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Journalism isn’t where you get your reward in naira, kobo – Aderinokun

Otunba Eddie Aderinokun a renowned journalist was born July 13, 1940 in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Chief Aderinokun, former Editor, Daily Express and one time Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) is not comfortable with what he described as below-standard pace at which journalism profession in Nigeria today is running.
The President-General, National League of Veteran Journalist (Nigeria) spoke to Bashir Adefaka on how to sustain the  standard of the profession.  Excerpt:

Do you think journalists have helped to reshape government’s policies for proper development?

PREES-billWe are retrogressing geometrically from what we grew up to know.  Even some of the bad situation we journalists were barking about have grown worse. Well, they still bark at some of these things, but I think we were more combative in doing such things in our own time.  The society is decaying more and more and journalism doesn’t seem to be keeping pace with it.

There are still some racists in the deserts, you know, I am not making blanket condemnation of it.  In any profession or any vocation, not all the eggs are bad but lopsidedly, not in all cases compared with what happened in our time, things are not the same.

But you are our own?

Yeah! I am your own that is why you came to interview me.  So if you people are ready to learn from my words, I will say, you should up your standard more.  Even if it means death in the process, yes!  That is what we all signed for. Just like in the Army: you are supposed to defend the interest of the nation to the last.  Even in medical, there is something about it that has to do with life.

It is not the fourth estate of the realm.  Even after the executive, legislature and the judiciary, the next profession that is considered noble enough is journalism as the Fourth Estate.  And I know that a lot rests on our shoulders but the new generation is lacking in these things.

I was digging in the memoirs of one of our past heroes in journalism, Mac Alabi.  In one of the intereviews they granted him, he talked about the question of money.  Money was not the issue in our own time.  You rather get your story and walk home penniless than  mortgage your integrity, because that story is something that makes your life even if not in money terms and you will say oh! you feel fulfilled.  But that is no more, no more and no more like that!

We pray, however, that there is a change.  Well some people give excuses that these things cut across all strata of society.

Yes, but it shouldn’t be so.  That is why some people are there as watchdogs.  Oh because the policemen are corrupt, the judiciary corrupt, does it mean that journalists too should be corrupt?  No.  it shouldn’t be so.

I am  not saying they are angels; because they too are products of the society; but,  it’s sickening.  Some of us, sometimes, feel like committing suicide when you see some of the acts that negate what we  fought for.

Will I be right to infer from your submissions that journalism  therefore deserves not the much noise about Freedom of Information its practitioners are clamouring for since they themselves, like you said, have derailed from the ethics?

No.  Look, look, I may sound very discordant, but you don’t get hold of the season.  This Freedom of Information thing, I may sound like lone voice in a desert but I don’t think some of my colleagues will share that idea.  Yes, there is nothing wrong in opening up the space more for information to flow in, but if it doesn’t flow in, you go there and get it.

The worst is that you die in the process!

Look at these people who they celebrate as journalists abroad, I saw a lady – photographer – you see pellets of bullets, yet, you continue to take your photographs, you don’t mind.  This girl lost half of her skull, the face was completely battered.

Yet, she kept on.  And she didn’t regret any bit of it.  Even Christiana Paul, as brave and notable as she is, she gave credit to that lady.  That was a photojournalist.

Is it not because journalists here are poorly remunerated and lack good welfare package to want to die for the course?
That is a point.  But if you have signed for something, so it is.  Even soldiers: I saw something in the President of Gambia.

Recently he was inspecting the houses of soldiers that propped up his regime in Banjul and who were living in rat holes.  Yet it didn’t stop them from doing their duty to their country.  John Kennedy once said, not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

I agree we still need some certain enablement, empowerment to do certain things.  But we should not elevate it to high heavens saying but for this that you will not perform.  No!

Journalism is not even supposed to be where you get your reward in terms of naira and kobo or dollars and Pounds.  That is why they call it a noble profession.  I am not saying we should live on empty stomach, but I am saying that some people have overdone it.  When I was editor of Daily Express how much was I earning?  But I was defined by what I could do for the country.

You see,  I swear to God Almighty that I had the money from journalism.  I worked locally and with international news agencies and I rode the first Mercedes Benz as an editor in this country.  I was in Lagos one day when somebody came from Accra and offered me these things.

If you served well, you’ll be rewarded.  Heaven itself sees you.  I got my first two, three cars while I was working with a part-time agency, reporting international news. We were very few then in Nigeria before they started the News Agency of Nigeria.

They didn’t consult some of us who were working for international agencies then.   The agencies were AFP, UPI and very few others.  If they wanted to set up News Agency of Nigeria, who should they call?  We were the only few people that had the experience internationally. Gabriel Irokwe, Godwin Irokwe, Ogunsekan, Bayo Rotimi and his brother, Akin Rotimi, myself, Kayode Onabanjo who died in plane crash; none of us was consulted.

