FIRST THINGS FIRST
Let me thank the Department of Mass Communication of the University of Nigeria for asking me over to Nsukka to give the first Jackson Annual Lecture on any topic of my choice. This lecture, I could see from the e-mail sent to me by the Head of Department, is part of the Jacksonites Home-coming Project, and will be given every year by Jacksonites who have distinguished themselves in their areas of endeavour. Although I was asked to speak on a topic of my choice, anyone who has this responsibility of setting the pace in an outing of this nature, would be ill-advised to ignore the obvious. It is obvious that what I say today should set that pace for what others coming after me will say. We are, therefore, starting a journey which, like every other journey, must begin with the first step. The first step here is the home we are coming to. That home is the Department of Mass Communication here at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
I have been at this home two times without achieving the object of my mission. And on both occasions, I did not initiate the home-coming. On April 24, 1978, I came here on the invitation of the department to present a paper on Press Freedom –Practical Considerations. I was then editor of the Daily Times. I was surprised when I discovered that the forum was in a classroom and there were only a few empty desks to “listen” to a 56-paged paper. One or two lecturers had stayed behind briefly to inform me that the university had been shut down and that students had been asked to go home. I left the paper, and would be surprised if anyone knows where it is.
The other occasion of my home-coming was during the Media Week organized by the UNN Mass-com Association. I was asked to give a paper onFreedom, Responsibilities and Restraints of the Mass Media in a Military Regime. The date was March 24, 1993. I produced the paper but could not come because I had a commitment abroad as Chairman of the Board of Nigeria Airways. I did not receive any feedback from the organizers in respect of the contribution.
There was a third form of home-coming which did not involve my presence here at Nsukka. But like it is said, I was here in spirit because the whole institution was there in Lagos. The Lagos Branch of the Alumni Association of the University had started the Dignity of Man lectures in 1988 when Nze Mark Odu became its chairman. He took Lagos by storm by mobilizing the Lions and Lionesses to showcase the University. It was as if this institution had relocated to Lagos for the week! With the cooperation of the Ministry of Information and Culture, facilities were laid out for a successful outing, and for one week, this institution took over the National Theatre, Lagos to display its wares, with the organized private sector and parastatals of the ministry in attendance. The climax came on August 7 with the Dignity of Man lecture which I gave at the Institute of International Affairs. The title was The Dignity of Man – A Window to Eternity; Another Dimension To The Struggle To Restore The Essence And Dignity of Man. Later, the Association was to bestow on me the highest award it could give to members of the Association, and that was when Mark Odu had become the national president of the Alumni Association. I thus became the first ALOHA, A Lion of High Achievement.
But when I was asked to come here for the inaugural lecture on the Return Home of Jacksonites, which for the uninitiated is the return to base of those products of the Jackson College of Journalism when this university endorsed the collegiate system in its administration, I asked a few questions and someone asked me whether I was sure they were serious. “Who are they?” I asked. And I was told that the programme had been in the offing for four years and it had never taken off. I told the gentleman that this seems ready to take off because the Head of Department, Dr. Nnanyelugo Okoro, had called me so consistently and been around in Lagos so often that I believed we should embrace the venture because as they say, better late than never. Our presence here today should give meaning to the saying that the taste of the pudding is in the eating.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. The title of my lecture is Reminiscences and Projections (The Proposals of Men and the Disposals of Men). I deliberately chose the topic to give the impression to the inhabitants of this citadel that something elaborate and scholarly is in the offing!
It seems that the longer and complicated the title, the more intimidating academic laurels are associated with the personality of the author. The one reminiscing calls from the storehouse which memory is, those pictures which, like a scene in a film, come through on a telephone line with the past.
You will therefore come on a visit with me to the past and see the recollections through me. And thanks for accepting the offer! But the visit to the past will be Part One of the presentation. We will move to Part Two, what I refer to as Projections. In this part, I will argue that what we have been through from the past is not the result of anger of the gods, but deliberate actions based on greed which is the ugliest manifestation of narrowness of vision.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. This home, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was my abode some 40 years ago. The trip down memory lane is not for entertainment; although, like a good story should do, the telling will make you sigh, cry, and/or laugh. But more importantly, this going down memory lane is meant to haul a flaming missile from the past into now, the present, so that, cleansed of the dross that has blunted our senses, we may be able to tell ourselves boldly if we are growing into the giant that we are meant to be or we are degenerating into the status of the offspring of a lost generation.
I was one of hundreds, not thousands, who arrived here at Nsukka in September, 1964. I came in with pride and a posture. I was a sub-editor in the Daily Times, which was the most widely-circulated newspaper in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even before I came here, my name had been published in a newspaper, along with others admitted to the University of Nigeria to pursue different disciplines. Such publications were routine because the universities were few and competition to gain admission was intense.
My area was journalism. In applying to go to the university, I had chosen the University of Nigeria and indicated my first choice as journalism, the second choice as journalism and the third choice as journalism. I had overcome the pressure not to go to the university to read journalism which my colleagues at the Times told me was a trade or craft you could learn only in-house. No one there seemed to be appreciating the point I was raising that I wanted university education to widen my horizon. I was being referred to our very popular writers who had seen it all, but I told them that their achievements were personal, but that their academic background was not properly structured. You needed some organization in your upbringing, and you have to be focused through deliberate infusion into you of what the polity wants for you and of you.
