OMATSOLA: Broadcaster who announced Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, goes home

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By Emmanuel Edukugho

HE was a renowned broadcaster with specialisation in news reading, became known and acknowledged all over this country throughout the 19 years of his career.

Sir Emmanuel Aghanjuebitsi Ewetan Omatsola (KSC, OON) hailed from the family of David Omatsola Usitara of Mereje town, in Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State. He was born in Forcados, in the old Western Region, now Delta State on January 29, 1930.

After his secondary education at Igbobi College, Yaba, Lagos (1945-1950), which at that time was the only English-Model Public School in Nigeria, he joined the teaching staff of his alma mater in January 1951. Two years after, he left the teaching job and went into broadcasting in the then Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS), now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), as a member of the pioneering staff. That was in 1953.

In the same year, according to his  biography obtained during the service of songs in his honour at his residence, Plot 121, 24th Street, DDPA Housing Estate, Ugborikoko, Effurun, near Warri, Delta State, Omatsola launched into news-casting as a news-reader.

Apart from his jobs of announcing, programme presentation and programme production, he also carved a niche for himself  as a Radio Outside Broadcast (OB) commentator on national events.

These occasions include Remembrance Day Services (November 11  every year) from the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, Marina, Lagos, the visits of Queen Elizabeth II of England and Princess Anne to Nigeria, self-government celebrations in Kaduna and Enugu, the Independence Day on 1st October, 1960 and later when Nigeria became a Republic in 1963, replacing Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as President while Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa remained Prime Minister.

Omatsola

Omatsola

At midnight on the 30th of September 1960, Omatsola was the radio commentator from the Race Course in Lagos who announced to Nigeria and the whole world that “Nigeria is a free, sovereign nation,” graphically describing the ceremony of the lowering of the British Union Jack  flag and the hoisting (for the first time) of the Nigeria flag of Green, White, Green perpendicular section. The Nigerian National Anthem (Nigeria We Hail Thee), played by a Massed Band, was sung also for the first time.

Undoubtedly, he was chosen on merit for that historic and monumental assignment.

Before  this assignment, he had been prepared by his employers at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) at its Overseas Service Headquarters at Bush House, London in 1959/1960, in time to return home for the approaching Nigerian Independence Day celebrations.

He spoke the first words, introduced the then Minister of Information, Hon. T.O.S. Benson, and read the first news bulletin on the Nigerian Television Service (now Nigeria Television Authority) in 1962 when the Federal Government introduced its own television service.

In April of that same year, Omatsola spoke the first words and read the first news bulletin when Voice of Nigeria, VON, the External Service of Radio Nigeria, was inaugurated. He rose through the ranks,  combining administrative positions and functions with his main professional duties.

He became Head of Presentation, VON (supervising the overseas broadcasting materials and output from the French, Swahili, Arabic and Hausa units).

During the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War) (1967 to 1970), he was posted to head the Eastern Regional Service of Radio Nigeria at Enugu as Acting Controller. At cessation of hostilities, he supervised the three R’s (Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation) programme of the Federal Government for broadcasting colleagues and also produced and recorded the famous NO VICTOR, NO VANQUISHED broadcast by Mr. Ukpabi Asika, the then Administrator of Eastern Region to mark the surrender of Biafran forces.

The Voice of America (VOA) appointed him its stringer in Lagos for many years. On an American government scholarship, he attended Syracuse University, New York in 1962 to study mass communication with specialization in broadcasting.

Omatsola won one of his broadcasting “Caps” in 1979 when, even after he had left active broadcasting and gone into the Nigerian oil sector, he was chosen and invited by NTA to be the commentator at the ceremony at the Race Course, Lagos in which General Olusegun Obasanjo as military Head of State and his second in command, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, handed over the reins of government to democratically elected President Shehu Shagari and Vice President  Alex Ekwueme.

The ace broadcaster joined Gulf Oil Company of Nigeria Ltd and its successor Chevron Nigeria Ltd from 1971-1990 retiring as Public Affairs Manager in their field operations area which stretched from Edo State, Akwa Ibom State (the whole of the Niger Delta).

Omatsola was a foundation member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR); got, in 1995, Delta State Government Merit Award (Excellence in Media), Veteran Broadcasting Award (National Broadcasting Commission in year 2000), Member and Life Master of Ceremonies, Warri Choral Society, Honorary Citizen and Goodwill Ambassador, City of Houston, USA, Anglican Knight of the Sacred Order of St. Christopher (KSC) and the Nigerian National Honour of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON).

Before his death in 2012, and since retiring from service, he kept up his interest zealously in his professions of broadcasting and public affairs, giving advice and guidance from time to time.

Among those who attended the service of songs on Thursday, January 31st,  2013 were Chief Edwin Clark;  the National Ijaw leader; movie star, Justus Esiri; Publisher Eddie Yekovie; Ms Alero Edukugho; colleagues in the media; captains of  oil industry; Anglican Church members; the cream of Delta  personalities; and members of  social and religious groups. He was laid to rest in Mereje.

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