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Guardian Publisher tasks Buhari on nation building

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Omiko Awa
09 April 2021   |   4:32 am
The event attracted high net-worth guests such as, the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, who was chairman of the occasion; former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; Publisher of ThisDay Newspapers,....

Executive Director, Commercial Press, The Guardian, Tive Alex-Ibru (left); Olorogun Oskar Ibru; former Governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Publisher, The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru; Chairman, Editorial Board, Prof. Wale Omole; Executive Director, The Guardian, Toke Alex-Ibru and former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke at the launch of the book, The making of the Nigerian Flagship: The story of The Guardian and celebration of the life of founding Publisher of The Guardian Newspapers, Dr. Alex Uruemu Ibru in Lagos…yesterday. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

• As book on The Guardian is presented to the public • Demands stimulus package for newspaper industry
• Osinbajo praises newspaper for speaking truth to power • ‘Nigerian press plays major role in nation building
• How Jakande died without documenting his enviable achievements –Osoba

It was a moment of reunion for many who passed through The Guardian ‘journalism school’, the Flagship, as they converged on Balmoral Hall, Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, for the launch of The Making of The Nigerian Flagship: A Story of The Guardian, written by Aaron Ukodie and O’Seun Ogunseitan.

The event attracted high net-worth guests such as, the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, who was chairman of the occasion; former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke; Publisher of ThisDay Newspapers, Prince Nduka Obaigbena; Dr. Patrick Dele Cole; the Publisher of The Guardian, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru; Dr. Alexander Thomopulos, Olorogun Oskar Ibru, chairman, Ibru Organisation; the Executive Director, Toke Alex Ibru, Tive Alex-Ibru, Lade Bonuola and a host of old associates like former editor of The African Guardian, Ted Iwere, Senator Ayogu Eze, former editors Kingsley Osadolor, Fred Ohwahwa and Gbenga Omotosho, the Commissioner for Information in Lagos State.

All of them added charm to the four-hour event. It was really an afternoon of reminisces, as everyone that spoke took time to remember the pioneering days of The Guardian. There were moments for banters for those who had not seen one another in a long while.

While pouring encomiums on the paper, Vice President Osinbajo noted: “It is a delight to be part of this unveiling of a chapter of our history – a story that has not been told in full until now. The story of The Guardian newspaper is significant, for the redefinition it represents for the print media in Nigeria, and for its uniqueness in bringing public intellectuals and academics into journalism and breeding a generation of talented journalists.

He said The Guardian upholds “the proud and illustrious tradition of the Nigerian press that practises journalism with a social mission and a commitment to speaking truth to power. It played an important role in the struggles that birthed our democracy, suffering proscription and the firebombing of its business offices at Rutam House. Alex Ibru, himself, narrowly survived an assassination attempt in which he was severely injured. Years later, I confronted the horror of the attack on him myself, when as Attorney General in Lagos, it was my lot to prosecute his assailants. It was a reflection of the terrible costs that journalists bore as they continued to heroically ply their craft as an act of resistance against tyranny.

“For decades, the men and women that work at The Guardian have drawn inspiration from the immortal words of Uthman Dan Fodio on its masthead: ‘Conscience is an open wound. Only truth can heal it.’ It is the role of journalists to tell the truth even when it is inconvenient. This mission has a special resonance in this day and age.”

He noted that to grasp the significance of The Guardian, it is important to situate its odyssey within the larger Nigerian story and particularly in the context of the evolution of the fourth estate in the country.

“The Guardian is no longer just a newspaper house, but a public institution – one that has served as an exemplar and a model for generations of media practitioners who replicate its ethos and standards in different ways.

“The Guardian has embodied in these past years fidelity to the principle of balance, objectivity and fair-hearing, not only as a corporate culture but also as a moral obligation to the larger society; that insistence by the gatekeeper that leads are well investigated and reports are well researched before the copy is passed for publication.”

The publisher of The Guardian, while receiving the award given to her husband, reiterated the need for a true federalism, which has become a recurring feature of The Guardian editorials for some time now.

She said: “We would like the President and his men and women to note that restructuring of the federation in the context of federalism is an idea whose time has come and no politics can repel that idea. That is why we have been committed to a weekly commentary on the front page of The Guardian on the issue.

“We do this every Thursday. As you may have seen, today is the 24th edition of our ‘federalism is the answer, after all’ serial. We would like our President to note that a return to true federalism will solve most of our security and economic challenges. It is not new.

“The issue of restructuring is one of the promises that the administration of President Buhari has not kept. It is part of the APC manifesto and there is a report of the el-Rufai committee that the party received since 2018. There have been many more reports on this including a 2014 report on restructuring from the political conference the Jonathan administration handed over to President Buhari.

