Statement on Leaving Brittle Paper

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Today, April 15, 2020, my time as Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper came to an end. It is a position that I originated and used to expand the platform’s brand, improve its image, and in general successfully undertake major unprecedented projects in the African literary scene.

I was asked to join as Submissions Editor by Ainehi Edoro, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief, after she published and was impressed with the Enter Naija: The Book of Places anthology, which I edited. I began work on November 22, 2016: reading, editing, and publishing submissions, corresponding with writers via emails, and establishing a professional relationship with our contributors based on trust and in the assurance that, no matter what they wrote, as long as it is based on facts, Brittle Paper would be there for them.

Although my job was solely to deal with submissions, I instantly began regular blogging, launching an annual list of The Notable Pieces of the Year (2016, 2017, 2018). By March 2017, I was asked to temporarily be Acting Editor and take over the full running of the platform while the Founder took a break. In August, to mark the platform’s seventh anniversary, The Brittle Paper Awards, ideated and administered by me, was launched: the first by a literary publication in Africa. It has run for three years now. For the next two years, with a team I was committed to expanding, I led the running of the platform, a whole world of reading and editing and emailing and publishing, with the aim of repositioning it, going out of my way to explore sources for funding. I did this even when I was dragged down by my masters studies, lecturing duties, my own writing, and the drain of shuttling between cities daily. I loved the platform and how it could be used to open doors for the scores of young writers who, like myself, are starved of opportunities not because we lack the talent but because of development and class barriers. I also loved the Founder’s person and openness, and with her permission, we established a grassroots support availability for writers, including and especially those who are queer. Last year, our work and support for queer writers was profiled in Literary Hub and I facilitated Brittle Paper’s invitation to the Lambda Literary Festival in Los Angeles, which I could not attend due to another commitment. When controversies arose, our editorial board, consisting of the Founder and myself, often discussed how to cover it, and if I already did, we discussed how I covered it. In general we discussed her vision of the platform and the direction my addition could take it.

On Monday, April 13, 2020, I published a brief report of a novelist and state First Lady’s supportive comments on a gang-rape threat issued by her son and coated in ethnic diatribe. That she is a novelist, even if she is also a politician, places it in the area of Brittle Paper’s focus, which includes writers’ lifestyles. The Founder called me and expressed concerns about my criticism of a Nigerian newspaper in it and the informal and strongly worded tone addressing said novelist. I edited the post, removing the relevant sections. The Founder called back a few minutes later and said she wanted to take down the report. That was unacceptable to me. I saw no reason why my post-publication edits, which removed my opinion and restricted it to reportage, were not enough. I saw no reason why her concern about my lack of objectivity was not something that could be fixed by her own edits or rewriting. I saw no reason for these because everything I had written was factual. So I cut short the conversation: I said I no longer wished to discuss this report, that she should take it down if she wanted.

Six hours after the report was un-published and questions grew on social media, a statement was shared on Brittle Paper’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. I was neither consulted before nor was I informed after it went public. Because I have done most of the day-to-day running of the platform, people presumed that I took the post down and put up the statement.

My last communication with the Founder was to notify her that I would be making a personal statement, which I made clear to her is intended to distance myself from an injurious situation that I opposed but was now getting blame for. Her reply: “Feel free to do whatever you please.” On Tuesday, April 14, I emailed her a copy of my statement two hours before making it public. I have not received a reply. Because I have worked mostly from my personal email, I also commenced a transfer of emails from my official Submissions Email. For transparency, I left the notification on the official email so the Founder could see what I was doing. I woke up today, April 15, to notifications that I have been logged out of Brittle Paper, its social media accounts, and its WhatsApp group, our primary work communication space. It is an unwarranted and huge leap in reaction that I receive with quiet shock. I have not been informed why. 

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.

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?

I am withdrawing all my creative work from Brittle Paper: my short story, “A Tenderer Blessing,” and my creative nonfiction, “The Lion in Harmattan.” I am withdrawing in particular my report of the sponsorship problem in Nigerian literature, a report that blames governmental failure, because a continental literary platform that does a Nigerian state government’s bidding has lost the ethical authority to criticize anyone else’s lack of a moral backbone. I am also withdrawing from Brittle Paper all of my unactivated Intellectual Property, all the projects I proposed, all the ideas I shared, all the research I conducted, which have not been made public.