I was later to discover that what was on my mind was that a culture associated with the life to be lived in the polity must be taught, learned, shared.And failure to infuse it in the ones growing up is the first failure of leadership at whatever level. So I came in here and was soon to discover that there is a difference between being bombarded with material to process and collate for use in the media of mass communication and having a perspective to doing so. I should explain this widening of vision later.
Two things shocked me into the reality of what I was into in the first month of our stay here. One was a letter that emerged through the Faculty of education. A friend had seen the letter addressed to Tony Momoh, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was from a girl! She was telling me she would inform me during Christmas why she had stopped writing about a year earlier. This was a girl I thought I was in love with. I had written four letters to which there was no response. In the fourth letter, I had told her I would take her silence as notice to me that the relationship had ceased. There was nothing coming from that sector, and I gradually grew out of the pain, concentrating on my work as sub-editor working on the Lagos edition of the Daily Times, the last edition that was read in Lagos. Then, when she saw my name listed as going to university, she obviously thought my status had risen and wanted to stage a come-back.
While I was telling my friend Sylvester Ogbechie, a sociology major, how I met the girl during Christmas and she was not forthcoming with any reason why she had abandoned me, he said he himself was trying to recover from the raw deal he had had from his teacher girl-friend before Christmas. He said he had written to her, when we were all having our first exposure to mind-blowing material that only organized studies can give, telling her that he was in a state of anomie as far as their conjugal relationships were concerned. The girl had been sulking when he got back to the village, saying her boyfriend was only trying to put her in her place – a common teacher associating with a university graduate! It took some doing before my friend regained his heart-throb. He said what he meant was that he was missing her…
“And why didn’t you tell her that in the letter,” I asked. He looked surprised and told me he had tried to show the difference between being at university and not being there.
This was a lesson I had learnt even before I was employed, with my advanced level papers and a teachers grade two certificate plus the experience of a secondary modern school teacher, as a sub-editor-in-training in the Daily Times. We were told the need never to speak in tongues, to say it simply and in no other way that could communicate different images to different people.
Yes, I had learnt to make it simple and uncluttered and short much earlier in life when, in my few months at teacher training, I had written a letter to my elder brother that I was in “utter financial delirium as far as pecuniary responsibilities were concerned and could he give me succor from that embarrassing circumstance.” He had written to tell me that he had an idea of what I was trying to say, but that unless I called “a spade a spade and not an instrument for scooping igneous rock from terra firma,” he would not respond to my request. I wrote to say, “Brother, I am broke,” and he sent me five shillings which was enough then to cater for my needs for two weeks.
The second event early in my life at my new home in 1964 was when I confronted the academic adviser here. I asked him, brimming with confidence that I had been working in a newspaper house, whether I could not finish the degree programme in two years and get back to my office in Lagos. He told me quietly that the degree programme in the University of Nigeria was for an irreducible three sessions. We ran nine months of studies and three months of vacation then. It was when I failed the first impromptu test — we referred to them as quizzes — that I knew that there was a difference between wanting to be a technician on the one hand and bringing depth and order into your life in a university environment on the other.
That the questions asked were the wrong questions was a discovery I made years later and I do hope that things have changed. For the record, the American lecturer, Mr. Dupen, had asked us to give examples of three newspapers and three columnists. I knew at least seven newspapers and a dozen columnists I could name, but I had been warned even from primary school that you must answer the question you are asked at exams and keep your erudition for a social occasion. So I wrote down the Daily Times, the Morning Post and the West African Pilot as examples of newspapers; and Peter Pan, Ebenezer Williams and Sad Sam, household names in Nigeria, as my examples of columnists. I scored zero there because the lecturer said the examples of newspapers were the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Walter Lippmann was one of the examples of newspaper columnists I can now recall in the American text book we used and from which he drew the questions.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since this university pioneered instruction in communication studies. At the last count, we had 55 institutions offering media and media-related studies, but how many of them, including the Ijele Masquerade that the Mass Communication Department of this University should be seen to be, have focused their programmes on the needs and briefs of the polity? Specifically, how many of the mass-com departments have anchored their training on Nigeria being the Big Picture and therefore knowing it as defining the frontiers of news; the Constitution being the Road Map and studying it to know the place it has for the media and the brief the media must execute on behalf of the people; and the dilemma of the media as property to be owned, established and operated as of right on the one hand, and the monitoring role it must perform for the people professionally and in accordance with the code of ethics on the other.
For, it is unarguably that obligation to monitor governance on behalf of the people that makes the press in Nigeria constitutionally the Fourth Estate of the Realm, and not, like in other jurisdictions, an estate of doubtful historical origin and grudging parliamentary convention.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I do hope I am not dragging stray and grey matter into our reconnaissance of the past. Yes, there are memories of where we lived, two in a room. We woke up, left the room for studies, came back to find the room swept, the bedding changed; and once a week, our clothes washed and ironed. Three times a day, we went to the refectory and chose from three types of meals. If you were a non-residential indigent student, you could go in there and have tea and a slice of bread at breakfast.
But there was this week we all had to have bread for breakfast, bread for lunch and bread for dinner. The cooker had packed up and the engineering department could do nothing about it because the service manuals were in German and no one in the Engineer’s office could read German. As editor of the weekly Record which circulated 10,000 copies on campus and the Nsukka area (believe me when I say that many national newspapers today do not do that much), I put a reporter on the beat to monitor the number of times the chief engineer visited the kitchen. We were aware that such a machine was available at the University Teaching Hospital, Ibadan. No attempt was made to call for help. So, for six days, we were fed on bread and water.
