Award winning Journalist, Analyst and Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian, Mr. Martins Oloja, more than 20 years ago, before the boom of internet activities in Nigeria, had warned his colleagues about the implications of the advent of digital journalism. He noted then that the future of journalism would be ruled by online journalism as seen today. He tells TheFact Nigeria his life story and journey through journalism. Excerpts:
You are known to have written some of the most influential stories in the Nigerian media space. What has been the motivation?
It is not a question of motivation. Before you can write good stories, you must have been a good reporter. Even as as an editor, I always introduce myself as a reporter. So, you have to prepare for writing through reporting. You don’t just get to it like that. I was motivated long ago even from post-primary school. I attended a Teacher Training College (1979 to 1981) and in the end, when the school authorities appointed school officers in the final year, in 1980 to 1981, I was appointed the College Editor – of the school publications. So, my own motivation began from there. After that, I was posted to teach in a secondary school where I was the Staff Secretary and from the way I was taking the minutes of the meetings, some Ghanaian teachers who were in the school at that time somewhere in Ondo State, saw the way I was taking the minutes, with just a Grade Two Teachers Certificate. They noted my skills and then some of those Ghanaian teachers said I would do well as a journalist. When that was going on, even the school principal at that time, noticed me and created a separate subject for me and got me to be teaching the Remedial English, even in the certificate year class, because I wasn’t a graduate teacher. Those graduate teachers thought that they should teach English language but my principal then, Mr Felix Amuni, a graduate of Classical Studies from the premier university, Ibadan, also made me to teach Literature in English even up to the certificate year class. That motivation began from that. At the University of Lagos, I read Mass Communication, but it is not just enough to read Mass Communication. You must have nose for news and also prepare yourself for hard tasks. You have to read about the country, you have to read widely – about world affairs before you can be an outstanding journalist. An outstanding journalist should be a knowledgeable journalist. If you do not know your country, you don’t know the business environment, you don’t know the political environment, you don’t understand politics, you don’t understand some little things that matter about the country, you cannot be an outstanding journalist. So God enabled me to prepare myself to read about the country, to study the country as it is, to study the business environment and the way people do business in this place and the political environment too.
Besides, I had a rare opportunity of moving to the federal capital, Abuja as part of the first newspaper, in 1988 up to 1993 when the military government of President Babangida closed down the newspaper in the heat of the then June 12, 1993 crisis. I was one of the pioneer editors of Abuja Newsday, which began in 1988. That one prepared me. I started first as the Lagos Bureau Chief from 1988 to 1990 when I was appointed as second editor of the newspaper. I succeeded one Nick Dazang who is now a very senior officer in INEC. So, I have been a newspaper editor since 1990 and being in Abuja as a writer, researcher, columnist and editor, enabled me to deepen my understanding of the country and the people who have been running the country. So I have covered the highest level of government. In Abuja as editor, I was writing. I was reporting. I was editorialising. In other words, I was writing editorials until 1997 when one news magazine, The Source headhunted me after the military actually closed down our newspaper. Before then I was freelancing and writing for most newspapers in Nigeria. So, when The Source news magazine was set up by Dame Comfort Obi, and some partners, (she was the proprietor of that magazine in 1997. I actually wrote the first cover for the magazine on Abuja (Probing Abuja) and I won an NMMA (award) with it in 1997/1998 and another one the following year. 1999/1999. I was invited to join The Guardian as Abuja Bureau Chief and Deputy Editor. I was on that beat until 2012 when I was appointed Editor of The Guardian, and today I am the Editor in Chief of the newspaper. It has been a long journey but the thing that we need to understand there is that if you want to be outstanding, if you want to be successful, you have to be focused. I have never accepted any political appointment in my life. I have rejected all offers. I have never accepted one, either from my state, Ondo, or from the federal government in Abuja. I have always wanted to work as a successful journalist, as an influential journalist, as a manager, moving from newsroom to boardroom and to God be the glory today.
What are some of your outstanding stories you’d like to share?
