Why 21st century students should embrace journalism ― Ogunyemi [FULL SPEECH]

Ifedayo Ogunyemi
Ifedayo Ogunyemi

It gives me great joy to be amongst you today to felicitate with you today on your induction today or so I thought. It made me cast my mind back to about six years ago when I got inducted, though, unceremoniously inside a 60 by 40 feet room inside of the prestigious Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), Abeokuta. Little did I know that my exploits in the association coupled with the host of other fellows will put the association on national map with national positions in the National Union of Campus Journalists (NUCJ) and the National Association of Nigerian Campus Editors (NANCE) and ultimately, scooping the Best Campus Press Organisation in Nigeria award organised by the Youths Digest in Abuja for two consecutive years. Little did I know.

And little do you know what legacies you will leave behind you when you leave AAPOLY in the next few years? But the probing question is will you write your name in gold and in the sands of time? Or will you just etch your name as you see fit? Only you can answer that question.

First of all, let me say this, this is not the first time I will be speaking about journalism because I have for many years spoken in my classrooms, at Press club MAPOLY and also tutored scores of journalism and students and others from other fields about journalism where I have worked in the past and note that in all of these times I’ve readily been part of them but I must confess it is the first time I would be invited to speak about journalism outside Abeokuta.

I was scouring through loads of messages I get on a daily basis (important and unimportant ones, short and epistle-like ones, professional and personal ones, religious and political ones) from the newly-globally recognised communication channel, Whatsapp when I got a notification seeking to invite me to speak at this august occasion. My heart leapt for joy knowing that I’ve got another opportunity to speak to courageous, spirited and goal-minded set of individuals whose interests are in journalism and that’s why I will like to appreciate the organisers of this event for the honour bestowed on me to speak here today. I am really grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to continue to do one of the things I feel glad doing – which is imparting into lives that I come in contact with. It is my strong and ardent belief that at the end of this encounter, we would have made ourselves better than we are right now.

I have spoken about different areas of journalism and communication – which is my mainstay – and I sometimes do from my end but I had a challenge coming here on what to come to talk to you about. I was given a blank cheque so, I had to rack my brain until I got to a stage I decided I won’t come here to bore you with rhetorics about the basics of journalism which I believe you are apprised of since most of you if not all are students of communication and journalism, what I have come to tell you rather is what the 21st century student of a Nigerian tertiary institution MUST do with journalism. This is broader in a sense that when we dissect it, each cluster of journalism that will come up in this address will take at least a day each to be thoroughly discussed but I have come with an abridged version so we can at least enjoin and educate ourselves with all the peculiarities of the most important and the first function of mankind – communication.

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So, I ask you: “What can you do with journalism?” The short answer to this poser is: “What can you not do with journalism?” You can as a matter of fact use journalism to promote hate speech, to champion a cause with propaganda. Everywhere you turn to there is fake news – we millennials in the part of the country say “everywhere stew” – just as there is plagiarism – the taking of someone else’s work as one made by one.
But let’s look at the bright side, with journalism, you can network your way to create employment opportunities for yourself. You can get the fame and recognition with the kind of quality delivery you churn out to your readers/listeners all year round. You can get involved and get selected for workshops, summits, fellowship, conferences all over the country etc. and beyond. You can also be awarded for outstanding performances at your place of work or even at a broader and wider level. All you need to do is do it right and do it well.

Sometimes ago, I got a call from this same institution that a certain lecturer or a group of same threatened journalists on this campus. That is not done. That act imprisons the freedom of expression or speech guaranteed by our dear constitution of 1999 (as amended). For the record, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria 122 out of 180 countries hostile to freedom of the press. This is six places down the slope compared to the ranking of 2016. This ranking does not cover the spate of threats and intimidation suffered by campus journalists in our various campuses. This is a development we must all condemn outrightly from here to the ends of the earth.

The International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) on January 28, 2017, in its expose titled, “How Nigerian Universities Stifle Free Speech” recounted the travails of colleagues and friends in sister institutions including Adekunle Adebajo of UI, Sulaiman Akeukanwo of UNILORIN, Israel Fawole of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Lukman Fasasi of OAU. A certain Sub-Dean, Students Affairs Office of one of the institutions was reported to have said, “there cannot be total freedom of expression on campus.”

In addition, some lecturers in the Department of Mass Communication, MAPOLY and other departments have challenged covertly and openly writers on campus about certain reports written by me and in some case other campus writers and published on Press Club MAPOLY blog and other national dailies. Censorship has become a phenomenon that has eaten deep into the annals of our tertiary institutions. At the Federal College of Education, Abeokuta, it appears the management is ‘strongly’ against a free press, but one must doff one’s hat for the young men who have summoned the courage to fulfil their constitutional duties with nom de plume – pen names.

