Celebrating Fallen Heroes of the Pen

In the last twelve or thirteen months, Nigeria’s media industry has lost some of its most precious gems — Proprietors, Editors, Administrators, and Columnists. These are people who shaped the narratives of their platforms and what the industry stands for. Through exciting and challenging times, they set the tone and picked their words carefully to interpret the zeitgeist of an emerging generation, putting perspective on the nation’s uniqueness as a people.

The prevailing climate of unease fostered by COVID-19 did not allow their colleagues and Nigerians at large to celebrate them so that their distinguishing qualities can inspire the upcoming ones, and their unique contribution better appreciated.

It is against this backdrop that the who-is-who in the Nigerian media landscape converged recently to celebrate those colleagues that dropped the pen to join the saints in a special way. The President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Malam Kabiru A. Yusuf said, “in the last fifteen months or thereabout, we have lost some of our colleagues who have contributed immensely to the growth and development of the media industry in Nigeria, and it is important we celebrate them.”

According to him, each of these men lived a very impactful life and there are traces of their influence everywhere; in the families, they raised, in the colleagues they trained, and institutions they handled. These individuals enriched their lives in different endeavours, beginning with the media as some later ventured into business, politics, and other areas.

Those honoured and celebrated were Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua, OFR, mni; Malam Wada Maida, OON, FNGE; Mr. Bisi Lawrence; Chief Gbolaho Ogunsanwo, FNGE; Mr. Sam Ndah-Isaiah; Mr. Eddie Aderinokun, FNGE; Mr. Ben Egbuna, FNGE, mni; Prince Tony Momoh, FNGE; and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, FNGE.

It is noteworthy that the Nigerian press came into existence about one hundred and fifty years ago. Clearly, the Nigerian press existed before Nigeria itself and was quite instrumental in the birth of this great nation.

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Indeed, the country’s media was at the forefront of the struggle against colonial rule, and most of these media luminaries celebrated also participated in the struggle that entrenched democracy in Nigeria.

These individuals have done remarkably well for themselves and Nigeria as a whole, using the instrumentality of the media, a constituency to which they belonged. Honouring and celebrating them is the reflection of their legacies and an affirmation of their great values.

The position of heroes in history is where all of these giants occupy. Several luminaries from the anti-colonial regime such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Herbert Macaulay, Ernest Okoli, Obafemi Awolowo, Andrew Enahoro, among others, were also leading figures in the press.

It is not surprising that Nigeria’s media continued to wax stronger even after the collapse of the first civilian regime in 1966. Of course, the Nigerian media had lots of confrontations with the military regime and its tenacity in that struggle led to the nationalisation of Daily Times.

That was an era that Mr Eddie Aderinokun, FNGE, and Chief Gbolahon Ogunsanwo came to the fore as the editors of Daily Times. These two individuals stood out as two highly respected journalists and public commentators of their time.

Broadcast Journalism also had shining leadership in the likes of Mr Ben Egbuna who was former Director General of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria and the past Executive Director, Voice of Nigeria in the 80s and 90s, a turbulent period of military regime.

Ben Egbuna will live long in the memories of many Nigerians with the rich texture of his voice, interpreting national events to millions of Nigerians on national radio for nearly two decades.

The media landscape also had Bisi Lawrence, popularly known as Uncle Bislaw whose multifaceted career saw him rise to the citadel of journalism. He served as the General Manager of the Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation and saw the establishment of Lagos State Television that pioneered 24 hours service.

Bislaw was also a seasoned sports administrator. Having kicked off his career at the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, he was a reflection of excellence in radio, television and print journalism, as well as sports administration.

In the dark days of the 1980s and the 1990s, many Journalists took to the front line of the civil society struggle, and they did so at great risk of their personal well-being and safety. They used their publications to fight for democracy which resulted in the deprivation of their rights. Some of them went into exile and in certain instances paid the ultimate price.

Who will not remember Malam Ismaila Isa Funtua who served as the president of the NPAN from 1995 to 2002, which was actually the darkest era in the life of the Nigerian media. He was right there in the trenches fighting against the official censorship of the press. There are many stories of how Isa Funtua helped many publications to stay alive during those dark days.

The departed media Titans were true giants of their craft and other areas they ventured into. For example, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the action Governor will always be remembered not just for being the first elected Governor of Lagos State between 1979-1983, but also for the massive development strides that covered every area of Lagos under his leadership.

Before then, he had an outstanding career as a Journalist which began in 1949 after which he joined the Nigerian Tribune where he rose to become the Editor-in-Chief. He was the first president of NPAN, and Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE). He equally founded the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ).

Tony Momoh, simultaneously, was known as the authentic Auchi Prince. His father had 247 children and he was the 165th child of the Momoh dynasty. As a Journalist, his display of professionalism earned him a place in the illustration annals of Nigerian history.

During his days in journalism, former Senate President, Joseph Wayas summoned him to appear before the Senate over one of his publications where he referred to the senators as glorified contractors. The then senators compelled him to disclose the source of his information. Tony Momoh told them that it is against the mantra of his profession to disclose the source of his information.

He sued the Senate and the high court agreed that a Journalist had the right not to disclose the source of his information no matter the circumstances.

The memory of Sam Ndah-Isaiah will also remain fresh in the minds of many Nigerians. He was a trained Pharmacist who went into Journalism to leave an indelible mark. He founded the Leadership newspapers in 2004. He also established National Economy, a full fledge business newspapers in 2019.

One remarkable nature of these great media practitioners who have succeeded in writing their names in the annals of history was the nature of their careers which cut across public and private sectors, and the rate at which they made it will forever remain an inspiration to the younger generation.

Malam Wada Maida who served as Chief Press Secretary to President Muhammadu Buhari when the latter was military Head of State is another case in view. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) between 1985 and 1994 before becoming the agency’s Managing Director. He went on to co-found Media Trust. Such was his work ethics until he breathed his last.

While it is important to honour and celebrate great media icons, it is also paramount to ensure that their works and deeds are kept as a guiding light for successive generations to understand the tradition of the profession they belong to.

In the process of paying tribute to Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Chief Olusegun Osoba said, “I have known Alhaji Lateef Jakande for about sixty years, and what he did in the Nigerian media landscape is more than what he did when he was the Governor of Lagos State.”

Osoba decried how Jakande does not have any documented evidence of all he did for the Nigerian media. He, however, encouraged the wife of the late media guru to check his library and make materials available for researchers and historians to commence work on how the works of Jakande will be documented for comprehensive reference purposes.

Also, paying tribute to Malam Wada Maida, Prince Nduka Oboigbena said; “I met Mallam Wada Maida when he was the Chief Press Secretary during the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari, and incidentally, Malam Wada also replaced a friend of mine, Malam Abba Dabo who was the then Chief Press Secretary of the President Shehu Shagari administration.”

While delivering his goodwill message, the provost of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, Gbenga Adefaye disclosed that the media often does not celebrate its own. He noted that the media neglect its own most of the time irrespective of its humongous contribution to national development and the risk taken to discharge constitutional duties.

The President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Mustapha Isa, however, expressed gratitude for the honour of the media giants who helped in shaping the Nigerian media landscape over the years. According to him, the gesture of celebrating media leaders should be a continuous event.