Inoyo’s life-time gift to journalism
On Friday, July 30, a week before the 2021 edition of Ray Ekpu’s birthday, a piece, remarkable enough to form a chapter of its own in the History of Nigerian Journalism, was written in Uyo by a non-journalist, not on a newspaper but on a lecture paper, delivered to journalists in Akwa Ibom. Udom Inoyo, who retired recently after 31 years with ExxonMobil, bestowed an annual award titled, “Ray Ekpu Award for Investigative Journalism”.
It was not a birthday gift but a life-time gift to the world of journalism. Before unveiling the award, Inoyo, in a presentation themed, “Your Pen, Our Future” had extolled Ekpu as “high priest of quality reporting”, modeled reportorial acumen of Segun Osoba and paid glowing tribute to Moses Ekpo, the current deputy governor of Akwa Ibom, who Ekpu keeps crediting for his mentorship in journalism.
He could not hide his biases for Akwa Ibom, hence in charging journalists based in the state to use their professional job in shaping national issues, especially on how the future of the Nigerian nation should dovetail on the resource-rich state and the South-South region, Inoyo enjoined journalists in the state to take a cue from the likes of Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Ibrahim Tahir, Mvendaga Jibo, and others, whom, he said used Kaduna-based New Nigerian newspaper in oiling “intellectual engine of the northern political elite” famously called Kaduna Mafia.
Though he did not trace from Iwe Irohin, Nigeria’s first newspaper established in 1859 by missionary Henry Townsend, for his seamless chronicling of the Nigerian press from the ‘60s with many names and must-read columns that have since been consigned to archives, Inoyo, who studied Political Science and Law at his tertiary level of education, should be scored at least B grade by a miserly examiner. He was, indeed, making strong statement that those conversant with history of journalism in Nigeria are not limited to those that learn History of Nigerian Press in classrooms in journalism schools.
His gesture also remains noteworthy on the standpoint that those who are not so comfortable with journalism, particularly, the investigative genre, are those in the leadership cadre in public and private organizations. On account of his many stations in life, especially from his years in the state civil service to his duty posts at ExxonMobil, which had taken him to almost all corners of the world, Inoyo’s cupboard may be full of so many things but skeletons.
Aside hailing from the same Akwa Ibom, there is no trace of career connections, political association or business affiliations linking Ekpu and Inoyo. So, deserving as Ekpu is for that honour, it speaks volume of Inoyo’s cosmopolitanism with full grasp and value for development at his backyard. It distinguishes Inoyo from many in our political class who engage in the public only with ephemeral selfish interest.
Politics of pettiness puts our history, with all its pre-eminences, in obscurity. Yakubu Mohammed, Ekpu’s friend and colleague, made substantial contribution to the creation of Kogi State yet, owing to triviality of politics, the system that matters today in the state may not be aware, let alone recognising, such quantum contribution by the journalist who was younger than the present governor of Kogi in 1991, when the state was created.
Humiliation meted to Ime Umanah and others that worked for the creation of Akwa Ibom State is another evidence of how the significance of our heroes is rendered insignificant by politics. Again, in the struggle for resource control, the biggest achievement, so far, remains the 13 percent derivative principle that scaled through filibustering of the defunct 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference, which subsequently got enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, yet some of the conferees from the oil producing states that staged a walkout in their agitation for upgrading of the derivation from five to the 13 percent have not yet been accorded recognition by succeeding administrations of the benefitting states. From Akwa Ibom axis, one can recall Mfon Amana, Ekeng Anamndu, Edet Bassey Etienam, Anselem Eyo, Akpan Okpongette, among few others.
If Victor Attah had not been opportune with political leadership, which he cashed in while governing Akwa Ibom from 1999 to 2007, to further forge the frontier of equitable devolution of power among Nigeria’s federating units, it is most likely that the mentioning of his name, which is now synonymous with resource control, would not have reverberated beyond his sitting room and “other rooms”.
Though Chief Don Etiebet made pioneering and innovative step in making Nigeria to be located in the world map of information and communication technology, ICT, launched Akwa Ibom to national political limelight through his colossal and intimidating presence in contemporary Nigerian politics, and has enviable record of using his personal enterprise to create employment opportunities to scores of persons, he has been given caterpillar treatment because he has been considered dangerous plying the road he bulldozed even by those he has played benefactor’s role to. For being blunt with his pen on certain burning issues, Ekpu had unduly been at loggerheads with some persons that once called the shot within and outside Akwa Ibom.
Why are our politicians so embittered? If bitterness is so ingrained in politics, such that we can’t do without it, why can’t we turn the bitterness to bitter-leaf so that we can savour its edibility, palatability and medicine-ability?
The political angle of this piece is a necessary digression to bring to the fore how inclination to pettiness, chauvinism and pecuniary pursuits by our political leaders have beclouded our sense of reasoning. The political detour is, therefore, using Inoyo’s self-tasked undertaking as springboard to persuade those with broadened world-view to give a try to political leadership and dissuade those with narrow-mindedness from having a field day in the political arena.
Back to Inoyo’s iconic and life-time gift to journalism, I am of the view that narrowing eligibility for the award to journalists resident in Akwa Ibom is undoubtedly borne out of Inoyo’s innate love for anything Akwa Ibom, but it tends to dwarf his decades-long giant endeavours in building blocks of human capacity that stands the test of global competition, just as it inclines to undermining international leverage which Ekpu’s name could accrue to recipients of the award.
Journalistic works have cross-border identifications and recognitions. The International Editor of the year won by Ekpu in 1987 was through the medium of a Lagos-based Newswatch, a weekly newsmagazine. He received the award in the United States from Stanley Foundation that publishes New York-based World Press Review, a non-profit organization. The award, which excludes those based in the US, is for editors with “courage, enterprise, and leadership on an international level in advancing press freedom and responsibility, defending human rights and fostering journalistic excellence”.
Also, apart from some renowned Nigerian newspapers he has worked with, Ekpu’s works have been published in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Journal of Democracy, among other foreign newspapers.
Again, Nigerian Dele Olojede won 2005 edition of the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting while he was with New York-based Newsday on a story he did on how “rape and genocidal slaughter ravaged the Tutsi tribe” in Rwanda. On November 19, 2019 in Accra, Cletus Ukpong, Akwa Ibom-based journalist with Premium Times was honoured with West Africa Media Excellence Award for his investigative report on decay of public schools in Akwa Ibom.
World-wide or nation-wide competition for the award would make Akwa Ibom-based journalists to be on their toes, whereas confining it within the state would make them rest on their oars. The focus, notwithstanding, should be on investigative reportage on issues with bearings on Akwa Ibom. That would give it a befitting national or international niche. By so doing, Akwa Ibom would be the centre-piece of the world whenever a journalist is honoured with the Ray Ekpu Award for Investigative Journalism and it would be of huge capital and bountiful dividends on the strength of vast but untapped tourism resources that abound in the state.
Ekanem sent this piece from Lagos through email@example.com