[This was a follow-up to the brouhaha about Reuben Abati, now media adviser to Nigeria's president on allegations of receiving expensive real estate at Abuja, the country's capital purportedly as a 'thank you'. It happened that Dr. Abati, generally a hard-hitting journalist who usually took no hostages, was very - whatchamacallit - 'very soft' with the late President Yar Adua, a fact I referred to in an essay shortly after. Other journalists were even less charitable about what they saw as softening his style as a step to warming his way to political appointment or, at the least, cashing in on his "generous" stance to those in power.
I chatted with my mythical "niece". TOLA, June 28, 2012.]
LETTERS TO MY NIECE
Why did you throw this title at me? I thought another Odua governor had sent out zillions of abusive and threatening material on me, using expensive double-page ads like two earlier ones that had labeled me a hack writer and a lackey of Lagos’ Tinubu! The real lackey, though, a gubernatorial go-fer, has long “jetted to queensland” – in Nigerian-ese – for “safety” from purported assassins. The Nigerian system has become so sad that anything and anyone near it could get smeared with the broom-in-bucket of waste as the least weapon to fight “opponents”. Your questions are in a way similar to “… who is Yar Adua …. is my generation doomed …” sent after retd. General Obasanjo’s (rGO) Selection ’07; they are tough but I won’t hold anything back.
I do have a copy of the incredible protest letter by the Punch Staffer and have also read the stories about The Guardian’s Dr. Abati; with the web, who doesn’t and who hasn’t? I think it’s preposterous, though, to think “The Punch is unraveling”; disgraceful mess, sure.
Do I know Ishiekwene?
Not really although when the itch to write again started almost ten years ago, I sent a couple of materials through a common acquaintance. The then Punch Editor’s verdict? “… I do not understand what she writes.”
Did journalists used to take envelopes …?
All over the world, journalists have always taken envelopes of different sorts, but in Nigeria of the not distant past, gifts – given freely or sought – were not of the scope or audaciousness of houses and millions purportedly given to senior editors detailed in the exposes.
Auntie, between us, did you ever take envelopes! Did every journalist take them?
I like the exclamation in place of a question mark. Back in the dark ages, you actually could be a journalist without ever taking one because you took the job for the love of it. During the 1978/79 campaigns, money at press conferences was common because without it, reporters did not report! I know because I was active – along with many young professionals who truly believed we could make a difference in the early stages of the NPP in the West. I was not interested in contesting but I contributed to the Education Manifesto of a party founded, funded and led by Ademola Thomas, Akanbi Onitiri, Deinde Fernandez, Adeniran Ogunsanya and others before betrayal, back-stabbing and intransigence led to the fiasco that climaxed at Apapa Amusement Park at the convention in 1979. NPP’s metamorphosis, though, cannot be told by a foot soldier in a fighting-for-our-reputation letter. Suffice to mention that my husband, Oyo State Treasurer, could have walked away with what was then a tidy sum but he and the other account signatory signed over party’s funds before leaving in exasperation, an action that made a friend remark, enyin yi ko le ever l’owo [you people will never be rich!]. Areoye Oyebola paired with late Janet Akinrinade for governorship ticket.
I interviewed a top professional woman at the behest of an “Uncle” in 1979 – Tola, Emotan readers should meet Mrs. X. The lovely woman took interest in my work and in 1980, gave me a check to cover my ticket to the Copenhagen 2nd World Women’s Conference. When Copenhagen clashed with another engagement, I returned the money only to receive a lovely note saying the money was still mine. First and last envelope!
“The blogs are very embarrassing: journalists taking money, praise-singing …having people praise their articles…?” Dear, much as writing – like reading – is akin to food to me, I’m getting weary from aspersions to ALL newspaper writers; ditto blogs like the one you sent: “I understand most of the reporters/columnists for The Nation has [sic] foot-soldiers that post comments on their behalf.”
It’s bizarre to have “foot soldiers” post blogs and text messages but much worse to post them using pseudo names as is sometimes discernible. And the kissing-up? Here’s one from December:
“First on my Christmas Honours List is my Governor … He is certainly using at least some of the funds he gets productively and certainly deserves to be congratulated for being a cut above most Nigerian Governors.” [Not from the Nation.]
While journalists complain of the present poor remuneration and working conditions, we were not better paid – relatively speaking – back in the 70s. I took a personal loan to buy a car; most co-workers had no cars but we still worked enthusiastically. While things are very different now: stratospheric costs of living, tuition fees that are way beyond the legitimate earnings of most journalists, people won’t pull on masks and go rob banks because earnings won’t afford them overseas vacations or homes in exclusive enclaves. To remain credible, the press cannot – and must not – fall into the same morass that it’s supposed to beam light on.
I agree, dear, that journalists must work with their colleagues to press for remunerations that take into consideration the costs of living in Nigeria. The things that are NEEDED as opposed to things DESIRED by all workers these days perhaps far exceed those of the simpler 70s, and ways must be found to bridge this gap. Even very low-income workers own power-generating units; it IS a necessity.
How about stars that attract wide readership working together to fight for the right to syndicate? Proprietors would try to resist but would give in once they realize there’s no backing off and that they can still get the same star columnists cheaper. I’ve suggested in one of my essays that syndication would be possible if the present very expensive idea of “national papers” with offices in each state capital and Abuja is done away with. I mentioned the case of the United States where every city, town and settlement has a hometown newspaper and with the advances in printing technology and news gathering, most settlements in the south and quite some in the north can support newspapers. The newspapers will source most of its news and advertisements which will be cheaper, locally; takers would be many. Each would be able to carry national and international news and believe it or not, most of the thousands of journalists being turned out, if adequately well-trained, would be absorbed by these hometown newspapers. Syndication would enable people in remote corners of the country to read Palladium without having to read The Nation or Sonala Olumhense without The Guardian in their hometown newspapers. Right now, anyway, such people have no access to these papers/writers under the make-believe “national papers”.
I used to pay $2.50 against $1.25 for the Washington Post half a world away in Las Vegas on the following Tuesdays. Most locals would prefer a paper that contains mostly news/social events of their localities, and a governor, president, et al. would have to bribe thousands of editors to have stories planted – or killed as commonly done right now.
In conclusion, dear, I believe modern journalism and its practitioners, against all odds, have done tremendous work in providing platforms for the public to air their opinions, in reining in politicians and, let’s not forget – in joining others to drive away the military and killing rGO’s tenure elongation project. While the purported acquiescence of some to the pervasive brigandage and corruption that have destroyed this country stands Nigerian journalism and journalists accused and accursed, journalism must be assisted to rehab itself because no country can fight her social ills, or have the voices of the majority represented without credible newspapers. Online news websites are doing magnificent work but cannot replace newspapers right now.
The Nation on Sunday, April 4, 2010.