The Vice president of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has said the debates over our country’s future will always be intense and passionate but they need not be toxic or polarizing.
Osinbajo made the statement at a joint event by the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), the Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigerian (BON) to honour recently departed media gurus.
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The departed media leaders who were honoured were Alhaji Lateef Jakande, former governor of Lagos state and pioneer president of NGE and NPAN; Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua, Life patron of NPAN; Prince Tony Momoh, former Trustee NGE and former Minister of Information; Malam Wada Maida, past president of NGE.
Others include Chief Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, former Editor Sunday Times; Mr Bisi Lawrence, Former General Manager, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation; Mr Eddie Aderinnokun, former Editor Daily Express; and Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, former Publisher Leadership Newspaper.
Osinbajo said journalism operates in a social context and therefore cannot be value-neutral, adding that the media has the responsibility to exercise discernment in the deployment of its power.
While calling on gatekeepers to demonstrate responsibility, Osinbajo said: “Let us reject the temptation to fractionalize our society.”
Speaking on the departed media heroes and their contribution to the nation, he said the gathering is a celebration of their lives and the illustrious profession they chose.
“That we have a democracy today is due to the sacrifices of the media; there is a great need to immortalise those who have gone before us.”
Osibanjo said: “The Nigerian press has deep roots going back about 150 years. Indeed, the Nigerian press came into existence before Nigeria itself and was instrumental to the birthing of this nation.
“The pantheon of the heroes of free speech as an institution to which our honorees belong is rich. Several luminaries of the anti-colonial and nationalist movement were also leading figures in the press. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ernest Ikoli, Anthony Enahoro, Herbert Macaulay first established themselves as journalists of repute. Indeed, at one point, Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo controlled five and ten newspapers respectively.
Paying tribute to the honourees
The Vice president noted that since military rule is defined mainly by the abbreviation of civil liberties and in particular the right to freedom of expression, the press found itself on the opposite side of a confrontation with the military regimes of that era.
He said the apogee of the tensions between the press and the military in the 1970s was the nationalization of the Daily Times.
“Those with long memories will remember the 1970s as the era in which Gbolabo Ogunsanwo and Eddie Aderinokun came into their own as editors of the Sunday Times and Daily Express respectively. Both of these giants held court as two of the most respected journalists and public commentators of their time.
“Who can forget Ogunsanwo’s interventions on the Joseph Tarka-Godwin Daboh affair; the cement importation scandal or Cement Armada; Kuku-TOS Benson tango etc.
“Eddie Aderinokun was exceptional, an accomplished poet, Ebony on Snow, Dance of the Vulture and the prescient Dark Days are Here. He was one of the earliest and most influential promoters of Nigerian music and entertainment.
“Broadcast journalism also had its shining examples of professional excellence. Thus, the late Ben Egbuna was the golden voice of the network news of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in the 1980s and 1990s that guided the nation through a turbulent period. A forty-year veteran of the broadcast industry, he would serve as news director of the Voice of Nigeria and rise to be the Director-General of the FRCN and also serve as the president of the African Union of Broadcasters. But what will live long in our memories is the rich texture of his voice interpreting national events for millions of Nigerians for nearly two decades.
“And there was also in that era another iconic figure – Bisi Lawrence, aka Uncle Bizlaw, whose multifaceted career saw him write a hugely popular long-running column in Vanguard, serve as General Manager of Radio Lagos from where he midwifed the establishment of Lagos Television which pioneered 24-hour broadcasting in Nigeria. He also earned acclaim as a seasoned sports administrator. Having begun his career at the Nigeria Broadcasting Service, the precursor to FRCN, Bizlaw’s remarkable footprint of excellence spanned Radio, Television and print journalism as well as sports administration.”
Osinbajo said in the illiberal and hostile climate of the 1980s and 1990s, many journalists took to the front lines of civil society’s struggle against tyranny at great risk to their personal wellbeing and safety, using their publications to advocate for democracy.
He said: “Many of you in this room and your absent colleagues are veterans of that period and paid the price of voluntary deprivation, imprisonment, exile and in some cases the ultimate price.
“Malam Ismaila Isa, for example, who served as president of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) from 1995 to 2002 – possibly the darkest era in the life of the Nigerian media – was right in the trenches at the time rallying the press corps against official censorship of the press. There are many stories of how he helped many news publications to stay alive in difficult times.”
He said the departed gurus were true giants of their craft whose significance in public life loomed larger than their chosen vocations might have indicated.
“Alhaji Lateef Jakande is best remembered now for serving with great distinction as the first elected governor of Lagos between 1979 and 1983. But even before then, he had an accomplished career as a journalist that started in 1949 from the Daily Service and led him in 1953 to join the Nigerian Tribune where he rose to become Editor-in-chief. He was also the first President of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN).
“Tony Momoh was an authentic prince of Auchi, Edo State. He was the 165th child of King Momoh I of Auchi (the king had ‘just 257 children’). Tony Momoh’s personal battle for press freedom earned him a place in the constitutional annals of Nigeria in the famous case of Tony Momoh and the Senate. Joseph Wayas, former Senate president, summoned him to appear before the chamber over an “uncomplimentary” and “contemptuous” publication. The senate sought to compel him to disclose his source of information. Momoh sued the Senate at the Lagos High Court over what he described as an attempt to infringe on press freedom in the country.
