Peoples' Daily, Nigeria's latest daily newspaper which 43 Northern Nigerians founded about a year and half ago, was formerly presented to the public in Abuja Monday at a crowded ceremony replete with elite of Northern politics, businessmen, and some of the most acclaimed Nigerian Journalists of all times, among others.
On the occasion, speakers after speakers took turns to bare their minds on the state of Nigerian Media.
From left: Former Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Belo Masari; Chairman Peoples Media Ltd., Alhaji Wada Maida and the Chief Presenter, Governor Danjuma Goje of Gombe State during the Public Presentation of Peoples' Daily Newspapers at the Musa Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole at the event while responding to plausible contributions to Nigerian Journalism to development and democracy, said he had not witnessed all the good things said about Nigerian journalism in his own generation.
He said that apart from being under-reported, he has been the target of unfair Newspaper editorials even when his action had brought gains to the country.
On his part, the Governor of Yobe State, Alh. Isa Yuguda regretted what he described as Nigeria's newspapers' penchant for promoting sectionalism, sensational reports and even religious animosity.
Even the Governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau, said that unlike in the past when newspapers formed part of his teaching material for his pupils when he was a School Principal, some of today's Nigerians newspapers' stories are full of grammatical and spelling errors.
But these views are at divergence with what some of the distinguished speakers at the ceremony said of the Nigerian Press.
Chief Segun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State and former Managing Director of Daily times; Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, publisher of The Punch newspaper and the Chairman of Newspaper Proprietors' Association of Nigeria (NPAN) hailed the press as the bastion of Nigerian democracy.
The Chairman of Vanguard Media Limited, publishers of Vanguard newspapers, whose former column (Sad Sam) got a lot of mention, said that all stories in any newspaper are a reflection of its society.
Bakole: No one reports my good works
Said Bankole: "When Osoba (Chief Segun Osoba) mentioned the issue of editorials, I doubt very much that the quality of those (past) editorials put together may not be the same as we see today. I am somehow suspicious of some of these editorials and reports.
"Two years and three months, when the first budget when I had the opportunity of being the Speaker was presented to the House, it read 'unspent funds about N21 billion' and I said okay, if we have a capital budget of N400b and they are returning N21b, that means the budget must have performed in the region of 90%", he said.
According to him, it was obvious that the budget was performing at only between the region of 35 -40%. "So where is the balance", he had asked.
Bankole told the hall that , "N21 billion became N450 billion in three weeks".
He seemed to have had no problem with the headline. He however noted that two weeks later, there was an Editorial from a newspaper from the Ibadan /Lagos axis condemning totally the effort of finding the alleged missing money.
Dumfounded, Bakole said he made a few calls to some people and that he was advised to cultivate a friendly relationship with that particular newspaper, which he did.
"But the following week, another editorial came, condemning again all efforts to make sure that the missing N450 billion was being brought back into the treasury", he said.
According to Bankole, even when both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the 2009 budget the way the Presidency presented it, so as to save time, the Nigerian Press did not acknowledged it. He noted that when at the end of 2009 about N300b was returned as unspent fund, the National Assembly appropriated a supplementary budget and extended the financial year to March 1st , 2010, so that there would be no unspent fund for 2009.
"We said you must spend the money for the Nigerian people", he said.
"And I dare to say, therefore that the 2009 budget implementation is between 85 -90%", he enthused. "However", he pointed out, "nobody is reporting that".
Yuguda: Newspapers have done damage to Nigeria's unity
"What I have seen and have been reading in the print media for a long time now, I have my reservation", he said.
"I would want to say that may be our founding fathers (of Nigerian Journalism) did a wonderful job."
"They worked on stories that propelled Nigeria to move forward. As times moved on, more newspapers came on board, but most of them today cannot stand and get a pass mark. Instead of today's papers to carry issues of development, most newspapers promote rather, stories that are sentiment; that are sectional and sometimes religiously biased all to the detriment of Nigerian unity and progress.
