Monday, 20 January 2014

The day my double appeared on the radio

Mohaman Babalala (right) and the man pretending to be him in a picture
supplied by Radio Yola
There is only one person by the name of Mohaman Babalala working for
the BBC. So, as he explains, it was quite a shock when another was
heard on a Nigerian radio station.

It happened on 9 November, a Saturday.

As I was heading out of my house in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon,
I received a phone call from an acquaintance in Yola, across the
border in Nigeria.

"Where are you now?" he asked me. It was a surprising question. I
merely answered: "In Yaounde. Why?"

"I knew it!" he said. "I just heard someone talking on air on Radio
Yola and pretending to be you. But I knew that voice wasn't yours."

I was still reeling when I received a call from another friend saying
the same thing, and another, and another.

I couldn't help being anxious, wondering what this man had been saying
in my name.

Later, I found out. Work at the BBC was very hard and demanding, the
other Mohaman Babalala had said - much harder than working for local
papers and radio stations. He also said he was working on a project
funded by the World Bank, which was part of Nigeria and Cameroon's
Flood Control Programme.

Trying to juggle his time between the World Bank and the BBC had left
him with barely any time for himself, he told the show.

Why anyone would put such peculiar words in my mouth is beyond me.
Needless to say, I've never done any work for the World Bank.

Then I remembered an incident from a couple of years ago while I was
on a visit to Maiduguri in Nigeria. A colleague there had heard a
report that someone had approached the chief of the Kanuri people
claiming to be Mohaman Babalala, the BBC Hausa correspondent in
Cameroon - that is to say, me.

This colleague was astonished, because she didn't think I could pop up
there without her hearing about it. And true enough, it hadn't been

At the time, the incident had just made me laugh. Someone was
pretending to be little old me! LOL. I won't deny I felt a little

Looking back, I feel sure that this was the same impostor that took to
the airwaves on Radio Yola, since he spouted that same cock-and-bull
story about working for the World Bank.

My guess is that this man is pretending to be me for money - the local
press in Cameroon is corrupt - and prestige.

As for prestige, without wanting to sound arrogant, I am quite
well-known. I am just a reporter, but I am the first Hausa BBC
correspondent to be based in Cameroon, and I've been in post since

The Hausa are a large tribe living in West Africa. Most Hausa have not
been to school and don't speak English or French very well. The radio
is still the easiest way for them to get information and Hausa
language reporters are really appreciated. And at BBC Hausa, we travel
to remote villages to report on people's health, schooling and way of

People often want to repay us in some way, to honour us. Over the
years, I have received calls from several listeners telling me they
have named their children after me. I have yet to meet a baby Babalala
- but if I live to hear one of them reporting on the radio, I will be
delighted, and truly honoured.

As for my double, the thought of someone introducing himself as me and
talking on air in the name of the BBC began to irritate me more and
more. He could say anything and cause all sorts of problems.

I got my first glimpse of the other "me" when someone posted a picture
of him on my Facebook page. This time he was in a Nigerian newspaper,
standing alongside Hassan Mijinyawa, chief press secretary to Danbaba
Suntai, a state governor.
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