By Francis Ottah Agbo
Chief David Ogaba Attah, a quintessential family man, seasoned journalist, politician of conviction, elder statesman and philosopher-king, may have passed on but, for me, he remains a legend, and legends don’t die. They simply transmogrify, transfigure to the other divide, which 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 with us here to philosophise on life after death. He enjoined servant leaders 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 and held several challenging editorial and non-editorial positions in Daily Times before the then Benue-Plateau State Government poached him to superintend the Jos-based Nigeria Standard Newspaper as general manager.
As one of the earliest professional journalists in northern Nigeria, he witnessed the first military coup in Kaduna on January 15, 1966, and interviewed Major Kaduna Nzeogwu on the bloody day.
After graduation, Attah left Daily Times and was appointed general manager of Benue-Plateau Publishing Company (BPPC), publishers of Nigeria Standard, where he distinguished himself as an archetypal public servant of the 21st Century. As GM, 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 could 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 best newspapers in Nigeria and the best in Northern Nigeria, which he did. To achieve this, the head hunter that Attah was, had to recruit some good hands that have today turned out to be among the best brains in the media industry. Top among them 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 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 corporation with the establishment of Sunday Standard, the first Sunday newspaper in Northern Nigeria, not even New Nigeria had a Sunday title at the time. Thereafter, Attah diversified the newspaper to also take care of the comic industry by establishing Pappy Joe, a witty newspaper and, perhaps, the first of its kind in Nigeria. He also knew early on that football was a veritable instrument in rebranding a newspaper and established Pen Powers Football Club, which later became JIB Rocks Football Club and later Plateau Untied Football Club of Jos. The capping stone of Attah’s achievements in the Nigeria Standard was a ten-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 the cynosure of all eyes; anywhere he went he stole the show. And since a goldfish, 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 he won convincingly in 1979 and represented old Okpokwu. He was well respected by the party apparatchik and its leader, the legendary Zik of Africa, who he later had the privilege of chairing his burial committee set up by the Gen. Sani Abacha-led Federal Government.
Attah was very visible in the Green Chamber so much so that he nearly became the Speaker but for the ethnic contradictions of the Nigerian 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 1984, no thanks to the rigging machine of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the Gen. Muhammdu Buhari coup, which sacked the Second Republic.
In 1984, the then Benue State government appointed Attah as GM of Nigeria Voice and, as usual, he hit the ground running. He inherited a galaxy of young writers like Nats Agbo, Hingah Biem, Tor Uja, Simon Amase, Joe Nwachukwu, Dan 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 content of the newspaper. He redesigned the masthead of Nigeria Voice. He introduced Sunday Voice and appointed 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 governor 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, 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 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, Dan Mou and Thomas Amper.
Attah was in the newspaper venture 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 fond of gracing the Ujo new yam festival as well as playing the local draft in his country home in Igumale, Ado Local Government Area of Benue State.
One faithful day, he was playing the local draft 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, fearing that Abacha, who had just seized power as Head of State, had ordered his arrest. How wrong they were! Unknown to them, Abacha, who first met Attah at NIPSS, Kuru, some years earlier, wanted him 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 Gen. Abacha, and Igumale came back to life with jubilation!
• Agbo is Special Adviser (Media) to the Governor of Bayelsa State and wrote in via [email protected]