JOURNAL FROM EXILE
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
Writing from Norway,
Isioma Daniel shares her thoughts and experiences in exile,
with the first in a series of journal entries for CBC News:
the root of all evil
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.
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
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.
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
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 offended
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.
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
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.