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My journalistic mission to Abuja … 30 years ago

By Martins Oloja
20 December 2020   |   3:14 am
All glory for this milestone must be to the Lord; For He is worthy of my praise; No man on earth should give glory to himself; All the glory must be to the Lord!

[FILES] Martins Oloja

All glory for this milestone must be to the Lord; For He is worthy of my praise; No man on earth should give glory to himself; All the glory must be to the Lord!

There is indeed a time for everything.

Though it is a time to lament about the state of anomie in the land today, it is also a time to thank God too for how far He has blessed us in the city and in the field. As for me and my household, it is a time to thank God for ordering my footsteps to Abuja, the nation’s capital where I was appointed Editor of the city’s premier newspaper exactly 30 years ago. I recall as if it were yesterday that it was in December 1990, Alhaji Bukar Zarma, the publisher of Abuja Newsday promoted me Editor of the premier newspaper set up in 1988 in the Federal Capital Territory. The story of the first newspaper in Abuja is not about my promotion three decades ago. It is a significant story about how the founding fathers of Abuja and pioneer investors and promoters of enterprises in the nation’s capital once made conscious effort to promote Abuja as a unity (and unifying) capital of the complex federation. General Yakubu Gowon claimed he had surveyed the Abuja site before his mission to Kampala 1n 1975. Bishop Mathew Kukah, (PhD) had confirmed that background in a book before the claim. General Murtala Muhammed dreamed and proclaimed it on February 3, 1976. General Olusegun Obasanjo actualised the Murtala’s great dream. President Shehu Shagari threated to relocate there in 1980. General IBB legalised it on Thursday December 12, 1991. Before then, one former Editor, New Nigerian, Bukar Zarma had in 1988 set up the first newspaper in the Territory without a soul then. I was the pioneer Lagos Bureau Chief of the newspaper with our first office at Norman Williams Ikoyi, Lagos. From there we relocated to 12A Oko-Awo Close, Opposite Eko Hotel Victoria Island, Lagos. We moved to No.10 Thorburn Avenue Sabo, Yaba Lagos. It was from the Yaba office, Alhaji Zarma called me to fly to Abuja in December 1990 as Editor of Abuja Newsday. I could recall that Nigeria Airways flight to Abuja in December 1990 cost me only N250 (two hundred and fifty naira).

As I had noted in 2016 when I wrote a piece on the possibility of our Abuja becoming a toxic capital, not many young people would know why I have always been very passionate about Abuja affairs. The nation’s capital is actually my second home. My journalism career grew luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the rainy season, thanks to my relationship with the capital, which began about 32 years ago when Alhaji Bukar Zarma established the first newspaper there as I was saying.

I was pioneer Lagos Bureau Chief from 1988 to 1990 when I have promoted Editor of the newspaper. Abuja is the place my colleagues (Bureau Chiefs) including the dangerously hardworking Yusuf Ali, the ever clean Sam Akpe, never-say-die Yomi Odunuga, among other notable Bureau Chiefs and Editors named me, “The Dean” of the Bureau Chiefs’ community in Abuja while some others outside journalism would call me “The Mayor of Abuja”. There is nothing extraordinary about the sobriquets other than my long-standing experience as a reporter, writer and editor in the 44 years old “capital of the federation” as the letter of the constitution names it.

This background is germane to the points at issue today in Abuja and indeed Nigeria where religion and ethnicity have become political tools in the hands of our politicians. I would like to use this background to trigger some rhetorical questions later about where rains began to beat us as a nation. We are talking about a nation where the bogeyman called the national question is threatening the security of the nation again, no thanks to some emerging political mismanagement of the complex federation by some Abuja-based political leaders and their inner- circle men.

Here is some background that will help us: When the newspaper civilization kicked us in the face in Abuja in 1988, there was a good country where religion and ethnicity did not play so much overt role in interpersonal relationships, let alone in recruitments into public and private enterprises. As I had once recalled here, then Alhaji Zarma, who hails from Borno state shaped the business plans of publishing the first newspaper in Abuja with Alhaji Hassan Adamu Wakilin Adamawa, from Adamawa state. They are both Muslims.

But the striking element in the story in 1988 in Abuja was that Alhaji Zarma, who advertised the vacancies for journalists in a national newspaper then did not consider religion and ethnicity when he hired very resourceful journalists from different parts of the country.

