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NIJ House and NPO’s curious decision

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NIJ House<br />

I hope the Nigerian Press Organisation (NPO) has not been turned into a body where every one is on his own. I had always thought that body (NPO) comprising the NPAN, NGE and NUJ should be in the cockpit in the struggle for press freedom in Nigeria’s media system.

In the past when Alhaji L.K. Jakande, Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Chief Bisi Onabanjo and their other distinguished media fellows and compatriots were in charge and in firm control of the body, the struggle for press freedom was a continuous activity both in actions and in dialogues with the government.
 
The two body was an agent of change as far as maintaining a stand against the system. The professional body always took a stand against any government, which tried to encage the press. The fight against the 1964 Newspaper Amendment Act was a case in point. Another case in point was the battle against Governor Diete Spiff who forcibly shaved the head of journalist Amakiri in Rivers state. There was no time that these people compromised their influence and positions for a cup of tea from the political class. They had no time for hobnobbing with politicians. It was an era of publish and be damned. 

I remember in the mid 1960s when Mallam Adamu Ciroma gallantly fought for the release of the detained editor of New Nigerian, Mamman Daura when the General Yakubu Gowon’s military government arrested him over an alleged anti-government publication. He (Ciroma) flew to Lagos, confronted the government and threatened to resign from New Nigerian as Managing Director if Daura was not released. He succeeded in his protest. In a jiffy, the military government released Daura as if Ciroma had injected them with a hypodermic needle.

Alhaji Jakande, as managing director of Nigerian Tribune had always been at loggerheads with the police and national security operatives any time his editors were taken captive by them on account of their professional duties. He even told them not to go for his editors but to arrest him on such issues. What efforts did the late Isa Ismaila Funtua make to secure the release of the detained journalist Jones Abiri of the “Weekly Source”, Yenagoa in 2016? Funtua had the best chance to demonstrate that he was a press freedom fighter as an influential member of International Press Institute, and as former President of NPAN.

When he was in charge of The Democrat, which gave him access to membership of NPAN, he committed several atrocities against press freedom in Nigeria. Did we remember that? 

Other journalists who have expressed their opinions on this sensitive issue have alluded to the inconsistencies of the “undemocratic Democrat” when it was alive on the newsstand. Journalist Martins Oloja (The Guardian), Olatunji Dare, (The Nation), Sonala Olumhense (The Punch), Bola Bolawole, (Tribune) Abdul Rafiu (The Guardian), Lanre Idowu (The Nation) and many others on New Media platforms have exposed the anti-press freedom editorials published by The Democrat against Chief Alex Ibru and The Guardian, which claimed its right to freedom of publication by remaining in public domain against the Gen. Sani Abacha’s dictatorship. Though, The Guardian was shut for a whole year by Gen. Abacha in response to Funtua’s The Democrat’s editorials which urged him (Abacha) to deal with The Guardian; the newspaper survived, but not without sustaining some bruises on its economic well being and the newspaper’s management. I have read all that have been written on this controversial issue. 

 
Therefore, naming NIJ House on Victoria Island, Lagos, after Funtua, posthumously is a serious issue I have to contribute to. Moreover, I passed through NIJ not as an alumnus but as Director of the journalism training institute, first as Assistant director from 1986-1989 and as director 1990-1996.

Establishment of NIJ came principally through Alhaji Jakande when he was President of NPAN, and Chairman of IPI in Nigeria. Others who were active in its establishment were Alhaji Jose, Mr Laban Namme, Adamu Ciroma, Mr Sam Ayo-Vaughan of WNTV, Horatio Agedah, Alade Odunewu, and Increase Coker. Other pioneer Board members of NIJ in 1972 were, Abiodun Sogunle, Peter Ayeni who was then National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ); Mallam Mohammed Ibrahim, who was Head of News, Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria; C.X. Eyutchae of East-Central State Broadcasting Corporation; Mr Ernest Meyer, Director of International Press Institute (IPI); and Mr. D.K. Sleap of Drum (magazine) who was General Secretary, NPAN. At that period, Jakande who was President of NPAN worked assiduously to make Nigerian Institute of Journalism what it is. During my tenure as Director, Chief Segun Osoba and the late Mr. Abiodun Sogunle were Chairman of the Board at different times. Both men were highly effective in their contributions. Since then, Jakande’s name had been synonymous with NIJ. While I was Director of the institute, Jakande was constantly in the premises to see how the place was progressing. I was told by previous Directors of NIJ including Mr. Ogunsekan that, that had been his monitoring method since the institute started at Apongbon street in 1972.

At a time, in spite of his official schedule at his John West Newspaper Publications Ltd, he took up teaching of two courses at the institute: ‘Newspaper Management’ and ‘Ethics of Journalism’. He remained as a lecturer there for two years sharing his experiences and journalism knowledge with the students. He also kept an eagle eye on the NIJ House, which was one of the major sources of revenue to run the institute. Jakande was not paid for all his services. He saw the institute as his baby. It was during my tenure that I proposed to the Board to approve management’s proposal for a new library for the institute. We succeeded in getting Alhaji (Dr) Hassan Adamu (Wakilin Adamawa), a Nigerian business mogul and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to United States of America and former President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) to fund the construction and furnishing of the library. The library was named after him at the official opening ceremony.

