It was a German media practitioner, Herman Ziock that painted graphically, the role of the media practitioner in the publication: Man and the Press; ‘German Opinion on Problems of Today’, the Press has two different responsibilities: it can be either the bringer of light or the root of all evil, depending on those who make the press. It sounds flattering when Jasper writes: Great journalists beget great veracity. But not everyone can be a great journalist. Nonetheless, no one is prevented from striving for veracity. This submission is further supported by Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University who once submitted that ”the only position that occurs to me that a man can successfully fill by the simple fact of birth is that of an idiot. ”The born editor, who has succeeded greatly without special preparation is a man with unusual ability and aptitude to his chosen profession, with great power of concentration and sustained effort.”
The idea of writing on the activities of the Generals of Nigerian journalism came on my mind yesterday evening as I was driving back from the church, only to arrive home to hear the news of the national honours awards. That is not for discussion here. The intention is really to create the feelings of empathy in younger professionals, and others who may wish to be journalism practitioners, who could be influenced by reading the stories of the exploits of people like the doyen, Babatunde Jose; restless Segun Osoba and his mark as an investigative journalist and reporter even as Chief Executive of his newspapers, great interviewers like highly intelligent Oloye Kunle Adeleke a high flyer of the People in the News fame at WNTV/WNBS, who became known for his probing interview techniques that catapulted him to the position of Controller of News & Current Affairs of WNTV/WNBS, from the position of Executive Editor, superseding three of his bosses at the relatively young age of 32 years. Dr. Yemi Farounbi, who excelled as a great mentor and media manager, backed journalists under him to file objective reports against governments that owned those stations in the public interest, once convinced that they conducted themselves professionally, and defended them whenever invited by their proprietors.
Tonnie Iredia was an incisive interviewer and could be described as Nigeria’s Larry King, that famed CNN interviewer. How could Chief Adebisi Adesola, then Manager, Current Affairs of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, Ibadan, have successfully interviewed Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was far more knowledgeable than his interviewer on a programme: GUEST OF THE MONTH one-on-one for solid one hour; and never developed goose pimples? How did those Guerrilla journalists produced by military antagonism operate? Most certainly, the history of Nigeria’s political development cannot be complete without a generous mention of the role of the press in pre and post-independence periods. One common feature of the journalism profession is the resilience of professional journalists that contributed immensely to the historic results of the several collective struggles and sacrifices of political activists, who stood up to both British colonial rulers and the military; and ensured their exit from the political arena. Pressure groups generally, including the media influenced and reinforced the struggle for independence that the early nationalists won for Nigeria. They mounted unrelenting pressure on the British for constitutional reforms, that eventually led to increased participation of Nigerians in the running of their own affairs.
The agitation for self-determination commenced with little and local protests by the emerging elites who were educated abroad and who had witnessed, first-hand, how European countries and North America were run and managed. Political associations were formed locally and abroad to champion the cause of political emancipation. Side by side with this development was the struggle of the working class who vigorously demanded better working conditions for workers. The pre-independence press, that was indeed a press of nationalism joined in the struggle for independence, and demanded equity, democratic practices and fairness in the administration of the country. Evidently, Nigeria’s continued existence as a single nation with democratic affectations today is largely due to the remorseless pressure mounted by these patriotic groups, particularly civil society organizations, the press, politicians, the labour movements and others who have fought vigorously and tirelessly. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot and Obafemi Awolowo’s Nigerian Tribune newspapers constituted thorns in the flesh of the colonialists.
