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Why Ojukwu’s declaration landed us in trouble – Macaulay

Adejumobi Adesola Macaulay was Commissioner for Information and Culture in the Brigadier-General Raji Rasaki military administration of Lagos State.  Now, he is into private businesses as  a major player in the manufacturing sector and Public Relations. 

Born in Kaduna on May 8, 1944, Mr. Macaulay started out as Trainee Reporter with Daily Express; worked under Chief Bisi Onabanjo at the Nigerian Tribune; was Reporter/Sub-Editor with Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) before joining the Lagos State Government as Head of Information Service (HIS).

He moved to Radio Lagos as Director of News and Current Affairs where he acted as General Manager of the radio station before his stint in the former National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) where he retired as Assistant General Manager, Public Relations.  He spoke to BASHIR ADEFAKA at his residence on  reporting under complex situation. Excerpts:

What is your view of the state of journalism now, it seems there is blend of politics with it?

To be frank with you, news is absolutely news.  It revolves around events, personalities and at that stage, there is no dichotomy.  You don’t look at a person because he belongs to this party or that. There could be a news personality because of his influence within the society or the country at large.

Let me give you an example, when I was Director of  News and Current Affairs for Radio Lagos and Television, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the President of the country, had his first nationwide broadcast on the annual budget and I came into the office only to discover that none of my colleauges in the newsroom monitored it.

The Chief Reporter did not even send somebody to the House of Representatives or the Senate to bring back the news just because Lagos State was a UPN (Unity Party of Nigeria) state while the Federal Government was being controlled by NPN (National Party of Nigeria).

And I had differences with my colleagues over that.  So I had to go to the NTA on my own to collect a tape of the broadcast and used it as part of our bulletin.

What was the reaction of the state government you were working for?

Nothing. There was another incident where I saw myself clearly as a journalist. There was a programme which I introduced on Radio Lagos then: “The News Maker” through which we threw searchlight on news personalities every Saturday.  We looked at you either from the economic, political, socio-cultural or any other contribution to the society and we would invite you.

And I had a misfortune, let me use that, misfortune of inviting Sulaiman Takuma, the General Secretary of the NPN to come to Radio Lagos to feature as News Maker.  A contingent of members of the party came along with him.  Dr. Wahab Dosumnmu, who is a senior brother, also came with him.

We finished recording on that Saturday.  By evening of the same day, my Chairman  who happened to be a senior colleague, phoned me and said: Macaulay, ah, I heard of all the things that took place this afternoon with all these NPN boys and things like that.

I was so disturbed.  I sent the tape of that programme to him.  He was very apologetic; he felt sorry that he hurt me.  Some people gave him a wrong information of what transpired.

I looked at Sulaiman Takuma from the news point of view, not from his political background,  put him on a hot seat.  That was the objective and it turned out that people read politics into it.

For a long time when I was there, I tried to strike a balance. When you see Lagos State news, you see UPN stories, you see Waziri Ibrahim stories, you see Jim Nwobodo stories, you will see NPN stories and that was how I managed the news content of Radio Lagos then.  Although I had brushes with politicians who felt why should we air so, so and so on the bulletin when they never featured us on FRCN, their Radio Nigeria?

But that was to our own advantage: People saw us as having a broad-based bulletin and they rather listened to us than listening to FRCN at that time and that was how I charted my course.

Did you expect it would get that hot?

Yes. I thought when you are working in government radio station, you are just there purely as a journalist to do your work. I didn’t know that I had to attend certain meetings and my views were not welcomed because they were seen as too independent and  did not suit the powers that be at that time.

When I got fed up, I left the state government and went into Public Relations.  I later headed  the Public Relations  unit of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) for ten years as AGM.  In fact, Alex Nwokedi whom you interviewed was there before me.  He went to NNPC and I took over at NEPA.  Alex started with ECN but when I got there, it was NEPA.

These days, politicians establish newspapers to serve their  political motives. Don’t you think this could be responsible for the collapse in standard of journalism practice as it is said that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’?

Yes. I agree with you.  But you see,working in a newspaper of that nature, demands that you have ideological leaning towards the party, which owns the paper.

That is the only time you can succeed either as the editor or managing director of such a newspaper.  But where you want to chart an independent course as a journalist  who wants to run the paper as it should be, you will run into conflict  with the management of that newspaper and virtually, you will have to quit.

Unfortunately, such things never allowed us to have standard again because, you have to dance to the tune of the owners.  I mean, you open the pages of some newspapers and some of the things you read there definitely show the tendencies of that paper itself.

So these are some of the problems that journalists face in order to survive.  That is the word: ‘In order to survive.’
Is there no way we can bridge the gap between loyalty to employer and professionalism?

Fine, there is.  But let me first of all discuss training in journalism.  In our own time, there were no universities for journalism.  A lot of us went through  the diploma programmes. Some went to Regent Street Polytechnic in England but I went to East Germany, International Institute of Journalism in East Berlin.

Training exposure to graduate-level journalism started nearly some twenty years now.  And when you look at that, it has developed.  For example, some graduated in English, then later went to read journalism.  They have got the background. But some of us came straight from secondary school either with A’level or school certificate to the profession and  then go for diploma programme in journalism.  That is the difference with the trainings.

But unfortunately nowadays,  when you read newspapers; some even don’t know the names of people, some don’t know the difference between ‘formerly’ and ‘formally’. So, it is either their educational background is not sound or something is wrong with them.

Even those you employed as proof-readers, their standard of proof-reading has gone down.  You read newspapers and there are so many errors even in headlines. But these are the things editors should tackle through close monitoring.