That is why the News Agency of Nigeria today is not rearing its head properly in the comity of international news agencies.  Some of these things are decaying.

What do you think is the way out of this decadence?

Like I told you, it is not a blanket condemnation.  I still admire some of the practitioners but there is need for soul cleansing amongst them.  Even the good ones among them  should try and educate the others on how not to down the standard.

They should make sure that those people keep some modicum of self respect which can be the engine room of tenacity of purpose.  Frankly, some of them are really crusaders for excellence. I admire them.

Some people posit that journalists are not good managers, that they don’t practice what they preach, do you agree?

That could be true because I hear that some of them wallow in luxury living. at the expense of their colleagues. Well, that can lead people to be means they are compromising themselves and it could even make them to compromise the authorities and system they are supposed to change. Dog should not eat dog.

But it is rare in our time, seriously, because I can give you example: Bisi Onabanjo who later became the governor of Ogun State, when I joined Daily Express, not only was our salary better than the level of civil servants of that time but we got better package. If you get a front page story you take extra amount.  If you get exclusive story, you take extra amount in addition to your salary.

When you have such things, I mean, you can go to any length to perform.

We are not saying luxury is bad.  But, during our time, there was no poor working condition.  Some of our leaders who were employers at that time, lived by examples.  They would rally round you if you were tormented by one judge or police chief or anybody.  And all the media were bonded together.  If you touched one person, you touched all.

It doesn’t happen these days even to the point of when people are assassinated.  In fact we used to enjoy being locked up because when you are locked up for 24 hours you are reported being locked up and, you know, you become so popular immediately, all the newspapers would carry it.

It would be so embarrassing to the authorities that before the news continued for four, five days, they would just say ‘I beg let these people carry their wahala go.’  But it doesn’t happen any more.  I don’t know.  Everybody to his territory!  But we pray for you people.

If the purpose of this sort of interview is to stimulate you to do it better, very welcome!  That is why we are still bonded together as veteran journalists under the canopy of National League of Veteran Journalists, scattered all over the states.

I don’t know where the problem lies because our own forebearers handed over the baton to us correctly and we refuse to let go.  Whether it is we that are at fault in handing over the baton to you correctly, I leave the question to you people.

But we don’t believe that we didn’t set the standard for you because there are some people we trained who assimilated what we taught and still come back today to say thank you sir.

But how do we go about resuscitating your kind of standard considering the  challenges that go with it?

That is why I said you people don’t bond yourselves together to fight a common course.

What then do we have the NUJ for if not that?

Is that how the NUJ should be run?  NUJ is both a trade union and a professional organization.  There is no reason NUJ should not be at the protest on 29th October in Abuja.  If Falana could come from the judiciary squeezing himself to the ranks of labour, what stops the NUJ?

NUJ too is a trade union like I said.  They should be there and they should be heard loudly because they have the machineries to propagate this thing.  Even the Guild of Editors too. In fact the Guild of Editors today is not like that one we used to know in our own time.

Go to British newspapers they hardly carry the same type of headlines every day.  And let say it is even ‘Queen Elizabeth is murdered’, you find out that the headlines would differ in the sense that you would not even know it’s the same story.

Has government factor not been responsible for the reason many papers carry the same headlines?  I mean in some cases where every paper wants to play along to propagate government’s interest…

(cuts in) That is why they don’t sell well. My friend (pointing to Ben Lawrence)  recently told me that the Daily Times as at the time he worked there, it was 450,000 or so, sold.  That is one paper!  All papers put together today,  don’t sell half of that.

In fact I remember when Gbolahan Ogunsawo was editing Sunday Times, it was even 600,000 and above.
How can NUJ and the Guild of Editors be made to do the standard setting and bonding   under the present situation?
Well, may be they should call back. They, themselves who think they are veteran journalists, know that they have super veteran journalists.  They should shed the toga that they know it all.

They should go and consult their senior collegues who are still alive.

Some of them think they have seen it all, what have they seen except these mucky waters that we see today?  They should go nearer to the elders.  Like one of my poems says, and Abiola used to say so, that the river that forgets its source will dry up.  That is what is happening to you people.  You still have living legends which you can consult as oracles.

Headlines are supposed to be just few words and it is criminal to make headline mistake in three or four words.  In fact if you made such a mistake you would charge yourself and you won’t come to work the next day.  I say even the ones that are not sentences: four words headlines they make mistakes!  Front page for that matter not to talk of inside page stories.  In our own time you considered yourself sacked before you came to work.

How do you think members of the pen profession can partner government in this business of development?

You only partner who wants a partner.  Does the government want a partner?  Do your job and forget about government.

Look, you cannot wedlock with somebody who doesn’t want to be wedlock with.  But if you wedlock, well, you can journey farther and faster.  The Bible itself says two heads are better than one.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.