Babatunde Jose and the state of our nation
In seeking pragmatic solutions to the national questions of accountable leadership, vision, commitment to service, probity and altruism, we should draw inspiration from the illustrious lives of the few patriots who walked this way before us. Undoubtedly, Alhaji Babatunde Jose (of blessed memory) was one of them. The doyen of Nigeria’s print journalism, who rose through the ranks from the low rung in the mid ‘40s to become the news editor in 1956, editor in 1957 and subsequently, the managing director and chairman of the Daily Times conglomerate once described himself as “a political journalist.” Indeed, he left indelible footprints in the sands of time, worthy of emulation by all.
When he clocked the ripe age of 80 in 2005, Mr. N.A.B Kotoye, in his tribute had this to say about the media icon. “Alhaji Jose built the Daily Times into a publishing empire. At the time of his exit, the paper was the largest circulating newspaper in Africa, south of the Sahara. He was the first Nigerian managing director of a publicly quoted company in Nigeria.”
Of great significance are the views of Jose on the practice of journalism in the country, the war against the monster of corruption and the state of the nation in general. For instance, on the role of the media to the society, he had this to tell The Spectator of August 8-14, 2008: “When we started in the mid ‘40s, the purpose of a newspaper was to influence people’s minds and the struggle at that time was for independence in Nigeria. In Britain and America, which we copied, newspapers were political tools of setting agenda and monitoring government activities. They could influence elections. They could bring down governments. Zik, Herbert Macaulay, Awolowo who inspired us were politically powerful journalists. We aspired to be like them.”
He also had his reservations on certain areas of practice. Said he: “The media in Nigeria is performing well but it is not leading. It is just reacting to campaign as set on the agenda by people in government. We are not setting agenda.”
Furthermore, he was of the candid opinion that the media was not investigative enough. “I can see lapses. There are no follow up stories. In our time, we fought every day. We would embarrass the police. We would expose any wrong doing. But today, you don’t get to see much of such fire. Journalists now hobnob with people they are paid to expose. They now eat with governors, ministers and pay courtesy calls to them. It is sad.”
That notwithstanding, Jose was a firm believer in journalists being well paid. Reflecting on his days in office, he explained that: “When I was the editor of Daily Times, I was paid the salary of a minister. When I was regional representative in Enugu and Kaduna, I was riding the same brand of car that permanent secretaries were riding….An editor was paid twice a month so that by the time he became broke, he was getting another two weeks’ salary.” This brings waves of nostalgia.
On the fight against the deeply entrenched economic malaise of corruption he had words of caution. ‘‘Nigeria is not the worst in what they call corruption. In fact, these countries that we try to emulate also have elements of corruption. Transparency International, with its home in Germany, we now see that they are not free of corruption…Yet, when the foreign press say we are the worst corrupt country, it is as if they are not corrupt at all.”
One only hopes that both the executive and legislature would institute policies and programmes for all the citizens to imbibe the war as a collective one. It should be taught in our homes, schools, religious institutions and not seen as a one-man battle by Mr. President alone. The ills of corruption hurt us all. More importantly, the culprits should be punished publicly to serve as strong deterrence to others with like minds. In fact, it reminds one of Professor Dora Akunyili (of blessed memory) and her call for re-branding Nigeria with internal moral cleansing, beginning with ourselves.
Interestingly, Jose had a similar admonition. “And I tell my colleagues when I was in active service that by all means, expose corruption, criticize: self-criticism is good but don’t carry self-criticism to the point of self-destruction.” A word, they say is enough for the wise.
When asked about his fears for Nigeria, his answer was poignant and blunt. “ My fear for Nigeria is that it will not break up.”What were his reasons? “ Because many countries don’t love us. We have succeeded in retaining one country since amalgamation, ostensibly because of the good policies of successive leaders of government. Other countries, since 1914 have collapsed because of bad policies. We are not a nation. We are many nations called tribes and one has to allow for balancing. That is part of the sacrifice we have to make.”He went further to list the examples of the defunct Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Rhodesia all which collapsed. Though an attempt was made with the civil war by Biafra, we managed to settle it. According to the revered nationalist, “a possible break-up of Nigeria will be disastrous. Money we should use in building schools and hospitals will be used in buying arms.”
One hopes, and fervently too that the ethnic jingoists and religious extremists who are beating the war drums for the dismemberment of Nigeria all because of 2019 presidency have their conscience pricked, at least for once. The way forward is to devolve the enormous political power at the centre to the federating units; with true fiscal federalism given a breath of fresh air. Our political leaders should be ready to sacrifice their greed for money and fleeting fame for the good of us all. Like Babatunde Jose, we all should start to place national interests far above pecuniary gains.