We wrote an editorial carpeting the Engineer’s office. On the seventh day, when we ought to have kept the Sabbath, students went on the rampage, breaking up the refectory and everything they could lay their hands on.
That was the day I learnt a lesson that has kept me company all my life. The Dean of Students Affairs was Dr. Ukpabi. He spoke to us on the need to cooperate with the inevitable. Had we been denied food in the past? Had we not made our choices from three different dishes at every meal?Those attending to us, hadn’t they children like us? Would they deliberately set us up to try how much we could resist the pangs of hunger? In life, there are situations you cannot help, and you must learn to cooperate with the inevitable!
I was later to wonder what joy we would have had if we had climbed the hills surrounding this citadel of learning and brought down wood for cooking our food, and watching the girls from Okpara Hall try their hands in putting into practice the way to a man’s heart through food that we know every Nigerian family soaks into their female children. But that was a scenario no one thought of.
The futility in refusing to cooperate with the inevitable came to me in at least two other times during my sojourn here. We had these buses that plied Nsukka/Onitsha. When the university was in session, we paid three shillings from Nsukka to Onitsha. They arrived Nsukka at 6pm, from Ibagwa, and left in a group for Onitsha at midnight, to arrive Onitsha at dawn. Fear of armed robbers did not start yesterday. This journey of less than two hours took six hours! Ibagwa Express was the name we knew these buses by.
We were going on holiday and I arrived at the lorry park and brought out three shillings. The motor boy said the fare was six shillings! I told him he was mad, and he told me we would see later in the evening who was the mad one. At 7pm the fare was increased to seven shillings; then to eight shillings at 8pm, and to 12 shillings at midnight. Students filed in, paid the going fare and took their seats. There were about half a dozen such buses.It was when the fare had risen to eight shillings that the motor boy came to me and told me it would be 12 shillings at midnight.
He reminded me that I was a university undergraduate who ought to know the law of supply and demand. He advised that I return to the university and come over after three days when the traveling population would have reduced and I would pay three shillings.
But how could I go back to the campus to stay for three days! I was not Nwabu Mgbemena, one of our classmates who played draft and forgot to leave for the park and was stranded for two days – with no food, no access to his room and no one to clean it and do up the bed. Besides, my people would be worried when Idalu and Willy got to Auchi and had no explanation for my absence.
When it was 9pm, I paid nine shillings and crept into one of the vehicles and sat there, quieted and shamed, my face hidden behind the seat in front of me.
The second occasion when the futility in refusing to cooperate with the inevitable blew in my face was when we had less than 48 hours to leave the then East Central State. There had been military intervention in our affairs in January 1966. Many people died and the country was on edge, many people being slaughtered, the qualification for the death being defined by where you came from. The massive movement of the people from the East made tempers rise and Col Odumegwu Ojukwu, Military Governor of the East Central State, announced that he was no longer in a position to ensure the safety of the lives of non-Easterners. We had less than 48 hours to leave the university.
Many of our colleagues in this hallowed campus did not perhaps appreciate the enormity of the problem, but when they saw their kith and kin reporting at Nsukka from Ahmadu Bello University, the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos and Ife, it was obvious that those of us from outside the East were going to be seating targets.
I refused to pack my things. I said even during the Second World War, there were Japanese in America and Americans in Japan and that they were protected. It took my friend and townsman Victor Oyofo of the Department of Geology to drag me out of my 123 Okeke Hall room. I told everyone I was coming back.
Those returning told us we would meet next at the United Nations. That meant that the pressure to quit Nigeria and declare the Republic of Biafra was gaining support the more people from the East returned to their homes, without property, with wounds, with stories of woe to tell.
I left four cartons of books and a radio set which Abdul Aziz Garuba, a graduating political science student friend had given me.
When I returned to the room in the first week of February 1970, that was less than a month after 30 months of a gory civil war, I broke down and wept. My four cartons of books had disappeared. That was not why I cried. My room mate Onyegbulam had only a dress on, the tattered uniform of a proud fighter for the freedom of his deprived people. The Nnamdi Azikiwe Library that had 400,000 books it exhibited to visitors with pride was empty.Did you hear that? Empty. The window glasses were removed, so also were toilet seats, and keys to doors. Even the wirings in all the dormitories had gone. My department that had its own library and radio equipment with bound volumes of the Record that told the weekly story of the goings-on on the campus, had been stripped, too.
But all that was left in the most papered department, which was an apt description of Jackson College, was a single sheet of printed material from the centre page of a magazine published by Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, marking 50 years of its founding. The title of the article wasCrossing the Rubicon, and that was where I anchored my story as editor of Spear Magazine.
Can we say, 37 years after the end of the war, that we have crossed the Rubicon into another time and place that had been fundamentally structured so that the prayer of JJ Brown may be heard. JJ Brown was the most senior captain in the Nigerian Army before he was promoted major, a rank he held before the war. After the war, he along with others, were frisked by the military before they were reabsorbed in the ranks they held before they left. Asked how he would summarise his impressions, he said SABENA – Such A Bad Experience, Never Again. That was vintage JJ Brown, the well-known humour mill of the Nigerian Army. He lay claim to degrees he described as SMG, MSc, MA and PhD. Asked what those meant, he broke everyone’s ribs with explaining that his first degree was SMG—Submachine Gun. He was MSc, the Most Senior Captain in the Nigerian Army before he was promoted. During the war, he was promoted colonel, but on return to the Army at the end of the war, he earned his MA, and PhD, that is Major Again, Provisionally Held Down.
