By Gambo Dori
PERHAPS nothing had attracted so much attention in the media than the quiet and subdued celebrations surrounding the 80th birthday of Malam Mamman Daura, editor of the New Nigerian Newspaper, in its heyday of the 1970s. Much had been written, some of it quite bellicose but I guess the great journalist he is, he could take such flaks, probably with even a hearty laugh. Those who have grown under his wings have written glowingly of him. I never had the privilege of working directly with him, but I am one of those who made reading the New Nigerian a daily must throughout my university days in Zaria 1972-76. That period coincided with when Malam Mamman was in his element in the New Nigerian, both as lead writer in the editorial commune and I suppose also the lead writer behind that faceless, satirical Candido column.
Those were the days long before the advent of the social media and the all-knowing google. Newspapers were the source of solid hard news and entertaining writing. The titles were few. The Daily Times titles along with the New Nigerian ones dominated the market. Their editors and columnists were household names. In the Daily Times group one can easily recall Alhaji Alade Odunewu whose column Allah-De was my best reading on Sundays along with Gbolabo Ogunsanwo and Sam Amuka of the Sad Sam fame. I recall how sad I felt when Alade signed off his column sometimes in 1973 to take up the post of Commissioner of Information in Lagos State.
When the Exco council was dissolved in 1975, Alade held another public office as Commissioner for Public Complaints before returning to his beat in 1978. Unfortunately for us who followed his earlier writings the flavour was never the same. Gbolabo Ogunsanwo took early retirement and Sam Amuka though still holding the flames high as Publisher of Vanguard at the venerable age of 84 has stubbornly refused to be cajoled to pick up his rested pen. The New Nigerian of that period was a different kettle of fish altogether. There the Editor’s name appeared every day in the paper but the most influential column, Candido, was steadfastly made anonymous. When confronted with the column you only saw that blank, indifferent, look of the mask and continue to imagine the face behind it. Those who were in the paper at that time alluded to the fact that a coterie of senior writers contributed to the weekly column, prominent among whom was another legendary Editor of the paper, Adamu Ciroma, who had then moved upstairs as Managing Director.
Nevertheless, many avid and discerning readers of the newspaper had always imagined that as Malam Mamman Daura was responsible for the editorial, he must have also been the writer of the Candido column. The Editorials were brief, employing short, short sentences; the language was crisp and hit the subject matter without beating about the bush. So was the Candido column, which, additionally, was irreverently witty. They all bore the same imprints, the unseen signatures of Malam Mamman. You could put those editorials and the Candido column alongside any of the British newspapers of the time, be it the Mirror, the Sun, the Times, the Guardian or the Telegraph and you wouldn’t find any difference in terms of style and form. The standard was the same.
Oddly enough, all this good writing in the New Nigerian newspapers of that era is now in danger of disappearing. There is a distinct possibility that in the nearest future you might seek to find those old newspapers for reference and other research endeavours and you might not find them. That would not be because they have not been warehoused for posterity. Years ago I discovered stacks of these old newspapers in the archives section of Arewa House, Kaduna. Readers may know that Arewa House is a centre of historical documentation and research and an arm of Ahmadu Bello University. The centre is located in Kaduna, purposely domiciled in the residence of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the only Premier of Northern Nigeria’s house. Besides taking hold of the Sardauna’s personal belongings, Arewa House is also a repository of most things northern ranging from artefacts, books and valuable manuscripts including newspapers most of them long dead now – The Nigerian Citizen, Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo, Jakadiya and of course the New Nigerian.
These stacks of newspapers are getting on with age. I realized that when I went to source an article written by Prof Anthony Kirk-Greene in the Nigerian Citizen in 1959 when Government College, Keffi turned 10. I discovered the article but realized that I could not photocopy it because the paper had become too fragile. In the same pack I saw articles written by the angry young men of the time, Isa Wali (later Ambassador, now sadly late) and Ambassador Shehu Malami then a student in the United Kingdom. They were in the forefront writing profusely on the prevalent social ills afflicting the North in particular – street begging, illiteracy, women empowerment.
Now many of these old newspapers have already started to give way. It is rather sad seeing those valuable papers going to pieces. Good enough, the contents of these newspapers can be salvaged and kept for posterity by the process of digitization and I understand that the capacity to do that is available within Arewa House. What is needed would be the funds to purchase the materials. Now we all know that public universities are not the best funded institutions of government and ABU would not be an exception, despite its preeminent position as a first generation university. Private funds must be garnered and targeted to specific aspects of the works in Arewa House. That’s why I raise this matter on this occasion, for friends and associates of Mallam Mamman Daura, including those of Shehu Malami and the descendants of Isa Wali and all other people of goodwill to help do the needful.