"Newspapers have done a lot of damage to Nigerian unity and progress. And I want to say this with all sense of honesty and responsibility. Even when I was in the University, Nigerian Journalism had not descended to this standard", he lamented.
"I have been so misquoted, and lies fabricated ostensibly to run me down", he added.
He however noted that some print papers have helped in intellectualism and in promoting democracy.
He also exuded confidence that the Peoples' Daily will make Nigeria proud, even as he enjoined them to write articles that will move Nigeria forward.
Osoba: Newspapers, best example of democracy
Chief Segun Osoba who spoke before Bankole and Yuguda, as the Guest Speaker, had said that practical and real democracy exist in the media.
He said that every Editorial written and every lead story of a newspapers goes through a democratic means of choosing them. He also insisted that the Editor of a newspaper is answerable to his reader, because he gets sacked by his publisher each time the fortunes of the paper fails.
He told the crowd that newspapers such as the New Nigeria and the Daily Times played brave and crucial roles in Nigeria's socio-political fortunes.
He also added that there cannot be true democracy in the absence of a vibrant press, which Nigeria has. He said he was happy to see that the North is creating its own media axis to complement the Lagos-Ibadan Axis.
Ogunsola: A newspaper need not be neutral, but...
Chief Ajibola Ogunsola in his remarks said that a newspaper need not be neutral in its approach to issues.
"Some publishers come into business for some specific reasons", he said. "All they need do is to report views of others that are contrary to theirs."
He also cautioned against undue interference in the day-to-day running of a newspaper, observing that all newspapers that have survived did so without the meddling of the sponsors of the media into how the papers were ran.
He said that Nigeria needs more newspapers, observing that, "the more the newspapers, the better for Nigerian democracy."
Amuka: A reflection of society
Mr. Sam Amuka also spoke briefly on the occasion, saying newspapers mirror their societies.
"No newspaper is higher than the community in which it operates, so if there are faults with any newspaper, those faults belong to all of us", he said. "Am glad to witness the formal launch of People's Daily", he said.
IBB, Buhari, Atiku, Govs laud Peoples Daily
Former President Ibrahim Gbadamasi Babangida, who was represented, by former Military Head of State Gen. Muhamadu Buhari (represented by Adamu Adamu) and former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, who was also represented, all said they were enthused with the public presentation of the newspaper, and pledge their support.
"I have carefully followed your editorial contents since you hit the newsstand", said Babangida.
"I am very impressed with your balanced reporting and I have high regards for your columnists", he said.
However, a mild drama took place when the Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali was cleared to make his remarks by the Master of Ceremony.
The Chairman of the occasion, Alh. Samaila Isa Funtua, got on his feet with the PDP spokesman behind him in flowing blue Agabda, clutching his speech
"The MC had informed me that the PDP man wanted to talk and I had objected", he said.
"I like being straight in anything I do", he went on.
"I still insist that no political party will be allowed to make a speech here", he said.
"If we invited anybody here and he belongs to a political party, we did not invite him because of his party. We invited him because of the position he holds or has held in government", he said.
"If we allow the PDP to speak, what moral right do we have to stop the rest", he asked.
"This is newspaper presentation, and we must not politicise it", he added.
The hall responded in applause as the PDP man walked away, through the nearest exit.
Some of the dignitaries at the event are: Gov. of Sokoto State Magartakada Wamaku; Gov, Danjuma Goje of Gombe State; Adamu Abdullahi former Governor of Nasarawa; Mallam Aminu Masari, Former Speaker of the Reps; Chief Uche Ehidiora, Commissioner of Commerce, Abia State who represented the Governor of Abia State, Theodor Orji.
Others are: Deputy Gov. of Yobe State, Ahmed Mahmud; Mr. Manga Musa, Speaker Gombe House of Assembly; Bar. Maman Alakayi, Commissioner of Infomation, Nasarawa who stood in for the Governor of Nasarawa State. Others include, Dr. Shetima Mustapha, former Minister of Defence and Nasir Abdul, who represented Katsina State Governor.