By Norbert Chiazor
Does Okowa read The Pointer Newspaper? I once saw a picture of the governor, holding a copy of the Delta state-owned paper. With both hands spread on the tabloid, he sat raptly, his bright eyes hooked in frozen attentiveness on the publication.
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It is hard to hazard a guess whether the photo was staged as endorsement stunt for The pointer or vintage shot of Okowa scanning the paper. Cameo appearance by a celebrity is a much sought after validation by the media in corporate image advertisement.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president once said he was averse to reading Nigerian dailies. A subtle strategy to spurn and block notice of press criticism, so caustic in the Obasanjo era.
Well, most political personages snub media content. The reason is simple. Journalists speak truth to power. Bitter truth.
The casual photo of Okowa and The Pointer saw some time ago raced to my consciousness during a recent visit unplanned, to the Nnebisi road headquarters of the media establishment.
What drew interest was the exterior of The Pointer which wore a new face- glitters of fresh paint, busy parking lot and foreground paved with crisp interlocking tiles. A contrast to jaded walls and dusty courtyard the eyes beheld months ago.
Immediately inside the newspaper house, a new awakening surged. The place had been reworked with significant changes. At the centre of the building stood a compact structure, non-existent less than a year ago. A glass door led forward to a pleasant sight. An expansive newsroom facility decorated to ultra-modern class. Most of the information devices required in a standard newsroom were there, complimented by a cosy ambience.
Few of the staff exposed to the chance visit were grinning in the newsroom. One, a line editor laughed that it is a new dawn. At a brisk encounter in the computer room, the General Manager of The Pointer Monday Uwagwu, a naturally quiet man was in a gay mood. The fortunes of The Pointer had witnessed appreciable lift through internally generated revenue. The outgone management and its successor combined in due diligence.
By far the most telling success story of The Pointer is encapsulated in the political will of the state government. Only a peculiar government focused on the hilt, could have moved a public establishment, bogged down by endemic bureaucracy and institutional lethargy to show innovation and enterprise.
Governor Okowa is educated. He is a medical doctor. A book worm. He may have resolved to pay heed to The Pointer because knowledge fascinates him.
With a zealous aide, a trained journalist as commissioner for information, Mr Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu, former press secretary to the governor, the progressive sail of The Pointer becomes plausible.
The Pointer newspaper deserves all goodwill, given its advanced history. The 25 year -old newspaper is a brood of The Nigeria Observer title, one of the oldest regional dailies published by the defunct Bendel state government.
The pioneering status of The Observer inherited by the Edo state government after the split of Bendel in 1991 remains unassailable. Those who championed post-colonial journalism, beginning from the eve of Nigeria’s independence, worked in The Observer in Benin – city, established in 1968. Powerful journalists like Abiodun Aloba ( Ebenezer Williams ) Tom Borha (Tom B) Adun Akenzua, (now Enogie of Obazuwa) Lindsay Barrett, Pius Agwu, Eric James, Mike Oputa, Andy Akporugo, Elo Ekeli, Nduka Obaigbena who worked as satirical cartoonist- Lekeleke, Barrister Oseheni Uzamere, Kate Oyegun and Miniere Amakiri among others.
The story of Amakiri then Nigeria Observer correspondent in Rivers state is eye-popping. He was given 24 lashes of a cane on the orders of military governor Alfred Diette- spiff for publishing teachers’ strike in Rivers State on the day the governor was celebrating his birthday in 1973.
His ADC Asp Ralph Iwowari summoned Amakiri to the government house in Port Harcourt where his head was shaved with a broken bottle, followed by severe flagging. The repression generated local and international outrage. Fiery Lawyer Gani Fawehinmi later sued the Rivers government on behalf of NUJ and newspaper publishers and Diette-Spiff paid huge legal damages.
Samuel Ogbemudia as military Governor distributed The Observer nationwide with aircraft and also installed communication gadgets in its bureaus across Nigeria.
- Norbert Chiazor is the Special Assistant to Governor Okowa on Media.