When I met JJ Brown at Kaduna in 1970, that was where he was first introduced to me, I asked him where he came from, he told me he came from Nigeria. I asked where in Nigeria, he said Nigeria. And he was damn serious with giving this country one more chance, to put its acts together. In 1997, I met him waiting at the office of Gen Jerry Useni, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, and I asked JJB his latest qualifications. His smile was not from the heart. He said WASW, meaning We Are Still Watching.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. In the year of our Lord 2007, are we working hard enough to avoid what led us into war from July, 1967 to January, 1970? Not many of the student population here knew of the war, but most of them may have been born by those who knew what happened, were victims of it, and still bear the scars of that ugly past.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I do not want to end this part of the story in my place of sojourn with the sad memories of a past we refuse to learn from. I must crow loudly for everybody to take to heart that this great institution grew me, made me, widened my horizon and strengthened the faith I have always had in myself that lots of things I thought were wrong could not be right simply because someone from somewhere else said so.Oh yes, I owe a great deal to the University of Nigeria for pushing me through the General Studies Courses which made us confidently confront anyone who lay any claim to erudition or scholarship in the Humanities and the Social and Natural Sciences. And how enriched we were, those of us who chose journalism as our major.
But the thanks have less to do with what we were taught than our being opened up to grow in the ability, and be exposed to the opportunities, to choose. The right to choose had always been there, but here, we were, through tutelage, given the multifarious options that added value to the choices we made.
So, in one year of being here, between 1964 and 1965, I could speak boldly from the 25 literature books we offered in the Use of English, from Homer’s The Odyssey to Pepper Clarke’s Song of A Goat. I could find my way out of the mysteries we had associated with philosophy and philosophers, before Socrates, the times of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and beyond, to modern times. History opened for us the gates into the past of peoples and places that were subject-lessons in the march of man through time. We had tons of hand-outs at very little cost and they were transferable. I cannot vouch for now.
It was in the natural sciences, I think, I ran into trouble. We had been doing our practical in botany in the science department and I had sat there peeping through the microscope on what to me was visible only because of the gadget. I thought the science teacher had as much sense of humour as those of us in the arts who described English majors as readers of novels and economics majors as ceteris paribusers.
So I shouted to no one in particular, “Hey look at an atom.” The supervising lecturer said, “Mr. Momoh, you cannot see an atom in a microscope.” I fired back, “I am looking at one here and you are telling me I cannot see an atom in a microscope?”
He took offence. He said those of us in the mass-com department looked down on science students. We published anything we liked in the Record, which was the departmental weekly newspaper. We ran people down and are always unwilling to publish the other side of the lies we tell against members of staff whose careers we thereby endangered. To me there may have been some grouse he buried in his mind. We had been less than a year old in the university and the Record he railed at had been in publication before we came.
But we didn’t look down on science students. How could we? We envied them. The only course I flopped was remedial mathematics which did not carry any credit points! All we told the science students was that they always tried to work towards the answers and that there was always only one straight road to solving their problems. Two plus two is always four, and the right combinations of hydrogen and oxygen will always give you water.
But when you have material in front of you to choose from in print or broadcast journalism or you have a case to present, you have before you challenges that draw you into a competition in which you must excel only through what the public decides. You are always challenged as a journalist. But we didn’t ever get emotionally bruised when other students in other departments called us amiebos or rumour mongers.
Back to the lecturer who was angry that I said I saw an atom! What I did not bargain for was what the lecturer would do with my paper in one of the General Studies courses where he was supervisor. We had to answer 300 questions in 3 hours. I permed 400 questions, from Socrates of Greece to Senghor of Senegal. With 30 minutes to spare, I handed in my paper and walked out of the hall with a swagger. The lecturer was on fire. He threw that look of anger at me and I smiled off, telling myself that I had acquired 48 points in the 12 credit-hour course. I worked for it and would score my A.
I do not know what has been happening for 32 years. But if you had an A in a course, it was an A, whether it was plus or minus. You had your full credit points. But this gentleman gave me B+++ which reduced my points to 36. No, I won’t have that, I fumed, and stormed the academic registrar’s office.
The procedure then was simple. If you protested, your paper would be sent to three different assessors outside Nigeria. I wanted my paper to be sent out for an independent assessment. There had been occasions when papers were sent to assessors in Australia, London and the United States of America.
I do not know what happens these days when marks and grades are said to be negotiable and negotiated on unbelievable terms! A friend in the administrative office pleaded with me to pipe down. It was obvious that I could recover my A but what would that do to the image of the university?
I sacrificed that grade and it haunted me and affected my pre-degree grade. But my thirst for searching for relevance of what I had in front of me as material to help in the choices I made had never, since September, 1964 when I stepped on this soil, been quenched.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. But what happened when we were thrown out of the citadel of learning that pioneered research into who we were, where we came from and what heritages there were for us to discover, promote, present and preserve? It affected me, as it affected Christopher Doghudje, Tunji Oseni, Sam Eguavoen, Solomon Aghedo, and Oamen Enaholo. We were, six of us, products of Jackson College, in the final lap in the race to access the golden fleece, at the end of the 1966/67 year; and we would be proud graduates from the Department of Journalism, UNN, the first degree-awarding institution in this part of the world. Permit my immodesty in my claim that if you wanted to pick ten best students from that 1966/67 class, you would not miss out more than two in the six.
