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Honouring Alex Uruemu Ibru (1945-2011)

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Alex Ibru

It was quite fitting and memorable that former employees of The Guardian newspaper chose to honour Alex Uruemu Ibru, the paper’s late publisher, with a new book that focuses on the birth and story of the newspaper in its first 10 years. Written by Aaron Ukodie (the paper’s first Communications reporter) and O’seun Ogunseitan (founding Science correspondent), and with contributions from over 50 other former journalists, including this writer, the book is an important addition to the scanty shelf of literature on Nigeria’s journalism. The array of dignitaries at the launch event in Lagos last Thursday (April 8) attests to how dearly many Nigerians continue to cherish the memory of our publisher. The presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the high-minded speech he gave on the role of the media in our nation’s history and development were the high points of the day. 

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The Vice President noted that although The Guardian was established during the ‘’censorial and illiberal’’ era of military dictatorship, the paper ‘’quickly set itself apart as the outpost of liberalism populated by intrepid journalists and keen-minded intellectuals devoted to the freedom of thought and inquiry’’. It was one of the best speeches made by any public official in many years. The VP paid glowing tributes to the late publisher and the youngest of the six Ibru brothers, describing him as a man of calm deportment with foresight and propensity for risk-taking. Said the VP: ‘‘To find a businessman that could trust a group of intellectuals with editorial freedom in the treacherous sociopolitical climate of the time as Alex Ibru did, was clearly exceptional’’. Prof Osinbajo praised The Guardian for setting ‘’new standards that forever transformed the practice of journalism’’ in our country, noting that the pioneers of the newspaper understood that journalism operates in a social context and cannot be value-neutral.  Professor Osinbajo is the first Nigerian, and so far the only one, to expertly use teleprompter in delivering all his speeches in and outside the country.

The new book should enrich our national collection on the history and evolution of Nigeria’s journalism. The dearth of published works in this important area was a major part of Aremu Olusegun Osoba’s remarks at the event. One of the nation’s best journalists, Chief Osoba is one of the important persons that played crucial roles in the founding of The Guardian. In fact, he was actually tipped to be its founding editor. Thankfully, he’s written his own memoir which is an impressive account of his journalism career and his ring-side view of events in the country. In his opening remarks as the Chairman of the book launch event last week, Chief Osoba regretted that another media icon who died recently, Lateef Jakande, departed without writing a book despite his rich experiences in journalism. ‘’Jakande was the sole writer of editorials in Nigerian Tribune in those days, and those editorials were always pungent enough to keep the military authorities worried all the time.

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Jakande’s library is full of files and documents on the evolution of Nigeria’s journalism and the formation of its many institutions like the NUJ, NIJ, Nigerian Guild of Editors, etc, yet the man did not write a book despite my promptings’’, bemoaned Osoba. However, I must acknowledge great efforts by some of our best in the industry. Richard Ikiebe and Lanre Idowu have recently enhanced our national library with their epic works on the media. Ikiebe’s two-volume book, Nigerian Media Leaders: Voices Beyond the Newsroom and Lanre Idowu’s Uneven Steps: The Story of The Nigerian Guild of Editors and Voices from Within, essays in honour of Sam Amuka are very important publications. There are also Fred Omu’s Press and Politics in Nigeria and Dayo Duyile’s Makers of Nigerian Press. Broadcasting has also benefited other scholarly works like the essay by Liwhu Betiang (2013), Global Drums and Local Masquerades: Fifty Years of Television Broadcasting in Nigeria: 1959-2009 and books such as Folarin, B. (2000) Foundation of broadcasting: A handbook for Nigerian students, and Lasode, O. (1994) Television broadcasting: The Nigerian experience, 1959-1992.

Despite these, media professionals believe that old hands in the industry should write more books. Chido Nkakamma, a former journalist at The Guardian says challenge of inadequate documentation and citation was the greatest hurdle he faced in teaching Nigerian Media History for over four semesters at the School of Media and Communication at the Pan Atlantic University, Lagos. He notes that the new offering by Ukodie and Ogunseitan, The Making of the Flagship: A story of The Guardian has ‘‘rendered an excellent service to journalism and scholarship’’.

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Alex Ibru deserves all the honour he gets, even in death. A successful businessman and a doting family man, he founded The Guardian in 1983 at age 38. A month shy of my 27th birthday, I joined the paper as a reporter on the Business Desk in January 1988. I was struck at how humble and ordinary, but elegant the publisher looked in his simple white buba and sokoto. Occasionally, he would walk quietly across the newsroom, trying not to create distractions, as he made his way to the editor’s office. It was a point his widow, Maiden, made in her speech last week. ‘‘He was just an amiable, gentleman who did his business decently’’, she said. But beyond her personal reminiscences which included the fact that her husband died on her birthday, Mrs Ibru read a speech in which she called for the restructuring of the country into a true federal republic. It is a cause The Guardian is so committed to so much so that it has been the focus of the paper’s front page editorial every Thursday in the last six months. The series is titled Federalism is the answer, after all.

The honour given to Alex Ibru by his former employees 10 years after his death testifies to the Biblical injunction that all good deeds would be rewarded bountifully, one way or the other. None of us could have envisioned long ago when we disengaged from the paper, sometimes in unpleasant circumstances, that we would one day be involved in a project that would celebrate the man in such an important way. I can only hope that this book will open the way for media professionals and veterans to document their experiences in the industry. I particularly look forward to a publication from Lade Bunuola (Ladbone), one of the best journalists of our time. I must commend Prof Yemi Osinbajo for honouring the Alex Ibru, his family and us, former employees of The Guardian newspaper, with his esteemed presence and beautiful speech despite his hectic schedule.

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