|Aremo Olusegun Osoba with a former Nigerian Speaker of the Federal House of Representative, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole|
The Press and Democracy
When the forerunners of today’s journalism took on the British Empire, it was not an easy thing. The enormity of the task they set themselves will not strike today’s generation. The British Empire stretched right across the globe. You look at the picture and here you are in one small place in Nigeria against this mighty empire which had sedition as a weapon to put you in jail. Why was my brother jailed under the British? As a 22-year-old young man, he wrote an article. The governor had just got a pay rise at a time when we had a general strike and we were told that there was no money to pay the workers in this country. So the young man wrote to question why the governor was accepting a pay rise when they said there was no money to pay the workers in this country. The colonial authorities said it was seditious. The press has a great role in preserving the spirit of democracy. I am not saying corruption should be condoned.
|Elder Peter Enahoro tell tales from the past of journalism|
As a young journalist, I remember that the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa appealing to editors to be cautious and not to publish things that would fuel crisis. There was a threatened strike and the drivers of Bolekaja (the forerunners of Molue) abandoned their vehicles and blocked Lagos in a demonstration. Balewa summoned us the editors to a private briefing, I am sure, based on security reports. He said certain people were trying to undermine the society. They wanted to bring down the government. At that time the threat of Communist infiltration and the Russians aiding and abetting certain radicals was the big thing in this country. And he was trying to tell us that we should not take things on the face value. I remember as a young man sitting back and saying to myself:
“Why is he
trying to join me in this? I am not in government. I am not a politician”.
|Elder Peter Enahoro's book|
I remember Balewa telling us: “If this crisis erupts, all of us will suffer”. And I remember thinking to myself: “Why should I Suffer? I am not part of it.” But he was right. When the crisis carne in 1966, poor Balewa lost his life and Peter Enahoro went into exile that was to last more than 26 years. So, journalists should not feel that they don’t belong to government and as such should always be looking for crisis to fuel their news stories.
|The Osoba Newspaper Years....The book that told the tale of old journalism practice in Nigeria|
The Columnist-Past and Present
|King Mike Awoyinfa explaining a point to the GDA as Dimgba Igwe looks on|
As I indicated earlier, I am a columnist and not a reporter. From this premise, let me give my perspective on column writing in Nigeria-past and present. For a start, Nigerian newspapers journalism has a long tradition that places more glamour on commentary writing than it shows respect for brave or adventurous news reporting. It is therefore, no surprise that the continuing ambition of the upwardly mobile Nigerian newspaper journalist is to become a “columnist” in double quick time.
|Late Alhaji Babatunde Jose....The man who witnessed the era of revolutionary journalism in Nigeria|
In Britain, the country we once looked up to for role modeling, those counted as great journalists went out to cover foreign wars or as exemplified by Robert Stanley to traverse wild and uncharted regions in quest of discovery. In today’s America, the investigative reporters, such as the duo of Watergate fame are, clothed in stardom and endowed with fortunes.
The reason the written commentary has such pride of place in Nigerian journalism can be traced to a history reaching back to the colonial era.
|King Mike Awoyinfa|
In those days, straight news reporting concerning affairs of government more than likely emanated from the colonial administration itself. As Assistant Publicity Officer at the Department of Information, my first job, we subbed cablegrams from the UK government’s Central Office of Information in London. A bank of typists pounded away and the resultant stacks of cyclostyled news material were dispatched to newspaper offices. Apart from lifting excerpts from the BBC, this was the main source of foreign news published in the following day’s newspapers.
|Dimgba Igwe The Great|
Information reaching the press about government was indirectly censored and frequently pre-empted investigative journalism, because independently sourced news had to survive the barriers of the Official Secrets Act and the watchful eye of General Orders (that Civil Service bible famously called “G.O.”). News reports that escaped the tight filter of the culture of conspiracies of silence did not often enjoy real penetration of the closed inner circle of government activities. Discovering and publishing confidential information was asking for the fury of government to be unleashed on a newspaper and its reporter.
|The GDA with the tabloid kings Mike & Dimgba|
In contrast, colonial officials were more tolerant of commentaries. News reports sought to deal with facts;
Commentaries were the mere opinions of their authors. A news report had the ring of truth while a columnist’s opinion was recognized for what it was-mere opinion of a hack writer. Even when it was productive or annoying, a commentary was more likely to escape sanction whereas a false news report was regarded as felonious and calculated to cause unrest. Besides, stringent laws of sedition were available to penalize a columnist who trod care freely on sensitive toes.
|Aremo Olusegun Osoba; His time was the real time of journalism|
Barring the Daily Times and its commercially-oriented foreign ownership, the main focus of a newspaper was to support a political movement and wage the anti-colonial struggle. A newspaper was a pulpit from which to propagate the party line and the message of liberation. This explains why news reporting per se did not form the main centerpiece of colonial era journalism. Commentaries gave vent to the hunger for battle in a way that straight news reporting could not. An offending columnist went to jail with an air of martyrdom knowing he would return and be hailed a national hero. A news reporter who got himself into trouble with the authorities for reporting false information was not similarly glorified.
|Dimgba Igwe of blessed Memory told the GDA few things about journalism|
It was the columnists of the day who gave the newspaper its personality. Opinions were divided on the best way to tackle colonialism and abuse flew back and forth among columnists. Columnists accused their competitors either of collaborating with foreign rule or, conversely, of being tools of foreign agent-provocateurs.