There are so many stories that I don’t know where to begin from. There are so many stories, one may not be able to remember but in Abuja, some great moments we had in Abuja. I remember, even as editor, we did a story, in the heat of June 12. We did two outstanding stories that hit the nation. They were great stories. One of them was a discovery that Abiola was invited to Abuja by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), the Head of State then, who was addressed as a military President. On the day the SDP, the party that presumably won the 1993 presidential elections and the election that was generally believed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola while NADECO then and pro-democracy people were fighting, burning tyres in Lagos there was a secret meeting in Abuja between IBB and Abiola on the day the party was meeting in Benin. The previous night before that meeting, Abiola was in Abuja, meeting with IBB and we confirmed the story. Abiola went there with Kudirat and one of his sons. They went into Aso Presidential Villa to meet with IBB. It was a secret meeting but we reported it in Abuja Newsday under a headline IBB, MKO in secret meeting. It was incredible. I remember that, somebody, I still use it as a case study for the power of an exclusive story: at that time, then as a weekly newspaper, it was not possible for us to be present everywhere in Lagos but we were still circulating in strategic places in Lagos. Then somebody who had been subscribing to the newspaper did not get that particular edition but heard about it. It was not advertised on the TV, there was no promotion but we were largely an Abuja- based newspaper that was circulating in most parts of the north especially those states that are very close to Abuja and we circulate some copies in Lagos and this particular person didn’t get the scoop: IBB, MKO In Secret Meeting. Then the desperate reader in lagos used a fixed line to call us through the newspaper address on the back page. The man called us and we confirmed the story and the person put an office assistant on Nigerian Airways flight to Abuja to pick a copy of the newspaper and flew back to Lagos that same day. I have been using that story as a case study for the power of an exclusive story: that people are ready to spend anything that they have in order to buy a good newspaper. Again, we did another story on the same subject when we saw one of Abiola’s sons and an IBB’s daughter in hot romance while their parents were in the deadly struggle for political power, no thanks to June 12, crisis then. We met them in Sheraton. And we saw them constantly and we reported; Abiola’s Son, IBB’s Daughter In Hot Romance. And this was also incredible because their fathers were fighting for the soul of Abuja. The IBB’s government had annulled the result of the June 12 election presumably won by Abiola. And while their fathers were fighting at that level, their children were in hot romance. We published this story and the story didn’t go down well with the State and that was one of the reasons they closed down Abuja Newsday, the newspaper itself in July, 1993, when they closed down so many newspapers. It was announced by the then Information Minister, Uche Chukwumerije. It is very intruiging to remember these two stories. For The Guardian, I wrote the story: Fundamental Mistake on the 100 Naira note. That one was one of the things. A little thing like that, when they released the 100 Naira note, they wrote Zuma Rock, Abuja. I knew immediately it was an error because people made the mistake at that time, people were not paying attention to details by the Boundary Commission. People were saying oh, when people wanted to talk about some fundamental things, they will say, oh no, no, I didn’t come to Abuja to look at Zuma Rock. Zuma Rock was the popular rock around Abuja at that time so people believed in and outside Abuja that Zuma Rock is in Abuja, whereas, it is in Niger State. It is very close to the boundary between Abuja and Niger State. They carved out Abuja from some neighboring states including Niger State, Kogi State and Nasarawa State (then Plateau state). People just concluded Zuma Rock, the image on the 100 Naira note with Chief Awolowo to be in Abuja. Immediately I knew that one, I wanted some confirmation. I called the new governor of Niger State at that time. He used to be a director in Abuja, Engineer Abdulkadir Kure. I called him. He was able to link me to one of the deputy governors of Central Bank at that time and they got to talk about that. And I got some sound bites. I called people here and there and they were expressing surprise. I spoke with the governor of Niger state. He was surprised about how they made the Zuma Rock in his state to be in Abuja and I got a good story. It was a big story in The Guardian on Sunday, Fundamental Error on the 100 Naira note. It was a great story. I was also the one who uncovered the Dollar salary to the then very popular finance minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who rose through the ranks in the World Bank. She helped us to set up the Debt Management Office, (DMO) and later returned to Nigeria as a finance minister in the second term of President Obasanjo. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Olufemi Adeniji, the two of them. They were the finance minister and foreign affairs ministers. They arranged a secret dollar salary which was illegal. I investigated the story for about six months and when I confirmed the story, I wrote to the President through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) then, Obong Joseph Ekaette, to explain why they were paying dollarised salaries to ministers of the republic against the law of the land. They replied me and it became a very significant story that gripped the nation. Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a notable lawyer in this country took it up and took them to court that it was illegal. They got to the Court of Appeal and they were asked to return the dollars they were paid in 2007. Whether we journalists followed up to ensure that they actually returned the money remains in the realms of speculation till the present. Ambsaddor Adeniji has died. Nobody follows up such things in Nigeria but at least, I got the scoop of that dollar salary. There are so many other stories like that and they have motivated me to do more. I am still writing investigative stories till tomorrow. Even if you read my column, you will see how investigative one can also be, as a columnist.
