By Nats Onoja Agbo
When Chief David Attah was appointed as General Manager of Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation, publishers of Nigeria Voice, in 1984, there was palpable joy in the establishment. The joy among workers of the corporation was anchored on his antecedents as the General Manager the Nigeria Standard in Jos; his tenure was adjudged as one of the best moments of that newspaper house.
Optimists were not disappointed because the moment he reached Makurdi, he hit the ground running with breathtaking innovations. He was pained that people held the erroneous notion that journalists, no matter their status in the industry, were not serious people. He, therefore, set out to use his position as General Manager of the fledgling Nigeria Standard and later the Nigeria Voice, to prove that journalists were some of the most dedicated, loyal, hard working and productive people in the society.
One of his best attributes was his knack for identifying some of the best brains in the industry for maximum performance. At the Nigeria Standard, for instance, he attracted such great hands as Dan Agbese, George Ohemu, Bagudu Hirse, James Ikuve, Innocent Oparadike and a host of other professionals for the task of turning Nigeria Standard into a huge success. His guiding philosophy was commitment to service, instead of personal comfort. In Nigeria Voice , he inherited a crop of young writers like Nats Onoja Agbo, Hingah Biem, Tor Uja, Simon Amase, Joe Nwachukwu, Bala Dan Abu and a host of others whom he turned into editorial managers.
He embarked on staff development and sent many indigenous workers for training. His staff development programme was anchored on the belief that only a trained and motivated work force could turn an organization into a success. Indeed, he wanted efficient hands in all the departments, to ensure that the newspaper took center stage in national reckoning. Such trained and motivated hands came handy when he embarked on massive expansion of the two corporations. And he pursued his expansion policies with vigor. One of the earliest posts of his expansionist policy in Jos was the establishment of Sunday Standard; it was the first Sunday newspaper in Northern Nigeria.
Thereafter, he established Pappy Joe, a comic newspaper and perhaps the first of its kind in Nigeria. He also established Pen Powers Football Club, which translated into JIB Rocks Football Club and later Plateau Untied Football Club of Jos. He capped his achievements in the Standard with a ten-story edifice, which he built for the organization. Humble almost to a fault, he told this writer shortly before his death that the achievements were the gains of team work.
He approached his job at Nigeria Voice with the same zeal. With a highly motivated staff, he embarked on improving the editorial contents of the newspaper. He introduced Sunday Voice and appointed Hingah Biem as its first Editor. Within a short period, he turned the newspaper into a national icon. The newspaper’s editorials were aired on national radio. His attainments within a short period caught the attention of the military governor who promptly elevated him to the position of Commissioner for Information.
He continued to reform the corporation, especially the Editorial department, which saw the appointment of Editors from within, instead of importing them from other establishments. He recruited other experienced staff like Ochapa Ogenyi, Sebastian Agbinda and Chris Abah to beef-up the Editorial Department.
After leaving office as Commissioner, he teamed up with 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, Professor Erim Ode Erim, Okpe Ojanga and Dr. Gabriel Ankeli. The magazine also had quality contributors, including Ogoh Alubo, Sonni Gwanle Tyoden, Erim Ode Erim, Dan Mou and Thomas Amper. It was a formidable team.
Chief Attah cut his teeth in journalism with Daily Times; he held various appointments in the company before his appointment as General Manager of the Standard newspapers. He won election to the House of Representatives in 1979 and was one of the most visible members of the House.
It was after the National Assembly that he was appointed as General Manager of Nigeria Voice and later as Commissioner of Information, and later Commerce, in Benue State. He had retired and was resting in his house at Igumale one day when armed soldiers stormed the sleepy town looking for him. His relations took to their heels upon seeing the soldiers, fearing that they had come to arrest their icon.
General Sani Abacha who had just assumed office as Head of State needed a man with charm, charisma and love for service as his Chief Press Secretary; Chief Attah became an instant choice. He was airlifted to Lagos that same day and he assumed duty as the Chief Press Secretary to General Abacha. He also served as Chief Press Secretary to General Abdulsalaam Abubakar before he finally retired from public service.
He was a foundation member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and remained faithful to the party until his death. As one of the first notable journalists from Northern Nigeria, his death certainly marks the end of an era.
Agbo writes from Lagos