The quest for excellence: The Guardian at 39
Founded by Mr. Alex Uruemu Ibru (1945-2011), The Guardian’s foundational rationale upon inception on July 4, 1983 was simple: to create an intellectually driven, independent newspaper presenting balanced and factual coverage of events comparable with the best in Nigeria and globally. Underpinning that was the philosophy of integrity, good conscience and high ethical standards.
Through the highs of lows of press freedom, human rights violations, breaches of the rule of law, by Nigeria’s military dispensation; to the return to multiparty democratic rule in 1999, and its inherent challenges in a complex multi-ethnic Nigeria, The Guardian has remained at the vanguard of the dissemination of knowledge-driven, evidence-based information, education and policy development, embedding the rule of law, proactively advancing women’s right; and straddling the diverse realms of economics, legal research, nation-building, politics, science and sports.
These phenomenal achievements have been made possible by a formidable team of experienced and excellent journalists including, but not restricted to, the likes of Lade Bonuola (the pioneer editor), Emeka Izeze, Martins Oloja (the current Editor-in Chief and Managing Director), Sonala Olumese, Professor GG Darah to name a few.
It is often said that the constancy of change is non-negotiable. Likewise, the constancy of The Guardian’s commitment to excellent journalism in the decades ahead is, and shall be, non-negotiable under the enduring stewardship of first class editorial board with some of Africa’s finest brains and business icons with impeccable credentials.
Happy birthday to The Guardian — Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru
As The Guardian Newspaper marks its 39th year on the newsstand today, its publisher, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, has commended the tenacity of readers, who have remained steadfast to the brand and also associates of the newspaper, who equally have continued to defend what it stands for.
In a statement issued to mark the day, the newspaper publisher also commended the advertisers for remaining loyal to the brand. Her words: “To our advertisers and advertising agencies, we can’t thank you enough for enabling us to keep the flag of our flagship of the Nigerian press flying.”
She added, “I would like to thank you for your commitment and loyalty to our brand for 39 years! We have been passing through some economic challenges that have affected our purchasing powers, but you have remained resilient. A load of our hearty thanks.”
She also said in the statement, “to all our associates and members of the editorial board, I salute your courage, confidence and grit. You have been wonderful, as you have sustained what we stand for these past 39 years. You have kept the faith by producing an independent newspaper established for the purpose of presenting a balanced coverage of events, of promoting the best interests of Nigeria…”
She continued: “As my late husband, the founder of this newspaper Dr Alex Uruemu Ibru always admonished us in discharging our fundamental objective, “good journalism matters to our quest for nation building.”
“We should continue to practise journalism as a weapon for mass reconstruction of our broken walls in Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria. That is a good way of sustaining the legacy of my late husband, which is my passion.
“We will be alive by His grace next year to mark our 40th Birthday in style!”
Only last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had poured encomiums on the paper at the launch of ‘The Making of The Nigerian Flagship: A Story of The Guardian’, a collection of reminisces by earlier Rutamites, compiled by Aaron Ukodie and O’Seun Ogunseitan,
Osinbajo had noted: “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 also 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.”
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 vice president added.
Birth of The Guardian
Though the idea of setting up a newspaper was sown early in Dr. Alex Uruemu Ibru’s life, the birth of The Guardian when he had become a contented businessman, a multi-millionaire with considerable influence in business, changed the narrative of newspapering in the country.
Ibru was fascinated by the power of the media as an intermediary between government, the people and business, and how indeed a newspaper could be used to set agenda for society.
The idea to launch a newspaper started in 1976 and The Guardian newspaper as a brand in 1978. However, due to the economic recession then, it was shelved, but later realised when it finally hit the newsstand on February 27, 1983.
Five months after, on July 4, 1983, the daily edition also came on board.
The print media company, after over five years of painstaking incubation began the journey of “providing the best and most authoritative newspaper” as it pursued its philosophical underpinning as “an independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interest of Nigeria.”
It was conceived as a well planned and carefully thought out enterprise, which would present a balanced coverage and projection of news and views, uphold political neutrality and independence and elevate the tone of public discourse.
As a liberal newspaper, committed to the best traditions and ideals of republican democracy, The Guardian believes it is the responsibility of the State not only to protect and defend the citizens but also to create the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which all citizens may achieve their highest potentials as human beings. And as the ‘flagship of the Nigerian press’, The Guardian directed successive governments and reading public on how best to live.
When the paper came, it was one addiction that everybody had, considering that Daily Times had sunk in reputation, because of its tilt towards becoming government ‘megaphone’. It was a peculiar taste that many could not wean themselves of.
