29 June 2009

Nigerian Tribune - a Salute to Awo's Newspapernomics


Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the typical leader Plato would recommend for any state - one who must be a great thinker for him to become a king or, who, upon becoming a king, must proceed to be a great thinker. Ikemba Nnewi and Eze Gburugburu Ndigbo, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, millionaire son-turned-secessionist leader, knew that much when he described Awo as the best President Nigeria never had.

A true leader is known not by his material worth that is traceable to the spoils of service but his service to humanity and his legacy that endures.

Like the legendary inscriptions on mammy wagons which say BEWARE, MANY HAVE GONE, the history of the print media in Nigeria is replete with titles that had featured on the newsstands but today are no more.

Although it was established before independence as a colonial contraption to report the goings-on in the country, the Daily Times of Nigeria was turned into an anti-colonialism weapon by the Herbert Macaulays and Nnamdi Azikwes. Over time, it became synonymous with what print journalism was all about, as the not-so-literate in the rural areas till today still refer to all newspapers as Daily Times; same way as all Americans refer to all soft-drinks as Soda. In a diachronic study of its history, the Daily Times stable has overtime featured other titles like Lagos Weekend, Spear, Headlines, Poise and the like. They had at one time or the other been rested and revived. The character of the paper from the logo through the type-face to general layout had been through innumerable experimentations. The establishment itself had been the breeding ground from which subsequent publications could poach for employees. Yet only the Lagos Weekend seems to have risen from the ashes of random changes.

Same was the fate that befell the old Western Region's Sketch. Even though it was run as a parastatal of an opposition government, it upheld the virtues of Spartan journalism to such an extent that whoever was reading it did not feel he was being made to swallow cheap political propaganda. Reports were balanced and shades of opinion were evenly represented. Stories had the slant of fair hearing, and the practice of yellow-journalism was more of an exception than the rule.

The erosion of true federalism and the emergence of unitarism masquerading as federalism distorted the ideals of the media, as they soon became the official mouthpiece of any government in power, especially during the aberrant incursion of the military into politics, and anybody in government, from the sane to the nincompoop, could wield the state-owned media as a weapon of self-aggrandizement. Print media houses in this category have featured epileptically, and, as government parastatals, have been drain pipes for hardly earned internally generated revenue to be frittered away in the form of over-bloated recurrent expenditure. Some, like Sketch, are now defunct. Others like Herald (of old Kwara State), Observer (of old Bendel State), Nigerian Chronicle (of old Cross River State), Lagos Horizon (of Lagos State) could hardly thrive because in our own way of seeing things, especially since the days of a monolithic economy that fetches us free oil money, whatever belongs to the government belongs to no one, but is just a cow to be milked dry.

Entrepreneurs who have ventured into publishing have ranged from professionals to politicians. In post-Independence, post-Civil War Nigeria, papers like the Punch have graduated professionals like Sam Amuka Pemu, who taking the Muyiwa Adetibas with him had gone to establish Vanguard. Both Adetiba and Lawrence Akapa (ace pocket cartoonist and creator of the Mr. & Mrs. concept that would become the 'Unique Selling Point' of Vanguard), had left to establish the Prime People and TopNews respectively. Upon the breakdown of the articles of association and memorandum of understanding between Adetiba and his Board of Directors, he had established Vintage People. Funmi Coker-Onita had been employed Editor of Prime People with Dr (now Professor) Idowu Shobowale as Managing Director. Again, Coker-Onita had left Prime People to establish Today's Choice. Both papers are now defunct.

From the Punch stable, Sunny Ojagbase had lured entertainment columnist Femi Akintunde-Johnson to establish another general interest magazine in the mould of Prime People. He titled it Climax. As hands from Vintage People like Mayor Akinpelu, Kunle Bakare and Desola Rajifuja (now Mrs. Bakare) were leaving Vintage People, they sojourned in May Ellen Ezekiel's Classique. She herself having been seconded from Newswatch to Quality, Ezekiel (MEE) had established Classique. The trio of Akinpelu, Bakare and Akintunde-Johnson again berthed at FAME weekly. When the trio fell apart, Bakare and Johnson headed for National Encomium while Akinpelu gestated to Global Execellence, until Johnson had to venture into yet another title, TREASURE...

To hold against the political behemoth of Obafemi Awolowo, Chief M.K.O Abiola had recruited the Doyin Abiolas, Dele Giwas, Ray Ekpus, Dan Agbeses and Yakubu Mohammeds, variously from Daily Times, Nigerian Chronicle and the like. to start the Concord Group of Newspapers. Sister publications from the stable included African Concord, a political magazine that refused to apologize to military ruler, Ibrahim Babaginda, on the instruction of his publisher-friend, Abiola, whose successful presidential election he would eventually annul. Elements that branched out from there include the Bayo Onanugas, Dapo Olorunyomis, the Babafemi Ojudus. They condensed at the The News, published under Independent Communications Limited.

Before the saga of the Onanugas and the Olorunyomis, the Dele Giwas and Yakubu Mohammeds had left Concord earlier to establish Newswatch. Too breezily critical of government, Newswatch's Editor-in-Chief had become a victim of a parcel bomb. Elements who felt the strident course of journalistic conscientization of the society was being deviated from had branched out to establish TELL magazine.

Remarkable entrepreneurs who have embarked on the business of print journalism include Alex Uruemu Ibru (The Guardian), Emmanuel Iwuanyawu (The Champion) and the like. One or two had been bruised in their papers' head-on collision with bad governments of the day. As an instrument of amassing political sagacity, former public office holders have ventured into establishing print media. Titles like The Sun, The Nation, The Compass, The Telegraph, etc have since joined the number.

Nevertheless, hardly have any of the aforementioned defunct or subsisting publications survived the number of years, 60, which Awolowo's Nigerian Tribune has attained. A radical, progressive, independent and widely circulated newspaper, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida once remarked that of all the newspapers in Nigeria, he'd only read and take seriously the Editorial Column of Nigerian Tribune; although cynics were quick to point out that that was very much in tune with the character of the general in wooing and winning his opposition over, the same way he said the publisher, Awolowo, was for long the main thrust of Nigerian politics, and that 'you are either for him or against him'.

Other than the success of Tribune, Obafemi Awolowo remains a decimal not to be wished away in Nigerian politics. And Tribune is a historical testimonial. And in the quarry of Democracy, Tribune remains a frontline. So let's raise our glasses to the Nigerian Tribune...

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