Removing me from Brittle Paper is part of the political agenda to subsume Nigerian literature and make it difficult to be an honest writer here. Their takeover is now complete. But I leave completely happy with every decision I took in the last two days. I leave fulfilled.

Critics have been going missing in Nigeria, and in this time I am thinking of my family and what it means for them to have a son who has now become a state dissenter. While I have put my family on alert, I want to think that they and I will remain safe. But I am also taking precaution: I have provided my close friends, within and outside literature, with a list of every single time I shared my address. If anything happens to me or my family, they know who to hold.  

I call on writers everywhere who care about our freedom of speech to protest this mutation of a cultural space into a propaganda arm of a government. Nigeria has long failed us as a country. We should not let our literature fail like this.

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95 thoughts on “Statement on Leaving Brittle Paper”

  1. This was heartbreaking to read.
    But it was also inspiring.
    I am proud of you, boss, and I barely know you.
    I wish you good fortune going forward.
    Posterity will know you did what you could.

    1. She’s an ass licker and someone has definitely paid her to get u sacked

      I wish you well Otoro. Please stay safe and may God protect u and ur family from evil doers

      1. Thank you so much for standing in your truth, in the truth, for the truth and by the truth.
        Thank you so much for your integrity.
        Thank you so much for having worked with conscientiousness.
        Thank you for being unique.
        I pray you remain safe.
        I pray your family remain safe.
        I pray for greater heights for you.
        Thank you.

    1. Censorship is virtually everywhere to be honest. If you don’t want to be censored, do not work for any centralised institution and publish your works on decentralised blockchain like hive.io where no one can take down your post, not even the FBI. This one you just posted can be censored as well, hope you know.

      1. Folasade Olowu

        Oh my gosh. Brittle Paper has always been high up there in my list if favorites. You didn’t have to scour hard to find something intellectually challenging and tastefully worded to not just read but ruminate on. I’m so sorry to see you go but guess what ….when one door closes a whole new world opens. Prosper and be in good health. #staysafe

    2. The political leaders we have here are all bunch of idiot. First lady simply aiding and abetting injustice.

      I am proud of you for standing up for the truth.

      1. I think we had a strong-willed writers in 70s, 80s and early 90s than now.
        Was the actions of the 1st son of Kaduna wrong? Was the follow up action of the 1st lady of Kaduna wrong? If both actions were wrong, the next question should be, is it worth writing about?
        Bob Marley sang, “truth is an offence but not a sin”. Relax my dear writer, let the public judge, but posterity will judge better.

  2. Truth in Nigeria comes at a price. Sometimes the price may see you “disappear” never to be seen again. Sometimes the price may see you become jobless. Oftentimes the price is never favorable, hence the reason people prefer to lie and take the compensation that comes with it. They can take your job, but I doubt they’ll be able to take your talent. This is to press freedom. Keep fighting and please be safe as you are playing with those who don’t play fair. More wins ahead. Bravo!

    1. People that have become great stood up for something. For the company that you left and those dogs behaving like gods, they ll soon meet their match, meanwhile please keep safe and I hope this is the beginning of something greater than you ve ever experienced.

      Thank you for standing up for the voiceless

  3. Reading this piece got me thinking about how our tomorrow will be.. Looking so uncertain for the most brilliant minds ..
    Nigeria has failed us..
    The pen will always be mightier than the sword.

    Be safe…

    1. Aniefiok Udonquak

      Glad to have had the opportunity to read this brilliant piece. More doors will open for you going forward.

  4. You deserve better than what they have to offer you. What happened to you is a clear indication that the whole system in Nigeria is unquestionably without conscience.
    They have killed many talents for the sake of vain glory and selfish ambition cum power monger.
    The Lord Jesus Christ will keep you safe and repositioned for a greater work.
    Rejoice in the Lord and Savior JESUS CHRIST.

  5. Fwangmun Wamyil

    May your contribution to our nation never go in vane.
    You will be celebrated for doing what is right and honorable.
    My best wishes to your next endeavour.

  6. It is a new dawn for you brother. You have conquered this phase and left when the ovation was high. New fronts awaits you… And thank you soooo much for been YOU, alot will choose otherwise.

  7. Lord…I completely feel terrible about this whole thing. The press has been gagged already, and then this. Was at a press release with some top journalists sometime last month; I felt terribly bad, honesty and quality reportage is almost completely dead. The ‘almost’ there is just me trying so hard to be optimistic. Well done, Obi. Daalu.

