When media celebrates media, by Ken Ugbechie

Lateef Jakande

When media celebrates media, by Ken Ugbechie

June 1, 2021

The Afternoon of Tributes may have marked a historic moment in Nigeria media as a special moment to celebrate the departed but we must never lose sight of the nugget from Mr. Mustapha Isah, the President of the NGE who drew the attention of the media community to the pertinence of also celebrating the living among us.

It’s not often that the media fetes the media. The Nigeria media, especially, seldom luxuriates with buntings and banners to celebrate its own. Yet, there’s always so much to celebrate in the media and among the nation’s media icons.

Lateef Jakande
The late Lateef Jakande

So, it was almost out of the routine on Friday, May 21, at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, when nine departed media gurus were honoured in a memorable, yet emotional, afternoon of tributes. They were media owners, managers and editors at various times. Five died last year (that terrible year which a stubborn coronavirus almost yanked off from our calendar) while four joined their ancestors this year.

The roll call: Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua (January 17, 1942- July 20, 2020), a Life Patron of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN; Malam Wada Maida (March 5, 1950-August 17, 2020), former President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and former Managing Director/Chairman News Agency of Nigeria, NAN; Mr. Bisi Lawrence (October 23, 1932- November 11, 2020), former General Manger, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation and newspaper columnist of repute; Chief Gbolabo Ogunsanwo (June 28, 1945-November 27, 2020), former Publisher of New Nation, former Editor, Sunday Times; Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah (May 1, 1962-December 11, 2020), Founder and former Publisher of Leadership newspapers. He was the youngest of the lot having died at 58.

Others were Eddie Aderinokun (July 1930-January 3, 2021), former editor of Daily Express; Mr.Ben Egbuna (July 13, 1949-January 28, 2021), former Director General, FRCN and Executive Director, Voice of Nigeria; Prince Tony Momoh (April 27, 1939-February 1, 2021), former Editor, Daily Times, former Minister of Information and Culture; and then the inimitable Alhaji Lateef Jakande (July 24, 1929- February 11, 2021), pioneer president of the NGE and NPAN, former Editor of Nigeria Tribune and founder, John West Publications. He was also former Governor of Lagos State, a former Minister of Works, among other responsibilities.

This was the esoteric media cast that death plucked from the pen firmament within the last one year. Save for Ndah-Isaiah, the iconoclastic pharmacist-turned journalist, others clocked the Biblical 70 years ‘apportioned to man’ with Jakande bowing out a worthy nonagenarian at 91, barely five months to his 92nd birthday.

The event was put together by media organisations in the country: NPAN, NGE, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, and Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, BON. By a simple stretch of the mind, this was the first time the Nigeria media, in full consciousness, deliberateness and unhinged freewill, rolled out the red carpet to celebrate its departed in such number. And the attendance? Simply superlative. Mediapreneurs, editors (retired, untiring, aspiring and extant), media buffs, politicians, top cats in corporate Nigeria, royalties, all graced what Aremo Segun Osoba – himself an untiring reporter, editor and former Governor, rolled into one fit and well-groomed body – openly described as the best attended media event by media personnel themselves. He was right.

It was a moment of high emotional tide, an event that re-connected both the old and the young; a watering hole for deeper reflection on the place of the media in contemporary Nigeria. Speaker after speaker reflected the beautiful yester-years when the media not only regenerated itself to confront the colonialists, but also reinvented itself to dare and subdue the military, including facilitating their exit from the governance ecosystem and subsequently birthing a new, fresh order of constitutional democracy.

The Afternoon of Tributes may have marked a historic moment in Nigeria media as a special moment to celebrate the departed but we must never lose sight of the nugget from Mr. Mustapha Isah, the President of the NGE who drew the attention of the media community to the pertinence of also celebrating the living among us. The Nigeria media has so much to celebrate. Hounded, harassed, haunted and hunted, the media has withstood political hailstorms hurled at it; survived, albeit with bruises and burns, economic hardship; and endured a welter of state-induced censorship to gag it. In the midst of these, sometimes, orchestrated blizzards, the Nigeria media, particularly the private media and its practitioners, still manage to stay afloat against the tidal flurry of boisterous waves.

Historically, the Nigeria media has never been the best friend of the government- colonial, military or civilian. Pa Obafemi Awolowo captured the edgy moments of media-government relationship in the colonial days in his auto-biography, Awo, where he referenced the impact of seminal lectures delivered by the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to push through his economic and political philosophy for a New Africa – a philosophy anchored on four main pillars of Political Risorgimento, Economic determinism, Social resurgence and Spiritual balance.

And if there was ever any doubt as to the historical essence of the media in national development, the keynoter at the event, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law endowed with uncommon broad spectrum of knowledge, took the audience through the convoluted contours of Nigeria media history. His historical disquisition on the Nigeria media was deliberate because in his words “the true character of an institution and the true weight of its calling is revealed by its past – by its trajectory through time. At times, it may seem that the media and the government are mortal foes but the occasionally turbulent nature of our relationship is part of the natural creative tension between our institutions arising from our differing mandates.”

Then he surmised: “Those of us who govern must do so with the understanding that power is a public trust and it is your calling as journalists to invigilate us and hold us accountable. I urge you to continue to do so relentlessly, fairly, and unapologetically. When we are both true to our respective callings, our democracy is strengthened.” Brilliant!

While we acknowledge the obvious divergence in the mandates of the public office actors and the media, it’s still not enough ground for the media to always get the stick anytime something goes wrong. The media has been blamed for amplifying terrorism, punished for airing the voice of dissent even in a democracy, denunciated for being the chief catalyst for Nigeria’s poor international image, for over-heating the polity, for much more. Not true!

From the ancient times till this day, the Nigeria media has been a strident partner for development, a stentorian voice against dictatorship and a soothing balm calming the intricately tenuous moments in our national history. Within the context of its insufferable history, the Nigeria media has practically ridden the tail of the tiger and deserves to, in the fashion of the proverbial Agama lizard, celebrate itself.

As we have most worthily celebrated the dead, the media should fete the living legends in our midst. Let’s honour them while they are alive. The greatest gift you can give to a warrior is praise. When you praise a warrior for what he has done, he would be bolstered to do more, says an African proverb. Some of the founders and sustainers of great media brands in Nigeria are still alive, some cropping hoary hairs. These are Lifetime Achievers who deserve a special gathering, just one day in a year, to acknowledge their immeasurable contributions to national development using the media as their Ombudsmanship tool.

First published in Sunday Sun