Eddie Aderinokun: Why We are Marking 150 Years of Journalism in Nigeria

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Ogun  State is set to host an event tagged Nigeria Media Sesquicentennial  which is being put together by the Nigerian League of Veteran Journalists to mark 150 years of journalism  in Nigeria. Adedayo Adejobi spoke with the League’s President, Eddie Aderionokun, who throws light on the reason for the celebration, the role journalism played in development of education and why Abeokuta was chosen as the host city

What informed the decision to celebrate 150 years of journalism in Abeokuta, tagged ‘Nigeria Media Sesquicentennial’ by the Nigerian League of Veteran Journalists and who are those in the league?

Thanks for this question as it is important that we shed light on this matter so that the new generation can understand properly our origin as a modern nation for them to become clear-headed to understand that proper foundation was built by God for our country. In the first place, it is important to note that the power to read and write was given to Nigerians through journalism. How so? Before the first newspaper, IWE IROHIN was printed in Abeokuta by Reverend Henry Townsend, whom I refer to as the father of education and of all journalists and publishers in Nigeria, there was no formal way to teach Nigerians how to read and write. And because the missionary work of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was impossible except the person to whom you are preaching can understand your preaching, faith is impossible. And in this case, the people preaching were English-speaking, and the only way they could establish that their work was successful was to ensure that the ‘preachees’ or prospective converts can on their own find time to study the scriptures by reading. So it follows that the ‘ready-for-harvest fields’ of Nigeria at that   time had to be cultured for harvest. Thus, the reverend had to innovate by creating the local newspaper to stimulate reading. And just imagine what the man had to contend with! But today we take for granted the fact that we can read and write as good as the ‘oyinbos’ themselves, if not better in some cases. Remember Professor Wole Soyinka’s literary feats; remember Chinua Achebe; remember Chimamanda Adichie, et al.

So, if we roll out the drums to celebrate 150 years of journalism in Nigeria, we also are celebrating education and the blessings of education indirectly. And lest I forget, this is what the Reverend Henry Townsend said about his mission: ‘I have set on foot a Yoruba newspaper. My first number is out, I am writing the second. My object is to get the people to read, i.e. to beget the habit of seeking information by reading. It is difficult.’ And now imagine how more difficult can writing a newspaper by hand be! So as a body, we felt that we had to leave a legacy for this noble profession of ours and to remind us all as a people, that journalism practically gave birth to Nigeria as we know it and that we must remember our roots and water it properly, so we can navigate the future with sure-footedness and clear-headedness. And as per who Nigerian League of Veteran Journalists are and what we do, let me say for the benefit of those who would read this interview that, NLVJ was officially founded in 1989 under the leadership of myself, Chief Ajibade Fashina-Thomas, Ben Lawrence and others like Dayo Duyile and Ambassador Moses Ihonde, to mention a few after due consultations with senior colleagues like the late Anthony Enahoro, Alade Odunewu and Babatunde Jose; as a functional assemblage of the media practitioners of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Also, we have records to the fact that over the years, the NLVJ has been instrumental to steadying the ship of state of Nigeria during turbulent times using lectures, seminars and talk shops. NLVJ is also a patriotic conclave of Nigerian journalists who are passionate about Nigeria and are committed to the highest standards of the media profession through continuous interactions and interventions. If there is more to add, my colleagues will fill the gaps at the event’s World Press Conference taking place sometime in May.

What is the role of Ogun State and Governor Amosun in the marking of this epoch?

Remember that what we are celebrating is a journey that started in Abeokuta in 1859 with the Iwe Irohin and today that newspaper has given birth to countless journalists and publications and an independent Nigeria. I think it is worth mentioning that the woman who christened Nigeria, Flora Shaw Lugard, was also a journalist, while it was the journalistic elements in Nigeria at that time beginning with Herbert Macaulay; the first publisher of a daily newspaper in Nigeria (Lagos Today) that began to move for Nigeria’s independence. His struggle was then carried on by his protégées like Azikiwe, Awolowo, fiery Anthony Enahoro, and the rest of them.