“Momoh argued that a journalist had the constitutional obligation to hold the government accountable at all times and that this duty would be jeopardized if he had to disclose his sources. The High Court agreed that an individual had the right to refuse to disclose their source of information.
“As a professor of law, let me however add here that it did not end there. An appellate court, overruled the high court holding that the 1979 Constitution did not shield a journalist from disclosing his source of information. Tony Momoh went on to become one of founding fathers of the APC.
“Sam Nda-Isaiah was also another media icon whose path led from journalism to politics. Though originally a pharmacist, what earned Sam national acclaim were his forthright and uncompromising columns, first in Daily Trust and then in Leadership – the paper he founded in 2004. And he carried that principled forthright disposition into politics. In the years before and after his presidential bid in 2015, he established himself firmly as one of the most principled voices in the media.”
The Vice president noted that one remarkable attribute of the luminaries is the wide-ranging nature of their careers. Their vocational pursuits cut across the public and the private sectors and they scaled impressive heights of accomplishment in both domains.
He said: “I have in mind a gentleman like Malam Wada Maida who served as Chief Press Secretary to President Muhammadu Buhari back when he was Head of State. He went on to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the News Agency of Nigeria between 1985 and 1994 before becoming the Agency’s Managing Director in 1994. He would go on to co-found the Daily Trust and was Chairman of the Board of NAN until his passing. Such was his work ethic that he was at work right until his last day on earth.
On the need to regulate social media
Vice President Osinbajo said: “I emphasize this because we are at yet another defining moment in history – the age of the technology revolution. Once, the dissemination of news was the preserve of states and corporations. The information revolution has completely democratized the media environment.
“The very meaning of the term ‘media owner’ has changed and no longer refers to people with your profile. In this era of citizen journalism, everyone now has a voice whether through blogs, websites, online publications and podcasts.
“The democratization of information unleashed by the information age has also introduced related risks with implications for economic and socio-political stability. Individuals and private interests now control means of information dissemination that were once the exclusive preserve of corporations and governments. These capabilities are increasingly used in all sorts of maligning ways by those that harbour ill-intent. Fake news is being trafficked on a scale that is capable of warping the perception of reality by huge numbers of people and inducing social conflict.
“I believe that media leaders must use the considerable influence you have to seek ways of achieving a consensus on the responsible use of social media. But that is a matter for a much fuller discussion. For the moment, these developments converge with this period of turbulence in the life of our nation, there is really only one question that matters – are we building up our country or are we tearing her down? This is a question that we must ask ourselves in every sphere of endeavour.
“It is the plumb line with which history will judge our generation. Because there is really only one divide at this point. It is the line between those who are committed to constructive action and those who are pursuing a destructive course.
“Our country is not perfect and we all know this. But the cure for her imperfections is most certainly neither destruction nor a heedless descent into anarchy being promoted by some voices. We all have a share in the much-needed work of rebuilding, redesigning, reforming and healing our nation.
“The giants we are celebrating today understood that journalism operates in a social context and cannot be value-neutral. This same cognitive commitment is incumbent upon all media practitioners. We are at a time in our national odyssey in which retailers of discord and merchants of strife are working assiduously against our collective potential as a people.
“The media has been at the forefront of all our epochal struggles from the fight against colonialism to the struggle to entrench democracy. A third struggle is now underway. It is the quest to deepen democracy and to realize our collective possibilities as a just, prosperous and progressive nation. I remain unyielding in my belief that we have a common destiny and that we, the constituents of this nation, are stronger together. I believe that all of us have a stake in advancing the cause of justice, equity and progress. This is a task that is incumbent on all of us.”
How Malam kabiru Yusuf set the ball rolling
Tagged ‘An Afternoon of Tributes’, NPAN President and Chairman of Media Trust Limited, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, in his opening remarks said: “In the past 15 months, 9 media titans have passed on. We have done our mourning in private and it is now time that we remember and celebrate them.”
Interjecting with a joke, he said: “When we made it public that we wanted to honour these fallen heroes, some people came up to me and asked, ‘Why are there no women amongst them’”? The hall erupted in laughter.
Kabiru said: “The nine media icons lived eventful and impactful lives and they continue to enrich our lives through their influences in various endeavours.
“It will be hard for instance to find another journalist who has done it all like Alhaji Lateef Jakande. Sam Nda-Isaiah was the youngest of them but the intensity of his engagement is unparalleled.”
He said journalism is a worthwhile profession that has produced its sort of worthwhile men.
Ishiekwene pays tribute to Nda-Isaiah
Mr Azubuike Ishiekwene, the Editor-in-Chief of Leadership Newspaper, in a compelling statistical analysis, said the oldest of the icons being celebrated was 91 years old while Nda-Isaiah was 58. “The average age of the nine heroes was 79 years. So Nda-Isaiah died 20 years earlier than his time.”