One thing was clear then: he never asked any candidates their states of origin. And so coincidentally, all the senior editors and most reporters recruited from the North and South were Christians. This is the evidence: Mr. Nick Dazang (Christian from Plateau) was the pioneer Editor (He is now Director of Voter Education and Publicity Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC); Mr. Jackson Ekwugum (Christian from Delta State) was News Editor, Mr. Dennis Mordi (Christian from Delta State) was Chief Sub Editor; Mr. Samm Audu (Christian from Kaduna State, and a relation of the late Professor Ishaya Audu) was Sports Editor; Mr. Skekwogaza Wasah (Christian from Abuja) was Features Editor, Martins Oloja, (Christian from Ondo State) was Lagos Bureau Chief. Other notable names in the newsroom then included Shok Jok, (Kaduna South) Camillus Eboh (Akwa Ibom) Moji Olaniyan, Moji Olajide, (now Moji Ekwugum), Alex kabba, (Delta state) Emmanuel Obe (Rivers State) etc, all of them Christians. It was a great house of pan-Nigerian journalists.

It is significant to reveal here that when Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s National Electoral Commission was releasing the June 12 election 1993 results piecemeal then and Chief M.K.O Abiola was in the lead and it was clear the Egba wealthy politician was going to beat Bashir Tofa from Kano, the publisher, Zarma was quite upbeat about imminent return to democracy through a free and fair election. And when the result was suspended, he was very sad. Only young Nigerians would not recall that the Abiola campaigns for president was run on a Muslim-Muslim ticket of Alhaji M.K.O Abiola & Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. It was incredible that Christians in the country did not raise any eyebrow anywhere after the Jos remarkable primary that produced the solid ticket.

In fact, Alhaji Zarma did not know my state of origin until long after the newspaper was shut down by the military junta then in the wake of the June 12, 1993 crisis in the country. It should be noted that at that time, the Chairman of the Abuja City Press Limited, Publishers of Abuja Newsday, Alhaji Adamu was the Chairman of National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria Limited, (NAFCON).

I met him several times in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja. He never asked even once where I hailed from. What is more, at that time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) was military president (Head of State) and most of the prominent officers in the then presidency were Professor Jerry Gana, Professor Omo- Omoruyi, Professor Jonah Isawa Elaigwu, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, etc. These were Christians, among others who were quite visible in government then, although they were still in Lagos. But Professor Omo omoruyi was then in Abuja as CEO of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) before the historic movement to Abuja on December 12, 1991.

The point really is that as a young Nigerian, I have seen the good part of the country even in Abuja where it is now becoming increasingly difficult to associate with it as a capital of the federation. I succeeded Nick Dazang in 1990 as Editor in Abuja and I can recall that Abuja was gloriously promoted as a great city, a unity capital. In fact, our newspaper’s masthead carried a motto: ‘A great paper for a great city.’ Besides, the FCT administration we were covering then had a lot of Christians, Muslims and free thinkers alike from different parts of the country. There was a sense in which one could say then that even the military leaders in Nigeria then made everyone to have a sense of belonging unlike now when the current leaders run Abuja as if it were one of the core northern states. In Abuja today, both the Minister (and minister of state) FCT and the Executive Secretary of the FCDA hail from the North (Adamawa, Kogi and Niger states) and all of them are Muslims. This is not what the founding fathers advertised to us. And Abuja was not run like this in the beginning. The atmosphere then was so conducive in the nation’s capital to the extent that even the land administration department then had a code of conduct in plots allocation to states. In other words, if Plot 25 in Garki was allocated to a citizen of Anambra state, for instance, Plot 26 would be allocated to a citizen of Adamawa, and not to another allotee from Anambra or any south-eastern state. That was what led to naming Abuja “Centre of Unity” when the Federal Road Safety Corps came up with various slogans for the 36 states and Abuja then.

It is quite tragic today in this very toxic country where a Muslim-Muslim ticket had won a free and fair election that no political party even in the nation’s capital can organise a convention that would produce a Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim ticket for president as we did in 1993. This is a sad commentary on today’s politician and their toxic politics. It is really catastrophic that the nation’s capital that Justice Akinola Aguda (from Ondo state) recommended as a “Centre of Unity” through a Presidential Panel he headed in 1975 has become a dangerous “Centre of Disunity”. In Abuja a few months ago, a Christian and former deputy governor from Nasarawa state was nominated as Chairman of National Population Commission. His name had been submitted to the Senate for conformation. There was a scoop in a newspaper that some powerful political leaders in Abuja would not like a Christian to be Chairman of National Population Commission and so the nomination of a Christian from Nasarawa state would be cancelled. It was cancelled and replaced with a Muslim from the same Nasarawa state – before our very eyes. How would Nigerian leaders who executed this atrocity against Christians and our Constitution sleep well? Why do they run Nigeria, a delicate federation carelessly this way as if tomorrow would not come?

My anniversary message to our leaders in Abuja at this time is that they should take interest in running Abuja as Nigeria’s ‘Centre of Unity’. The dream is being destroyed by unlawful change of the original plan. They should study the Murtala’s proclamation speech on February 3, 1976. The people in power today should be careful not to fall on to the dark side of history of Nigeria’s development. That is my message for our leaders in Abuja as I dedicate my 30th anniversary as Editor of Abuja Newsday to the glory the God!