The two most outstanding exponents on opposite sides of the argument were on the one hand the charismatic Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; publisher of his Zik Group of newspapers; and on the other, the physically robust and socially rumbustious Ernest Ikoli, Editor of the Nigerian Daily Times. Although there were other entertaining and thought-provoking columnists of the era - such as Samuel Ladoke Akintola and J.V. Clinton - it was the often personalized battles between Zik and Ikoli that most popularized newspaper column writing in their day.
The differences between the two men ranged from their contrasting personalities to their rival attitudes toward professionalism. Zik had a string of degrees from American universities and was not shy to combine his scholastic excellence with a business practicality. Ikoli had risen through the ranks of journalism to the top of his profession, in the style still preferred today in Britain. He was intelligent, totally absorbed in his vocation and scornful of materialistic interests.
These distinctions showed in their individual style of writing and they have been variously imitated through two generations. The influence of Zik’s love for multi-syllabic words has endured. Giving his thoughts on carving any new state out of the existing regions of the First Republic, Zik said that three conditions be satisfied: “Geographical propinquity; economic viability; linguistic affinity.” It was classic Azikiwe brevity!
Zik’s acolytes included quiet and dignified Mobolaji Odunewu, and sophisticated Increase Coker. There were others like Anthony Enahoro. Instigated by Zik’s writing, they came into journalism with a temper. They were young, fiery, eager and on occasions reckless. They were the golden boys of anti-colonial journalism and they set a level of defiance to authority that has not been equaled since. The columns they wrote guaranteed them spells in prison but gave them instant acclaim as national heroes. They brought a peculiar respectability to Nigerian journalism, which alas has been abandoned.
|Late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo|
By the time my generation was starting out on the scene the most popularly acknowledged columnists were Ayekoto (Bisi Onabanjo), Ebenezer Williams (Abiodun Aloba), John West (L.K. Jakande), and M.C.K Ajuluchukwu, who wrote under his name. Of the four, the widest read was Ebenezer Williams, who as well as writing his weekly column in the Sunday Times (by far the largest circulation in West Africa at the time) was also its editor. Ebenezer Williams invented a style that was all his own. He would lift a passage from the Bible and as if authoring a sermon and yet without a religious pose cleverly tie the biblical quote to the burning issue of the day. It was quite ingenious.
|Late MCK Ajuluchukwu|
Ayekoto was witty without being caustic. He made you laugh and even when you disagree violently with his trend you felt that here was a nice guy speaking his honest mind.
|Chief Lateef Jakande tells the GDA his own story|
John West on the other hand was self-righteous and rather cold. When you met him in person you knew at once that here was a man uncompromisingly dedicated to a cause. A man so resolute in his beliefs it scared you to think that you did not share his views. Jakande supported the Action Group; he was the editor of the Tribune, a newspaper owned by the party leader’s family. It came as no surprise when years later, he was dubbed Baba Kekere; effectively meaning, “Little Awolowo”.
|Zik's Paper: West African Pilot|
Ajuluchukwu was a devoted party man, previously an aggressive Zikist who became a Dr. Michael Okpara’s propagandist after roughages opened up between Zik and his successor as Premier of the Eastern Region. In his later years, Ajuluchukwu allied himself to Chief Obafemi Awolowo,
a political about turn that was akin to walking the length
of the Sahara to join the enemy. His
columns in the Eastern Nigeria Outlook were forever acerbic especially
when he imagined himself in defense of the Igbo.
History is bound to say that some of his writings contributed to the crisis
that eventually exploded into the Civil
|Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo....One of the First Generation Media entrepreneurs in Nigeria|
|Tribune: Awolowo's Paper that made Lateef Jakande|
His outright enemy was Candido in the New Nigerian under the editorship of Adamu Ciroma. It was suspected that Candido did not have a specific author. It was a forum for giving the Northern response to those Sir Ahmadu Bello, premier of the North dismissed as “The Southern Press”. Candido’s secret authorship depended on the subject matter and the expert selected to write the piece.
|Back of the Book is front of the Authors|
(Excerpts from the book “Segun Osoba: The Newspaper Years” by Mike Awoyinfa & Dimgba Igwe. To get a hard copy of the book, kindly call Mrs. Gloria Oriakwu on 080-33-44-5125)