Today's Journalism: More about Views, Less about News Featured

Monday, 02 February 2015 00:00 Written by  Published in Interview Read 1073 times
Late Dambatta Late Dambatta

– Late Magaji Dambatta

Late Magaji Dambatta was a journalist extraordinaire – one of the pioneers of journalism in the North; having started his carrier (in 1950) at the Zik Group of Newspapers owned Daily Comet. He is also one of the eight founding fathers of the radical first republic political party – The Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) _in 1950.
In an interview with ADAM ALQALI shortly before his death, the then 82-year old described today's journalism in Nigeria as 'more about views and less about news', and explains how he narrowly missed replacing Charles Sharp as the Managing Director of New Nigerian Newspapers in January, 1966 due to the first military coup in Nigeria. Excerpt:
Two of your newspaper reports have remained the most outstanding throughout your journalistic carrier – the coverage of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Nigeria in 1956 and, in sharp contrast, a detailed report about a Kaduna mad woman called Delu. What can you say inspired the report about Delu?
I was a young reporter looking for news wherever I could find it. And news is any story that would be of interest to readers and the most interesting story is a human story, because all human beings share the same feelings. If somebody is involved in a tragedy, people would want to read it to find out the degree or extent of the tragedy, its effect on the person involved as well as how and where it happened, and if possible, what possible remedies are available. So, the persons reading that story would want to know what happened in detail, because they relate themselves to those involved, by asking themselves: 'What if it were me?'
Likewise, if it is a story of joy and excitement, human beings will be anxious to know what happened. If for example someone achieves an unimaginable feat, they would want to share the joys and achievements of that person.
To be honest with you, the journalism of today is more about views and less about news. The views are good because there are good writers who enlighten us about issues, whose writing style is appealing, precise and captivating, but the human stories are rarely available as most of the stories are about politics and the president. Of course, reporting the president and his activities is important because we want to know what our president is doing so that we will cheer him up where there is need and correct him when he goes wrong. Yet, he should not monopolize the media in the sense that every little thing he does gets blown up over and above other more important things. Today, the leading stories on radio and television are all about the president, whether it is Obasanjo, Jonathan or Shagari. For example the day General Muhammadu Shuwa - who was a great man - was killed, the story only came up mid-way into the bulletin. It was all about the president before and after the news of the tragedy.
So it is incredible that today's journalists, though far more educated and with greater facilities, can allow themselves to be so sycophantic. And the moment a leader leaves office mentioning him becomes a taboo, especially if the successor doesn't see eye to eye with the predecessor. That is not objective journalism. Remember that the public radio and TV stations and newspapers belong to the people and not the president, who is only a custodian of the people. In those days all we were interested in was satisfying the readers and by satisfying the readers, we got more readers and more importantly, more respect. Stories do not only have to be from the National Assembly or about a big court case of murder, counterfeiting or trial of a high-profile politician. There are also stories in cemeteries, hospitals and in markets. Everywhere you look, if you are an eagle-eyed journalist, you find stories and this is what is lacking today, I am sorry to say!
My story about Delu was a humane story; it was a story of a sorrowful and lonely woman stationed at a junction of two roads in Kaduna. There was nobody to feed and cater for her except for the little alms she got here and there, with which she would buy what she could afford. She was living at a corner come rain, come shine; and only had a rag with which she could shelter herself, and nobody seemed to care. So I thought she presented a very good creature and wanted to know how she felt; how she came there; how she was feeding herself; as well as how she was relating to passers-by. Gradually, we started talking and I started asking her questions. She would stop talking suddenly, until she eventually opened up and spoke to me freely. You would think she was not mad. At all!
She was relating to me about her past; how she came to the spot and from where she came to the spot as well as, according to her, how happy she was living in that condition, for which reason she wouldn't want to change it for anything. She even agreed to snap a picture with me while I was interviewing her. She even smiled in the picture. That story became a great story in the Nigerian Citizen and so many copies of the paper were sold.
The Queen's visit on the other hand is another story, and I must say my gratitude to Charles Sharp for giving me the opportunity to cover the visit of the Queen of England, though at the time I was only 25 and with no formal training in journalism. She came with a planeload of news reporters from Britain, Australia, Canada, and India. Not all the newspapers and radio stations in Nigeria were accredited to cover the visit.
Michael Barrat, an Englishman who was an assistant editor and I covered the Queen's visit to Kaduna, during which a durbar was staged in her honor. After covering the cocktail party organized in her honor at the government house in Kaduna by the Governor, Sir Bryan Sherwood Smith, I was asked to cover the rest of her stay in Kaduna, including the famous durbar. This was because Barrat did not know the nature of the durbar, the emirs and the culture. It was exciting watching the durbar, which took place between 9am and 1pm at the Kaduna race course. The Sardauna was there, Tafawa Balewa was also there and that became a sight to behold and a story to remember. I was the youngest and most inexperienced reporter to cover the Queen's visit, when editors of big newspapers sought for such an opportunity but could not get it.

