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Macebuh was not a Nigerian

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By Bob Anikwe

THE recent passage of Dr. Stanley N. Macebuh closes a chapter in Nigeria’s golden age of journalism, inspired by two New York imports. Macebuh was one, Dele Giwa the other. Macebuh and Giwa were hired to work in Daily Times.

In his tribute to Giwa, who was assassinated in 1986, Macebuh revealed how Dr. Patrick Dele Cole employed him, how he was subsequently sent to New York to recruit Giwa, and the difficulties he had convincing Giwa to return and take up the job.

Macebuh and Giwa were soul mates.

Macebuh was the intellectual. He loved life, was kind to people, and stood behind journalists whenever their works ruffled the feathers of the powerful and mighty. Giwa, was the professional, with his prior experience in the New York Times. He also loved life, action, and the pursuit of journalism excellence. Their newsroom panache inspired a new generation of media freedom fighters when they created two of the best known and most powerful media institutions in Nigerian – The Guardian and Newswatch.

Those who learned at the foot of these masters have since fanned out and planted their editorial footprints in the sands: Almost 80 percent of the great media institutions that came after Guardian and Newswatch were either founded or editorially directed by their apostles.

Through their tutelage and the force of their ideas, the Nigerian media came to the battle, armed with lucid and powerful editorial arguments and investigative reports that exposed inept and corrupt leadership, as they fought to wrest Nigeria from the iron grip of military rule.

Their efforts stung the military which lashed out viciously, beginning with the jailing of Messrs Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson when Macebuh was at the helm in The Guardian, the assassination of Dele Giwa himself, the CEO of Newswatch, and following with a spate of detentions, closures, jail terms, and other physical abuses of journalists and their media.

Macebuh was in this warfront. It was barely a year after he assembled his Guardian team that the military began its onslaught on the newspaper. Dele Giwa was a warrior, and eventually paid with his life for his editorial daring. His boys eventually spread to other advocacy news magazines to wage a long and relentless battle with military dictatorship in Nigeria.

The panache and fact-based methods that were used to press the case for democracy won them many admirers. Both Macebuh and Giwa were to end up earning the admiration and friendship of military top brass, although they never allowed such friendships to intrude on the editorial independence of the newspaper and magazine that they managed.

Macebuh counted among his friends the late Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. All three offered to assist him stand on his feet when he left The Guardian. Through late Gen. Yar’Adua, he briefly relocated to Kaduna to found a weekly magazine, Sentinel; the venture lost steam through a combination of poor funding and internal management wrangles.

Through Gen. Babangida, he briefly tried his hands at sugar importation, but this business also did not fly due to what was described as deadly local competition. Through Gen. Obasanjo, he became a public servant, serving at the highest levels of government. This was after his innovative Rapid Response (Media) Team packaged the General, just released from prison, and successfully sold him to Nigerians as “the leader we can trust” in 1999. Unfortunately, his puritanical beliefs and spartan disposition at Aso Rock pitched him against the power mongers, and he recorded the distinction of being the only one that was appointed and sacked twice by his friend, ex-President Obasanjo.

It was after his second sack from the Aso Villa, that Dr. Macebuh became disillusioned and dropped out completely from the social circuits. Aided by an illness that took him to a major surgery at the National Hospital in Abuja, his life experienced a radical transformation.

Although he was my boss at The Guardian, I never met Dr. Macebuh face-to-face until I came to work in the State House Abuja in 2003. He was then Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and I was a consultant in Mr. Ad’Obe’s State House Public Communications Unit. I requested to see him when I learnt that he held a grudge against me for “refusing” to take up the editor position in the Post Express.

When I told him my side of the story, he was shocked and saddened. It became clear to him that his friend, who was asked to, did not reach out to me. As it turned out, this friend wanted someone else, and so went back after a few days to lie to Dr. Macebuh that I was not interested in the position.

I got to know and appreciate him a lot better after that, and I can say that Macebuh lived and died with two “weaknesses”.

He remained till the end the ethical professional, in a country where the worth of a man is sometimes measured by the millions that one is able to shave off from the company till, combined with what one begs, blackmails, or coerces from those stealing public funds.

He trusted everybody, most of all his friends. This gave some of them room to stab him in the back, or to snatch his ideas and appropriate them as their own. He did not get used to the “Nigerian way”, where those with less abilities tag along with the man of ideas, and, at the critical moment, snatch the ideas, proffer it to those that need them, and thereafter insist to the world that this was their “baby”.

In that sense, Dr. Stanley Macebuh was not a “Nigerian”, thank God. Men of goodwill in the profession must pray that the ideas that he and Dele Giwa introduced to Nigerian journalism will not die with them.

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