THE EARLY NATIONALISTS
Nigeria’s nationalist heroes; the Herbert Macaulays, the Obafemi Awolowos, the Nnamdi Azikiwes, the Tafawa Balewas, the Okoti Ebohs, the Aminu Kanos, the Ernest Ikolis, H.O Davies, Ahmadu Bellos, Mbonu Ojikes, Michael Imoudus, Samuel Akisanyas; Funmilayo Ransome Kutis, Osita Agwunas, etc all fought good fights for nationhood. Other nationalists like Mokwugo Okoye, Suad Zungur, Raji Abdallah, utilized the press to the advantage of the evolution of the modern Nigerian society. The post-independent press shifted its role to that of canvassing for development and serving as watchdogs, a role that they played commendably. The period of the military rule saw the emergence of a militant press that refused to be cowed, even as Government bared its fangs. It is believed that the Nigerian press is the freest in Africa and takes a front row in the global journalism practice. Fearless social critics and activists damned the consequences to fight insistent wars against perceived misrule and paid the price. These included activists like Beko Ransome-Kuti, Tai Solarin, Wole Soyinka Ayo Obe, Olisa Agbakoba, Ovie Kokori, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Femi Falana, and others which space will not permit to be mentioned.
Second generation media practitioners who appeared on the stage vacated by the early nationalists included Babatunde Jose, Laban Namme, Henry Odukomaiya, MCK Ajuluchukwu, Lateef Jakande, Alade Odunewu, Peter Enahoro, and Abiodun Aloba; who were forerunners to brilliant minds like Areoye Oyebola, Segun Osoba, Felix Adenaike, Tunji Oseni, Sola Odunfa, Peter Ajayi, Sam Amuka Pemu, and Gbolabo Ogunsanwo. Then appeared on the scene master of prose writing, Olatunji Dare, Stanley Macebuh, , Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Adamu Adamu, Mohammed Ibrahim, Tola Adeniyi and Lade Bonuola. Journalists who worked in popular news magazines like The News & TEMPO, The Week, Newswatch, Newbreed and pirate radio station Radio Kudirat braved all odds to battle the military successfully. Adekunle Ajasin, Abraham Adesanya, Bola Ige, Ayo Adebanjo, Alani Akinrinade, Bolaji Akinyemi, and other members of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) dared the military. Royal father, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, a bold king deserves a special mention. Some retired military rulers also took great risks by confronting the Abacha administration.
THE NIGERIAN MEDIA & OCCUPATIONAL HARZARDS
Nigeria’s post-independence press is recorded as suffering incalculable oppression as it consistently stood against bad governance. Great harm came to many practitioners who were locked up in detention for long periods, in the course of the performance of their functions. But they were not deterred. Therefore, the history of political activism would not be complete without an allusion to the commendable role played by the Nigerian media that has fought gallantly for emancipation of the populace. They lived up to expectations as members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. Guerrilla journalism, at that critical period, became the style of journalists operated from hideouts to avoid arrest and detention by government. They performed wonders in periods of crises.
Not a few of them: Minari Amakiri whose head was shaved for an alleged violation of the privacy of a governor in one of the then Eastern States; Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor who were jailed under decree 4 for publishing the truth; a WNTV/WNBS personnel who reportedly died in the course of recording a social function involving a top government official in Ibadan as reflected in the book: The Man Died, authored by Wole Soyinka. Dele Giwa was bombed to death, and James Bagauda Kaltho vanished, Tayo Awotusin and Krees Imodibe, newspaper correspondents who lost their lives in far-away Liberia, while reporting the country’s senseless war also deserve a mention. Others who suffered terrible deprivations included Chris Anyanwu, Nosa Igiebor, Dapo Olorunyomi, Bayo Onanuga, Godwin Agbroko, Kunle Ajibade, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Niran Malaolu and Babafemi Ojudu. There were others who lost their lives in mysterious circumstances. There were others who were lucky to escape into exile through the NADECO route.
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS
Several schools of thought have been unsparing in their criticisms of military interventions, arguing that these destroyed the foundation on which the existence of Nigeria was laid. Without doubt, military rule is an aberration and its conducts negate every principle of democracy and good governance. Furthermore, the military are not trained for governance and really have no time for the niceties of democracy. A former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Modibbo Alfa Belgore, rtd, has pointed out that the nation’s problems since independence have been caused by the elites, and not the various constitutions that have been operated, noting that the country has the potential to be great. Belgore, in a media interview asserts that Nigeria is a beautiful country, the pride of the black race. The present problems are the results of instability; and had democratic governance not been terminated in 1966, we would have crossed the Rubicon into a developed nation; not underdeveloped nation.