Ishiekwene said Sam Nda-Isaiah, who passed on, on Friday, December 11, 2020 was a man of big ideas, infectious zeal, boundless energy and a patriotic spirit.
Ishiekwene noted that Nda-Isaiah did not love his country in words only, as he recounted that in the over two and a half decades that he segued from his profession – pharmacy, to journalism, he invested himself in the art of speaking truth to power, a gift he inherited from his journalist father and honed through years of dedicated practice and personal education.
“Sam Nda-Isaiah was a bridge-builder and an ardent believer in a one, united and strong Nigeria. A down-to-earth pundit and straight shooter, he said in many of his writings that he believed that Nigeria is stronger and better together.
“He saw from his many personal travels and expansive self-education that countries with large populations and focused, disciplined leadership are able to get a whole lot more done for citizens and secure their place in the world. China was his ever-present example.
“Not that he under-estimated the challenges of a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria, but Sam Nda-Isaiah believed that given the country’s potential, and with the right leadership, there was nothing it could not achieve.”
Ishiekwene recalled that after years of punditry, he threw his hat in the ring in 2014 and, in a bold, courageous move for which he will forever be remembered, contested the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party whose formation he played a frontline role.
“He lost the ticket, but his ideas were not defeated – ideas for a change in the bankrupt, beggarly status of state governments and the renewal and transformation of the country. He continued to canvas these ideas as a party man, a businessman and a visionary till the very end.
“It is remarkable that perhaps the only birthday that Sam Nda-Isaiah marked in pomp and circumstance was his 50th. He did it, not necessarily to announce himself as he was already an established publisher, businessman and politician at the time. He hosted the event to unite the fragmented and hopelessly divided opposition when he perceived that only a united front could end nearly 20 years of the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) arrogant and rotten rule.
“We recall that, that birthday, nine years ago, was the first time some of the opposition’s biggest prizes – General Muhammadu Buhari (as he then was) and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu – would be meeting face-to-face after a futile and catastrophic merger attempt in 2011.”
Sam Amuka says Isa Funtua was misreported whilst alive
The Chairman of Vanguard Media Ltd, Sam Amuka (Uncle Sam) described Malam Isa Funtua as one of the most misunderstood and misreported men when he was alive, a description Amuka said never deterred him from giving his best to the country.
He said: “Funtua was a successful man with a thriving construction company before the advent of this administration and has used his vast resources to serve the needs of the profession which included the building of the Nigeria Institute of journalism headquarters in Victoria Island at no cost to the institute.
Uncle Sam, who is 85 years old, rounded off in a solemn manner, “I hope to see you soon my friend.”
A highly capable administrator, Isa Funtua started his career in the Katsina Native Authority, where he eventually rose through the ranks working in the defunct North Central State.
He later joined United Textiles Limited Kaduna, where he was the personnel manager showcasing “great managerial finesse” over 10,000 workers.
He was a member of the 1994 Constitutional Conference under General Sani Abacha.
He then retired into private business where he became a director of several companies. He was the founder of Funtua Textiles Limited, and managing director of the Democrat Newspaper.
He was also the founder and Chairman of Bulet Construction Company (one of the largest indigenous construction companies in Nigeria), responsible for building several federal buildings. He was a Life Patron of the International Press Institute and the Newspaper Proprietors Association.
Prince Nduka Ogbaigbena eulogize Maida for resuscitating NGE
Prince Nduka Ogbaigbena recalled how he met Maida who had served as the Chief Press Secretary to the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari, with whom he worked with others to revive the Nigerian Guild of Editors in 1989, and thereafter became the president of the guild.
“After serving out his time at the News Agency of Nigeria, Maida moved quietly into private practice and was one of the early investors in Daily Trust, ensuring that the north had a voice. He was the key investor of Peoples’ Daily Newspaper.”
Maida, who turned 70 in March 2020, was elected to the IPI Executive Board at the General Assembly in Geneva in June 2019. He had been a member of IPI since 1999.
Maida started his career when he was appointed information officer in Kaduna State, where he served from 1971 to 1978 and as zonal editor from 1978 to 1981. From 1981 to 1983, Maida was based in London as foreign correspondent in charge of Western Europe for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He became chief press secretary to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the military head of State of Nigeria, from 1984 to 1985.
From 1985 to 1994, he served as editor-in-chief at NAN and was appointed managing director in 1994. Maida was a pioneering editor at the news agency and was recently appointed chairman of the board of NAN.
Chief Segun Osoba wants Jakande family to open his library to researchers
Paying tribute to the former governor of Lagos State – Alhaji Jakande, Chief Segun Osoba, also a former governor, said: “I want to appeal to Alhaja (Jakande’s wife) and the family, to open Alhaji’s (Jakande) library upstairs in his house. It is a room full of documents and I will urge the Nigeria Press Association to sponsor researchers to unravel the formation of the NGE and the NPAN because all that information is there.”
He said Jakande’s style of leadership was to provide an alternative to the government proposition which accounted for how the media was able to wade off the government proposed Press Council conceived to censor the press.