Chief Obafemi Awolowo once described an ideal journalist as one who knows something about everything and everything about something . One of my friends also added that when an old man dies in Africa, it’s a whole lot of archive of documents with a library of books that have been destroyed by that singular death. I have read somewhere that Nigeria has in its section 5 of the 1999 Constitution a provision that prohibits the journalist’s raw materials like former presidents,vice presidents, chief justice of Nigeria, governors and deputy governors from working for foreign companies for obvious reasons.
Did I say journalist’s raw materials? Yes ! In advanced countries, a retired or veteran journalist ( just like a retired intelligence officer) is accorded dignifying treatment such as granting them subsidies in various ways as incentives to gallantry just the same way hefty payouts and severance allowances are being paid to ex-presidents and others who were made by journalists. I am used to the golden thought that journalists are agents of social communication that make Crisis PUBLIC and attempting therefore to resolve conflicts or crises behind the back of the members of this Fourth estate of the realm or without actively involving them by way of tapping from their collective wealth of experience is missing the whole point of conflict resolution in its entirety.
Leaving a veteran journalist ( who has seen all the wardrobe of conflicts even before the police high chiefs could smell it ) at large and uncared for by society is leaving a high intelligence officer of Scotland yard to wander off the streets of London. There is little or no wonder why today ,the BEST are leaving the REST with the profession now LEFT in the DREG .
The front liners have deserted the front line and whereas the 80 years old journalist in other ilks is either a lord of his beat or refiring into authorship with all of them assigning value to their collective experience and to the benefit of the society, the reverse is the case here in Nigeria where the veteran is a Mr or Mrs nobody.
The society is yet to ask why the word “veteran” and the word ” senator” are same cognate , sharing the same Latin root . Just as the root word for senate is from Latin ” senatus”, from ” senex” meaning old ( man) so also the root word veteran is “veteranus” from ” vetus”,veteris” meaning old. Going by a correct dictionary meaning of veteran as ” grown old or experienced, especially in the military service, veterans are often so much seen in the garb of military service but every fecund mind knows it that like old soldiers who never die ( but merely fade away) veteran journalists worth their pens never retire but always refire.
The senators in other advanced democracy are never restricted to terms of office or their movements curtailed by the crutches of zoning formula ( while they escape with their names intact) the reverse is also the case here in Nigeria with their veteran- journalist counterparts who are neither paid any form of severance nor accorded any social recognition for processing the nation’s raw materials , even the country, Nigeria who won independence fifty nine years ago through the barrel of the PEN and without firing a single bullet.
When it comes to a legacy of firsts in hazardous duties, the Nigerian Press has always been the scapegoat. The first casualty of the Nigerian civil war was a journalist, Kaku Dambua. When Decree 4 in 1984 was hurriedly put to bed, the first casualties in the dangerous enterprise were journalists. The introduction of bomb blast in Nigeria where the proverbial tree fell right in the bush but broke the neck of civilians at home, did not claim the life of a soldier in the war front but an ace journalist in the person of Dele Giwa. Stylishly the kidnap saga also came to town choosing innocent journalists (returning from an NUJ convention )as it’s first victims.
Marshal Kebby in his cover story: ” The perils of Nigerian Journalist, ” Times International, May 1990 edition wrote that :”Hebert Macaulay, our journalistic father defended the House of Docemo and when the clouds gathered around him; there was none to help him.He suffered six months imprisonment and in his lonely cell in Broad street Prison, he wrote on the WALL:”They will never escape the wrath of our God.” Let those maltreating journalists today therefore read this same Handwriting on the WALL , make good meaning out of it so that they may escape the wrath of God ,even now that Nigeria clocks 59.
In this era where journalism has of course gone to dogs of fake news amidst everyone with a smart phone faking as citizen journalist, there is a need to go back to the days of able,readable, courageous writers. Where are the Ernest Ikolis and the Hebert Macaulays of today ? Where are the pungent editorials ? Where are the masters of prose,the ace reporters,the great commentators ? If the Nigerian Press is to regain confidence, respect and following of the public, it must in the words of Anthony Enahoro, produce men of stature. It cannot afford to continue having too many small toes in big boots.