But we went to the University of Lagos where a gentleman who was said to have been the dean of the faculty of arts did not just believe that journalism was a worthy subject to earn a degree in. It was this gentleman who messed us up, and denied us the opportunity to undertake postgraduate courses, if we were interested.
In spite of the grueling schedule we ran, which I should explain in a moment, this gentleman lumped some of the best brains in Journalism Class 64/65 together in reducing first class material to Second Class Lower. We were lucky to have come away with Two-Twos. There was this innovation to give us what they called BA Ordinary which the acting dean who had a PhD in Yoruba said was the approval of the Senate.
It turned out that he was the one who said we ought to have been given “ordinary” BA and since there was no degree of that description, he coined one more acceptable to be handed over to us. We were fortunate that what we came away with was known in the marketplace. Five of us had Second Class Lower and the sixth, Third Class.
This hostility did not extend to other universities. Some of our colleagues in other disciplines had first class and second uppers at Ife, Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello, Zaria
Thanks to Chief A.Y. Eke, the chief registrar, an arrangement was made to see us through the University of Nigeria programme. Eighteen lecturers were packaged to service six of us. Yes we, six of us, had more intensive care than any other group of students that left Jackson College. The lecturers were brought in from the field to handle the envied six.
We had three lecturers in Public Relations. One, Sam Epelle who authored the only public relations book available then, taught us Public Relations in Industry. He was the public relations manager of Nigerian Railways. Pen Malafa taught Public Relations in Government. He was the director of federal information services. An experienced Englishman in the British High Commission handled Public Relations Theory. He was a graduate of Cambridge University and had been in the diplomatic service for more than 30 years.
We had three lecturers in Print Journalism and three in Broadcast. The training manager of Daily Times, Mr. Leslie Riley, who was handling their staff in-house was Australian. He taught us Feature and Editorial Writing. Another Englishman who worked in the Morning Post Press as technical adviser taught us Type Faces, Newspaper Lay-out and Production. The editorial adviser to Challenge magazine, another white man, taught us Magazine Editing and Production.
In Broadcast Journalism, the Director-General of Radio Nigeria, Mr. Victor Badejo, taught Radio Broadcast journalism; Horatio Ageda who was the household name in electoral reporting in the late 50s taught Radio News Writing, Editing and Production; and Christopher Kolade of NTA handled Television Broadcast Journalism. When we were doing our finals, we directed news and programmes on radio and television at Radio Nigeria and NTA studios.
Uche Chukwumerije who was then a magazine publisher taught us Current Affairs. In-house, we were exposed to lectures in law, from Nigerian legal system, through laws regulating publications to conflict of laws.
It was the shortcomings in the law on publications that advised my interest in this field and led to my writing of Nigerian Media Laws 1903 to 1999,revised in 2004 and titled Nigerian Media Laws and Ethics.
But we made the best of what we were given. Christopher Doghudje rose to be the most accomplished authority on public relations, both in theory and practice. He was managing director of Lintas Advertising Company between 1985 and 1992, and that is after he had consistently been in the industry from 1967 when we left the University of Lagos. His forays into post-graduate work failed because the university he was interested in, Columbia in the United States, said his grades at graduation were too low! He has been the most respected judge of advertising, advertisers and advertising agencies. For more than 12 years, he has published Adnews, a monthly newsletter for spreading advertising knowledge and information,A month or so ago, he was appointed Chairman of APCON, the Advertising Council of Nigeria.
APCON is responsible for regulating advertising in Nigeria and has done so since I pioneered the regulation of media when I was Minister of Information and Culture between 1986 and 1990. The Nigerian Institute of Public Relations Decree provides for regulating the practice of public relations in Nigeria. You cannot get employed in any corporate body in the country today if you are not a member of the Institute.
What I thought would be my greatest contribution to media practice was the promulgation of the Nigerian Media Council Decree of 1989 which was rejected by my colleagues in the media but later re-emerged as the Nigerian Press Council Decree 1992.
I have always believed that the media needs a powerful legal backing that would check impostors. But many believe that as freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Constitution, you can acquire a medium, a voice, to tell what you believe to whoever is interested in it. Can’t he who pays the piper dictate the tune? My caveat is that in doing so, you must obey the rules of publication which protects public interests and the reputation ofindividuals.
We also pioneered the protection of artistic works through the Copyright Decree; and the deregulation of broadcasting through the National Broadcasting Commission Decree of 1992.
All these legal backings for media practice arose from the Mass Media Policy which I promoted and was endorsed by the Armed Forces Ruling Council in April 1990.
I had myself never wanted to go for any post-graduate work. I had always said I would go in for a second degree to strengthen my hold on my field which is journalism. I read law after graduation and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1975 before I became editor of the newspaper from 1976 -80.
Sam Eguavoen worked in television, relocated to Benin and rose to edit the Nigerian Observer before he went into private business. Aghedo and Enaholo were in the civil service of the Government of Edo State. Enaholo was director of press in the ministry of information, and Aghedo later moved to head the state television station before he went into politics and pioneered the formation of Association of Local Government Chairman, for he was one.
