Sunday, 1st October 2023

When media tribe honoured departed colleagues in afternoon of tributes

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Sunday Aikulola
25 May 2021   |   3:00 am
It was a day of remembrance and an afternoon of tributes for the departed. The gathering, which held at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre


It was a day of remembrance and an afternoon of tributes for the departed. The gathering, which held at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) Centre, Lagos, was all you could desire, a rainbow colour so to say, as newspaper publishers, editors, reporters and politicians swarm around the venue to honour the dead media men.

From the media tribe, it was all about who didn’t come and not those who came as the list of guests lengthened with the passing minutes.

Tagged: “An Afternoon of Tributes,” the event ogarnised by Nigerian Press Organisation, consisting of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); and the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON) attracted high net worth guests and royalty such as, the Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. John Kayode Fayemi, who is the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum; Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar (rtd) CFR; Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru; former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Segun Osoba; Chief Ajibola Ogunsola; Prince Nduka Obaigbena, Publisher of ThisDay Newspapers; former Ambassador to Brazil, Patrick Dele Cole; founder of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia, Lade Bonuola ‘Ladbone’ and members of the deceased families including, Alhaja Abimbola Jakande, Betty Egbuna, Abdurasheed Momoh, Bayo Ogunsanwo, Omowunmi Lawrence, Hajia Waida Maida and Mrs. Zainab Nda Isaiah, wife of the deceased publisher of Leadership Newspapers.

Those honoured include a former Governor of Lagos State and pioneer NGE and NPAN President, Alhaji Lateef Jakande; former Minister of Information and Culture and ex-President and Secretary-General of NGE, Prince Tony Momoh; and Life Patron, NPAN, Mallam Ismaila Isa.

Other deceased media leaders honoured are a former Director-General of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Executive Director, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Ben Egbuna; late publisher, Leadership Newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah; as well as ex-publisher, New Nation and former Editor, Sunday Times, Mr. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo.

The event also witnessed tributes to former General Manager, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation (LSBC) and columnist, Mr. Bisi Lawrence; former Editor, Daily Express, Mr. Eddie Aderinokun; and a past President, NGE and former Managing Director and Chairman News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mallam Wada Maida.

The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who came in at about 12: 38 pm, expressed his excitement to members of the media profession who came out in their number to honour the memory of their departed colleagues.

He said, “the true character of an institution and the true weight of its calling is revealed by its past – by its trajectory through time.”

In his well-honed tribute, the Vice President explored the history of media in Nigeria. He said that 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,” Osinbajo remarked. “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.”

He added, “Broadcast journalism also had its shining exemplars 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, a.k.a 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.”

The Vice President also paid glowing tributes to Mallam 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.”

For Osinbajo, “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 jeopardised 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.

“However, an appellate court, overruled the high court holding that the 1979 constitution did not shield a journalist from disclosing his source of information.”

According to him, “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.

“Mallam Wada Maida 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, NAN, 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 passage. Such was the work ethic that he was at work right until his last day on earth.”

Each of the deceased heroes had a veteran to read the tribute. From Osoba to Bonuola, Idowu to John Momoh, there was no dull moment as an impeccable rendition of tributes rented the air.

On Tony Momoh, Ray Ekpu said that without any fear of contradiction, “Prince Tony Momoh, our journalism legend, our battle axe, our indefatigable warrior for press freedom and responsibility contributed immeasurably to the eminence of Nigeria’s journalism.”

He added, “we are truly proud of his contributions because he made many things possible in our profession. Sadly, the one thing that he was not able to make possible was the prolongation of his own life beyond age 81. But his achievement will prolong his life in our heads and hearts.”

For Bisi Lawrence, Tony Akiotu said the song has ended, but the melody lingers. He noted, “At 87, Bisi Lawrence lived an accomplished life. He was a trailblazer, a great leader. He was known for mentoring others in the profession he loved. He sought to develop the people who worked with him because he knew they would be better leaders as a result of what they learned. We can all learn a lot about leadership and humanity by following Bisi Lawrence’s example.”

Chief Osoba, in his tribute to Alhaji Jakande, regretted that the man did not have time to document his contributions to the media profession. “As a journalist, he was everything. In his days, Tribune was one paper that anybody wouldn’t play with.”

“He was the first president and longest-serving president of NPAN. In the 1977-I978 Constituent Assembly, we lobbied Chief FRA Williams to include Freedom of the Press. He told us no country would make constitutional provision for a special request by individuals or group. We lost. Then Obasanjo issued a decree to set up Press Council controlled by the government. Jakande and I sat down and formed the Nigerian Press Organisation in 1978. His own way of tackling government is to provide an alternative. We consulted IPI and other organisations and came up with a code of conduct on Nigerian Press as a counter to the one set up by the government.

“We travelled around the country to make journalists swear to our code of conduct. I want to congratulate the NPO for coming up with this programme. God bless the soul of the grandfather of journalism, Alhaji Lateef Jakande.”

Osoba later called on his wife to open his library to unravel the history of the formation of NPAN, NGE and NUJ.

In his tribute to Mallam Ismaila Isa, which Mr. Gbenga Adefaye, Provost, Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) read, Sam Amuka, Publisher of Vanguard Newspapers; said, “Despite what people say about him that he belongs to the cabal, he was a blessing to Nigerian media.”

For Bonuola, Chief Gbolahan Ogunsanwo “was an impressionistic writer that kept public officers on their toes. He paid great attention to human capital development and a man with a good sense of humour.”

Azubuike Ishiekwene said Sam Nda-Isiah “was a man of big ideas. He loved excellence and hated mediocrity. He invested himself speaking truth to power.”

The high point was the presentation of plaques to wives of the deceased media in memoriam of their contributions to the journalism profession.