Isioma Daniel, writing in exile from Norway

21-year-old Isioma Daniel was enjoying her first job as a journalist when a single sentence spun her life and country into chaos. Nigeria was hosting the Miss World pageant and Daniel was assigned to cover it. But a few words of one article - considered heresy by Nigeria's mullahs - sparked riots that turned Muslims against Christians in bloody rampages that killed hundreds of people and destroyed dozens of villages. Before the dust settled, the pageant had been cancelled, the beauty queens had fled, and Daniel had escaped into exile with a "fatwa" issued against her life.

Writing from Norway, Isioma Daniel shares her thoughts and experiences in exile, with the first in a series of journal entries for CBC News: Sunday.

Naivety… the root of all evil
Isioma Daniel

December 9, 2004

Three mornings out of seven I wake up and go over my life. The alarm goes off and twenty minutes later I’m still in bed, diagnosing my life. Wondering what happened.

This is what happened: I grew up in Nigeria until I was 17. I then travelled to England to get a Bachelors degree in Journalism and Politics and to continue growing up. I don’t think I did. I remember those three years in Preston with a poignant embarrassment which makes my eyes shut very tightly like I have been hit by a bright light. I was 20 when I graduated in the late summer of 2002. I moved to London, and after a few months of working for free at various magazines in order to gain ‘experience’ I decided to go back home.

Lagos, NigeriaMy imagination was full of naïve metaphors of me sweeping away Nigeria’s corruption. I really believed in the power of journalism as the fourth estate. In my mind African journalism was what real journalism was all about. It involves writing articles a government tries to suppress, journalists being put in prison and others receiving bombs in the post.

Why would I want to go back to that country? I guess I thought I could make a change. In England I never felt that way. So I returned to Lagos in 2002. I wanted to turn 21 at home with my family.

Life in Lagos was a culture shock. I was extremely naïve, especially about the job searching process for a single woman with a British degree in Nigeria. I thought all that mattered was a good CV and a convincing presentation at the interview.

Isioma Daniel at her computerLooking back now, I think I received honesty and fairness because I expected it. I went for a job interview at the newspaper. Spoke with an editor. Spoke with the Saturday magazine editor, and I was offered a job. A few months later I got my letter of employment.

This Day signWhat I didn’t know was that this was surprisingly fast. The proper way to get a job in Nigeria is to bribe someone or sleep with someone. I found out a few months into my job that that’s what a few of my colleagues thought I had done.

I was extremely naïve.

Six months later my naivety led to a clumsy joke about Prophet Mohammed and the Miss World Pageant, which Miss World Pageant contestantsoffended Nigeria’s northern sharia states, who began riots, which led to calls for my arrest, which led to me fleeing to a neighbouring African state, which then led to a fatwa from one of the sharia states, which finally led to my becoming a United Nations political refugee. It sounds like a bad movie, but it is true.

Headline from This Day newspaperReligion and politics have always been the topics you don’t want discussed at a dinner party. Many believe that their religious faith, as well as its central figures is sacred. They are not up for debate and any comedians looking for new jokes should please not use Jesus, Mohammed or the Vatican in their punch line.

I understand that strong religious bond. What I don’t understand is the idea that a religion should be defended with violence. The idea that if you say something I find offensive, I have a right to go out on the streets burning homes and killing innocent people and execute fatwas. How does that make me right?

Whatever happened to dialogue? Or letters to the Editor? Or peaceful demonstrations? Or good old fashioned office politics where I would have been re-deployed to the agriculture desk?

I am being naïve again.

Isioma Daniel will be posting short reports on her life in Norway once a week.


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