question had exactly the same codes as the Ambassador Adefuye’s cable. I even forgot to change the declassification date.
I have since been made aware that the editor of the Peoples Daily Weekend, Mr. Tawey Zakka, was suspended indefinitely because he published a story based on my satirical cable.
I felt bad about that. It wasn’t funny that someone is on the verge of losing his job over a piece intended to be funny.
I’m not going to delve into issues of journalism’s core ethics involved in the decision to publish a story based on that cable. I leave it for those concerned to answer the question of whether all the necessary checks and balances were followed especially when their story started with this phrase: “Facts have emerged…”
For what it is worth, I’m sorry that Mr. Zakka is suspended.
I think it is important to once again, for the interest of the readers of this column, bring up an important premise I stated in my very first column. And that is:
“Many years ago, my father told me that satire thrives on the use of ridicule, irony and sarcasm, to portray folly and destroy them with mockery. The trouble with satire is that those you expect to use their tongues to count their teeth often do not have that skill. Men created riddles out of fear, not out of any noble desire to stimulate thought.”
Six months after I started writing this column, I am in no doubt that the bandwidth I have wasted can be better used. For that reason, I will continue.
Correct me if I’m right.
Source: Sahara Reporters