‘Rumour, rancour will rule the world without newspapers

Address of welcome by Malam Kabiru A. Yusuf, Chairman, Media Trust Ltd at the 9th Daily Trust Dialogue, held on January 26, 2012, at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja

Mr Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman. Thank you for coming, to the 9th Daily Trust Dialogue. I can see many regular faces here, who share with us the passion for talking. Mr Sam Amuka, perhaps the oldest and most respected publisher in Nigeria, has a simple definition for a newspaper. He calls it a town hall meeting. It is the community, speaking to itself, sometimes, it is true, at a cross purpose.

But imagine the rumour and the rancour, if these means of communication, of views and news, were not available. Certain people in power, may prefer to hear their own  voices,  or that of flatterers. But no one has yet succeeded, in shutting out those voices from below. Society thrives through debate and dialogue, not dictate and dogma.

This is what sustains us, when every morning, we convene a small town hall meeting, through our newspapers. Our accountant assures me, that many of you here, regularly attend, thank you very much. But even before we started receiving such reassuring financial report, we committed ourselves to a bigger town hall meeting, in which it is we, who pay the bill. Freedom of expression is at the heart of our business, and we are often amazed, that this passion, makes business sense.

So here we are, for the ninth consecutive year. In previous years, we beamed the searchlight on others, this year we are turning it on ourselves. As the media redefines society, we should ask that it defines itself. Newspapers risk becoming forums, where the elderly gather, to moan about the past. The young, have moved to newer and more vibrant communities, where they chat and blog and tweet, terms that did not exists 20 years ago.

Should we regret, the slow withering away, of the old media, or can newspapers and radio, reinvent themselves? How can we prevent, the excesses of the traditional media, from moving on-line and going viral? Who is to filter the content of digital media, that has gone beyond town halls, into the bedroom of teenagers? Is the media in general guilty of sensationalism, or are we blaming the messenger and not the message?

These are some of the issues, for our panel of speakers and I have no doubt they will do justice to it. They were carefully chosen and am glad that most of them are here with us.

Am not sure if Fred M’membe has ever been to Nigeria, but it shows the stuff he is made of, to make the trip when the news is not so good. Fred is an accountant, who founded and nurtured, The Post, Zambia’s leading newspaper, in 1991. He made a remarkable transition, from the world of number crunching,  to that of munching on politicians.

The Post, was an active player, in the founding of Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), which ousted President Kenneth Kaunda, and installed the country’s first democratically elected president, Mr Frederick Chiluba. But the MMD and The Post soon clashed, when the feisty newspaper, began to expose government corruption and abuses of power. The Post’s staff were frequently harassed, threatened and detained. M’membe himself has been a target of more than 50 lawsuits and faced more than 100 years in jail. Issues of the newspaper were banned or confiscated and it’s printing press raided by police and pro- MMD gangs.

Mr Chiluba, is now history and The Post and M’membe, are still very much part of the struggle, to build enduring democracy in Zambia. In September last year, in an event still rare in Africa, an opposition party, defeated and peacefully replaced, a sitting government in Lusaka. Predictably, Fred was in the forefront of this. Indeed I told a colleague of his, I met at a conference in Taiwan, that I fear we will soon loose him to government!

There many courageous journalists in Africa. Many have paid the price, of checking power, with their lives. Fred has lived, to tell us his story. By upholding the principles of press freedom, he has become a powerful force for good, in his country. He has also earned worldwide recognition and admiration. He was honoured as World Press Freedom Hero in 2000 and by the International Press Institute in 2010.

Until last week we thought we could manage to bring another well known African journalist, to join the conversation. Perhaps because he is an international television correspondent , Rageh Omaar, is very difficult to pin down. He accepted our formal invitation, after we managed to track him down through colleagues at Aljazeerah. He personally confirmed his attendance, when I saw him at a Mo Ibrahim Foundation function, in Tunis last October.