How is the media freedom today, compared to the military era?
Well, you know if you want to be academic about these things, you will want to say we have had better days under a civilian administration. Even Richard Akinola, a notable former judicial editor compared something recently when Dapo lorunyomi publisher of the Premium Times turned 60. I was there when he was talking about the judiciary under the military regime and this civilian regime. So it is with the media too. I believe we are freer now. Despite everything, it is self censorship that is killing journalism at this time. It is not the government. We are freer to report so many things at this time but we have decided to shackle ourselves and that is the unfortunate thing about what is happening at this moment. Democracy is very powerful. The Constitution is there. They just reported about Jones Abiri. They kept him in detention for 2 years but at the end of the day, the power of democracy brought him out of detention of DSS. If truth must be told, nobody constraints us. We are freer but we don’t want to free ourselves from shackles that we put ourselves under the military. Journalism is better now but we journalists are the problem of journalism and not the government of the day.
What are your most challenging moments as a reporter?
I have so many challenging moments but one challenging moment that I have seen was at the time I discovered that some of our leaders do not read our Constitution. One day, I was trying to contextualise the Constitution t an event and I was shocked. I was trying to say something when I was anchoring an event in Abuja on the power sector. The Vice President was there. I was trying to say something specific in the Constitution to the extent that the Vice President at that time (I don’t want to mention, or embarrass anybody). I was saying that the Vice President actually, in relation to Abuja, was the Deputy Governor of Abuja according to our Constitution. If you get to the Constitution, you will see that Abuja begins from Section 299 to 300, 301, 302 303 and 304 respectively. In one of those sections, you will see how the Constitution makes the President, the Governor of Abuja. In this same context, you will see that the Vice President is the Deputy Governor of Abuja. The President only transfers his power according to the Constitution, to the FCT Minister. It says that he may appoint a Minister. So I was just saying that the Vice President is the Deputy Governor of Abuja. So I discovered that on that occasion, that Vice President was just smiling. He was expressing surprise because I discovered to my disappointment that the Vice President then had not read the Constitution to the extent of knowing even his role and powers in the Constitution. So it was very challenging for me to even report that kind of experience that even our leaders are ignorant of provisions of the Constitution they have sworn to defend. Another moment I can remember was when Abuja people began to distort public service and they started appointing people into various positions without qualifications. People started becoming permanent secretaries without rising through the ranks or even without being civil servants. I saw and I reported most of these things there and you find recently in the National Assembly where they started appointing all sorts of clerks who never had any bureaucratic experience in the legislature. They never rose through the ranks. These are some of the challenging moments I have had but I also saw a situation where they appointed a Secretary to the Government of the Federation who never rose beyond Level 12; whereas, that office will have to supervise so many permanent secretaries. For somebody to become Secretary to the Government without even being a director, I find these things very challenging. I witnessed some of the way the public service just went down the drain in Abuja and they started appointing all sorts of people into positions, without qualifications, I started seeing a crop of mediocrities.
People hastily blame the media when things go wrong in society. Why should the media be so harshly judged?
It will always be like that. People will always say the media is the problem but I have deepened my understanding of why people always talk like that. When we compromise our ideals, when we refuse to monitor governance, when we refuse to hold people to account. If we colour the facts, if we do not report the facts, there will be problem for us in the market place.
Who is to blame for the cases of media trials of suspected treasury looters?
