The day my double appeared on the radio
- 21 January 2014
- From the section Magazine
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 me.
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 flattered.
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 2006.
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 life.
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.
By this point, my friends in Yola had contacted the radio station to tell them they had made a mistake.
Radio Yola called me and eventually - two days later - I went on air to clarify things.
This time, they weren't taking any chances.
"When was the last time you set foot in Yola?" they asked me. Then: "Do you have a brother who is a journalist?"
I had to prove that I was me. They asked me to sign off in my special way so that the audience could know I was the real Babalala.
The presenter told me that the fake Babalala has a similar accent to me - presumably he comes from the same part of northern Cameroon - and that's why she was fooled.
I now know what this man looks and sounds like but I have made no attempt to find him. My friends on Facebook, however, have vowed to track him down.
Nowadays, colleagues on the phone always ask me, "Is this the real Babalala or the fake one?"
I can see that it is quite funny - for them at least - but I preferred it when there was only one of me.