Introduction: We gather here today to celebrate the 70 years of uninterrupted publication of the Nigerian Tribune, a daily national newspaper, the oldest surviving private newspaper that was established on 16th November 1949 by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was one of Africa’s foremost nationalist.
Our text for this sermon is in the context of Paul’s admonition to the Christians in the Church at Corinth. Paul was mainly concerned with the sustenance of the genuine gospel preached which has resulted in the new life of the Corinthian Christians. For him, Christians should be forward-looking, and there should be no party spirit where some individuals are claiming superiority over others. Losing focus of their foundation would result in the crumbling of the legacy of genuine Christianity which had been handed over to them.
Just as there is an authentic gospel and fake gospel, there is also authentic and fake journalism. However, today, at the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Tribune newspaper, we are celebrating the legacy of enduring, authentic and true journalism.
Ten years ago (in 2009), I had the privilege of preaching at the 60th Anniversary of the Tribune newspaper.
Today, 10 years after, I have not seen much difference or great improvement in the disposition of our so-called democratic government to journalism as a profession. I will, at some intervals recapitulate a few points I made at the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Tribune 10 years ago.
The history of newspaper publication can be traced to the pioneering effort of the Reverend Henry Townsend, the CMS missioner who brought Christianity to Egbaland in 1842. With the help of a hand press, he had obtained from his brother, and in order to advance the cause of the Christian faith, he commenced the publication of the Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Ara Egba, in Abeokuta in 1859.
After this was the emergence of The Lagos Times and the Gold Coast Colony Advertiser (1880), Iwe Irohin Eko (1880), Lagos Observer (1882), and The Eagle, Lagos Critic (1887). These papers fostered the spirit of nationalism and encouraged the culture of patriotism in the country. In the last decade of the 19th century, three other religious newspapers also emerged. They were Hope Waddell’s Calabar Observer, Uwuna Efik (1885) and Obupong Efik (1886).
From 1890 to 1960 a number of newspapers were founded and they laid the foundation of the struggle for the independence of our nation. Some of these newspapers were The Lagos Weekly Record founded by John Payne (1891), The Daily Times (founded in 1926), The West African Pilot founded by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe on November 22, 1937, and it became the leading newspaper in the fight for independence and the documentation of the untold stories of colonialism.
The Nigerian Tribune, the oldest surviving private newspaper in Nigeria was established on November 16, 1949, by one of Africa’s foremost nationalists, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Today, we are mainly concerned with the Nigerian Tribune. Right from its first publication on November 16, 1949; the primary focus of the Nigerian Tribune was to cater for the interest of the common people and the downtrodden.
From the pre-independence colonial oppressive system to the devastating three-year Nigerian Civil, and the long period of military rule dressed in the garb of dictatorship, the Nigerian Tribune has become a beacon of light in educative, informative and entertaining journalism.
As a credible organ for disseminating information for the teeming Nigerian masses, the Nigerian Tribune has continued to advance the vision of its founder by advocating a just, fair and egalitarian Nigerian society.
Please permit me to quote a few excerpts from page 2 of the Sunday Tribune of 15th November 2009 to lend credence to the vision of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. “My interest in journalism and association with the newspaper did not cease with the severance of my connection with the Nigerian Daily Times. I entertained the ambition that when I came into my own, I would establish a newspaper which would be livelier and better run than the paper.”
It is obvious that Papa had a solid foundation to take up the special assignment, having worked briefly with the Nigerian Daily Times.
We are gathered here today to thank God for bequeathing to our generation a legacy of enduring journalism by a great nationalist and patriot. What stands out the Nigerian Tribune is quality reporting devoid of journalistic biases.
Whereas the earlier newspapers such as The Lagos Times and the Gold Coast Colony Advertiser, the Lagos Observer, The Eagle, Lagos Critic, the Lagos Weekly Record; and a few others have become a matter of history, The Nigeria Tribune is still waxing strong.
Today, we thank God for the emergence of other newspapers such as The Punch, The Guardian, Vanguard, Champion, Daily Trust, This Day, The Nation, Tell, and the Newswatch.
However, the Nigerian Tribune as the oldest surviving private independent newspaper today in Nigeria is worth celebrating. Indeed, 70 years of uninterrupted circulation is worth celebrating.
As we celebrate the 70 years of the Tribune paper today, we must also give glory to God for those who laid the solid foundation. We acknowledge our Papa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose vision gave birth to the paper. Second is Mama HIDAwolowo.
While Papa conceived the idea of establishing the Nigerian Tribune while in London, Mama’s opinion and assistance irrigated the idea. In Mama’s own words, “My husband and I started the Nigerian Tribune together. This is how it came about. One night, my husband told me that if anybody wanted to go into politics, such a person must have his own newspaper…He must establish a newspaper of his own as soon as he got the money. So we both pulled our resources together to start the Tribune in 1949. On the day of its first issue, both of us were there with ‘Segun’ as the third person.”
