This year (2019) marks 160 years of journalism in Nigeria. It was on November 23, 1859, that the late Scottish journalist and evangelist, Rev Henry Townsend, published the first newspaper in Nigeria known as “Iwe Irohin” in Abeokuta in Old Western region in the present day Ogun State. It is a major milestone in the history of the media in Nigeria.
Rev Townsend, who was regarded as the father of education, journalists and publishers in Nigeria, said his reason for publishing the first newspaper in the country was to teach Nigerians how to read and write. He said as a missionary, his work of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ was absolutely impossible without the people reading and understanding the preaching.
“I created the local newspaper that would stimulate reading and beget the habit of seeking information”. It was also to ensure that the converts found their own time to read the paper where gospel messages were packaged; without it faith was practically impossible, he stated. Since then the seed of journalism he planted in Abeokuta in 1859 has been growing. Today, Nigeria has a countless number of journalists and newspapers.
The first generation of Nigerian journalists and fathers of the profession were Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Ernest Ikoli, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Alhaji Babatunde Jose, Chief Herbert Macauley, Alhaji Alade Odunewu, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Angus Okoli.
Others were Chief Samuel Akintola, Chief Bisi Onabanjo, Chief M. C. K Ajuluchukwu, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Mr Peter Osugo, Mrs Theresa Ogunbiyi, Roy Ezeabasili, Mr Gab Idigo, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, to mention but a few. These eminent persons used journalism as instrument to champion and achieve independence for Nigeria. It is unarguable that journalism gave birth to independent Nigeria and introduced reading and writing in the country.
The pre-independence newspapers used by these great journalists/ nationalists to fight for Nigeria’s freedom from the colonial masters were “Lagos Today”, the first indigenous newspaper published by Chief Herbert Macauley. This was followed by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s group of newspapers like the “West African Pilot” which he edited; “Comet” was edited by Chief Anthony Enahoro and Southern Nigeria Defender etc. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, also a lawyer, published the “Nigerian Tribune”. “Daily Times” was edited by Chief Ernest Ikoli but published by the Federal Government.
There were many other newspapers, news magazines, radio and television stations after independence that had contributed in diverse ways to the growth and development of Nigeria. Some of the newspapers and their publishers were the defunct “Concord” newspaper by Chief Moshood K. O. Abiola, the “Daily Champion” by Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, “The Punch” by Chief James Aboderin, “The Vanguard” by Chief Sam Amuka-Pemu, “This Day” by Prince Nduka Obaigbena, “The Guardian” by Chief Godie Ibru, “The Sun” by Chief Orji Uzoh Kalu and “The Nation” by Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu etc.
Interestingly, Flora Shaw, who later became the wife of Lord Fredrick Lugard, was a journalist who coined the term “Niger Area” as we were known before the amalgamation. She christened the new amalgamated nation, “Nigeria” from that term. Again, it was a journalist, Chief Enahoro, who courageously moved the motion for the independence of Nigeria in the Parliament. This shows how fearless and courageous journalists were.
Meanwhile, journalists like Dr Patrick Dele Cole, Mr Dele Giwa, Dr Stanley Macebuh, Mr Ray Ekpu, Dr Eddie Iroh, Mr Dan Agbese, Mr Bayo Adenuga, Mrs Chris Anyanwu, Mr Yakubu Mohammed, Mr Shaka Momodu, Wofuru Okparaolu, Dr Reuben Abati, Dr Doyin Abiola, among others, and the contemporary media revolutionalised journalism and brought modernity and style to the profession.
As the fourth estate of the realm, journalism is the watchdog of society, the voice of the voiceless, the defender of the defenceless, the agenda setter and opinion moulder. It can make or mar a nation. It can take individuals from grass to grace and from grace to grass. That is the power of journalism. It is also the mirror of society and the light of the world.
But the profession is not without risk. Journalists are harassed, arrested, detained, jailed and even killed globally. In Nigeria, for instance, many journalists had met their waterloo while trying to unravel the ills of society. They were either detained, jailed or even killed. For example, Mr Tunde Thompson, Mr Nduka Irabor, Mrs Chris Anyanwu, Mr Kunle Ajibade, Mr Ben Obi and a host of others, were jailed for doing their job.
On October 19, 1986, Mr Dele Giwa, the editor-in-chief of “Newswatch” magazine was killed with a parcel bomb in Lagos. In August 1990, Mr Kress Imodibe of “The Guardian” and Mr Tayo Awotunsin of the “Daily Champion” newspapers were murdered in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, while covering the civil war in that country.
Mr Bagauda Kaltho of “The News” lost his life on January 18, 1996, at Durbar Hotel, Kano. On February 26, 1998, Mr Tunde Oladepo of “The Guardian” was brutally killed in Abeokuta. In October 2006, Mr Omololu Falobi of “The Punch” was slain in Lagos. Similarly, on December 22, 2006, Mr Godwiri Agbroko, the chairman of the editorial board of “This Day” newspaper was killed in Lagos.
Also, Mr Paul Abayomi Ogundeji of the editorial board of “This Day” was assassinated in Lagos. On Sunday, September 20, 2009, Mr Bayo Ohu of “The Guardian” was also murdered in Lagos etc. These people laid their lives for the profession. Though hazardous, journalism is one of the most luscious and vibrant professions in the world.
Overwhelmed by the contributions and sacrifices of the Nigerian journalist over the years, the Nigerian League of Veteran Journalists (NLVJ) led by its President, Otunba Eddie Aderinokun, said that NLVJ would celebrate 160 years of journalism in Nigeria and immortalise Rev Townsend.
He said elaborate and comprehensive arrangements had been concluded to celebrate the event in Abeokuta where the journey began on 23 November, 1859. According to him, the event would feature the inauguration of a Nigeria Media Hall of Fame and an institute, Media Research and Training Centre. Also, there would be a media exhibition and gala/award night for past and present media practitioners, he assured. The event will hold on March 22 to 24, 2019.
Nigerian journalists, past and present, including those outside the country and members of Rev Townsend family are expected to grace the occasion. He said the Governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, had graciously consented to host the event.
All roads will, therefore, lead to Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, on that date to celebrate a profession that gave birth to Nigeria, made enormous contributions, sacrifices and brought tremendous honour and glory to our nation.
A big salute to Nigerian journalists as they converge in Abeokuta for the occasion.
Ogbuehi, a journalist, wrote from Eagle Island, Port Harcourt.