By Tony Momoh
I was regarded as a disappointment to many of my media colleagues  when I  was Minister of Information because of what they thought was a betrayal on my part.  I had championed the promulgation of the Nigerian Media Council Decree of 1989 which was one of the bodies, along with the National Broadcasting Commission, recommended in the Mass Communication Policy that I midwifed.

They said media practice should not be regulated, that freedom of expression was guaranteed in the Constitution.  But I left that seat an unrepentant advocate of media practice discipline, not in the type of control that imposed a censor from outside, but that control that would ensure professionalism on the part of those who chose  to practise journalism.  I wanted to protect my profession.  When I decided to go to university, from the Daily Times, I applied only to University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

It was the only university then that offered journalism at degree level.  Of the three choices I had to make, I wrote journalism, journalism and journalism.  That meant that if there was no admission for me to read journalism, I would stay put at the Daily Times  and sort myself out about what I wanted to become in life.

I knew what I wanted when I told Alhaji Babatunde Jose who was then editor of the Daily Times that I would report him to my children if I grew up and was old enough to get married and have children. He had said there was no job for me at the Daily Times.

He advised that I go back to teach, having told him I was a trained and certificated teacher.  I had every reason not to go back to the classroom in a building.  I wanted the world classroom where the populations are the blackboard to write on, and I wanted to know how to reach them, to write on them, without bias.  I had resigned from my teaching job because someone seemed to me to be unjust in his decision that I should not be released from a bond I had signed to teach for four years.

But I had had an offer of  a scholarship to read estate management in the UK.  A bond is a bond, this gentleman told me.   But the gentleman was not true to his insistence that I serve the bond. His daughter who also had signed a bond was let off to travel to England to do her A Levels and later go to University.  I had myself had those papers before I left the Government Teacher Training College, Abraka. So pissed off was I that in angry reaction, I sent a letter to the Anglican diocese that I would no longer teach for them and would also no longer go to church.  I said I judge institutions by those who run them.

I had years before,  gone to teach for the Anglican Mission because a Muslim in the local council had asked me for a bribe of five pounds before I would be employed as a teacher.  How can a Muslim with the Quran in his hand and the five times of praying in one single day,  routinely kept, be asking for a bribe? I said I would no longer be a Muslim because I judge institutions by those who run them.

It took years for me to come to the recognition that you are on your own for whatever you do here on earth, that the Bible and the Quran show you the way and leave you with the choice to follow or not to follow it, and bear responsibility for your decision.
The story I have told is meant to register my consistency in holding strongly to what I believe.  Jose, having employed me in the Daily Times so that I would not report him to my children, I decided to put everything I had into that profession. I did not say I was Tony for fun.  I wanted to be like Tony Enahoro.

At 26, he was editor in the Zik Press group.  Tony Enahoro  did not just spit fire as a journalist.  He ate it.   When Zik felt it was not advisable to chair a lecture that called on Nigeria to revolt against British colonial rule, Tony who had just left prison, went to Tom Jones Hall to preside over the tempestuous and seditious outbursts of Osita Agwuna in the lecture he titled, A Call to Revolution.  Tony was sent back to jail along with those who were active in the Zikist Movement and even those seen with copies of the lecture.

I loved Tony and as a young man growing up, I said I would follow the path Tony walked, not as an owner of a newspaper, but as a professional worker in one. My being in journalism was therefore not a chance thing.  I wanted to make a career of that great profession.  So after a degree in journalism, I went to read law to strengthen me in that arena where publication has a meaning different from what would bind you  in a personal letter to a girl friend.

So since I have been in journalism, I have tried to do what its tenets preach – fairness, balance, et al.  I knew the limitations dictated by ownership and control mechanisms, and that was why I resisted the temptation to work for a state government-owned  newspaper when I was invited to do so.  Oh yes, I knew that he who pays the piper must always be tempted to dictate the tune; and the Daily Times taught us how to put into practice, the mantra of news being sacred and comments being free. My self exposure, no it is not self-praise, is my anger at how the decision by a Federal High Court in Lagos is being taken.

The court pronounced on a 1999 case that the Nigerian Press Council Decree which is now deemed to be an act of the National Assembly is not an existing law because it undermines  respect for human rights.  Having reproduced copiously the provisions of the Decree and the amended version of 1999, the judge said:   “The Act has rather created an illicit ombudsman in the council, which will certainly be used to define and tailor the editorial directions and policies of the media.

This is not the dream of our constitution makers. The dream is for a free speech country where views and opinions are shared openly, freely through any medium whatsoever without threat or sanction…”

We continue Next Week


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