Worthy of note were others who served on the Board of the company at the very beginning with Papa Awolowo. The late Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, late Chief Alfred Rewane and Alhaji Lateef Jakande, while Mr Adeyiga Akinsaya was the General Manager.
Seventy years in the service of God and humanity, the Tribune is still very strong and vibrant under the able Chairmanship of Amb. Dr Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu.
Second, the Editorial and Management Teams of the Nigerian Tribune from one generation to another deserve a special mention today. Success is not too difficult to achieve, but sustaining it is the most important task. I want to use this medium to praise the courage, boldness and tenacity of those who have worked in this organisation right from its inception 70 years ago. Worthy of mention is the well-dedicated Editorial Board under the present Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Bro Edward Dickson.
For the past 70 years, everything has not been rosy. There had been a period of great challenges. As noted by Mama HID Awolowo, and reported on page 2 of Tribune of 15th November 2009, “There were periods of half salaries and there were days of ‘3 for 1’ where the staff worked for three months before collecting one month salary. However, no matter what may at present confront the establishment, the fact remains that the foundation has been well laid, and in the future success is ours.”
Beloved, that was 10 years ago. Today, Tribune is still a huge success. In the last 10 years, two imposing corporate offices of the Tribune had been opened in Abuja and Isheri.
Where its contemporaries had bowed to bad management, economic, political and authoritarian might, the Tribune has become an enduring legacy worthy of celebration. In actual fact, Tribune is the only paper in the country today that is older than Nigeria.
What remains now is to call on the government of our nation to allow true press freedom. Freedom of the press should not only be on paper. While we claim to be in a democratic dispensation, journalism, especially news reporting and coverage, is like venturing into the lion’s den. There have been reports of how cameramen were manhandled, assaulted and killed by an angry mob or overzealous security men who claim to be protecting their bosses.
That journalism is a dangerous profession in Nigeria can be seen from the assassination of Dele Giwa on October 19, 1986, to the murder of Ogunbayo Ayanlola Ohu, a 45-year-old, Assistant Political Editor with The Guardian on Sunday, September 20, 2009.
Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry how Dele Omotunde and Onome Osifo-Whiskey of Tell magazine, were whisked off in a bizarre manner on Saturday, October 25, and Sunday, November 9 respectively in 1997.
What about the torturous experiences of Babafemi Ojudu, Managing Editor of The News and Tempo magazines; Mohammed Adamu, Abuja Bureau Chief, African Concord and Chris Anyanwu, The Sunday Magazine (TSM)?
It is also on record that journalists at the Nigerian Tribune have had their own share of the harsh and unfriendly stance of the present political dispensation. We read how some cameramen and reporters of the Nigerian Tribune were manhandled during elections in some states.
Nevertheless, through the thin and thick of these political uncertainties, these men and women remain undaunted in their commitment to the task of effective and accurate reporting. No wonder, the Nigerian Tribune has continued to make waves, soaring higher and higher where other media outfits have gone under. We pray God’s protection over you will not cease.
As the Nigerian Tribune celebrates its 70th Anniversary of effective and enduring journalism in Nigeria, it is appropriate to note very quickly how some of the journalists at the corridors of power behave. Some of them, for perquisites of office and the desire to remain relevant as they seek to hold on to their political offices, have sacrificed their professional integrity to defend lawlessness, wickedness and unfriendly policies of the present government. They should remember that the events of today will certainly become the history of tomorrow.
Conclusion: Let me end this message again with a word of caution as I did ten years ago. The media in the present political dispensation should see their task as a sacred one that must be carried out with sincerity, not minding whose horse is gored. Inability to do this can only endanger the integrity of the mass media. Our media should rise above partisan reporting and praise-worship journalism. They must not go for the highest bidder reporting. The words of Chief Anthony Enahoro, the youngest person to occupy an editorial chair in Nigeria, and the Federal Commissioner for Information in the military government of General Yakubu Gowon are appropriate here when he said in 1968 that the press; “lacked the vision to recognise the danger and oppose wrong.”
He pronounced the press guilty of sycophancy, of “unquestioning deferential support for rulers, flamboyant praise for mediocrity, popularising excess and impropriety.”
So as the Nigerian Tribune celebrates 70th anniversary and looks to a better future; it should seek the truth and report the truth. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Only the truth can set our nation free; freedom from errors of judgment on the part of the Judiciary. Freedom from executive recklessness and disrespect for the rule of law on the part of the Executive, and freedom from political and legislative hooliganism on the part of the Legislature.
Being the text of the sermon preached by the Most Reverend Olusina Fape of the Diocese of Remo, on Sunday, 22nd December 2019 at the 70th Anniversary of the Nigerian Tribune newspapers.
- This post first appeared on Nigerian Tribune