By Gambo Dori
THE Easter holidays are just around the corner yet the tempo of activities have not abated all over the country. In fact in Abuja, where I live, the beehive of activities was relentless starting with the Daily Trust Newspaper which had taken the week on to celebrate its 20th year. I was present at one of the well-attended functions which held at the NAF Conference Centre in Abuja on Thursday. The event which was a panel discussion with a theme: ‘Journalism as Business’ was crowded by a cross section of the Abuja society, especially those that had been in the newspaper industry for years.
Forget the theme of the panel discussion it really was a gathering to celebrate the deserved success story of the Daily Trust and reminisce over the good and bad times faced by journalists over the years. With a distinguished panel comprising Senator Chris Anyanwu, Frank Aigbogun, Dapo Olorunyomi and Yinka Adebayo, moderated by the ace broadcaster Kadaria Ahmed, the discussions were richly flavoured with the right mix of wisdom and anecdotes to make the occasion convivial. The comments that flowed from the special and other guests were equally rich, and acknowledged the fact that despite the challenges posed by technological changes, journalism can indeed survive the changing times.
As I sat among these many distinguished reporters and writers I also found myself reflecting on the year I have been privileged to spend writing on the back page of the Daily Trust and the many years spent preparing for it. It was a great opportunity coming into this open arena after spending over thirty years in the closet environment of the civil service. It was a life well spent behind the veil and in the shadows working in what many readers would consider as humdrum offices in the civil service, in locations that ranged from Maiduguri to Abuja.
No, nothing prepares you for this as I have been asked a number of times by many readers. Nothing prepares one but reading good books and appreciating good writing. I can say that I have been an avid reader of newspapers that were available when I was growing up in Maiduguri in the 1960s. I refer to Daily Times and Sunday Times and the Hausa language newspaper, Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo. In those times, I could even save enough from my school allowance of a few pence a day to buy at least a copy of a newspaper once or so a week to read and share with friends who had similar interest. I was barely in my teens when I once ventured to write to the opinion page of Gaskiya Tafi Kwabo on a subject I felt strongly about, and was surprised when it was published.
In the secondary school one had his horizon further broadened as I went to Keffi, far away from my home. There in my more senior years I became a regular contributor to the weekly House Board Magazine and even ended up its Sports Editor. However it was when I moved to ABU Zaria in 1972 that I found plenty of writing opportunities. I seized all the opportunities available by contributing short stories to the English Department journal and was surprised that I was always published. ABU was then the intellectual hub of the North and with a small student ratio to tutors, there was close rapprochement with the teachers.
Tutors took particular interest to mentor their students. It was my fortune to have as mentors John Haynes of the English Department and Paul Clough a young man that had just come to teach World Contemporary History. They took particular interest in some of us and introduced us to a variety of writers while also inviting us weekly to their houses to discuss books and other contemporary issues over cups of coffee and piles of food. They also encouraged us to write and also took the trouble to read and edit our juvenile efforts. John even presented one of my short stories on behalf of ABU to a national competition in preparation for the National Festival of Arts in 1973 and we were all taken aback when the story won the first prize for the North Central zone. I recall travelling to Kaduna from Zaria to collect my certificate which came with a princely sum of twenty naira (N20) from Umaru Dembo then Secretary, North Central State Arts Council.
It was when I moved from Samaru to Kongo campus in late 1973 to begin the proper undergraduate course in the School of Business that I got into campus journalism. Myself, interested colleagues in my department as well as a few from the Law department decided to establish a campus paper to fill a void as the contemporary magazines the Bee and the Whip had been suspended for some infractions by the university authorities. Our paper was named the Shadow and I was voted Editor-in-chief and had on the Editorial Board Senlong Chrysanthus, Yisa Ndana Abraham, Ibrahim Bala Mairiga, Bawa Ibrahim, along with our younger colleagues Onje Gye-Wado and Christopher Bulus. Our paper took the normally staid Kongo Campus by storm with stories and cartoons that now with the benefit of age one would describe as lurid. They were interesting times and kept me writing till my final year when I had to relinquish the post of editor to Christopher Bulus.
The most interesting writing times were however in the public service. When in the mid-80s I moved from Chad Basin Development Authority where I spent the initial part of my career into Borno State Civil Service, I got assigned to head the Political Department in the Governor’s Office. As was the practice then the department was the hub of writing constantly in demand on a daily basis to produce speeches and briefs on a variety of issues for the use of the Governor. The demand for briefs and speeches was so much especially when Governors toured that we became a mobile secretariat since we had to move at any time carrying along all those bulky typewriters and printers of those bye gone ages. I had a team of brilliant and carefully selected young men in my team of writers, Hassan Saleh, Abba Zoru Bashir, Dauda Yahaya, Baba M Wali, Hayatuddeen Umar, Baba Saleh Damagum, Waziri Ngurno and we got on like a house on fire.
It was the same kind of experience one had in the State House, Abuja, where I was posted when I moved into the Federal Civil service at the beginning of this political dispensations in 1999. I was fortunate to be posted to the Political Office of the Vice-President. There were no dull moments working under the tutelage of Dr. Usman Bugaje, the Political Adviser, who had already made a name as a political and civil rights activist. The tempo did not relax when Prof. A D Yahaya took over in the second term – – I was lost in this reverie, not realising that the occasion was coming to a close. The loud and clear diction of Mannir Dan-Ali the Daily Trust CEO was wafting over the hall telling the audience how the paper would be responding to the rapid changes within the newspaper and media industry. Now that newspapers no longer break news, he said, the idea is to continue to give context to stories and analysis so that readers can understand the stories and their implications. These were great words to look into the future, I thought.