By Sunday Ani
On Friday, May 21, 2021, the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO), comprising the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, (NPAN), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), for the first time, gathered all the eggheads in industry in Lagos to honour their dead icons. In what could aptly be described as giving honour to whom honour is due, the leadership of NPAN, NGE, NUJ and BON gathered all the key players in the media industry, politicians, academics and friends of the media among other guests to celebrate and honour nine media titans that died in the last 10 months.
Those that were honoured during the epoch-making event included the pioneer president of NGE and former governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande; former president and secretary of NGE as well as former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh; life patron of NPAN, Malam Ismaila Isa; former executive director, Voice of Nigeria, Mr. Ben Egbuna; former publisher, New Nation and former editor, Sunday Times, Chief Gbolabo Ogunsanwo; and former general manager, Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Bisi Lawrence. Others were the former president of NGE and former chairman, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Malam Wada Maida; former editor, Daily Express, Mr. Eddie Aderionkun; and publisher, Leadership Newspapers, Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah.
The event tagged, “Afternoon of Tribute: Honouring the Departed, Inspiring the Living,” apart from friends and families of the honourees, attracted the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo; two governors, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and his Ekiti State counterpart, Kayode Fayemi; the deputy governor of Ogun State; representatives of Niger and Katsina States governors, and the Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar.
Some of the representatives of the honourees in attendance included Mrs. Zainab Nda-Isaiah, Bayo Ogunsanwo, Abdulrasheed Momoh, Mrs. Omowunmi Lawrence and Haijia Wada Maida, among others.
The event also attracted such media gurus as Chief Segun Osoba; the publisher of Thisday Newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena; managing director/editor-in-chief, the Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh; managing director, DAAR Communications Limited, Mr. Tony Akiotu; former president of the NGE and commissioner for information, Osun State, Mrs. Funke Egbemode; publisher, The Nigerian Xpress Newspaper, Mr. Steve Nwosu; Consultant, Guardian Newspapers Limited, Mr. Lade Bonuola; editor-in-chief, Leadership Newspapers, Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene; Mr. Lanre Idowu; chairman of Channels Television, Mr. John Momoh; Ray Ekpu; former secretary of NUJ, Jola Ogunnusi; and NUJ president, Chris Isiguzo, among others.
In his welcome address, president, NPO and NPAN, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, said each of the nine departed icons lived an eventful and impactful life such that traces of their earthly sojourns could be seen everywhere, ranging from the families they raised to the colleagues they mentored and the institutions they left behind. He noted that even in death they would continue to enrich the lives of many through their influence in the media, business and politics. “And that is why we don’t think of them in the past but in the present and in the future,” he added.
He spoke glowingly of the nine departed legends, saying, “By holding them as examples, we hope to show that journalism is a worthwhile profession that has produced its own share of worthwhile men. To the nine colleagues, may they rest in peace and may we carry on the torch.”
He noted that it would be hard to find another Nigerian journalist who has done it all like Jakande, even as he declared that the intensity of Nda-Isaiah’s engagements remained unparalleled. “I never met Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, but as editor and columnist of Sunday Times in the 1970s, he has become the standard by which such work is rated. As a freelance reporter in the Voice of Nigeria, I saw Ben Egbuna the broadcaster beyond the golden voice. Tony Momoh, we all know, not only as an able editor or Minister of Information, but also as a letter-writer because he wrote a letter to all of us. He was simply indefatigable. When we ignored his letter, he followed up with books.
“Bisi Lawrence and Eddie Aderionkun belonged to that rare association of veteran journalists of Nigeria. There is much learning when you sit at the feet of such old-timers. Ismaila Isa and Malam Wada Maida acted as seniors and mentors of northern journalists of my generation,” he said.
In his keynote address, Professor Osinbajo urged media professionals to join hands with government to build a just, progressive and prosperous Nigeria, even as he stressed that nation-building was not an exclusive preserve of government and politicians.
He extolled the virtues and journalistic prowess of the honoured media icons. He urged the media to reject the temptation to fracture Nigeria but, instead, elevate those constructive elements that could promote justice, healing and togetherness among the diverse tribes and tongues in the country.
He also charged the media to always hold leaders of the country accountable, saying, “Those of us who govern must do so with the understanding that power is a public trust. It is also the calling of the journalists to invigilate us and hold us accountable. I urge you to do so relentlessly, fairly and unapologetically. When we are both true to our respective callings, our democracy is strengthened.”
The Vice-President noted that Nigeria was not perfect but the cure for its imperfection was most certainly not destruction or a heedless descent into anarchy as being promoted by some voices. He, therefore, called on the media to have a share in the much-needed work of rebuilding, redesigning, reforming and healing the country, even as he stressed that creating a commonality of purpose in a uniquely diverse and culturally diverse society like Nigeria was a challenging task the world over.
