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Attah: Legends don’t die, By Francis Ottah Agbo

By News Express on 17/08/2017

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•Late Chief David Ogaba Attah
•Late Chief David Ogaba Attah

Chief David Ogaba Attah, quintessential family man, seasoned journalist, politician of conviction, elder statesman and philosopher-king may have passed on, but to me, he remains a legend and legends don’t die. They simply transmogrify, transfigure to the other divide – where a philosopher calls the great beyond – to continue with their service to humanity. This was exactly what Attah believed. He believed in life after death, and used every opportunity he had to philosophise on life after death. He enjoined ‘servant-leaders’ that he was to prepare themselves to serve in the hereafter. And, I believe, this is exactly what he is currently doing in the great beyond.

Attah rose from a humble background to national limelight, by dint of hard work and creativity. After his primary and secondary education, he sought knowledge like a ‘sinking star’, but had no money to gain university education. He quickly put on his thinking cap and sold his radiogram to raise money to foot his education at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. To sustain his education to completion, he needed a job. And his flair for creative writing made journalism handy at the time. Daily Times engaged him, and he started reporting for the powerful Lagos medium while still in the university. He held several challenging editorial and non-editorial positions in the Daily Times group. As one of the earliest professional journalists in Northern Nigeria, he witnessed the first military coup in Kaduna on 15th January, 1966 and interviewed Major Kaduna Nzeogwu on the bloody day.

After graduation, Attah left Daily Times after he was appointed General Manager of Benue-Plateau Publishing Company (BPPC), publishers of defunct Nigeria Standard, where he distinguished himself as an archetypal public servant of the 21stCentury. As general manager, he had a mission to turn around the newspaper. And, as events later showed, he exceeded his target. First, he proved to the government of the day that journalists were indeed serious people and can be trusted with onerous responsibility, as a result of his unalloyed commitment to service as against personal comfort. The first thing he did was to assemble a crack team of journalists to help him turn the Nigeria Standard into one of the bestnewspapers in Nigeria and the best in Northern Nigeria, which he did. To achieve this, the head-hunter that Attah was, had to recruit the services of some good hands that have today turned out to be among the best brains in the media industry. Top on the list were Dan Agbese, George Ohemu, Bagudu Hirse, James Ikuve, Innocent Oparadike, and a host of other professionals who at various times became editors, publishers and print-media managers. He also embarked on training and retraining of staff across the cadre, which helped to develop the capacity of personnel. His staff capacity building philosophy became handy when he started the expansion of the company with the establishment of Sunday Standard: the first Sundaynewspaper in Northern Nigeria, as the New Nigerian had no Sunday title at the time. Thereafter, Attah diversified the newspaper to also take care of the comic section, by establishing Pappy Joe, a witty newspaper and, perhaps, the first of its kind in Nigeria. He also knew early in life that football is a veritable instrument in rebranding a newspaper; as a result, he established Pen Powers Football Club, which later became JIB Rocks Football Club and later Plateau Untied Football Club of Jos. The capping stone of Chief Attah’s achievements in the Nigeria Standard was a 10-storey edifice, the tallest building at the time in Jos, which he built for the organisation.  As a reporter with the Sun, I was privileged to interview him on his enviable life and times, and was stunned that rather than take credit for his achievements as typical Nigerians would, Attah would simply attribute the feats to team work.

Yet, his achievements in Jos made him a cynosure: anywhere he went, he stole the show. And since a gold fish, they say, has no hiding place, the leadership of the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) wooed him to run for the House of Representatives; an election  which he won convincingly in 1979 and represented old Okpokwu federal constituency. He was well respected by the party apparatchik and its leader, the legendary Zik of Africa, whom he later had the privilege of chairing his burial committee set up by the Gen Sani Abacha-led Federal Government. Chief Attah was very visible in the green chamber, so much so that he nearly became the Speaker, but for the ethnic contradictions of the Nigeria state. In the House, he sponsored many bills, moved motions and brought critical issues to the front-burner of national discourse. Unfortunately, after his very successful first term, he couldn’t return to the National Assembly in 1983. No thanks to the rigging machine of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), and the Gen Muhammadu Buhari-led coup, that sacked the Second Republic.     

In 1984, the then Benue State Government appointed him General Manager of Nigeria Voice and, as usual, he hit the ground running. He inherited a galaxy of young writers like Nats Onoja Agbo, Hingah Biem, Tor Uja, Simon Amase, Joe Nwachukwu, Dan Edogbo Okolo, Bala Dan Abu, and a host of others who later rose to the pinnacle of the journalism profession. With a highly motivated staff, he improved the editorial contents of the newspaper. He redesigned the masthead, introduced Sunday Voice and appointed Hingah Biem as its first Editor. Like Nigeria Standard, the Nigeria Voice Newspaper’s editorials were aired on national radio. His accomplishments at the newspaper house endeared him to the then military administrator, who promptly elevated him to the position of commissioner for information. As a parastatal under his watch, he continued to beef up the editorial department of Nigeria Voice with the appointment of editors from within and recruitment of experienced staff like Ochapa Ogenyi, Sebastian Agbinda and Chris Abah, etc.

After commissionership, he joined others to establish Focus, the first monthly newsmagazine in central Nigeria. He was in that venture with Nats Onoja Agbo who was the first Editor, Justice A P Anyebe, Prof Erim Ode Erim, Okpe Ojanga and Dr Gabriel Ankeli. The magazine also had quality contributors like Ogoh Alubo, Sonni Gwanle Tyoden, Erim Ode Erim, Dan Mou and Thomas Amper.

Attah was in the newspaper industry until 1989, when he returned to politics and pitched tent with the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).

He liked life and lived it to the fullest. As a man of tradition and culture, he belonged to an age grade; he was at home with his people’s tradition and culture, always graced Ujo new yam festival, as well as playing the local draught in his country home, Igumale, Ado Local Government Area of Benue State.  One faithful day, he was playing the game when armed soldiers stormed the sleepy town, looking for him. Igumale instantly wore a mournful look. The locals took to their heels, when they sighted the soldiers, afraid that Gen Sani Abacha, who had just seized power as head of state, must have ordered his arrest. How wrong! Unknown to them, Abacha, who first met Attah at the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPS), Kuru, Jos some years earlier, wanted Attah to be his Chief Press Secretary.

The soldiers got him, and they travelled by road to Lagos that same day; and 24 hours after, Attah was announced as Chief Press Secretary to Abacha. Igumale came back to life with jubilation. After the demise of the dictator, he also served as Chief Press Secretary to Gen Abdulsalaam Abubakar, before he again returned to partisan politics and became a founding member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  

But in spite of his loyalty to PDP, a party he heavily invested in, the potentates at the time humiliated him and stopped him from being Benue State chairman of the party, after he was unanimously endorsed as chairman by Benue South Senatorial District caucus, where the position was zoned. The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by the then national chairman of the party, Chief Audu Ogbeh, but was thwarted by the then governor, George Akume. At a period when many Nigerian politicians had become nomadic, changing political parties at will, in search of ‘food’, coupled with his bad treatment by the party, Attah, as a politician of conviction, remained faithful to the PDP, until his death.

Agbo, Special Adviser (Media) to the Governor of Bayelsa State, can be reached via 

Source News Express

Posted 17/08/2017 9:21:31 PM


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