A Brief History of Nigerian Journalism

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I ENTERED the employ of the Nigerian Daily Times in September I934 as a
reporter-in-training. During my period as College Clerk, I took
correspondence courses for the London Matriculation Examination and in
journalism. I took the London Matriculation Examination in January I934 and
failed. I was commended by my tutors in journalism. I decided not to repeat
the London Matriculation Examination until later. I had wanted to pass the
examination not with a view to becoming a teacher or civil servant, but so
that if at any future time I had the money to do Law I would have no
difficulty in securing admission into one of the Inns of Court. I wanted to
do journalism mainly as a means of raising money for my legal studies, and
partly because I was interested in the profession. Having failed the
examination, I thought it was better that I made the money first before I
had another try at the examination.

But journalism was an unprofitable, frustrating and soul-depressing career
at that time in Nigeria.

There was a general but inarticulate contempt for newspapermen,
particularly the reporters. They were regarded as the flotsam and jetsam of
the growing community of Nigerian intelligentsia: people who took to
journalism because they were no good in anything else. Journalism was not
as well-paid then as a good job in the civil service or in a mercantile
house. Only editors and their immediate assistants could afford to own a
bicycle. Even Mr Ernest Ikoli, the most brilliant and most formidable
journalist of the time did not own one: he could not afford it. The Editor
of the Nigerian Daily Times, the only prosperous newspaper, used a bicycle
for a long time. Then he owned a car which was nothing more or less than a
ramshackle box on four wheels. I thought it miraculous that the
Editor–short, fat, with a protruding belly–could get into it at all and
that after being in, the strange mechanical contrivance did move! We of the
fraternity of the pen were feared rather than respected. We were accorded
recognition at social functions; but this was done on purpose. Those
concerned wanted to see their names in print in the best possible light. In
this connection, certain hackneyed expressions must be used in the report.
It would not do to say ‘Mr & Mrs So-and-So, etc., etc.’ It must be ‘Mr
So-and-So, a worthy scion of So-and-So and his amiable consort Mrs
So-and-So (nee So-and-So), etc., etc.’ For the report to be any good in the
estimation of those concerned, the ‘wife’ must be ‘consort’ and she must be
‘amiable’. The words in brackets ‘nee So-and-So’ must be added in order to
show that the ‘consort’ was doubly blue-blooded, through marriage and by
birth. If after a few days the host or chief guest or celebrant, as the
case might be, did not see anything about his function in the paper, he
called upon you at the office, or accosted you in the streets, to find out
why he had been so maltreated and humiliated. If you belonged to the
drinking and gluttonous species of homo sapiens, and if, during the
function, you had helped yourself to several quarts of beer or shots of
whisky, and to a good quantity of food, the displeased individual might
even venture to question your propriety for failing to perform your own
side of an implied ‘socio-journalistic’ contract. I never experienced this
form of affront myself because I never drank, and was then and still am too
shy to eat in public. To the extent that my income for the time being
permitted, I had indulged myself, from my days as provisional teacher, in
cigarette-smoking; but I abjured the habit on 6 March I934 as one of my
birthday resolutions. Besides, I always tried to be tidy and clean in my
appearance, and to maintain at the very least a facade of supreme
self-confidence. I was, therefore, a reporter with a difference in a
society which was riddled with vanity, snobbery, pseudo-Victorian
aristocracy, and ‘England ladies’.

(‘England ladies’ is a phrase which was common in Lagos in those days, and
it was used to distinguish ‘ladies’ who had been to England or any part of
the United Kingdom for further studies from those who had not. They were in
a class by themselves, and they looked down upon other ladies and all
gentlemen who had not been to U.K. as inferior beings. But some of us who
had not been to U.K. regarded them as contemptible. For one thing, all they
studied in U.K. was domestic science or music. For another, the life they
lived, morally, was far from edifying.)