The last but not the least of the six that left here in 1966 was Tunji Oseni. He was the only one of us who reached out to accessing a masters degree through other routes. He worked as features editor of Sketch, moved to the Daily Times to compete to edit the Sunday Times. That was the only time in the history of the Daily Times when the editorial positions would be occupied through competitive examinations. I secured the Daily Times slot and Tunji Oseni the Sunday Times. Together we took the two publications to unprecedented circulation heights, the Sunday Times doing 500,000 weekly and the Daily Times about 420,000 daily.
When the politicians came in 1979, it took less than six months for them to discover that those two that went through this great institution were not ready to compromise what they had acquired through tutelage and practice. We were posted out into non-contentious areas, Tunji to distribute newspapers and magazines in Enugu, and I to assume the non-existent post of Deputy Manpower and Planning Adviser.
But I am telling the story of Tunji Oseni. He left, went to Austria and was editor-in-chief of OPEC News Agency. Eight years after, he was back in Nigeria. I had him moved to Voice of Nigeria as director of news and programmes. From there he was sent to the Daily Times as its managing director and thrown out when he was not cooperating with those who wanted it run aground. He went to court, then helped in the establishment of newspapers and anchoring the editorial boards of others. He was last heard of in Anchor newspaper when his name was announced as Media spokesman for President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Tunji worked his heart out managing the image of one of the most difficult men you can encounter. He was eased out after the 2003 elections. He was so exhausted he went into hospital, depending on external aid to breathe properly. All that was needed was money to undertake an operation, but no one was forthcoming with it, not even the government he spent day and night serving and servicing.
It was on his sick bed he compiled Media All the Way, 578 pages of selections from his writings between 1967 and 2003. The book was presented on January 5, 2005 in Lagos when he would have been 62. But he had died on November 29, 2004.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. There are hundreds of Jacksonites who have made it. Some of them I had worked with directly include Dr. Nwabu Mgbemena who retired as managing director of News Agency of Nigeria; Dr Okigbo who was registrar of APCON, Bel-Molokwu who took over from him and told me the last time I saw him that he was now a farmer, which is reflective of his loud sense of humour; and Dr. Tony Nnaemeka (of blessed memory) who was my unofficial Special Adviser when we worked on the Mass Communication Policy.
Distinguished Invited Guests. I anchored my story of my sojourn at the University of Nigeria on people because I believe that the only resource that is worth investing in is the human person. He is not to be equated with machines and money and land. He is not of this place, this earth. He is a visitor here, a human spirit in the school of life. He is a creature of the Most High and he has rights that are associated with his being human. That what happens to him is often the outcome of what he himself did, which many may disagree with, should help focus his path. This path is not a product of mere wishes. It is a decision to climb the mountain and getting up from the valley to do the climbing.
The one who refuses to go to school has chosen and will have to live with the limitations that go with being illiterate. The higher the striving, the wider the widening of the horizon. If it is said, then, that to build a city, the serious-minded would first build the man, there is very little indeed that can be said for those who pounce on virgin land and import buildings into them without a thought for whether the buildings will stand on a plateau, a hill or a valley: whether they are being built in the tropics or the tundra; whether they will be lived in by giants or midgets; and whether or not they straddle the paths of floods. You must first build the man if you want to build the city.
But can we say that since Nigeria came to be in 1914 through the amalgamation proclamation of Sir Frederick Lugard, we have built a nation of cities which were built after the men to build them had been built? Did Lugard prepare Nigerians for 1960, and if he did not, did our leaders who took over the reins of power prepare us for today?
What legacies did our leaders leave after their tenure — Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (60 -66); Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (1966); Yakubu Gowon (66 – 75); Murtala Mohammed (75-76); Olusegun Obasanjo (76 – 79); Aliyu Shehu Shagari (79 – 83); Muhammadu Buhari (84 -85); Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (85 – 93); Earnest Shonekan (1993); Sani Abacha (93 – 98); Abdulsalaami Abubakar (98- 99), again Olusegun Obasanjo (99 –’07). What legacies did they leave behind in the area of building men and women who would build the cities of Nigeria?
Even before Independence, what legacies of human development did Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo leave for today’s posterity? What did they tell us about ourselves, about where we came from, what we are here for, how to live together, what benefits we would derive from being a nation rather that a mere geographical space on the land mass of the continent of Africa? What wars did they fight, practical or otherwise, to free us from mental slavery, from being so dependent as to believe that the world owes us a living?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. If I am unfair in the questions I raise and it is granted that since independence, even before then, we had built the man, what type of man did we build and what is his lot today among his own countrymen, in the eyes of other people in other lands? When can he be a native of Shagamu or Kano if he is not Yoruba or Hausa; or Onitsha or Calabar, if he not Igbo or Efik?
When will we build the man enough that would accept that a Nigerian is a Nigerian wherever he may be domiciled in this country? And what content must we impose on the school system to enforce a perspective in the upbringing of our offspring, in the building of the Nigerian man? Have we been creating the environment where we can build the man?
Once upon a time, before the Civil War, our institutions of higher leaning were veritable grounds for building the man and the woman, acceptable anywhere in the world. Today, how many of the 87 universities send out people whose qualifications are not dismissed with scorn?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I can assert one thing because it is there for everyone to see. We do have the material to build with. Are we not more than a hundred and forty million Nigerians of whom more than sixty-five per cent are twenty-five years of age or below? Which years can be more productive in the lives of a people?