I don’t have much problem with Mr. Ray Ekpu’s apostolic narrative on Isa Funtua’s nice gesture towards NIJ, especially his expenditure and commitments to NIJ House. Where I have problem with his argument is the area of his defence in favour of naming the place after him. I know Ekpu intimately that he is a person who speaks his mind and fearlessly writes his views on topical issues. He has again demonstrated his writing skill on this unnecessary controversy brought about by NPO’s decision. Ekpu was once President of NPAN and has remained a member of the body. He did well as President of NPAN, no doubt, but his total allegiance seemed to be towards his friend, Funtua.

Hence, I cannot exonerate Ekpu from being one of the architects of the controversial decision that has become a fierce argument in the, otherwise, peaceful media landscape. I think we have reached a stage of contrition whereby NPO executives should say sorry and apologise for taking a hasty decision, which has ignited the controversy. The argument that Funtua committed his wealth to repairing NIJ House is not enough to earn him that honour. What about those who have rendered greater service to establish NIJ and sustained it before the emergence of Funtua? What type of honour will the NPO give to the living legend of Nigerian Press, Jakande? What honour will be done, even posthumously, to Alhaji Jose, who turned Daily Timesinto a big business empire? What about Sir Abubakar Imam, the famous pioneer editor of Northern Nigeria’s Hausa newspaper, “Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo”? He was a pioneer northern journalist of repute. What posthumous honour will NPAN give to Adamu Ciroma the pioneer editor and MD of New Nigerian and one of the founding fathers of NIJ? What honour will NPAN give to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe of West African Pilot and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigerian Tribune? I am sure that you all know that they have gone into the records as Nigeria’s press heroes.

Though Azikiwe’s West African Pilot is defunct, but not before it had shown the light for Nigerians to find their way to independence. The newspaper, West African Pilot changed the face of Nigerian journalism from the 1930s to independence. Dr. Azikiwe inspired many Nigerians who made journalism as their life-time career.

Awolowo’s Nigerian Tribune which was established in 1949 and which went through hardships of British colonialism, survived it. It is still in the newsstand today having had more than 70 years of regular appearance.     

 
There is an inexhaustible list of great Nigerians who did not only fight for our press freedom but established their newspapers to sustain political freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria. You may want to read about them in the 5thedition of Duyile’s “Makers of Nigerian Press, (2019). What type of honour will NPO and NPAN bestow on them?

By naming NIJ House after Funtua, the NPO is attempting to swim upstream and it will have a tough time to swim across. 
 
As has been established by Abdul Rafiu in The Guardian (July 30), “Ismaila Isa was not a co-founder of The Democratwhen it first came into existence in 1983. The paper’s first coming was through the collaborative efforts of Alhaji Ahmed Joda, Philip Asiodu, and Shehu Malami. About five years later (1988 or so) they were joined by Shinkaffi, and Ismaila Isa as his representative.” No wonder, he had not been fully groomed in the key features of the newspaper as medium and institution of free expression.

One of these key features is relative freedom to protect the people against oppression by the powers that be, which unfortunately Ismaila did not imbibe at all. He was more into profitable business and politics than into media business. At NPAN, he was worshiped by some of the members who saw him as a boss not as a colleague and treated him with awe; whereas he had not spent much time in the media to allow the apple to fall on his lap. 

The NPAN and NPO have to come to terms with the general opinion that their decision was hasty and should be reversed. There are so many Nigerian leaders in the media whose contributions to the growth of Nigerian press and press freedom that deserve this honour which it had pleased NPO to bestow on someone who had not done much to qualify for it. It is therefore a misplaced honour. For his little but appreciated services to the NPO and NIJ he could be decorated, posthumously, with NPAN’s Medal of Merit (MM) not with NIJ House. That honour, obviously belongs to L.K. Jakande who had done a lot, planting NIJ in Nigeria, sustaining its growth from childhood to adolescent, and even at age 91, Jakande still maintains his love for the Institute. As Gbemiga Ogunleye, the current Rector of NIJ once observed: 

“Jakande’s contributions to the journalism profession were no less intimidating. He was the founder of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), of course his footprints are visible in the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ)”.

With due respect, I submit that the defense  raised by Ekpu on the issue holds no water. As Bola Bolawole has corroborated: “… There are far many more Nigerians deserving of that honour many times over than Funtua.” I agree with the submissions of the various writers that Funtua did not do enough for journalism profession to deserve that honour. 

Ekpu had titled his opinionated article:’ “Ismaila Isa Warrior for press freedom,” whereas he ought to have put it differently. His narrative that every year NPAN made sure it sent strong contingent to the IPI congresses and that they spent sleepless nights to draft NPO’s policy to reject the Nigerian Media Council and Press Court decree are very weak points to be cited in support of a bad case. And that Isa Funtua was in Abacha’s hit list, and that he remained unfazed, is fallacious. Ekpu’s argument that Funtua was in the bad book of Abacha as a result of being a press freedom warrior is untenable. What would you say about Segun Osoba?

Chief Olusegun Osoba, former Chairman of NIJ Board, former Managing director of Daily Times and Daily Sketch and former Governor of Ogun state who had many close encounters with death during Abacha’s regime. Osoba is a good example of one of those committed journalists who have contributed enormously to the improvement of journalism practice and the NIJ. Certainly Funtua did not belong to this class. Besides, by any standard, the speed at which the renaming of NIJ house was done by the NPO gives room for suspicion and imperfection. Men at the helm of affairs at NPO should return to the laboratory and do some drastic surgery to correct the abysmal work. Let us not give honour to whom honour is not due.

• Chief Duyile is a former Director of Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) 


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