By Ibrahim Usman
It is always said, “The pen is mightier than the sword”. This is a statement that had stimulated endless debates over time. Back in time, I did not agree with this maxim. Now that I found myself neck-deep in the art of endless ink, and I have seen both the sword or gun and pen in action, my perception has changed. This was the subject of discussion, deliberation and debate at the just concluded conference by the Writers’ Forum of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria which took place in Zaria.
For those who have seen weapons at work, would be tempted to ask: “What can the pen do to the sword or gun, what can’t the sword or gun do to the pen?” one pull of a trigger, the whole structure of publication will crumble like pack of cards. One silent aim of a professional sniper, life of the pen (representing the orator, writer, and the poet-philosopher) will be snuffed, buried in the hazy gunpowder smoke. Everything will be black, bleak and blank. Simple, isn’t it? For the sword, the pen is an arrogant stick competing with it in watching and shaping the society. The pen undercover, is also exposing the dirty linen, or scabbard, of the sword. It is a pain (pen) in the neck of the authority: and indeed intolerable!
For those who really know what the pen stands for, they would say it is not just a cylinder of black liquid, but a tool packed with great influence and hypnotic power. Let us take tour of the historic face-off between the two.
Two reporters of The Washington Post, Bob Woodward (author of Bush at War) and Carl Bernstein, exposed the Watergate re-election scandal and published it. Richard Nixon, the then most powerful man, President of the United States, had to kiss his re-election bid and office goodbye.
The Japanese press found out that, former Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka took illegal money from Lockheed. The press published the kick-back, and it cost the Prime Minister his office. In Austria, some government officials took illegal commission on foreign loans, which Melbourne newspaper published as illegal. The Prime Minister Gouff Whitlam had to go.
Le Monde in France published the systematic torture of Algerians by French soldiers during the Algerian war of independence. The Fourth Republic had problem.
Back here in Nigeria, Al-Mizan newspaper under the stable of Islamic Movement in Nigeria had been publishing the statements of Leader of the Movement His Eminence Shaikh Ibraheem Zakzaky on the global conspiracy of Boko Haram terror cell on the country. When in 2012 the newspaper published the untold abduction and systematic torture of 80 innocent youths by the Nigerian military in the North-east as Boko Haram suspects, the country’s seat of power and Defence Headquarters became jittery. An editor and reporter of the newspaper were whisked away in the middle of the night. As a result, there was an unprecedented global condemnation and outcry against the Nigerian government; the centre could not hold, and the two journalists had to be released. It was then, the gun and armoured tank knew the power of the pen and the press. The series of such exposition of the conspiracies by the Islamic Movement in Nigeria and its Leadership, coupled with the constant futile attempt by the gun and armoured tank to kill Shaikh Zakzaky, the inspiration and driving force behind the Pen of the Islamic Movement, was among many reasons the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration lost during the election. He is now packing out of the so much-loved seat of ‘power’ with an unaccomplished act on his hand.
The Goodluck Ebele Jonathan would not just go without accomplishing the said project, and this is why on the night of May 7, 2015 it decided to strike again. Using the traditional Emirate council in Zaria, who in turn employed services of thugs launched an unsuccessful offensive on Shaikh Zakzaky’s residence. They tried again the next morning, but were met with the usual resistance and ultimate failure. It was then the press intervened. The interview with Shaikh Zakzaky on the BBC over the issue, which further exposed the plan, foiled another scheduled attack for the third time. Through the power of the press, the planned mayhem was avoided, faces of the villains were exposed. There was relative silence, as the villains went into hiding.
The pen and the press are necessities that society cannot do without, despite its excesses and limitations. Authorities berate, suppress, manipulate and circumscribe its operational freedom, yet it remains a necessary tool for the society and great pain in neck of the authorities. Why? Because it is a source of information, fourth estate of the realm, and just like the poet, “the unacknowledged legislator of the world”. Pierre Salinger, former press secretary to former U.S. President John Kennedy had realized that the press was not a helpless tool altogether when he said: “No top-policy maker in Washington starts his day without reading The New York Times”. In the Nigerian context, where information is controlled and suppressed to the disadvantage of both the ruled and the rulers, we can boldly say: Al-Mizan newspaper under the stable of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is the most widely circulated newspaper in the hands of the Nigerian masses. For those in power to know what the information they are hiding and what the citizens think, Al-mizan has become a necessary Friday read.
Once upon a time one could not openly read or buy Al-mizan on the streets. Many have lost their lives for selling, buying and reading it. Its reporters were aggressively, and still being hunted for. For uninterrupted twenty-five years now, it remains the major pain in the neck of the Nigerian government, but darling of the Nigerians and those in diaspora.
At the Writers’ Forum seminar in Zaria, poems were recited, papers were presented, all in addressing the power of the pen above weapons. Students of Fudiyyah Science College from Kano conducted debate on the issue. Pen won the day. It always does, objectively over weapons.