“We are also aware of other challenges including rampaging corruption at all levels. We know about the debt burden and ticklish, but controversial fuel subsidy that have always made nonsense of our budget expectations.

“There are many more, including healthcare, infrastructure challenges, but the most urgent issue our leader should address at this time is nation building. We did not know the implications of what iconic Chinua Achebe, a professor was saying when he wrote his last classic,
‘There Was A Country.’ Most people are quite fearful now that Nigeria is too divided to survive as a country. Only very few people believe in one Nigeria at this moment. We have ‘Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, Far Northern Nigeria, North Central Nigeria, Middle Beltan Nigeria, Niger Deltan Nigeria, etc. there is therefore a ‘Crisis of coherence’ at the moment as the late Dr. Macebuh once wrote. What is worse, there have been serious allegations of ‘northernisation’ and ‘Islamisation’ as a fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy. These are signs of a sinking state. I believe the leader of the most populous black nation on earth should at this time demonstrate to all of us he, indeed belongs to nobody. He had a covenant with us when he told us on May 29, 2015. ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody’”

“Today, not many people believe that our leader has fought a good fight on national cohesion. His appointments, including another one he made on Tuesday in the security sector, hasn’t shown us that he indeed belongs to everybody. Our leaders should therefore be the father of the nation at this time.”

The Guardian publisher, who is the Vice President of Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), also called on government for a stimulus package for newspaper publishers.

She said: “I would like to appeal that there should be a stimulus package for us in form of tax holidays and duty-free package for newsprint we import for our publications. It hasn’t been easy for all of us. Newsprint, the most expensive raw material for printing newspapers, is imported from Europe. The implication is fast killing the newspaper industry. We appeal for relief package in this area.”

Aremo Olusegun Osoba also reminisced on his relationship with the late Alex Ibru. He said, “Alex and I started The Guardian 40 years ago. We had discussed the idea of starting a newspaper and we later registered a newspaper called the Voice for people in traffic to ease tension and to also carry light stories. His own idea was to start a newspaper that would be deep in intellectual approach and still be readable to the ordinary people, but unfortunately he delayed in starting it because he wanted the approval of Olorogun Michael Ibru and that took a long time to start while I went to Sketch Newspapers.

“The Guardian started as a weekly newspaper and was first published on February 27. The first print was printed on this date by the Daily Sketch in Ibadan. The Guardian now became a paper that will write the news and research, beef it up with background information and commentary. It was the first newspaper in the country that would not just write news, but would analyse the news with informed commentary. We want the paper to maintain that standard of news writing.”

The former governor of Ogun State, Chief Osoba, advised Nigerian elites to ensure timely documentation of their giant strides in life before death comes knocking. Osoba, who chaired the event, said Nigerian elites should not allow others tell their story for them to avoid twists and turns. He recalled how the late first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, made enviable impacts during his short reign as governor, adding that Jakande laid the foundation for what is known today as the modern Lagos but did not capture any of these feats in a book for history purposes.

“The unfortunate thing in Nigeria is that we don’t write. Jakande died. In spite of the availability of time for over 30 – 40 years, he didn’t write. The history of Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ), Guild of Editors, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) is not complete without him. He was the founder and bedrock of all these institutions available to our profession today but he didn’t write,” Osoba said.

The Commissioner for Information, Sokoto State, Isa Galadanchi, who represented Governor Aminu Tambuwal, commended the authors for the incisive work, which celebrates journalism.

The Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, whose message was delivered by his Senior Special Assistant, Samson Ezea, congratulated the newspaper and those who have sustained The Guardian legacy and developmental journalism in the country.

The governor urged The Guardian to continue with what they are doing and maintain same standard. Also speaking, Governor John Kayode Fayemi, who was represented by Yinka Oyebode, his Chief Press Secretary, said he remained ever so grateful that he was a part of The Guardian family. He noted that the principles he picked up in The Guardian are helping him today.

At the launch, the Special Flagship Fund was unveiled. The chairman of the fund, Senator Ayogu Eze, said it has “over 300 former staff and have been helping the less-privileged in our midst.”

Barrister Chinedu Ebie, representing the Delta State Governor, Ifeany Okowa, said the newspaper has a unique ensemble of intellectuals, which has enabled it live up to its claim as the flagship. He noted that its style of editorials shun shouting headlines and has changed the narrative from sensational reporting to intellectual journalism. Also of note, according to Ebie, was the business acumen of the founder, which enabled it to overcome government intimidation and harassment of its staff to remain what it is today.