His flight has been booked, when he called a few days ago, to say he has slip disk and his doctor, has stopped him from travelling. We agreed that he will send his contribution by video. That is after all a medium, with which he is most comfortable.

Rageh made his name during the 2003 Iraq war, when working as a BBC correspondent, he braved scud missiles to report from Baghdad. He soon became the story himself, when his combination of good looks and calm intelligence, earned him the label  “Scud Stud”. Many journalist, dream, of travelling and reporting the world. Rageh is among a small elite, that has achieved this.

He did this at an age, when most of us are still learning the ropes. He was born in Magadishu, Somalia in 1967, but moved to Britain as a child. He studied Modern History at Oxford University and began his journalistic career in 1991. Being a talking head on TV, comes to him naturally. Its less than ten years since the Iraq war, but it feels as if Rageh, is a veteran of international television. No wonder, he has already written his biography at forty!

I think I can skip a bit in introducing the next two speakers. Most of us know them, they are homegrown intellectuals. One works for government, the other in academia. But I can testify to their passion for knowledge and the depth of their patriotism.

Minister of Information Labaran Maku is my junior brother. We worked as journalists in Lagos, in the early 1990’s. We were also members of a broad progressive movement, that even then, was beginning to fracture along primordial lines. But in memory of the past, and hope for a better future, we still call ourselves “Comrade”.

From the time he was a student, Labaran has a natural gift for politics. He has been deputy governor of Nasarawa state and is on his second tour of duty, as minister of the federal republic. I believe he has much to contribute to our country. More arrows to your bow, comrade minister.

Dr Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, is my senior by a year, at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I still call him PRO, because he was the spokesman of our student union government. A trained political scientist, that was as close as he came to practical politics.

After years of post graduate training in ABU and France, he has remained at Zaria, teaching and doing research. He succeeded Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, as Director of Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CEDDERT). In many ways, the mantle of committed scholarship, that made ABU a hot-bed of radical politics, has fallen on his shoulder, since the death of his mentor.

Finally a word on General Ibrahim  Babangida, who is the chair of this event. There are as many stories about Babangida, as there are narrators. After all he was our head of state, for nine turbulent years. Still a youthful seventy, there are many who believe he still has a future in politics. Love him or hate him, Babangida is one of the unique brands, produced by the Nigerian military.

So let me also tell just one IBB story. The Daily Trust was in it’s infancy; the Oputa panel was sitting; and I was in the office of a well known Lagos editor, who had shaped the editorial policies of the Daily Times and The Guardian. He took one look at the headline in the Daily Trust of that day, which quoted someone claiming that “IBB Killed Dele Giwa”, and gave me a lecture.

He said he does not admire IBB as a politician, but he likes him as a person. So whenever the newspaper he edited, published an anti-IBB story, which was often, they had a standard routine. He would call the General and say “Sir, I am reporting myself.” By then, of course in far away Minna, IBB had seen the negative report. And he would reassure the editor, calling him by his first name, “I know you could not have approved such a report, if you had seen it”!

More than most Nigerian leaders, IBB has been pilloried by the media. But still flashing his toothy smile, he was able to give as much as he got. That is why we thought, General Babangida, would make a good chairman of this occasion. He is a friend to many journalist, and an anathema to some. His government has shut down newspapers, but he is associated with establishing others. Sometimes he tries to dominate his environment, at other times, he is a study, on how to win friends and influence people.

Our special guest, Senate President David Mark, is another remarkable product of the Nigerian military. He has been elected twice by his colleagues to head the Nigerian Senate. More than any previous occupant of this office, he has managed the balancing act, of keeping the Executive and Legislature happy. During the recent fuel subsidy strike, he was the saviour of the presidency and the friend to labour. So if Maradona has hung his boots, is this the era of Lionne Messi?

Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the board and management of Media Trust Ltd, publishers of Daily Trust, it’s my pleasant duty to welcome you, to the ninth Daily Trust Dialogue. Thank You.


Filed Under: Events

About the Author

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.