That said, it is no more news that under this present Ogun State government led by Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the state has accelerated to become Nigeria’s industrial hub and the fifth on the World Bank’s sub-national rankings of states on Ease of Doing Business Index. Not only that the state’s IGR (internally generated revenue) under his leadership was jacked up astronomically from N700 million in 2011 to between N6 to N7 billion in 2016, (this is equal to a 1000 per cent growth, making Ogun State second only to Lagos in the Fiscal Sustainability Index of 2016), while the state has attracted 75 per cent of all the foreign direct investment that came into Nigeria between 2012 and 2017, the data means that mean that 304 industries have opened business or started new production lines in Ogun State. Of these, 156 of them invested between $100 million and $200 million and 148 invested above $200 million, in some cases, above US$2billion! These are all figures you can verify if you think I am making them up.

So it is like this governor wants to give Nigerians the opportunity to experience the new and modern Ogun State with its Strategic Development Plan (2018-2030) and stand out infrastructures that would make anyone who loves development proud, while we are celebrating a phenomenon (journalism) that has accounted for and continues to facilitate the mental and socio-political liberation of Nigeria.  So, it was very heart-warming when the governor agreed in principle to host the event. Fortunately, he also attended African Church Grammar School where I was one of the founding students-and that was really a high point for me, knowing that my alma mater had produced a governor. Personally, I think Governor Amosun is an exceptional leader, who is extremely people – and development-oriented. At the risk of sounding patronising, I think so far, no other governor has done what this young man has done as far Ogun State is concerned. And even what surprises me is that fact he is not slowing down even though his time has almost run out.

So, what should we expect from the Nigeria Media Sesquicenttenial?
Firstly, we shall use the occasion to thank God who in His infinite mercy has kept alive many of us who practiced journalism in 50s, 60s, and 70s. Secondly, the event would feature the inauguration and ground-breaking of a Nigeria Media Hall of Fame and an Institute of Media Research and Training Centre. There shall also be a gala/awards ceremony where past and present practitioners as well as performing public servants past and present shall be honoured. Also, there shall be a media exhibition and an international colloquium that would be anchored by a prominent media personality of a media outfit of global repute. We are looking at BBC or CNN and all that would be unveiled at the World Press Conference which I mentioned earlier. In addition, the occasion would be used to showcase the wonders of Ogun State and Abeokuta as well as the achievements of the present government as the event’s headline sponsors. Very important too, we shall contact and invite descendants of Reverend Henry Townsend to grace the event. Lastly, it shall also be an avenue to hold NLVJ’s annual convention. Really, it is a full package.

And what does the galaxy of leadership and membership of your league look like?
Ah, good question! Quite a parade of journalism gurus like elder Sam Amuka of Vanguard newspapers; Igwe Alex Nwokedi, General Obasanjo’s chief press secretary as head of state; Moses Ekpo, currently deputy governor, Akwa Ibom; Ambassador Moses Ihonde, press secretary to General Yakubu Gowon as head of state, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Ogun State governor; Alhaji Kola Animasaun of Vanguard newspapers. Others include media mogul Nduka Obaigbena, Chief Temple Benson. First female journalist to work in any television station in Nigeria (WNTV-WNTS); Omobola Onajide and such an array of ace veteran journalists like columnist Bunmi Sofola, Sola Odunfa, former PUNCH Editor; Dele Adetiba and Fabio Lanipekun, an ace sportscaster.  Not to mention other new generation stars like Femi Adesina, President Buhari’s media adviser, and Emmanuel Yaweh, press secretary to Bamanga Tukur, old Gongola State governor in 1983, and Akin Adeoya formerly of THISDAY. And of course the triumvirate of me, Ajibade Fasina-Thomas and Ben Lawrence, co-founders of NLVJ.

When will the event hold?
The event has been scheduled for June 14 to 16, at a venue that would soon be announced.