Tribute to titans
Another titan has gone down. The Newswatch family last week lost one of its illustrious directors. Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude, one of the founding directors of Newswatch, has bowed to the inevitable end of all mortals. He died at the age of 80 years. One of the early converts to the Newswatch dream project, Ude came into the project at a very interesting but trying time.
Having decided to do what was thought impossible – publishing a weekly newsmagazine, the first of its kind in this part of the world – we had assembled the first set of staff. But on the approach of Christmas of 1984, the possibility of not being able to pay December salary was staring us agonizingly in the face.
Given our dramatic exit from our previous secured employment at Concord and New Nigerian respectively, it would not have been an easy situation to deal with not making it possible for the staff, that believed so much in us, to take something home for the yuletide season. Like a guardian angel, Alhaji Ude, who was introduced to us by some acquaintances of ours, showed up with a life line.
This internationally renowned publisher proved to be a true lover of the publishing business and an ardent believer in the power of the written words. He did not need to be preached to before he decided to team up with us at Newswatch. He was to prove his mettle as a dependable ally when, three years later, in April 1987 Newswatch was proscribed and the directors were detained with their accounts frozen. This draconian punishment followed the magazine’s publication of the government’s Political Bureau Report.
President Ibrahim Babangida’s military regime had on January13,1986 set up the political bureau headed by Professor Samuel Cookey, pro-chancellor of the University of Benin, to fashion out an indigenous system of government for the country. The bureau submitted its report on March 27, 1987. Newswatch obtained a copy of the report and published it. As if this had the capacity to bring the roof crashing down, government went into a tailspin. It showed its anger by closing down the magazine’s office and rolling out a decree four days after the announcement of the ban of Newswatch.
Clearly we had a huge crisis on our hands. Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude, in the absence of Ime Umana who had resigned as chairman a few days to the crisis, took charge. He led the three executive directors on a fence mending mission every night to the homes of senior military officers and some members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, saying we must touch base with them to let them know our own side of the story and seek their support. The visit took us all the way to the number two man in government, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, Chief of General of Staff, and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Gambo Jimeta. This nocturnal exercise paid off. Five months later, the government lifted the suspension which was to last for six months.
Abdulaziz Ude’s death is a huge loss not only to his people in Anambra State but to the whole country. A pan Africanist and a bridge builder, those in other African countries who profited from his generosity and open mindedness will miss him dearly too.
We in the industry, especially the Newswatch family, will miss him as much as we miss those who preceded him, the likes of Aliyu Dasuki, Dr Ime Umana and Alex Akinyele. They all, in their various ways, made their shoulders available for us to lean on when we needed them most. Without their advice, generosity and support, our dream would have remained just a pipe dream.
We had the dream in 1984 to publish a weekly newsmagazine, something that was a rarity in this part of the world at the time, in the fashion of Time and Newsweek from the United States of America, or the Economist of London to mention a few examples. Before then no investor in this country, not even the most reckless of gamblers, would have willingly given his attention, not to talk of parting with his hard-earned money, to such day-dream.
But when we, the dreamers, Dele Giwa of blessed memory, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and yours sincerely decided to give this dream some sense of reality, we were realistic enough to know the limitation of our derring-do. We, therefore, decided to seek help from other people. While many naysayers were determined to shake off from our dream, these gentlemen said yes to us.
Ime Umana was the first to come on board. A businessman and philanthropist from old Cross River State, Umana was introduced to us by Dr Ime Ebong, former Managing Director of Icon Merchant Bank, who assisted us to package a feasibility study.
But without saying so in many words, he made us to realize that what we were embarking on was not bankable – we had no collateral of any sort to pledge. What we had were our names and our large dose of braggadocio. Instead of an impossible mission to the bank, Dr Ebong promised to persuade Umana to help us. He did. And Ime Umana obliged us with finance and his time.
The second man, who allowed us to lean on his shoulders, was Alex Akinyele. He was spokesman of the Department of Customs when I met him for the first time in June 1977. We were on the inaugural flight of Air India to the country. The two weeks we spent in India – with a tourism excursion to the Elephanta Cave in Bombay, now Mumbai, and the ride on an elephant in Agra near New Delhi where we visited the Taj Mahal – helped to cement the relationship between us.
When we were looking for people of means and the large heart to make our dream come true in 1984, his name came to mind. He did not say no to us. But while he was willing to give us a loan of N100,000.00 he said he was not going to join our board. He later did, and after some years, he succeeded Ime Umana as chairman.
Mr Nuhu Wada Aruwa, an enterprising young man from Kogi State, also bought into our dream and has remained a pillar of support through all our triumphs and travails. So has been Professor Jibril Aminu the last to come on board as director. We have not forgotten the inspiring last- minute move he made to stop the proscription in 1987 when Newswatch was about to be sentenced in absentia, even without hearing its own side of the story. By the time he arrived Dodan Barracks, the seat of government, from his office in the Federal Ministry of Education where he operated as minister, the deed had been done, the government had pulled the guillotine on Newswatch. The Professor who started out by not liking Newswatch, later made a dramatic u-turn and became not only an admirer but a director and a pillar of support.
Aliyu Dasuki, a wealthy businessman and an unassuming scion of the Sokoto Caliphate, and Chief Mike Adenuga, businessman and the third richest man in Africa, joined Newswatch almost at the same time principally, it would seem, as a gesture of support for friends. Aliyu Dasuki passed on in 1992 but his support and his image making efforts for the magazine have remained indelible in our hearts. He extended such fellowship to The Guardian newspaper where he served on the editorial board up the time of his death. A friend in need is truly a friend in deed. For the departed, we say adieu while we shall continue to pray for God to grant their souls a peaceful repose.