When there is a media trial, we are partly to blame because they use us to try people in the guise of reporting ‘exclusives’. You see the people who are supposed to be in charge of welfare, anti-corruption fight, prosecution of corrupt people, without concluding their investigations, they begin to mention the names of people, they begin to talk about people, they begin to arrest people before investigation. Investigations are supposed to be concluded before arresting and arraigning people in Court. But when they just say that it is a suspicion then arrest, naming and shaming somehow, somehow. They just mention people’s names and they say that they have arrested this one, this person is corrupt, even police can parade some people they arrest in some crime scenes, and then we begin to try them in the media. That’s not right. That’s what I am talking about that even the anti-corruption agency operatives have been perpetrating this. When they even began this administration, they made an announcement. They began from there, that media owners were given N10 million each by the Jonathan administration. And it was not forced. The Jonathan administration’s overzealous security agents and soldiers, reportedly seized some newspapers and for some weeks, they were seizing newspapers all over the place for no just cause. When they complained to the Jonathan administration, they met the publishers, NPAN met with President Jonathan at that time. He apologized to them and promised compensation which amounted to, maybe, N10million per publishing house. The losses in the market at that time were actually more than that. But the government paid the NPAN members peacefully. Not all collected, but some collected. When this accusation came, they just announced without trial and without arraigning those people before any Court and without any Court pronouncement, they threatened them to return the money and they returned the money like that. So those publishers were reported as fraudulent people. That’s media trial. And this anti-graft agency also collected some money from media consultants who helped some political people at that time to place some adverts in some newspapers and they also blocked the account of a particular publisher, specifically, Comfort Obi, publisher of The Source who helped to place some adverts in some newspapers had her accounts frozen for collecting the advert money. They collected the money as if it was her own money because they saw her name on a piece of paper. They also collected from some editors like that… I mean editors who helped some organisations to place adverts for PDP and some other political parties. They collected this money without trial, and they demonised all those people like that, so they have done that to some people. They just invite people for some discussion and while there….before you know it, you see yourself in the social media that so so has been arrested. Even the former National Security Adviser, Dasuki Sambo was given a terrible media trial for five years. They had arrested him before investigation began. It should be investigation before arrest. They were doing media trial for a former governor here instead of doing a diligent investigation, they slammed so many charges, more than 100 in Court. When the Metropolitan Police picked up the same governor’s issue, they arraigned him in Court with only two charges. There was diligent prosecution and he was jailed in UK. They didn’t do any media trial. He was just arrested in Dubai. Nobody knew how they did their own and when they completed the investigation, they didn’t announce anything until they arraigned him in Court. The authorities here did media trial of even our own Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onoghen. I have written about it consistently. There was a publication, an allegation that they met $3million in his account. A particular newspaper published it here and that he had 55 houses. Before he was arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. They arraigned him like that. They alleged $3million and 55 houses in that newspaper before they found out that it was false. But they had already used it against him and it was terrible The Chief Justice of Nigeria, through that kind of media trial. They did not invoke any constitutional provision that could have protected him to as CJN. They said he was not being tried as CJN, or as a jurist. They claimed they tried him as a civil servant. It was an epic media trial of a CJN. They claimed they tried him as a civil servant because he didn’t fill his Code of Conduct papers properly. A section of the media published a lie for the state just to justify his (CJN’s) removal, before the last election. That was a sensational media trial. It was unjust.
More than 20 years ago, before the boom of internet activities in the country, you accurately predicted that the future of journalism was online, as seen today. What did you Nostrademously see at that time?
Well, you know it was trending. Some futurists, already wrote about this development. There are stories about the future of journalism we didn’t read in time. There was even a cover on this in a UK-based The Economist, Who Killed The Newspaper?. And at that time, there were stories about social media, about how some organs were migrating into social media and digital journalism was trending but we didn’t pay attention to it because we didn’t build the infrastructure. By that 2006, I was traveling to New Zealand when I got that magazine report about possible death of newspapers. By that time, we had read in the newspapers how some countries’ newspapers had begun to make money from their digital journalism portals. They had started digital journalism at that time. They had been using social media. They had done electronic editions of newspapers in the Scandinavian countries. But we were not paying attention. So I saw it and then my membership of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ in the United States helped me to see tomorrow at that time. I joined them in San Diego, California through the Heritage Foundation, and World Journalism Institute, in New york, which facilitated my membership . I did some stories for them while attending and covering some events in the United States. So this is one of the gains that I have had. I have travelled widely and then, I have covered some international events. As Bureau Chief and Editor in Abuja, I covered the election that brought the first black man to power in the USA, Mr Barack Obama. I also covered the inauguration. Before that time, I had been attending the convention of National Association of Black Journalists. I joined this association in the USA and I am a full member till the present. So that enabled me to see a lot of things in the United States and how these things were trending and even though at that time, we didn’t notice it. But is did.. I saw it at that time that digital journalism would rule the world and the people who owned the data actually would rule the industry and would make so much money from it. And then, the future of the news was going to be defined by digital journalism and issue based journalism would be what we would see in the print media. But that social media, defined by what they derisively call citizen journalism would rule the world and editors would lose their powers. That is what has happened today. The editor is no longer magisterial because anybody can be editor now and break the news. You don’t need an office. You have a virtual office. With your access to data and world-wide-web (www) you have started your citizen journalism. Everybody is breaking news now. Everybody is defining the news. Everybody is an editor. You no longer sit here and be killing stories. One story you kill here will be broken by the other. That is what is called citizen journalism, the power behind the social media. Digital journalism rules the world now.