  8. Agwu Chukwuemeka Ndukwe

    I always say this. You are hugely loved by the people who see the truth and passion in what you do and it surpasses every negativity. Best decision you’ve ever made. As for your safety, no one can tamper with what’s already protected…..Jah bless!

  9. Philip Ekhaiyeme

    You are a great man. Thank you for standing for the truth, history will be kind to you and your forbears.

  10. Oreva-Oghene Oyibojabor

    Well done man, clearly you fought for a good. May the forces of the universe be with you. Amen.

  11. Na wah o… Has it gotten to this? The same elrufai’s family that insultedband maligned GEJ as a seating President and nothing happened. Today, criticism has become poison to them. Well, nothing lasts forever. Be strong bros, your best is yet loading.

  12. I am proud of the work you did at Brittle Paper. And because of this, I am confident that you will do better going forward. This is the kind of challenge or setback that brings the best out of people, and I see you shining brighter in your career. Regardless of this setback, you will overcome. Well done, bro!

    1. I feel for you my brother and I feel bad that things had to go this way. However, I know it is all going to be for good
      I feel sad more so that the issue is something that would have been amicably resolved if emotions and sentiments were checked.
      But I encourage you to take the shock of it easy on yourself. You will only go higher, not lower.
      And I pray that your heart and that of your friend, the editor heals and knits together again for a better future, even though outside Brittle Paper
      Warmest Regards ezigbo mmadu
      Will give you a call

  13. Ian Kiyingi Muddu

    What a disappointment that one of the Continent’s biggest literary player does not have a functional Advisory Board. So brittle! Anyway, we thank Brittle Paper for giving you & a countless others space. And for you, Obi, the word gratitude is not enough to express our feelings for what you have done for literary arts. Considering that their space had become narrow, you couldn’t fit in. Lots of love, hugs and support from Uganda.

  14. The man dies in him that keeps silent in the face of tyranny. You have spoken when silence is not golden. Bravo!

  15. I have just admired someone I know nothing about. Praying for your safety first and may the good light from above shine upon you soonest.

    Regards,
    Frederick
    Kenya.

  16. I believe your labour and creative input at brittle paper was preparing you for the establishment of your own organisation.

    Had similar experience just like yours where I did all the brain work on to be disregarded and dumped. Left the company and started private company that is flourishing now.

    I can assure that it will amaze you what you will accomplish in a year from now. I strongly believe now is the time to birh your own literary organisation

    Congratulations in advance

  17. Your sincerity will speak for you. You’ve done so much for Brittle Paper— at least, for the time I was active on the site. But, it is really heartbreaking to see how unsafe we are, even in our delusional “comfort”. Stay safe, at all cost. This door closed for better ones, trust me!

  18. Henrietta Umoke

    Very proud of you!

    I have followed on twitter that show of shame the El- Rufai’s!

    Keep shinning! Beacon of hope!

    1. A tree planted by God, let the whole world conspires and replant it on a rock it will surely grow.
      Mark this day both teams ( team El-rufai’s and team Brittle papers) will soon be disgraced and God will make it to laugh at them.

  19. We live in a society that kick us into a corner and cut your tongue of the truth.
    What did was courageous and I believe your story is not finished.
    Just keep your head up.

  20. I’m particularly distressed about the future of journalism and literature in my Country.

    We hope it will turn out well in the end. You have taken a huge leap, one many would not dare.

    God is with you and like they say Evil prevails when good people refuse to speak up, this evil will not last with people like you around.

    God protect you and your family.

    Welcome to greater heights,
    Respect!!

  21. You are a true definition of your name. A highly respected Nigerian senator said and i quote, an IGBO man never fears anyone other than his ‘Chi’, you truly represented that. We’ve shared same environment in learning over the past years at the Den though with little or no admiration from me then but I currently raise my cap for what you stood out for. You have been indefatigable from years back.
    Keep roaring brother. OtosiriKING.

  22. I am saddened to read this to say the least. You write so well! I humbly request that you go solo. Now is the time, African child!

  23. I am proud of you, your courage and your integrity. It inspires me and renews a sense of hope. I may not have the resources but I promise to lend my voice to your cause when it is needed.
    Thank you for being a stand-up guy.
    Much respect.

  24. Left the literary scene a long time. But after reading this, I must say I’m quite impressed with the fervor with which you write. I enjoyed every word in this. Saddened, however, by the reality it is about. Looking forward to engaging more with your posts and projects. Thanks for standing up for what you believe.