The newspapers circulating at the time were not commodities of which, from
the points of view of literary art and technical craftsmanship, any
self-respecting person connected with them could feel justifiably proud.
The Nigerian Daily Times was technically the best paper then in
circulation; but it was, on a strictly professional assessment, an
unpardonably dull journalistic and literary product: a veritable stagnant
pool of stale, colourless news; and a musty reservoir of articles which
lacked animation, pungency and nationalist flavour. In contents and style
the Nigerian Daily Telegraph under the editorship of Mr Ernest Ikoli and
the Lagos Daily News were the very antithesis of the Nigerian Daily Times,
and therefore much better. But most of the time, the Telegraph was printed
in types so battered that only a long-suffering person could bear the
ordeal of reading more than the short, bracing and thunderous editorial.
The Lagos Daily News had ceased in I934 to answer to the name of a daily
paper. It published only when Herbert Macauley alias ‘The Moghul’ alias
‘H.M.’, alias ‘The Wizard of Kirston Hall’ could afford to buy newsprint
and ink and persuade his irregularly paid and half-starved compositors to
work. Whenever this paper made its appearance it sold like hot cakes.

When I left Wesley College to join the Nigerian Daily Times, I did so with
my eyes open, and after mature consideration. For the whole of my time as
Clerk of the College, I was on a salary of =A33 per mensem only, the same as
my former classmates at the college were earning as certificated teachers.
Two attempts to get the Principal to give me a rise in salary were of no
avail. I found myself in a cul-de-sac, and I decided to leave, giving the
Principal five months’ notice. I felt certain, and I was proved right in
this, that whatever happened I would make more than, =A33 a month as a
reporter. I also thought, and here I was proved flatly wrong, that overseas
newspapers would accept my articles for publication and pay me well for
them. At the time when I was doing a correspondence course in journalism, I
wrote some articles, of interest to West African readers, for the West
African Review but they were neither published nor returned. The topics
were mainly political. Six years later, in 194o I believe, two of them were
published, and I was paid a few guineas for them. The editor was presumably
short of manuscripts and had no alternative but to look through his old
files and, on discovering my articles, used them. When I was in the
Nigerian Daily Times, I sent many articles to other overseas newspapers
through an agency, but they came back to me with the same solemn regularity
as I had despatched them.
My literary agent was a most sympathetic gentleman; he never failed to
write to pat me on the back each time he returned my manuscripts. They were
good, he would say, but the subject matter (they were invariably diatribes
against British rule) would not appeal to English readers. I tried my hand
at short stories, but their fate was the same, save that, in this case, my
agent made it clear that my technique was not quite up to the required
standard.

I spent about eight months altogether with the Nigerian Daily Times: three
months in Lagos as a trainee without pay, and five months as the resident
correspondent in Ibadan. My fellow-trainees and colleagues were Mr Olatunji
Idewu (then Hamzat Ishola) and Mr R. A. B. Jose. They were respectively
posted to Ijebu Ode and Oshogbo, also as resident correspondents. For our
services, each of us was paid =A32 per mensem as retainer fee, and 2d per
inch per column for every report that was published. It was in the matter
of publication of news, on which our real living remuneration depended,
that all sorts of influence came into play. In its precarious journey from
the subeditor’s table to the head printer’s desk, anything could happen to
your report. It could suffer either total extinction or violent diminution.
Even when your reports had been published, you must go at the end of the
month, armed with your own ruler, to make sure that you did not lose
several inches through the deliberate miscalculation of the clerk in
charge.

Our Editor was Chief C. A. A. Titcombe, the Ligegere of Ake, Abeokuta. He
was every inch an aristocrat, always riding his high horse: distant and not
easily accessible to people at our level. He was nevertheless kind-hearted
and humorous. The news that mattered to him most was, in order of
importance, that relating to the late Sir Adeyemo Alakija and his family,
the Roman Catholic Church, and Egba affairs. Any criticism of the first two
and of Egba Native Authority was taboo. In addition, unless definite
instructions came from the very top, nothing critical must be written about
the Nigerian government or expatriate officials. And things were happening
which aroused the just resentment and indignation of young Nigerians. As
there was no effective vehicle for the vigorous ventilation of suppressed
grievances, a journalistic vacuum was thus created which Dr Azikiwe very
cleverly exploited and usefully filled when he returned to the country in
1937 to  establish the West African Pilot which, whatever its literary
defects, was a fire-eating and aggressive nationalist paper of the highest
order, ranking in this regard with the Nigerian Daily Telegraph under
Ikoli, and the Lagos Daily News, but much better produced. It was naturally
very popular, the very thing the youth of the country had been waiting for.
Newspapermen in the employ of the West African Pilot were better paid and
they assumed a new status in society. Civil servants, teachers and
mercantile employees resigned good and pensionable posts to lend a hand in
the new journalistic awakening. Some of these enthusiasts were eventually
disappointed and disillusioned on other grounds, but the fact of a
journalistic revival and revolution was widely recognised and acknowledged.
The Nigerian Daily Times was very swiftly reorganised, in order to meet the
challenge of the West African Pilot. A substantial amount of foreign
capital was injected into it, and the dead wood in the editorial section
was cut out to yield place to younger and more imaginative elements. R. B.
Paul, Esq., head of the ‘West African Newspapers’ came to Nigeria himself
and, for a while, personally directed the initial operations. An expatriate
Editor, Mr H. C. E. M. Bates, was appointed. He and Dr Azikiwe soon fell
foul of each other, and there was a fierce press war. As a result, there
was plenty of hot and scintillating stuff to read in the Pilot and Times;
but my sympathy and that of all Nigerian nationalists was with Dr Azikiwe.