There are sayings that you were to replace Charles Sharp as the editor of New Nigerian in January 1966 when the first military coup in Nigeria took place. Was there such an arrangement?
No! I was going to replace him as Managing Director, not an editor, because then he was MD cum editor. Then I was Chief Information Officer, Northern region. Sharp had fallen out with the northern government, so they decided to redeploy me to the New Nigerian to take over as Managing Director, who would also be responsible for the editorial contents, pending the time they would find a suitable replacement for Sharp. Then, Adamu Ciroma was the editor.
What happened was that Sharp stepped on the toes of the Northern government or Sardauna, in particular. The rift was about a State House built in Kaduna, which was built as the official residence of the Premier. Sardauna didn't like the house and so decided to continue living in the house he was occupying in the same neighborhood with other ministers. Sardauna decided to turn it into a guest house for important visiting dignitaries, since it also had a big conference center.
Now, when the house was built, Sharp connived with an engineer in the Ministry of Works and got the plan as well as the cost of the building and published it in a critical manner, saying Sardauna took some amount (was it 100, 000 or 200, 000 pounds) to build a house for himself, when the said amount of money could be used to build many schools and agricultural extension works. As it turned out, the cost given to Sharp by the engineer was wrong. The original cost was that much but Sardauna got it cut to 1/3 and so it was built at the reduced cost. Secondly, Sharp portrayed the house as Sardauna's personal house, which was not true. Also, Sharp was charged with divulging government's secret because as at the time, the cost of the building was considered to be confidential information.
Eventually, they decided to send Sharp packing on a Friday and I was at my office at around noon when they asked me to go to the conference room of the Premier's house at 3pm. There I met the trio of the information minister, Alhaji Ahmadu Fatika, the Fatikan Zazzau; Aliyu Makaman Bida, the Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier, as well as Ahmed Pateggi, who was Minister of Health and also Secretary-General of the NPC.
Immediately Makama came in, he said to me: “Magaji, we are going to post you to New Nigerian.” My heart sank and I asked, “What is the matter with New Nigerian?” And he said, “You are going to take over from Charles Sharp.” I felt another thump and asked myself, “What happened to Charles Sharp and why me?”  Makama, who was a very fierce person then, said Sharp was going to leave on the coming Monday and I had to take over from him. As a civil servant, I couldn't say no. The only question I could ask was whether or not Sharp has been notified and they told me that he would be notified by the time I would take over, and I responded with, “Ok, sir.”
When we came out, I met my minister, Alhaji Ahmadu Fatika and said to him, “Sir, do you think it is fair to keep Sharp in the dark until Monday, when I am going take over? Isn't it better that you call him to inform him and thank him for his services?” I suggested that Sharp be told he would get all his entitlements soon and that he be asked when he wanted to leave, because I was sure he would want to leave by sea, and traveling by sea took time to get organized. He agreed with me and went to meet Makaman Bida, yet Makama was adamant. Later, Fatika linked up with Ahmed Pateggi and they were eventually able to convince him. I was so embarrassed to face Charles Sharp, being someone who helped me a lot in my carrier as a journalist. So, I was to become the MD of New Nigerian, which I never did because of the events of I5 January, 1966.
Was the Queen's visit to Nigeria your greatest moment as a journalist?
My greatest moment as a journalist was when the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello as Premier of the Northern region visited me at Hitchen, Hertfordshire County of Britain, while I was doing my internship at Hertfordshire Express as part of my studies in England.  The fact that the Sardauna was so much concerned about the welfare of Northern Nigerian students studying oversees, as well as their progress, showed how great he was as a leader. That visit, for me, was my most memorable moment as a journalist – I felt so much honored.

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