I called Mr Kabiru Yusuf, Publisher of the Daily Trust and newly minted President of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of the Nigeria (NPAN) very early last Saturday. I wanted to know if the news that the Chairman of the Leadership Newspaper Group, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah was dead was true or false. Yusuf confirmed that he was infact dead and he was trying to get further details. It was a very shocking story to me and a big loss to the NPAN, an organisation that had elected him, only a week earlier, into its Executive Committee as an Ex-Officio member. I was at the Sheraton Hotel in Ikeja, Lagos with Sam, Yusuf, Uncle Sam Amuka, Comfort Obi and Gbenga Adefaye in the evening of Monday December 7.
We had been summoned by Amuka, the indefatigable patron of the NPAN to come and discuss with him how the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the NPAN would go the next day. In particular, he wanted to be assured that there will be no problem with the election of new officers to man the affairs of the Association. Amuka had been at various times the trouble shooter at elections of the NPAN and other media bodies and had come to the conclusion that some kind of intervention by some media elders would always keep trouble beneath the surface.
It was at this meeting that I saw Samuel Ndanusa Isaiah (Sam Nda-Isaiah for short) at close range as he put his northern agenda on the table with abundant vigour. I told him bluntly that his northern agenda would not fly because he did not have the numbers and that what will be acceptable to most people would be the election of efficient persons from as many zones as possible to run the affairs of the NPAN. I told him the story of how some people who hatched a northern plot for the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) presidency failed abysmally at Ibadan, Oyo State some years ago.
The contestants were Mr Femi Adesina (South) and Mr Tukur Abdulrahman (North). The campaign produced a lot of tension and threats of violence. I decided to talk to past presidents of the NGE and some elders of the profession. They agreed that we should have a meeting before the election the next day. At the meeting they mandated me to take the two combatants into a separate room for negotiation. I spent two hours with them, proposing several options for resolving the matter. None of them yielded. They preferred to go for an election. So we went back to the meeting with the elders.
I suggested to the elders that we must ask them to make two commitments (a) that they will accept the results of the election and (b) that their supporters will not cause any problem after the release of the results. They accepted. The elections were peaceful. Femi Adesina won. I then said to Nda-Isaiah: “I am sure you don’t have the numbers on your side. If you push this northern agenda you will lose tomorrow at the polls.” A smart man, he saw the writing on the wall and we all deliberated peacefully on who should take which offices. After I told him the Ibadan story and how the matter was resolved he was sober. He was no longer pushing his agenda vociferously. He arrived at a new place, the place of truth.
The next day, the offices were fairly distributed to media people in the various regions. And there was peace. Nda-Isaiah was elected into the Executive Committee just as I was. I was looking forward to working with him and other elected officials to help the Kabiru Yusuf presidency to confront with vigour and knowledge the many problems that face the Nigerian media today. Nda-Isaiah’s demise at the youthful age of 58 years is a huge loss not just to his family but also to the media family for he was an energetic, tough-minded man who had the courage of his convictions. Nigeria’s political elite are probably not fully aware of what incalculable harm they have done to the psyche of the country with their diabolical practice of north-south irredentism.
Before the election some southerners had phoned me to query why the presidency of the NPAN should be given to Kabiru Yusuf when the International Press Institute (IPI) which he chairs is controlled by the North. Another northerner, Mr Raheem Adedoyin is the Secretary of the organisation as well. I told the caller that the IPI does not control the affairs of the NPAN and the organisation’s influence on Nigeria’s media or governance is very, very minimal, almost nonexistent. The second complaint raised against a Yusuf presidency was that he comes from the same state, Katsina, as President Muhammadu Buhari. The implication of that is that the NPAN will be a lame duck and will not be able to fight for its rights while Buhari remains President. I pointed out that I have worked with Yusuf and can testify that he is a true professional. Besides, the NPAN is not a one-man organisation. Decisions are taken largely democratically. I also pointed to the fact that the Daily Trust has been invaded before by security men, journalists arrested and their computers carted away.
I am telling this story to establish the fact that even the media have been infected by this pernicious doctrine of regional nationalism. That is what the ruling elite have done to Nigeria with their skewed policy of partisan leadership recruitment at certain commanding heights of governance. The lopsidedness has become the chink in the armour of Nigeria’s unity, co-existence and integration.
Yusuf’s NPAN has several problems that lie in wait for it. Nigerian media have been struggling, even before COVID-19 pandemic, with the problem of benefitting from media convergence as the hard copy editions of their newspapers and magazines continue to lose ground to the instant magic of the social media with all the accompanying problems of untrained people distorting the fundamental, fact-finding ethos of journalism. The NPAN must devise a survival tool kit for its members, one that will acknowledge the constraints of COVID-19, the slip into another recession by our fragile economy, and the lack of locally produced newsprint and other publishing inputs and a new advertising, readership and marketing paradigm. Even more worrisome is the push by high profile state actors in the Executive and Legislature, elected and appointed, for the shredding of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the 1999 Constitution. This includes but are not limited to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
They seem to think that those freedoms must be taken back for them to be able to do the duty that they owe to Nigerians under the Constitution. My view is that the media have performed better in the discharge of their duties than the political elite have done in the discharge of their own. We need, going forward, to confront the anti-democracy activists who were not a party to the fight against military autocracy but who now reap from where they did not sow and who are now bent on foisting autocracy on the country again. The anti-democracy warriors seem to see every unfavourable opinion that appears in the media as an attempt to bring down their government, a fallacy that they are busy selling with obstinate consistency and flippancy.
They think that if they push this idiotic line of thought hard enough it will stick. What they want is democracy that is cobbled together in their lacklustre, discredited, autocratic image. They want to reduce the Nigerian media, through obnoxious and draconian legislation, to zombies that are unable to discharge their responsibilities as mandated by the Constitution. Pushing back these fifth columnists needs men and women of courage and conviction, the kind of courage and conviction exhibited in his columns by Nda-Isaiah over the years. This former pharmacist who transformed himself into a journalist of significance has left a legacy of trenchant journalism that should be a source of inspiration to both young and aspiring journalists. Even when he made an attempt to be a presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2015 and was beaten by Muhammadu Buhari he picked himself up and came back to the newsroom to continue the fight for a better society. We will miss this valiant warrior.