He lamented that the country was at a point where so many forces were at play to tear it apart, but urged the media to emulate the virtues of those being celebrated: “We are at a time of our national odyssey in which retailers of discord and matrons of strife are working assiduously against our collective potentials as a people. However, the giants that we celebrate today understood that journalism operates in a social context and cannot be value neutral. This same cognitive commitment is incumbent upon all media practitioners. Media practitioners have a responsibility to exercise discernment in the deployment of their platforms.”
He noted that, in spite of all the tensions in the land today, the media have the capacity to douse all and promote peace. He said: “As we struggle to build our nation with the brick of neutrality, plurality and tolerance, those of us who stand as gatekeepers in the Fourth Estate must demonstrate a greater awareness of the sensibilities and sensitivities of our society. Debate over our country’s future will always be intense and passionate but they need not be toxic or polarizing. The media can help to promote a climate of civility in which the most contentious issues can be discussed in full and frank terms without degenerating into chaos.”
He commended the media for being at the forefront of all the epochal struggles in Nigeria, right from the fight against colonialism to the enthronement of democracy, but noted that the fourth struggle was under way. “It is the quest to deepen democracy and to realise our collective possibilities as a just, prosperous and progressive nation,” he added.
He commended the organisers of the event, for conceiving a memorial of such taste and magnitude. “The care or loyalty demonstrated by those championing our causes when we are no longer present is more genuine than the obsequiousness of those that engage in eye service when we are still in a position to pay back. I salute the exemplary leadership exhibited by the organisers because by this, they have really lived up to expectation as the ultimate custodian of the finest tradition of the media profession,” he said.
In his remarks, president of the NGE, Mustapha Isa, agreed that all the celebrated nine media legends impacted positively on the Nigerian media industry. He lamented that their exit came at a time when the industry was facing serious challenges, but said that their legacies would inspire others to overcome all the challenges.
He argued that, much as it is a good thing to honour the dead, it is also very good to honour the living, even as he charged journalists to, henceforth, devote at least one day in a year to celebrate media leaders who are still alive. “The NGE has resolved to celebrate our own even when they are still with us. Why shouldn’t we tell the world about the likes of Sam Pemu, Segun Osoba, Nduka Obaigbena, Onyema Ugochukwu, Ray Ekpu, Lanre Idowu, Professor Ralph Akinfeleye and a host of others? NPO, comprising the NGE, NPAN and NUJ, can work together to make this possible,” he said.
Also in his goodwill message, the provost of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Gbenga Adefaye, commended the organisers as the media were not known to celebrate their own, dead or alive. “In fact, the media, more than often, ignore the fact for too long, despite the humongous contributions to national development. We can only thank the NPO for putting up this remembrance, which is the need for drawing attention to the lives and times of our revered but departed media icons; drawing attention to their immense contributions to the media and national development. Truly, these are icons this moment inspires,” he said.
He noted that they were the mentors, promoters or alumni of NIJ. “So, their aspirations were that we produced veterans and better media players for the future and that we are committed. They have their examples to look up to in the discharge of our duties. This event naturally draws our attention to an important branch of knowledge that we should actively develop; studies in the lives and times of media leaders while they are still alive.”
Tributes were also paid to the departed icons by those who had close encounters with them during their active days in journalism. In his tribute to Maida, Obaigbena described him as a quiet operator: “He was one of the early investors in Daily Trust Newspaper, ensuring that the North had a voice. He was also a key investor in the Peoples Daily. He was always effective but very quiet.”
Also, Akiotu paying tribute to Bisi Lawrence, fondly called Bisi Law, described him as an institution, an enigma and a reliable mentor.
“He was precise and upright in his dealings. He was a man of many parts and dimensions; a giant among men. A man of all season, his vast array of knowledge was infinite,” he stated.
The highpoint of the event was the presentation of plaques of honour to representatives of the families of the nine celebrated icons by Vice-President Osinbajo.
Speaking on behalf of the nine families after the receiving the plaques, Mrs. Zainab Nda-Isaiah said: “A day like this brings mixed feelings. You are full of joy and at the same time full of sadness because of what we are celebrating.”
She noted that celebrating them barely 10 months after their deaths was a testament to the legacies they left behind. “I thank everybody present, the NPO, the NPAN and all the different bodies that put the event together.
“On behalf of the families of the nine people that were honoured here today, it is our great desire that their legacies will live on and that everything they stood for will not only be remembered but also built upon to create a greater and better community for us, our children and our children’s children,” she said.