If we have this much human brick and mortar, where are the artisans to dig the foundation, mount the blocks for the walls, the wood and sheets for the roof; the plastering, the wiring, the furnishing et al! Even if the artisans are there, yes, there are artisans and there are artisans. So, what quality of artisans can we parade in this end-time, at this time in the history of man when all talk is of the millenium; of a period of profound changes even in man himself? We must answer the question; are we prepared for this?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. My little contribution at this forum is to draw attention to the lapses in our preparations, the gaps in our projections, in building the men who must build our cities of hope and promise. I accept the advice of the patient one that if at first you do not succeed, we should try, try and try again; and also that it is better late than never. But do not expect any views from me.
I have no profound thoughts of my own here. I can only rely on the perceptions of two gentlemen I had the privilege of meeting at a seminar in Enugu in April, 1999. Their presentations touched me deeply. One of them was in his seventies; the other a little less that fifty.
Let me dispose of the younger person’s position first. He is a pan-Africanist, an economist, philosopher and literary giant who has never failed to take on the most revered when the issues have to do with the minds of men and how ideas can liberate or enslave. He literally shoots from the hip.
Discussing stabilization of the Nigerian economy, which was the theme of the seminar, he raised four propositions which he said were delusions.These are:
1 That Nigeria is a nation or is engaged in nation-building. The presenter said this is not true. Nigeria is not a nation nor is it involved in nation-building.
2 That Nigeria is developing or industrializing. The presenter said this is not true. Nigeria is not developing and Nigeria is not industrializing, and there can be no economic stability without industrialization.
3 That Nigeria is potentially a great power on earth. The presenter said this is not true. Nigeria does not have the profile of a great power because, and I quote, “they are too much addicted to instant and lavish self-enjoyment with little spirit of sacrifice for tomorrow. We are too soft, too selfish and too naïve for the great power adventure.”
4 That the global system is Black-friendly and wants us alive and strong and participating as equal members who exercise economic and political self-determination. The presenter said the global system is not Black-friendly; that it is actually hostile to us to the point of wanting to castrate and exterminate us as soon as possible.
The older gentleman, white-haired like the wise men of old, was speaking about Ghana and how Ghana resolved its educational problems through integration. He reached out to Nigeria and began to proffer solutions to our seemingly intractable educational problems. I heard him give details of what he believed should constitute the components of an ALTERNATIVE educational system for this country. This system would guarantee twelve years of schooling for all Nigerians by the year 2001, sixteen years of such schooling by 2005 and life-long education.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I listened with interest to this gentleman I thought had been imported from Ghana. I heard him touch the very fibre of our present lack in our educational system which makes us believe that there is no education without prowess in the use of Britain’s mother-tongue. Within six years, in his alternative education system, thirty-four to forty million Nigerians would be made literate in their mother tongues.
This gentleman was not thinking of producing half-baked literates who would be more of a headache to Nigeria than a blessing. No, he had a well-thought-out programme that would satisfy any criteria like Access, World Standards Quality, Creativity, Competence-Building, Renewal, Self-Fulfillment and Realisation, Community Wealth Creation and Societal Goal Achievement.
This programme was not a dream he was looking for a scape-goat country to try in it. He had been in Ghana with President Jerry Rawlings doing this very thing. So, he was not Ghanaian as I had thought. He is Nigerian and had even proposed the revival of a polytechnic which had been closed down in 1987 by a military governor in Delta State. This proposal was approved by the German Government. Believe me when I say that what the German Government approves must be very viable indeed. The polytechnic would pay its way in three years after repaying the loan of some N500 million.
This great dream would have been fulfilled in 1998, but we are in Nigeria where some people know more than those who want to give service. The papers to start the project going are still lying down on the desk of an official who may be more interested in his pocket than the solution of our problems in the area of manpower development!
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I do not want to be misunderstood when I ask what contributions our leaderships since 1914 have brought to bear on the evolution of the Nigerian nation through programmes of relevant and focused integration of our 97,000 communities, of our more than 350 nationality groups. The creation of local government areas, the creation of more states, the three tier political structure of the Federation, all seem to be dividing us and splitting us.
No, we are not asking for a centralized government. How can we when this will work against the facts on the ground which show our disparate origins, the differences in tribe and tongue. But couldn’t these attempts at decentralization have worked for a united brotherhood? Should the nationality groups at the least provocation target innocent persons and kill them because of where they come from?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. After we had lived in an environment in which rights had been forgotten because they had been kept more in the breach than the observance, we started out again in 1999 and decided that we would be guided by the principles of democracy and social justice.
The people own sovereignty and those powers which government must exercise are delegated by the people. And for the avoidance of doubt, the powers are published in a document, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you exercise power or authority, you must be ready to point out in the Constitution where that power and where that authority can be located. If it is not there, then you do not have it.
We have walked this democracy highway for eight years and there is nothing to show that we have crossed the Rubicon of indiscipline where one man could be a law-maker, a law enforcer and even a law interpreter; when the rule of persons replaced the rule of law; when division of labour gave way in the face of arbitrary distribution of roles, and report system all but collapsed; when at the final manifestation of national indiscipline the state turned terrorist. Can we not accept that in this new dispensation, we seem to have descended from toddling to crawling?
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I believe that we have started our journey pretty badly. I do not accept that democracy should begin and end with the end of an election. It should be more than the preparation for elections; more than voting in elections; more than declaring results.Democracy should be more than the institution of an INEC and the formation of political parties; it should be more than everyone struggling for the spoils of office and politicians assuming office and running the affairs of state.