The beauty of democracy is that it allows for discussions, consultations, accountability and the management of the affairs of the generality of people in a manner that the people want. This belief was the prime reason pressure groups became resolute and unwavering in their task of promoting democratic conducts. Civil Society organizations that could be rightly described as the unofficial opposition have played commendable roles in the quest for the entrenchment of an enduring democratic culture in Nigeria. In the days of military rule, civil society organizations were very formidable. Even now, during civil democratic rule, they have been able to invite the attention of the ruling class to perceived distortions and ills in the polity. They have always constituted themselves into very formidable opposition. Their leaders, at various times, in the past suffered deprivations and the loss of their fundamental human rights in attempts at mobilizing people to embark on mass non-violent protests to express their grievances. They never yielded to threats and other forms of harassment.
THE MAJOR FACTORS TO WATCH
The reasons for the failure of past political experiences, is advanced by a British historian, AHM Kirk-Greene, in his book Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria. In it, he says that: in the final analysis, the Nigerian tragedy has been bedevilled by a set of oppositions, generalized, stereotype, not necessarily of the same order and may be imaginary, yet each widening the wound and reducing the hope of healing it: north vs south, Islam vs Christianity, alleged feudalism vs assumed socialism, Federal vs unitary preferences, traditional authority vs achieved elitism, haves vs have-nots, each with sinister undertones of tension, irreconcilability and threatened withdrawal. Each opposing set of these forces, he continues, had sufficient seed of truth within it to permit, and even fertilize, the growth of feared fact from the semi-fiction of its existence. The search for the roots of the disaster of 1966 through the first military incursion into Nigerian politics, and subsequent destabilization of the political scene could be directed at the aforementioned factors, each sufficient to erupt into a political volcano.
Activists in the various pressure groups, especially the Nigerian media must be credited as agents that facilitated the return to civil rule, and for the highly commendable roles they played in ensuring the evolution of the fourth democratic dispensation, and checking the excesses of the three arms of government.
THE WORDS OF THE WISE
Interestingly, Nnamdi Azikiwes Motto was: “talk I listen, you listen I talk” indicating his preference for dialogue. Azikiwe stated in part in his January 1966 speech when the military first struck in Nigeria: Violence has never been an instrument used by us, as founding fathers of the Nigerian Republic, to solve political problems. In the British tradition, we talked the Colonial Office into accepting our challenges for the demerits and merits of our case for self-government. After six constitutional conferences in 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960, Great Britain conceded to us the right to assert our political independence as from October 1, 1960. None of the Nigerian political parties ever adopted violent means to gain our political freedom and we are happy to claim that not a drop of British or Nigerian blood was shed in the course of our national struggle for our place in the sun. This historical fact enables me to state publicly in Nigeria that Her Majesty’s Government has presented self-government to us on a platter of gold. Of course, my contemporaries scorned at me, but the facts of history are irrefutable. I consider it most unfortunate that our Young Turks decided to introduce the element of violent revolution into Nigerian politics. No matter how they and our general public might have been provoked by obstinate and perhaps grasping politicians, it is an unwise policy.
Similarly, Obafemi Awolowo in his letter to then Head of State, Major-General JTU Aguiyi Ironsi dated 28th March, 1966, stated that: One of the monsters which menaced the public life of this country up to 14th January, this year (1966) is OPPORTUNISM with its attendant evils of jobbery, venality, corruption, and unabashed self-interest… a truly public-spirited person should accept public office not for what he can get for himself such as the profit and glamour of office but for the opportunity which it offers him of serving his people to the best of his ability, by promoting their welfare and happiness.
Nigeria will be surely be great again.