In spite of his bias and predilection for certain personages and
institutions, and the dullness of his paper, which I have mentioned, Chief
Titcombe did not by any means lack the news instinct of a good journalist.
One afternoon one of the other two and I sat down in the office, chatting.
Chief Titcombe then emerged from his sanctum sanctorum. We pulled ourselves
up under the glare of his big eyes and over-awing personality.

‘What are you folks doing there?’ he inquired, and as he did so something
of a smile lightened his face.

‘Just chatting!’ we replied.

‘You should be out collecting news,’ he said.

‘Well, sir, it is all dry in town. No news,’ I explained.

‘Then let one of you go and jump into the lagoon to oblige the other!’ he
remarked with a big smile, and both of us and Mr Ayo Lijadu roared with
laughter.

The only person who did not appear to see anything to laugh about in this
joke and who was as sphinx-like as ever was Mr A. B. Laotan, the Assistant
Editor. He was a fastidious and rather over-serious character, a very
industrious and devoted worker, and a journalist with greater flair for a
weekly magazine than for a daily paper. His chief task was to edit special
articles for publication. Somehow I had very poor luck with him. Mr Jose’s
luck with him was no better than mine. Both of us were in the habit of
indulging in controversial matters. As for Mr Idewu he had a breezy,
inoffensive style, and his subjects were equally breezy and
non-controversial. I did several articles, but they were left untouched on
Mr Laotan’s over-laden table. I decided to migrate from the controversial
field to the non-controversial and so I did one article on Shakespeare’s
Julius Caesar. It suffered the same fate. I got to the office very early
one morning, dug it out of the pile of manuscripts on his table, and
brought it to his notice on his arrival. He had read it, he said, but apart
from the article not being topical, he thought it was too big for my name.
Since I was the author, I did not quite understand what he meant. I later
sent it to the late Duse Mohammed Ali Efendi who published it in his Weekly
Comet, and wrote me a glowingly commendatory letter into the bargain.

The triumvirate in the editorial section of the Nigerian Daily Times in my
time consisted of Chief Titcombe, Mr Laotan, and the late Mr Ayo Lijadu. Mr
Lijadu was the brightest and best of them all. He was a literary stylist;
and withal a taciturn individual who wielded a mighty pen. He was the
sub-editor, and in that capacity he did all in his power to encourage the
three of us both during the time of our training, and when we were out in
the field. I had boundless admiration for the man. I disagreed with him
only on one issue–which I then considered to be very vital and that was
his assessment of the literary and political merits of Dr Nnamdi (then
plain Mr or Professor) Azikiwe. Dr Azikiwe did a series of articles on the
liberty of the press for the Nigerian Daily Times. Mr Lijadu thought they
were not worth publishing. They were learned stuff all right, thought Mr
Lijadu, but they were neither original nor were they written in a language
suitable for a newspaper. Chief Titcombe thought differently and he
published the articles. I myself agreed that there were too many long and
ponderous words in them, and that many a reader would have to have a
dictionary by his side in order to understand what Dr Azikiwe was talking
about. But the point remained, I argued, that Dr Azikiwe did not direct
this kind of articles to the average reader. They were meant for those who
were sufficiently educated to understand and appreciate them. I had not met
or even seen Dr Azikiwe then.