The fact remains that this management has failed to realise that no walls of any tertiary institution are going to tumble down as a result of an article, editorial or cartoon, according to the words of the Deputy Editorial Director of USA Today, Paul McMasters. However, there is the possibility of many great journalists rising out of a free college press environment. This is because about a high percentage of those who practised journalism on campus end up as professionals. The campus is not only the training ground of future journalists but also the home.

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We should now live in a world where we understand the words of Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. He said, “the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.” We need constructive criticisms which will help us understand that the greatest measure of freedom is the presence of criticism but its presence would serve no use without sincere acceptance and implementation where necessary.

There is an unending fight between the mainstream/professional journalists and those who woke up and became producers of initiators of information because they are equipped with Apple, Tecno, Samsung or Infinix smartphones. We have been able to call them citizen journalists and they engage with us on the fight to reach our audience, a service that we hitherto have unfettered and unhindered access to. The profession is welcome to them all provided they do it right and hold on to the tenets and ethics of the profession. They can lay their hands on these because it is available on the internet for download and perusal. It appears they are gaining more ground and are having a large share of the audience’s attention but what can we do such that we can remain in the business and continue to give the audience good contents – the lack of which may make us lose their attention.

Mr Debo Adesina, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Newspaper, while delivering a lecture titled “what traditional media, journalists must do to survive the digital onslaught” on October 20, 2016, at the University of Lagos Mass Communication Alumni Association Distinguished Lecture gave a lot of insights about how journalists can stay aloft in the calling without losing the fight to the proliferation of citizen journalists. From a long speech, I have brought you excerpts.

He said: “The journalist or the communicator remains the ultimate game-changer. So I will say this: you can fail in anything else but never fail to get the right education, especially from a place like this! And never fail to live a life of constant education by reading. Content will always be the most important aspect of communication or journalism. That content must have one thing: Trust. The truth. Or integrity. So, there is hardly anything to add to what Rosen Jay, the publisher of THE JOURNALISTS KNOWN AS THE MEDIA (My advice to the Next Generation) says: Those who would thrive in the new order must first specialise in seeing their audience as a public already empowered to be the media themselves, the consumers who have the capacity and tools for producing the same ware. Because the character of the audience has changed, the communicator’s or the journalist’s perception of it and how to serve it must, of necessity, change.”

“This means going the extra mile to give the audience something they just don’t have even with what they gather and share among themselves. A superior or more revelatory angle to the story, a deeper insight into the event or a comprehensive analysis or interpretation that only trained or well-honed journalistic skills could have afforded. The journalist’s indispensability will be guaranteed only when he does journalism better than the ordinary and speaks truth to power louder. It is the reality now that anywhere you turn, someone has a camera or any other media tool and can do exactly what we do for a living. Their output may sometimes be poor in quality and a lot of false stories are peddled by those we now know as citizen journalists. Notwithstanding, the competition is real and life-threatening to professionals whose monopoly on newsgathering and dissemination has been broken.”

Finally! Away from all these, I want to congratulate you all especially the new members of this association who will be inducted today. Just as Registrar of JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede said at TASUED last November, I say: “May God give you pleasurable footwears, motorcycles and vehicles to plough through this rough road.”

Some of you may not know the background to this wish or prayer but it is still not superfluous to recall that this prayer was said by an enigmatic social critic and educationist, late Dr Tai Solarin who caused a stir when he wrote an article in the Daily Times about 55 years ago titled “May Your Road Be Rough”. He argued that it was sheer bunkum not to expect the challenges or difficulties in life because a life that would be “abundant must have plenty of hills and vales… sunshine and rough weather. All that is noble and laudable was to be achieved only through difficulties and trials and tears and dangers.”

This road you have set to begin today has its own distinctive challenges which, however, is similar to those experienced in uttermost campuses in Nigeria. It also has its own distinctive successes and glory. I had my share too and it made me where I am today.

Attend training, read wide, write deeper and true contents. Apply for this and that opportunity, they are there to help you improve and become better professionals. Make us proud today!

IFEDAYO O. OGUNYEMI, the pioneer Deputy President of the defunct Senate of the National Union of Campus Journalism (NUCJ) and 23rd President of the multiple award-winning Press Club of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY) gave this address at the 2019 induction of new members of the Union of Campus Journalists, Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic, Ijebu-Igbo (UCJ AAPOLY).