Democracy, the new dispensation we have restored to our body politic, should be a very visible exercise – of all the people of the polity – a visible, transparent, palpable exercise of rights to certain freedoms that are associated with the human person. They are undeniable because they come from God. If we knew the binding effect of material denial of these rights, we would go down on our knees and pray to God for forgiveness because we knew not what we did. But the denial of these rights must follow due process that can be defended before God and man.
Democracy, the new dispensation, has a lot to do with the exercise of these rights because it is the form of government most suited for the protection of the rights. No other form of government has proved more resilient and suitable for the protection of these rights. The world has tried dictatorships in different colourations and discovered that the management of people could not be adequately undertaken unless the people themselves were part and parcel of management.
This is not an opinion of mine. It is a fact which had emerged though practice. What we have in the United Kingdom, in the United States of America and in many parts of Europe, is a result of long years of struggle to include the people in the management of their affairs. It has been and will always be very tempting for those in power to want to exercise it without consultation. But democracy works because there is that consultation.
One last point, and please do not accuse me of a bias because of my background. There is only one open medium for the consultation with the people and that medium is the press. The truth is that there can be no democracy without the press.
The success of a democracy, our own new dispensation, can be easily identified from the measure of freedom of the press in the polity. That freedom itself is ascertainable from how much the press can control, professionally, its own internal operation of generating information, processing it and disseminating it. Any attempt by anyone to interfere with any of the three stages of collection, processing and dissemination of information amounts to censorship.
For democracy to work in the country and for it to be seen to be working, the press must be the link between the people and the government. Even ownership of the medium should not subvert this role. In addition, the legislature must work hand-in-hand with the press to monitor governance so that we do not continue to be seen to encourage the entrenchment of certain practices which we may take as part of the workings of a democracy even where such behaviour is clearly against the provisions of the constitution from where every actor in the polity derives his power and responsibilities.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I spent most of the time in discussing my stay in this citadel of learning and what over the years I discovered I gained from my sojourn.
- I generated images from the past to remind us of what we may have failed to do, and what improvements can be made to what we do and how we do them.
- I told of the riot that resulted from the inability of the catering department to supply food because of a broken cooker. This story was meant to remind us that since feeding stopped in the universities, no one has ever fought over food. I wonder what things will be like if the hostels in universities are turned into lecture and research rooms so that we can accommodate more students in our institutions of higher learning. And would such an arrangement not critically injure the peddlers of cultism in our institutions?
- I zeroed in on the leaders Nigeria has had since Independence and I asked what it is they have done for us to make us live as one, without discrimination, with the recognition that though tongue and tribe may differ, in brotherhood we stand.
- I said that our educational system has not helped us to grow into a power that should be a pride to Africa and the black race.
- I spoke of two persons I met at a seminar in Enugu where Stabilisation of the Nigerian Economy was discussed. One of the two was a young man; the other an old man. I have told you what the young man said about our delusions of greatness, power and potential. I did not give you his name, I can now let you know that he is Chinweizu, a clear-headed, highly articulate Nigerian.
- I also told you of the 70-year-old wise man I had thought came in from Ghana. I did not also give you his name. He is Professor Ckukuka Okonjo.If we must resolve our educational problems in an integrated form that would resolve the almajiri problems which Ghana had too, we would, in my view, need the inputs of people like Professor Okonjo.
- As I put this paper together, one of the readers of my Column, Point of Order in Sunday Vanguard, sent me some material on the invasion of Ghana by Nigerians in search of the golden fleece and the discriminatory fees thy are being charged even when a large number of the lecturers are from Nigeria.
- The comparisons are too uncomfortable for me to document. But I will not be ashamed to tell you that the last I heard of Prof Okonjo, father of former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, this prophet that is not known in his country, was going the rounds in his village collecting children, teaching them mathematics from morning till evening, feeding them before releasing them to go home. Then the next day, he would do another round!
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. Is our failure to meet the basic demands of ensuring the welfare and security of the citizens one of incapacity or insensitiveness? Are we not sensitive to godfathers who place us in positions and to whom we report; and can we be sensitive to the people who denied us a slot in elective positions and for which they should bear the brunt of our anger?
Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen. Is government there for the people or the people are there because of those they have given a mandate? What is happening to us who have had more money since 1999 than since amalgamation in 1914, yet have impoverished our people more than any other time in their history?
In closing this contribution, it is wicked to end on a note that would give the impression that we have been doing well. I endorse the concern of one of the readers of my column who wrote to the Vanguard from London saying, ”Nigeria is gradually decaying, everything about the country is decaying with it; discipline is decaying, morals are decaying, infrastructures are decaying, leadership is decaying, hope is decaying, hope for the masses is decaying, personal finances are decaying; unfortunately, this decay process has crept into the academia and into the naming of universities…. Even the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) – the custodian of university education in Nigeria is decaying”
Once again I thank the Department of mass Communication and the University for accommodating this intervention as the first of the series of lectures that should constitute a ladder which in due time will show rungs not just of reminiscences and projections, but of valid achievements that should be celebrated.
Presentation on “Reminiscences and Projections” at the First Jacksonites Home-coming Project Lecture Organised by the Department of Mass Communication at the Alexandria Auditorium, University of Nigeria, Nsukka on July 19, 2007