Because of my admiration for the man, I was given an assignment to cover
the three lectures which Dr Azikiwe delivered on his arrival in Lagos
towards the end of I934. The first lecture was at the Methodist Boys’ High
School, and the subject was: ‘There is Joy in Scholarship.’ The audience
was very small, but the fame of the brilliance of that lecture reached all
corners of Lagos and the mainland in no time. The other two lectures were
delivered at Faji School and Ansar-Ud-Deen School, Alakoro. The crowd at
=46aji School was a big one–so big that I found it too stuffy and
inconvenient to stay inside. I went out and stood on the ground beneath the
windows behind Dr Azikiwe. There, with the light through the windows, I
made my notes. The organiser of this lecture was my friend, now Senator
Olujide Somolu. The crowd at Alakoro was much bigger and indeed so
tumultuous that the lecture had to be given in the open air. The highlights
of these last two lectures were the expositions by Dr Azikiwe of his
economic and political philosophy for a New Africa. This philosophy was
elaborated under four main headings: (1) political risorgimento; (2)
economic determinism; (3) social resurgence; and (4) spiritual balance.

In a manner which was both charming and disarming, he subtly and implicitly
laid claims to fields of learning which were truly catholic and almost
limitless. ‘Now let us run through the pages of history,’ he proclaimed at
=46aji School; and there was thunderous applause which lasted some two
minutes. It was the first time in Nigeria, so we his hearers believed, that
any Nigerian was academically competent and self-confident enough not only
to enter just a few of the pages of British history, British Empire
history, or European history, but to run through the pages of all history,
as we were made to understand. Dr Azikiwe’s reputation had preceded him to
Nigeria through his book Liberia In World Politics, and there was a general
belief that he was the most outstanding Nigerian scholar in the academic
history of the country. Now this declaration by him proved it. Whether he
actually succeeded in running through the pages of history, whether he was
accurate in the route he chose in the race, or whether the milestones and
landmarks to which he pointed were genuine and true to fact, no one cared
to inquire. The genius of New Africa had spoken, and there was an end of
the matter.

Then at Alakoro he said, among others, the following, at carefully chosen
intervals:

I am not a very good student of the Hebrew language, but Professor
So-and-So of the University of So-and-So in a very scholarly exposition,
discourse, treatise, thesis, or dissertation, written in Hebrew (the
English translation is not available) said so-and-so.

I am not a very good student of the German language, but etc., etc.

I am not a very good student of the French language, but etc., etc.

The uproar of applause which greeted each expression in identical terms is
better imagined than described. The impression was definitely created in
the minds of Dr Azikiwe’s hearers that he was a linguist who understood and
spoke several languages including those he mentioned in the course of the
lecture. But Mr Ayo Lijadu was unimpressed. The only other person who did
not think much of Dr Azikiwe’s political philosophy and scholastic claims
at the time was Mr Ernest Ikoli.

Mr Idewu stuck the Nigerian Daily Times longer than Mr Jose and I did. He
was more fortunate in his posting. He had scarcely arrived in Ijebu Ode
when one of Nigeria’s famous trials, known as the Ijebu Ode Conspiracy
Case, started. The trial of a number of chiefs and leading men in Ijebu
Ode, charged with conspiring to kill Oba Daniel Adesanya, the Awujale of
Ijebu Ode, lasted several days. And the Nigerian Daily Times carried pages
of the report of the proceedings in the case every day. It was a fortuitous
windfall for Mr Idewu. It was hard going in Ibadan, but worse still in
Oshogbo. As between Mr Jose and me, I do not now remember who left the
Nigerian Daily Times before whom. In my case, it was clear that I would
never succeed in raising enough money to become a lawyer from the reporting
business.