Now you are asking me how to bridge the gap in terms of loyalty to your employer and absolute professionalism.  Honestly, in my case I resigned.

(cuts in) Simply because it was not possible?

And I know a few colleagues, like late Peter Ajayi left the Nigerian Herald in annoyance when he could not conform with certain things.  And I am sure Segun (Osoba) too left, may be when he was in Daily Sketch, I can’t remember now.

So these are some of the problems the average journalist faces.  You get to a stage you find out that you can no longer conform, or else it damages your own image and professionally.

I will mention to you some newspapers that have had people who had such experiences: There was the Post Group of Newspapers, owned by the Federal Government in those days.  The paper died merely because journalists who ran it became parochial.  And you see, you cannot influence the reading pattern of Nigerians: We are too sophisticated to be decided for between the lines.

When you read newspapers, at times, you see  events of national importance, which they should use as rallying point to bring people together, they used it for parochial purpose and that destroyed that paper completely and that was the end.

Look at Daily Independent, when you see it, you see Oduduwa in a pull-out which reflects on the Southwest; you see Arewa and that is balancing the news.  You do not just go about writing the editorials that are subjective in nature.

This interview is meant to teach lessons.  Don’t you think there is need to appeal to publishers or government to allow journalists in their media to be more professional?

When Concord was being established, Egbon, who was Editor of Daily Times, Henry Odukomaiya was invited as editorial adviser to advise the publisher, Chief MKO Abiola on how to go about the setting up.  He had been City Editor when we were in Express and City Editor in Jos.

He did the same thing for New Nigerian.  When you bring in  experienced people, to guide in the formation of editorial policies at the formative stages of the newspaper, you will see that people will blend, your employer will be able to understand your orientation as a journalist working for him. You now have somebody in the background who can always intervene.

When the proprietor at this stage wants to disagree editorially with you, he has an editorial adviser who happens to be a senior journalist himself and who will say ah, let’s see it this way.

That is to say, employers on their own should have editorial advisers who are trusted for right editorial judgment?
Yes and who should be senior journalists.

But President, governors and most of the owners do this, yet, they are not comfortable when the journalist is doing his job.

They are being human, let me put it that way.  They are being human and that is the way I want us to look at it.
Considering what journalism profession used to be at your time and now, what are your regrets and what are your consolations?

I have enjoyed journalism as a profession.  I have never had any regret going into journalism because, it is a profession that exposes you to life.  You are not restricted in your disposition to human beings.  It emboldens you because you have seen the rise and fall of human beings.

You worked with NBC.  How was it at your time?

At the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation, we had late Horatio Agedah who was our Director of News and Current Affairs and then we had Mallam J. H. Donli, who was then Assistant Director of News.We had Mr. Henry Akin Allen who was the first Editor of Nigerian Tribune before he came over to Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation.

So, honestly, when you work with experienced journalists, they instill certain culture into you and you take a cue from their professional mien and that guided us a lot.

You see, some of them had been at BBC, they were trained in BBC and they saw how the profession was, internationally.  They brought it down to us and we imbibed that culture.And that was what I took to Radio Lagos.

But when the Civil War came in, a number of things changed.  I remember when Lt. Col. Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra, we monitored our station in Enugu because I was on duty with late Eldred Fiberesima, late Pa Olusoji Marsh, late George Hartley-Cowan, and we then prepared the bulletin. Immediately after we listened to Ojukwu, we had a bulletin that the Eastern Nigeria had seceded. But immediately within the next fifteen, twenty minutes, we had the main soldiers coming in from Dordan Barracks to question why we should carry that sort of story.

Was it not to their credit you did it?

Well, they said with the crisis going on at that time, Ojukwu declaring Republic of Biafra, we should not have carried it.That was May 29, 1967.

Perhaps, they felt your action gave prominence to the declaration that should not have been known if the press had remained quiet?

Yes. We saw it as news but the Federal Government at that time felt ah, why should you do it?  A colonel in the army then, who is now a Catholic Mosignor, Pedro Martins, came in and slapped one of our editors.  He is alive and cannot deny it.  He came and ordered that, the bulletin must not be re-broadcast.

Chief Segun Osoba had a similar experience but had the views of the military before going to press, which you at NBC did not do.  Isn’t it?

Well, in actual case, this is something of national interest. One part of Nigeria declaring itself as an independent country. This is of national importance, which should be carried.

How was it working under a  military administration?

I must confess that the military too had  a crop of cool-headed and educated officers who are broadminded. They approached a lot of things with some elements of humanism and they listened also to the civilians.

So, in our own time, that was General Ibrahim Babangida time and I worked under Brigadier-General Raji Rasaki, we ran an efficient information service. That was when we started Radio Lagos and Television. We built those stations there. It was one of my projects and they are still there.

What is your advice for the young journalists?

In the first instance, you have to be prepared to face challenges in the profession. It is hazardous. There may be a story that people would want to kill and unfortunately, you as an editor or reporter have access to such a news items. You can be compromised.

That is why you find sometime that some colleagues are killed or assassinated.  The journalist is a harmless human being.  He is exposed therefore to a lot of dangers because, people know the weapon you possess. You can expose them and some do not like it.  That is why I said you must be bold and be prepared to face challenges.

Be prepared also to be educated because, it is not for illeterates.  In the course of the profession, you also learn.  These are areas you look at.  Basic education is important and  you must have the flair  to search and be able to feel the pulse of a situation. You have to be fearless too.


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