In early 1999 when Media Trust marked its first anniversary of publishing in Kaduna, Alhaji Mamman Daura, former editor of the New Nigerian described the North a hostile environment to publishing. He used a more definite concept only people of his generation could probably use but my documentation are too scattered in different parts of the country at the moment that I can’t cross check to ascertain the precise concept he used to depict the degree of difficulty in publishing in the North. Perhaps, Daily Trust might be the best resolution of this by publishing again for our reflections Mamman Daura as well as Dr Tanimu Abubakar, (ABU, Zaria)’s presentations at that occasion.
The point about this recollection is to capture the journalistic achievement of Sam Nda Isaiah in establishing the Leadership group of newspapers. This point, I think, was downplayed during his recent birthday bash both by Ndah himself and the other actors.
Those of us who were early staff of Media Trust when it came on board in 1998 cannot easily forget the tension that pervaded at the take-off point. It was like we were on a flight which was surer to crash than land safely, notwithstanding that the pilots were experienced and determined. This fear was not helped by the title of the maiden editorial of the Weekly Trust, which was “On a Wing and a Prayer”. It spoke to the tension I am talking about which the collapse of Citizen magazine a few years earlier worsened because Citizen was an effort manned by equally very well trained, experienced and well connected Northerners.
There had been overwhelming acceptance for Trust within the first one year but Mamman Daura’s statement still meant our tension was well founded. Eventually and happily, Trust overcame the turbulence of take-off and stabilised in the air, meaning not only guarantee of the stability of our monthly salary but erasing the collective stigma of the publishing toddlers of Nigeria being reserved for people above the Niger. This is particularly so that as all the newspapers that started very competitively from this part of the country had disappeared by 1999, whether one was talking of the New Nigerian, The Nigeria Standard, Herald, The Triumph, The Voice and The Hotline. It is true The Sketch, Mail; Post Express and one or two other newspapers died down South, but they were being replaced by even more vibrant presses. This was not happening in the North.
So, when Leadership newspaper group entered the market in 2004, there was a sense of joy about the promise of diversification, particularly at the regional level. I make this regional point because the North is even in greater need of the values of a modern newspaper or the media generally than any other Nigerian region. The diversity of culture and identities, the historical tension embedded in that diversity and the imperative for healing all require what Kabir Yusuf of Trust has called the Town Hall facility of the mass media.
In this context, it is a thing of joy that beyond Trust and Leadership families, there is also the intelligent People’s Daily and the perceptive Blueprint. I am certain that Media Trust is happy that the leaders cum owners as well as majority of the journalists in these newer presses cut their teeth or have roots in Trust. It is a privilege which has, unfortunately, eluded the NNN since, apart from “Sheikh” Mohammed Haruna, there is almost no leading light in Nigerian journalism now who had his roots in the NNN. Hajiya Bilkisu is a Triumph product, not NNN.
The point in all these is that Sam Nda Isaiah has made a significant contribution to media diversity in the North. Again, I say the North not because Leadership or any of the other emerging newspapers in the region made any explicit chauvinistic commitment to the region but because locational/audience sensibility is a powerful reality in news judgment and publishing. A media house does not need to pretend a global canvass to serve humanity. Most media houses are actually local and it is that concrete location in space that gives it discursive power.
The jury is still out on the media in Nigeria. The press has been generally perceived as the graveyard of the First Republic and even of the Nigerian State. This is what many scholars, both right and left wing and even the centrists have said if we add what Anthony Enahoro has said to what Ayu, Oyovbaire, Bala Usman have written. At the time of this assessment, the new generation newspapers that came in after Structural Adjustment such as ThisDay, The Sun were not key players yet in the media. This is not to talk of those like Trust, The Nation, Leadership, People’s Daily, The Mirror, Blueprint which came in only last night. But while we are waiting for the jury on this, especially on the emergent presses, I cannot imagine what it would have been in Nigerian politics between 1998 and 2004 if there was no Media Trust, publishing initially from Kaduna and then Abuja, providing its own mediation of Nigeria by her querulous regional elite.
Additionally, whatever problem the media might have posed or still pose to democracy, they employ and (some) pay salaries, many of them as and when due; they give people voice, they contribute to literacy and general education and, above all, to peace to the extent that every media house, no matter how partisan, is inherently a platform for jaw-jawing as opposed to the war-war option.
In the case of Sam Nda Isaiah, there is a personality dimension to it. Hajiya Zainab Okino of Blueprint has captured it all by describing him as the leading apostle of business unusual. It is defined by a breeziness that is as annoying as it is admirable. In sum, this publisher is aggressive and involved. He is in the business of selling news as much as in news making. But there is an admirable element in his business unusual. That is the element of Professor Claude Ake’s reason for setting up his Centre for Advanced Social Sciences, (CASS) in Nda Isaiah’s logic of business. Ake advocated exploring the ‘business’ side of our profession so that we can reify ourselves at our own pace. He did not list the areas this reification extends to but I am sure it would include materially, culturally and, by implication, politically. It is not impossible that Sam Nda Isaiah has read Professor Okwudiba Nnoli’s articulation of the Ake thesis on this.
Whether he read it or is practicing it from a different mindset, Ndah, as a risk bearer, (publishing involves risk taking) cannot be put in the same bracket with those who want to make money without risk taking. To this extent, and to the extent that there is nowhere in the world where a 50 year old man or woman running a relatively successful newspaper would thus not be entitled to congratulate him or herself in a razzmatazz, here is a belated happi b-day to Chairman!
Onoja wrote from UINo tags for this post.