My interest in journalism and association with newspapers did not cease
with the severance of my connection with the Nigerian Daily Times. There is
something in the saying: ‘Once a journalist always a journalist.’ In the
midst of my dissatisfaction 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 that paper. In the meantime I
made up my mind to be a free-lance, which in the then Nigerian context
simply meant writing for the love of the art and for no pay. I wrote a
number of articles for the Nigerian Daily Telegraph, and not for the
Nigerian Daily Times. At a later stage I contributed unnumbered articles
under various pen-names including ‘Afric’ and my own initials ‘O.A.’ to the
Daily Service. I was in fact the unofficial volunteer Legislative Council
reporter of that paper for some three-and-a-half years. My articles were
mainly political and always highly controversial. I must have antagonised
the powers-that-be in the process, but I couldn’t have cared less. I was
gratified that I had the approval of the majority of my people for the
views which I expressed. There was one which I wrote which evoked the most
controversy of them all. It was entitled ‘Hints to the Clergy’. The theme
of it was that God did not answer prayer, and did not need to. I quoted
Paul in support of my contention. Says he in his Epistle to the Galatians,
vi, 7: ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap.’ What was paramount therefore was the seed we
sowed. If we sowed good or bad seed, neither the want of prayer nor its
profusion would detract from or alter for the better the quality and the
nature of the seed already sown. The Christian churches felt outraged, and
I remember that churches of the Anglican confession devoted one Sunday to
controverting my heresy, and, I believe, to praying for the redemption of
my soul as well. There were many rejoinders in the papers too.

Though we were all members of the Nigerian Youth Movement, it was the Daily
Service, as the official organ of the Movement, fighting for survival
against the onslaught of Dr Azikiwe, that brought Mr Ernest Ikoli, Chief H.
O. Davies, Chief S. L. Akintola (Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria),
and me constantly together. Mr Ikoli and Chief H. O. Davies practically
slaved for the paper on salaries of, =A3I5 and =A312. 10. 0d respectively. A=
nd
they were paid these paltry sums only when there was enough money in the
paper’s coffers. Chief S. L. Akintola and I earned nothing for our
part-time literary labours on the paper. The motto of the Movement was
‘Selfless Service’, and we sincerely rejoiced in rendering such a service.

It was the practice in those days for people who wanted their photographs
to appear in the newspapers to pay for the blocks. As a matter of
principle, I declined to pay either for my photograph or for its block. I
held the view that if I had to pay for these things, then I had not grown
big enough for my photograph to appear in the papers. Therefore, rather
than pay for it to appear, I should increase my size and stature, until
newspapers would themselves beg for my photographs. In the absence of an
accompanying photograph, and in view of my unobtrusiveness, there were many
people who attributed articles written by me under my initials ‘O.A.’ to Mr
O. A.
Alakija, who was much better known than I. The first time that my
photograph appeared in a newspaper was when I wrote a lengthy open letter
to Sir Arthur Richards (now Lord Milverton) on the proposed Richards
Constitution in I945–eleven years after I had been connected with
newspapers. Chief S. L. Akintola was the Editor of the Daily Service at the
time. I learnt later that he secured the photograph free from a mutual
friend and he made the paper pay for the block.

When I was a law student in the United Kingdom I continued my free-lancing.
My first published article after my arrival in the United Kingdom was on
the White Paper, Cmd 6554 of September I944, on the marketing of cocoa. I
sent it to West Africa. By return of post, I received a letter from the
Editor, Mr Albert Cartwright, expressing delight at receiving my article as
well as an earnest desire to meet me. We met, and we became very good
friends afterwards. He was old enough to be my grandfather when I met him,
but he treated me with deference and affection. Mr Cartwright was in a
class by himself. Though he had spent many of his long years in South
Africa, yet he possessed not even one iota of the evil traits which
distinguish the average South African whites from the rest of humanity.
There was no trace of colour-bar or racial superiority in him. He was a
versatile and almost omniscient journalist, a great authority on African
affairs, and a genuine believer in and fighter for accelerated political
advancement for the Africans. Mr Cartwright set great stock on me, and did
all in his power to help me. He published in his papers (West Africa and
West African Review) everything I cared to write, and paid me for it.
Through his unsolicited recommendation, I was appointed by the British
Council to do a fortnightly bulletin of not more than 1,000 words for which
I was paid =A35. 5. 0d. He taught me a lesson in humility when he appealed t=
o
me to allow him to decline the offer to write a Foreword to my book Path To
Nigerian Freedom, on the ground that there was someone else worthier than
himself to undertake the task. He suggested Miss Margery Perham whom I had
not then met, but some of whose books I had read. After I had been called
to the Bar, Mr Cartwright asked to know from me whether I would be willing
to consider an offer to become the Editor of the Nigerian Daily, Times. I
respectfully told him, I would not.

—————————————————————————

Taken from “AWO The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo,” pp 80-91.

 

 

 

 

 

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