THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma
Aaron Ukodie and O’Seun Ogunseitan (2021), The Making of The Nigerian Flagship: A Story of The Guardian. Lagos: Flagship Publishing & Promotions. 590 pages.
It is appropriate that a book on the making of the foremost newspaper in Nigeria of the last 40 years has “many a story in a penny newspaper’, as Wole Soyinka translated the famous Yoruba aphorism. The Making of the Nigerian Flagship: A story of The Guardian is a many-sided narrative of the conception, birth, and early days of a paradigm-changing medium. There are first-person accounts by staff, and the reporting of the authors, themselves former staff of The Guardian.
The Making of the Nigerian Flagship: A Story of The Guardian is a book of many sub-themes around the central theme of the creation of the ground-breaking newspaper in 1983 called The Guardian. The Guardian is a big elephant; there are many stories around it as persons describe their experiences with the medium and institution.
February 27, 1983. It was a remarkable Sunday in the second month of the year when The Guardian newspaper entered the Nigerian newspaper market. Its 48-page issue was a delight to read because it was different from all the competing offerings on the stands at that time. The Associate Editor Lade Bonuola penned an introductory essay inviting readers to journey with the “flagship of the Nigerian press”. He stated: “Nigeria has a huge gathering of daily and weekly newspapers but not yet The Guardian. To shape and guard her destiny. The Guardian, we are proud to announce, is here”.
The “flagship” name stuck a positive chord because of the contents of the paper.
I had just read John Merrill’s book, The Elite Press: Great Newspapers of The World wherein he told the stories of 50 outstanding newspapers from across the world. The Egyptian Al Ahram featured. I thought that The Guardian should feature after a while. It had the characteristics.
I bought a copy in Benin City on my way to Lagos. I was a second-year student of mass communication at the University of Nigeria and needed a place to do my mandatory internship beginning in July. I fancied doing it at this new entrant, having spent an unpaid vacation the previous year working on the sub-desk at the National Concord.
I visited the next day, met with Ladbone who assured me of a place. I reported on July 1 just as the editors prepared for the first daily edition due out on July 4. At 6.30 pm, Ladbone came over and asked all those waiting for tests and assessments to go and get stories. ‘What are we going to put in the newspaper next week? Go and get stories, gentlemen”. I recall Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo and Mbadiwe Emelumba among the about five of us that went out that evening. I returned with a feature on the evolving night market at Oshodi Bus Stop, from under the bridge to Bolade, and it eventually appeared in the newspaper two weeks later. We slept on benches in the newsroom, an introduction to journalism that shook my mother of an only son. I then commenced two internships in the medium that saw me deputising for the Production Line Editors while still a student. During youth service, I ran the “Upcountry” column from Akure in the Guardian Express, the evening newspaper.
The authors use the by-line format in newspapering in writing their names. Instead of the traditional book format, you read after the book title, the by-line, “By Aaron Ukodie and O’Seun Ogunseitan”.
The Making of the Nigerian Flagship: A story of The Guardian earns an automatic place in the literature on the History and Development of the Nigerian Media, a compulsory course for mass communication students as outlined by the National Universities Commission. Teaching about the fourth wave of newspapers in Nigeria has been a challenge due to the paucity of materials. You had to search far and wide.
Here is an entry from my class notes: “According to analyst Linda Fuller, ‘Jointly established by a famous entrepreneur – Alex Ibru – and a famous academic – Stanley Macebuh, who had established himself as a top journalist with the Daily Times- The Guardian transformed Nigerian journalism through an intellectualisation of the editorial board and columnists. Within a brief period, the successes recorded by The Guardian sent a signal that there was a market for high-quality journalism in Nigeria. This led to the emergence of newsmagazine journalism as a specialisation within the print media industry.”
Media historian Prof Fred Omu asserted that The Guardian brought dynamic influence to bear on the media scene. “The Guardian calls itself the flagship of the Nigerian press and so it is. It has been indisputably the best newspaper ever produced in Nigeria and its brand of journalism has had a profound and provocative impact on Nigerian journalism”.
Now there is a book to tell the full story of the making of that phenomenon up to and covering its first decade.
The Making of the Nigerian Flagship covers many themes. They include entry routes to journalism, motivation, qualifications and training, newsroom management and leadership. There are lessons on start-up plans, pains, and pleasures, team building, as well as vision definition and management of that process.
The book covers the many projects and products of The Guardian brand. These include the Sunday Supplement, Guardian Literary Series, World Leaders Interview Series, Cartoons, Features and Editorials. Dr Reuben Abati earlier captured the flavour, essence, and significance of the editorials of the newspaper in Reuben Abati (2004), The Whole Truth: Selected Editorials of The Guardian (1983-2003). Ibadan: Bookcraft Ltd.
The Making of The Flagship offers four sections. Section One captures The Big Idea of the vision and mission. Section Two reports on The Works. Section Three, Humans of Rutam House, is a full human-interest book. It contains the first-person “reminiscences and reflections” of 43 former staff. Section Four reports on The Operations.
There are many anecdotes and snippets. Recounting the role of Maiden Ibru, wife of Alex Ibru, in the formative days and during the paper’s evolution helps an understanding of her current role. She earned it, given a background in English and Theatre Arts (Unibadan0 as well as a master’s in communication and Media Studies from the American University, Washington DC.
“Some of the names that contributed to making The Guardian newspaper The Flagship of the Nigerian Media between 1983 and 1993” on pages 565-571 is useful but also a veritable minefield should it miss any names.
The Making of the Nigerian Flagship is recommended reading for everyone interested in journalism and mass communication, business management, sociology of media, English literature, and Nigerian history. It is a first-rate narrative and production that furthers the allure of The Guardian.