What is the responsibility of Media owners and reporters alike, towards achieving quality content?
You know the publishers are there. They say that he who pays the piper calls the tune, but there is a rider to that one. The person who pays the piper does not hold the pipe. The person who holds the pipe still controls a lot of things. That is the gatekeeper. The editor has a role to play. If the publishers say their own, yes, we should obey them. But the publisher now is not in operations and wants to make money to run the business. We are in operations. We are the ones who produce content. Yes, the proprietors dictate the color but where I work at The Guardian, I have been working with them in this capacity as editor since 1999. I met a tradition there at The Guardian, the publisher does not know what goes into the newspaper. They just employ professionals to do their job. The publisher sees this morning the newspaper like other readers and that’s the power of The Guardian. The editorials we write they don’t dictate: they don’t know anything about them. The lead stories, they don’t dictate. The stories are decided by the editors. So the editors have the responsibility. Some political leaders own media organs but then they are not operators of the organs. But those proprietors are not on ground to reflect their views to satisfy the market. So the person who holds the pipe can actually control the tune.
In 2011, the Nigerian Press Council touted introducing a N6m insurance for journalists. Almost 10 years now, what is the state of the journalists’ insurance?
I know that even Lagos State Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, have been more organized than other chapels, but this journalism assurance issue has not been properly organized too. Neither the Nigerian Press Council has actually been serious about this thing and we are to blame. It’s not about the government. Some chapters launched some but I don’t know how the launch has been. I know that Abuja chapter has tried; some other chapels in some other places have tried but we have not been serious about insurance for journalists. We talk about it during elections but after election we don’t talk about it. Some NGOs have done some jobs on how to organise insurance for journalists for political coverage etc. International Journalism bodies for safety of journalists have done a lot by doing all these things but we in the local chapters are not serious. We haven’t been serious about insurance for journalists but we should be serious about it. But we will only be serious when the professional bodies are serious. Nigerian Press Council itself is still in crisis. Nigerian Press Council has not been accepted by the Nigerian press. So as a regulator, they can only bark but they can not bite because there is no consensus on how to move the Nigerian Press Council forward. It remains an agency of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. Its not regulating anything. They are even in Court. Nigerian Press Council cannot negotiate anything with even NUJ or Nigerian Guild of Editors or the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria. Its not regulating anything and it can’t do anything because its not accepted…. They may attempt to amend the law but there is still no consensus. The Executive Secretary is still being appointed by the federal government and it is there as an agency of government and that’s all.
What should the media be doing differently in the post-Covid-19 era?