  25. Stanley Izebhokhae

    Reading from the beginning, I felt uneasy, everything was just too good to be true! Sounded too brittle, this is Nigeria, I expected it to snap at a point.

    Never heard of Brittle, clicked on a call to action and got here, well done for the good work. Nigeria kills something in all of us, it was a miracle you stayed this long. God will protect you and something good will come out of this.

    Will be following, make a lemonade and cheers.

  26. Just coming from Otosirieze’s post on his website. Funny how I lost touch with activities in the literary space upon switching full time into language teaching. Having read both posts now, I can say that both parties have to take and accept blame for their respective errors. I see your point clearly. But, then, it is for posts like his most publishers keep a disclaimer: “All views expressed are the opinions of the author and in no way represents the views/beliefs of Brittle Paper”. That alone will relieve you of the burden of being responsible for whatever consequences arise as a result of him not being able to defend his ‘unverified’ claims.

    As for the incendiary nature of his words, I want to believe, being the remarkable writer he is, he sure knows the power of words. And his decision to use precisely those words definitely was intentional, especially designed to elicit the response he hope’s to get from his readers. It is okay for writers to be angry and to express it in the best language they decide to without fear of hurting the ego of oppressors. Achebe once used really bitter words against Joseph Conrad over his racist worldview in the novel The Heart of Darkness. He called him a “bloody racist”. Writers should be given such freedom to express, so long as they are also willing to face its consequences thereafter.

    Had you looked at it from this angle, then your advise to the writer to change his words and the title would be entirely well-received. Then if the worse happens, say he gets a justifiable backlash, you’d have it on record that you warned him, using your experience as a writer and a purveyor of words.

    Everything looks more like the posts and its results was just waiting to happen, more like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    Both parties appear to be over reacting. We all have our misunderstandings. I get. But at the expense of integrity, professionalism and camaraderieship, I don’t get.

    The threats to your safety though…

  27. The “Animal Farm” nature of our NGO’s.

    Some time ago a diaspora organization was formed with seeming high hopes, those being the critique of government and essentially a “think tank” for the reform of government.

    Soon it was revealed that the organization was actually funded by the same government it was formed to critique?

    From there it was a fast track to land in Abuja for members and from there to juicy appointments paid in forex.

    This seems to be the trajectory of independent groups founded on high morals; they soon disseminate into lobbying groups for important largesse.

    It’s unfortunate, but it seems the lure of a be-all and end-all government continues to be irresistible

  28. Quite erratic and hushed decision. The El-Rufai offered public apologies for that Hashtag, so why the pressure . You need eulogy.
    It’s time for a new phase. It will be tough though. You had excerberated your efforts in this one but you will do well thinking a team together going forward.

    Best

  29. Irenemary Ugbong

    So sad. To think that we are faced with the dilemma of suffering and smiling in this continent leaves no hope for the future unborn.

  30. This is really sad and heart breaking. You have been doing amazing things in the literary world and I hope you get a better opportunity soon. Brittle failed you!

  31. Obioma Obinna (Author)

    This is what we get for being innovative, defiant, daring. This is what we get for being so “young” and outspoken. . .
    Away with the old literary tree whose hickories have been infested with political eloquence and tribal worms!
    Plant a new tree, Young sir, and we shall be happy to tend it with you.

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  34. You are exiting a small door for a bigger one. You courage and uprightness is making a bigger way for you. This is an opportunity to launch yourself, and soar high to conquer. Good luck bro.

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  40. Like in the words of Othman Dan fodio “conscience is an open wound only truth can heal it” the fantasies of today will surely be a nightmare tomorrow but you will be vindicated no matter how long, you will likely laugh last protect your intellectual property from these brood of vipers

  41. You are not a threat. I doubt if anyone is after you. Just an advice, Don’t poke your nose into people’s Affairs if you want to live a peaceful life.

  42. Dàpọ̀ Ndugu

    That’s a big shame.

    The human nature in us doesn’t want to be challenged. It is sickening.

    Stand for the (and your) truth, man. Right will move you ahead.

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  45. Odogwu Chibuzo Asogwa

    Your name means Fit to be King;
    This action of theirs have moved you up to that Kingdom where your literary space is guaranteed and your skills appreciated.
    God guide and guard you.
    Odogwu

  46. Now create a platform like what you left behind, and beat the to it.
    Once you succeed in doing that aim at setting a new pedestal for writers the world over.
    My prayers are with you.

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