The Guardian transformed the news business, serving the public with rich content in an enriching way. Temperate news presentation with elaborate backgrounding replaced sensationalist news packaging. Elevated prose found its way into news reporting and the front page was no longer the exclusive preserve of politics and political actors. Other less dramatic subjects found access there. There was noticeable effort to woo the discerning reader who enjoyed news beyond the headlines.
It was a new and strong voice that changed the standard of journalism in the country. It strove to fulfill that mandate. It gave voice to the voiceless and became the ‘conscience of the nation’.
As the ‘flagship of the Nigerian press’, The Guardian directed successive governments and reading public on how best to live. And for the staff, it was all about justice and the public good. For more than three decades-and-a-half, Rutam House has been like the Vatican.
With a team of intellectuals, mostly literary scholars (authors, creative writers, critics and academics in humanities), no doubts, the paper had no alternative than to lean towards intellectualism.
Stanley Macebuh, arguably one of the best columnists in the country, because of his style, language and logic, led the founding editorial staff of the newspaper, which he served as Executive Editor/Managing Director, while the then Associate Editor was Lade Bonuola.
Opinion writing equally enjoyed a renaissance that brought in specialisation. The editorial board attracted eggheads from campuses, thus, enriching the art of informed commentary.
Things were structured at The Guardian in such a way that a lot of professionals and statesmen were contributing regularly so that there was no dull moment when going through the Op-ed pages. Beside Olatunji Dare, a lot of seasoned writers like the late Prof. Tam David West, the late Prof. Claude Ake, the late Justice Kayode Eso, Bishop Hassan Kukah, Prof. Green Nwankwo, the late Chief Tony Enahoro, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the late Alade Odunewu, the late Alao Aka Bashorun, Nnimmo Bassey, the late Prof. Festus Iyayi and a host of others were always sending in their views on diverse issues from time to time.
In fulfilling its mandate, The Guardian established itself with the reading public as a newspaper of record and influence and as one of the major platforms for promoting the interest of the voiceless and the disadvantaged in society.
The Guardian Newspaper has consistently acted as a watchdog on matters that border on code of conduct for public officials and for private individuals in Nigeria as a whole. The newspaper was a strong force in the struggle against military rule.
During the administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, as a military Head of State and when The Guardian was just about a year old, its two reporters, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were both sent to jail in 1984 under Decree No. 4 of 1984, which suppressed journalistic freedom. The paper’s political editor, Krees Imodibie, was killed in the course of duty in Liberia.
In his scholarly article titled “Journalism in Nigeria: A Historical Overview” and published in 1996 in “Journalism in Nigeria: Issues and Perspectives”, Prof. Omu wrote further: “The Guardian calls itself the flagship of the Nigerian press and so it really is. It has been indisputably the best newspaper ever produced in Nigeria and its brand of journalism has had a profound and provocative impact on Nigerian journalism.
“The principles, which it espouses and the standards which it represents, set it out as a national institution. In the poise and polish of its language, in its cultivated and intellectual approach to argument and controversy, in its penetrating and persuasive analysis and interpretation, in its promotion of ideological pluralism and in its endeavor to place events in their historical perspective, The Guardian has achieved great esteem in and outside Nigeria as one of the most authoritative newspapers in Africa. Its journalistic achievements are bound to influence the newspaper industry for a long time.”
Though the media industry, over the years, has gone through turbulent times, with so many publications going down before and after the birth of The Guardian, the publication has continued to be on the newsstand, providing scintillating reports for Nigerians and non-Nigerians.
The publication started as a 16-page paper but pre-COVID, it published on the average, 64 pages and sometimes, over 100 pages with increased advert sales. In the last two years, however, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to a considerable reduction in pagination by virtually all the print media outlets.
In its 39 years of existence, great journalists such as, Lade Bonuola, Femi Kusa, Emeka Izeze, Debo Adesina, Martins Oloja and Abraham Ogbodo have edited The Guardian. The current editor of the paper, Mr. Alabi Williams, assumed duty on June 8, 2020 alongside other professionals who were also elevated to man different posts.
They are Kabir Alabi Garba (Editor, The Guardian on Sunday); and Francis Chuks Nwanne (Editor, The Guardian on Saturday). Two insiders had also served as Acting Editors for the newspaper: Jewell Dafinone (January to June 2016) and Dr. Paul Onomuakpokpo (July 1, 2019 to June 4, 2020).
These courage and professionalism that The Guardian represent have been bountifully rewarded and the harvest include, the Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME), the Nigeria Media Merit Award (NMMA), Cable News Network (CNN) African Journalist of the Year and many others. The Guardian was one of the early stars of DAME, winning the Newspaper of the Decade in 2001 and joint winner of the same prize in 2011 with The Punch.