There is no hard and fast rule about this and it is no rocket science. We need tools for investigative journalism. Because our society is broken, we can see that government itself is handicapped. Government rules are broken. You can see that there is no critical thinking, there is no investment in even the health sector. Nobody is thinking of even the hospitals. So many people are dying because they can’t afford treatment of even simple ailments. So many of our big men are not able to travel abroad, some of them have died. There is no strategic thinking of how even in the teaching hospitals can be equipped at this time. In some parts of the country, we are still the way we are. So our journalism should beam searchlight on why are they wasting so much money on frivolities they borrow to finance.. Look at what happened in the NDDC, National Assembly, even the anti-corruption agency head if being tried for corruption. A lot of things have gone wrong. You can look at infrastructure in the country. There is no industrialisation that is going on that we can be proud of. Even the electricity, that primary thing that we need is not there. Some people consume for domestic use, not to talk of industrial use. So many manufacturers are just producing power on their own. They spend so much money on energy. They spend so much money on critical infrastructure on their own. So our country, the most populous black nation on the earth is broken, and its like this. We are talking about being African giants. Where is the evidence? Where is the future? We can see that even the country is divided. There is insecurity everywhere. The administration promised adequate security and it promised to fight corruption but look at what is happening today. So if journalism cannot be deployed to get to the root of why there is so much anomaly in the land, then there will be no journalism. They will blame us more in reference to an earlier question that we are going to be accused of being part of the problem of the country because we appear to be covering up. Instead of uncovering corruption, we are covering up corruption. If we do not do investigation, many things will be hidden. Because facts are sacred, it’s just putting facts together. Facts, accuracy are critical factors in journalism. We have to get facts: they are sacred. Only comment is free. We should dig up facts about where and when the rain began to beat us as a country. Post Covid-19 should be devoted to investigation, fact finding about why Nigeria is like this. Our education is not going anywhere. We do not see evidence of any critical thinking anywhere. ASUU, ASUP, tertiary institutions generally are always at war with government that has refused to even honour agreement. Even now, the whole world is going on e-learning but we just published in The Guardian that public universities cannot cope. Most of the lecturers are still in the analogue mode. They cannot do anything. They are waiting for government infrastructure while Vice Chancellors are not thinking critically. Rectors and Provosts of these higher institutions are not thinking critically, always waiting for government. Well yes, unitary system has destroyed us somehow. But some of these institutions should borrow some leaves from the private universities. Private universities are still in session because they have invested in critical infrastructure for e-learning. Why is it that public universities are handicapped in the same country? Some of them even have some money, but they are not investing in infrastructure. There is also corruption in the tertiary institutions. We should devote journalism to investigating corruption in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. It’s not only government. We too should help the country to grow. We should not continue to blame the President and governors. There are agencies of government that governors are not directly inspecting or supervising. We should devote journalism to serving this country in a way that people will know what is happening in every sector. We stay too much in the cities and there are lots of social media organs. We just republish stories by other organs without actually devoting journalism to finding facts about injustice, sectionalism, unconstitutional acts of our leaders, about the lifestyles of our leaders, about so many issues. But if we continue to cover up, blaming undercapitalization or poor capitalization, we will not get anywhere. I think that we should a rethink the way we are as a country. Journalism is noble and its good genre is critical to what we can do to assist our country. Just like in 2018 when International Press Institute, IPI came here for their convention. We played host to their convention and the theme of the convention was: Good Journalism Matters. I want to say that at this time, more than ever, good journalism matters for us as a country. If we do not practice good journalism, we will not get out of this quagmire and all the strong men who have conspired to destroy this country, will go scot free.
As an outstanding graduate of UNILAG, what have you singularly or in combination with your alumni, done to enhance ease of learning at the institution?
Unilag’s alumni association has done a lot but that will always pale into insignificance when it comes critical infrastructure that will enhance real growth. Our economy is dependent on oil alone. Our revenue is very low. Without manufacturing, we cannot deliver good internally generated revenue to us here. To finance critical infrastructure is a big challenge because of the nature of our economy that is dependent on only oil export only. The tragedy of the oil export is that what we export, we use the proceed to import for consumption and look at what fuel subsidy is doing to us. Look at what debt servicing is doing to us. With this low revenue, we use most part to service debt and pay subsidy, what remains for capital expenditure?
So if we do not pay attention to details, if we do not use data to measure our problems, so that people who are coming tomorrow will know what to address. This is the age of data and investigative journalism when facts are actually sacred, we need to draw attention to poor funding of tertiary education in the country. The first responsibility of journalism is to the truth, We need to tell that truth as members of Alumni association after what the little we can contribute.
In one of your columns, you described as hasty and provocative, the naming of the NIJ after the late Isa Funtua? What was your thinking?
