RIGHTSView, By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO: THE OONI’S JOURNALISTIC LEGACY

Posted by News Express | 5 August 2015 | 3,018 times

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In school at the Jos, Plateau State-based then campus of the prestigious Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), where I took an intensive professional course many years back, we were taught that journalists are historians, but of a different dimension in that they write bits and pieces of history in a hurry. I had my very strong doubts then because I queried the logic behind writing history in a hurry. But I was later convinced that, indeed, those aspects of history written in a hurry but accurately captured make more sense than the version that would undergo series of editorial scrutiny and embellishments and, sometimes, insertions of variegated tissues of lies and make-beliefs. For example, the versions of African history written by the so-called historians from the Western world, who followed their contemporaries that militarily subjugated and colonised much of Africa for many years, and engaged in series of looting of our natural, agro-allied and human resources. 

Hegel, a philosopher, who provided intellectual support for the subjugation of the black race, even insinuated that blacks were inferior to whites. Anyway, that's not the focus of this piece which, in some ways, is a tribute to the memories of one of Nigeria’s most colourful, glamorous, but politically savvy trado-cultural rulers of the Yoruba-speaking nationality of South-western Nigeria – the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade. My brief tribute or intervention was borne out of the fact that this man – who left a great amount of impressions either/or in the minds and hearts of many Nigerians – was once a journalist. He practised for a brief period before proceeding to study business management. His involvement and foray into the field of journalism has once more reinvigorated my strong conviction that the media profession must and should remain a noble profession and not just a trade, as most of us, contemporary journalists and media owners have assumed it to be. 

Going through the official biography of this great man, although he may have his fault-lines, in that he associated too closely with politicians and therefore can be accused of displaying some partisanship; but by and large, that aspect of the official records that showed him to have practised journalism has added to a rich collection of noble minds that once in their lifetimes practised journalism. Therefore, they serve as constant reminders for contemporary media workers to strive to respect their ethics and professional codes of conduct so as to defend the noble integrity and historicity behind the practice of journalism in Nigeria. Chinua Achebe of the Things Fall Apart fame, whose works in the field of scholarship currently enjoys global acclaims. This professor of literary scholarship was once a broadcast-journalist in Nigeria. So, in both nobility and academic profession and excellence, the Nigerian media has not been found wanting. Most Nigerians, especially owners of media houses in Nigeria, who would now join the bandwagon of those who would be paying tribute to the late Ooni of Ife, must be made to abide strictly to contractual terms that wouldn't subjugate their workers and treat them like slaves. 

Looking at how earlier media owners managed their businesses, we can see that they didn’t treat their staff like slaves. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo were some of these well-known media house owners who never maltreated their workers in the way and manner that some media owners do to their workers today. And there is no regulatory framework effective enough to deter this range of punitive practices against ordinary media workers who toil day and night to keep their media houses relevant and viable. Dr Azikiwe specifically published several titles that spanned up to Ghana, Sierra Leone and the entire West Coast. Incidentally, the late Ooni of Ife reportedly worked in the newspaper chain set up by the late Western Nigerian leader, Chief Awolowo. As prominent Nigerians would have started pouring encomium on the memories of the departed traditional ruler of Ife, it is imperative that his record of having worked as a journalist mustn’t be just a mere mention, but must be used as a point of contact to highlight the various operational challenges that modern media industry face and to proffer concrete panacea to the situation of poor salary structure (and irregular payment) of media workers by the owners. 

 It's an irony of unfathomable reach that media practitioners, who are the only professional groups recognised, by way of a detailed mention in section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, as vanguards and conscience of the nation, are at the same time treated shabbily by media owners. This is pathetic, sad, and smacks of hypocrisy; the people who preach freedom are at the same time treated as economic slaves. And we lack institutional redress mechanisms, as everyone seems not to give a hoot or a damn (apologies to Dr Goodluck Jonathan). The Federal Government needs to look at the issue of newsprint, which importation is not only cumbersome but heavily taxed, despite the ugly fact that the local newsprint manufacturing industry seems to have gone comatose. Government has to bail out the suffering media sector. For example, efforts should be made to resuscitate the (Oku Iboku) Newsprint Manufacturing Company.

Now to the main tribute to the memory of this colourful monarch.  I learnt that his pursuit for academic and professional trainings took him to virtually all the leading manufacturing and business firms in many European countries. As stated officially, Oba Okunade Sijuwade was born on January 1, 1930, to a great royal family in the Ogboru house, Ilare, Ile-Ife. Prince Sijuwade, as he was then called, reportedly started his elementary education at Igbein CMS School, Abeokuta. He lived with his elder brother, under the care of their father’s good friend, Chief G. A. Adedayo and his family. Chief Adebayo was the secretary to the Egba council, under the Asoju Oba. After his elementary school, he proceeded to Abeokuta Grammar School, under the well-known educationist, Rev. I. O. Ransome-Kuti, who was the principal.

Herein is my interest. In the precise words of his official biographer, as seen on the Internet by this writer. Before the young Prince Sijuade left for Europe to further his education, on his own volition, he decided to acquire some training in journalism. Consequently, he joined The Nigerian Tribune, where he spent two years: first, as a reporter and later as a sales executive. Thereafter, he proceeded to the United Kingdom in the early ‘50s to undertake a course of training in business management. His place of training was essentially in Northampton and with the Leventis Group, Manchester, in 1957. He also participated in advanced business management training programmes with companies in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Scotland, West Germany and Israel. 

Coming again to the challenging times faced by the media, my take is that the current administration should find the political will to revive the moribund newsprint manufacturing industry and also provide the enabling environment for foreign direct investors in the fields of newsprint and books to set up their production lines in Nigeria for the very good reasons of providing job opportunities and the revival of economic productivity of Nigerians.  Besides, that would encourage reading culture amongst the youth because a reading youth is a prepared leadership especially in our clime whereby we are experiencing speedily the decline of leadership qualities amongst contemporary politicians.  Let the memories and journalistic legacies of this all-rounded and educated traditional ruler be respected by effecting the aforementioned and many other measures, to promote intellectualism and reading culture, even as the Nigerian media needs to be administered in accordance with best global practices.  

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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