Definitely it is the same way. We just felt that there have been so many iconic figures, when we are talking about the history of the Nigerian press. Even, the first newspaper in Nigeria Iwe Irohin in Yoruba began in 1879 by Henry Townsend in Abeokuta. He came as a missionary. He started journalism in Yoruba land. First Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo brought the first television in Africa to Ibadan, Western region at that time. The same person established Tribune newspaper more than 70 years ago. And Read about the late Alhaji Babatunde Jose, in whose hands the Daily Times grew exponentially and he became a legend. Alhaji Babatunde Jose deserved that honour more than Funtua. Lateef Jakande actually did so much to establish, the NIJ through IPI. He was the one jourmalist who established the first monotechnic training institution in Nigeria, NGE and NPAN. There is the first journalism School in the country, Jackson School of Journalism in University of Nigeria, (UNN) and so many iconic figures, even Uncle Sam of The Vanguard (Sam Amuka Pemu). What of the person who established this intellectual paper, The Guardian, they are not naming this institute after them. What of Alhaji Adamu Ciroma who was the editor and managing director of New Nigerian? New Nigerian used to be a very powerful newspaper. What of the ace reporter, Olusegun Osobal who was MD of Daily Sketch and Editor and MD of Daily Times? You mention Ernest Sise Ikoli, Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikiwe. These are the people who used journalism to fight colonialism. What of Adeyemo Alakija, who actually bought the Daily Times from the English people. I cannot remember all the names of iconic figures. Is it the celebrated Gbolahan Ogunsanwo who as Editor of Sunday Times was selling more than 500 copies in this country?. There are so many iconic figures. They didn’t set up a committee. There was no proper thinking about this. That’s why I appealed to our elders that it was very hasty and it was provocative because lsa Funtua, they say is the defender of press freedom was actually a blight on press freedom. How did he defend press freedom? When around 1994, The Democrat that he acquired at that time, wrote an editorial urging general Sani Abacha to sack the publisher of The Guardian from his cabinet because of The Guardian independence. Abacha eventually listened to Funtua’s newspaper and closed down The Guardian for a whole year.. As a publisher, he resigned from the chairmanship of the paper before joining the government. Yet, he was campaigning against him. And heeding the campaign, on Monday, August 15, 1994, Abacha actually closed down The Guardian for a whole year. They closed down a whole newspaper for a whole year after a newspaper owned by Ismaila Funtua wrote an editorial: Ibru: Time To Go. ..In the story I told earlier of journalist Jones Abiri who was detained by DSS for two years (2016-2018). When the IPI came here in 2018, government denied that there was any detained journalist. After the denial, what happened? The following day, specifically on June 22, as I claimed there, Alhaji Ismaila Funtua reiterated government’s denial that there was a detained journalist only to find out that. When we at The Guardian wrote an editorial. ‘Why did federal government lie to IPI; they arraigned Abiri in a court. In the magistrate court, there was no reference to the lie that the government told IPI anymore. They brought him out and indeed, the journalist was detained. How can you name NIJ House in Funtua’s honour just because they say he facilitated N200million from a bank to build the house. Is that enough? Of course, he had helped on some occasions to release detained journalists collaborating with NPAN. Being the patron of NPAN because even his newspaper ceased to exist more than 20 years ago. More He’s more of a successful business man in Abuja, has a construction company that built the Foreign Affairs ministry and the office of the Head of Service section of the federal secretariat. ……The role he also played in the politics that did not allow FCTA to have its own complex in Abuja is also telling. In 2007 when Obasanjo was leaving office, he signed a contract with Julius Berger to erect a befitting secretariat for the FCTA near the office of Foreign Affairs there. They laid the foundation stone. Julius Berger was there but because he had kept his own equipment of Bulet Construction at that site, immediately President Obasanjo left Abuja on May 29, 2007, he got an injunction restraining the federal government from touching that plot even though it was a plot allocated to the FCDA in the master plan. He got the Chief Judge of Abuja High Court to restrain government and that High Court restrained government from touching that place. When Bala Mohammed was FCT Minister, he even got a favourable judgment that they should pay him (Funtua) N150million for tampering with his equipment on that site. These are issues. We did not investigate these things and we just named NIJ after him. Then one of our elders wrote an article, even in The Guardian that the man was a champion, a defender of press freedom. I think as an analyst that we should call our elders to order, that the judgment was not good enough.
The future of journalism is bright but we have to be organized. We have to come together to note the noble role of journalism in a democracy. We are to monitor governance, hold people to account and to disclose what they are hiding and our first duty is to the truth and we need to be accurate and organized and more independent. We need to refrain from being consultants to all these political actors and business elite.