It is almost normal now to take the television for granted. Yet when we were young, everyone appreciated the magic of the television. In recent months, old veterans have been drumming it to our ears that 2019 marked the 60th years of television in Nigeria and Africa. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo commissioned the Western Nigerian Television in 1959, it was the first time the magic box would beam on the African continent. Mrs Anike Agbaje-Williams became the first person to appear on television. Mr Kunle Olasope, who died in October 2019, became the first man on television. Thus it became truly appropriate for WNTV to call itself First in Africa. It became one of the signature achievements of Awolowo.
It is also significant that as we were marking the 60th anniversary of WNTV, the iconic Nigerian Tribune was also marking its 70th anniversary. The Tribune was the newspaper founded by Awolowo in 1949 to prosecute his political purpose. Awolowo, in his younger days, had worked briefly as a reporter with the Daily Times during the editorship of Mr Lijadu. He appreciated the power of the press but complained that journalists of that era were regarded as “the flotsam and jetsam” of the society.
I believe that Awolowo must have been encouraged to make his bid into press power because of the spectacular success of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the American trained journalist, who dominated journalism and the nationalism space of Nigeria when Awolowo was a young reporter. He recalled in his autobiography, Awo, that he was once sent to cover one of Zik’s public lectures at the historic Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. As the guest speaker was thundering against the evils of colonial rule, making references to “all the pages of world history,” Awo was perched on the window for the hall was packed full with an appreciative audience.
The two were to dedicate most part of their public lives to mutual antagonism and occasional positive friendship collaboration. It is noteworthy that when Chief Awolowo died on May 9, 1987, the great Zik was still alive and well. The Awolowo family and political associates decided to place his well-embalmed body in a glass casing placed in his mausoleum in Ikenne, his country home in Ogun State. However, on May 11, 1996, they decided to bury the body finally and Awo was interred in the land of his ancestors. It was on that day that Zik died.
But Awolowo’s footprints were not buried with him and that is the heart of the matter. He had used his private enterprise to advance his political cause. The Tribune, pungent and unsparing of perceived Awolowo’s opponents and ideas, remain now even an active instrument of power. Its longevity has not mellowed its voice nor undermined its influence. It has survived in a field crowded with abiku media houses. Its editorials, thundering in the days when Lateef Jakande and Felix Adenaike (the General Officer Commanding, GOC) were the editors-in-chief, remain a reference point for this great country.
Tribune’s greatest attribute is its capacity to survive. When I entered the then the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU), Ile-Ife, in September 1976, the Tribune was the favourite paper of students. We would gather in front of Awolowo Hall to pick copies of the Tribune, its pages, in dreary types and fading illustrations, and argue ourselves hoarse about politics. As Awolowo launched the last phase of his spectacular political career in 1978, the paper too became born-again, printed in clear colour, but still the same pungent political reporting and editorials. In defending the Awolowo Corner, Tribune took no prisoner.
Awolowo did a lot of good things for himself. He did a lot of excellent things for the people. Since he left power in 1959, he has been growing bigger in our hearts and in our collective memories. Since he vacated power, other men; Chief Ladoke Akintola, Dr Koyejo Majekodunmi, Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo, Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi, Vice-Admiral Akintunde Aduwo and Major-General David MedaIyese Jemibewon, have all ruled the West from Ibadan until the creation of new states by General Murtala Muhammed in 1976. They all did well and built on the Awolowo legacy. Their successes highlight the importance of a good foundation.
Anyone who is familiar with Ibadan should be worried about the foundation Awolowo laid for the West and its implications for today and the future. During his years in power, Awolowo concentrated development in the two largest and most important Yoruba cities; Ibadan and Lagos. He did not build a university in Ikenne, his hometown in Ogun State. He took the university to Ile-Ife, the land of Orunmila, the Wise One. At that time, the West extended to most parts of Lagos State including Mushin, Maryland, Ikeja, Epe, Ikorodu, Badagry, and Lekki. As Nigeria marched towards independence in the 1950s, there was a serious struggle among our leaders for the control of Lagos. Awolowo wanted Lagos to be part of the West. The North and East wanted it to remain outside the control of the West, claiming it was “a no-man’s land.”
Despite all these, Awolowo puts almost all the West industrial eggs in two baskets: Lagos and Ibadan. All important industrial and commercial projects of the West were in these two cities. I once asked Papa Adekunle Ajasin, first elected Governor of Ondo State, why was this so, because our own old Ondo Province (now Ondo and Ekiti States) was totally out of the picture. More so, both Ibadan and Lagos then were strongholds of the opposition National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Premier of the defunct Eastern Region. Ajasin said Awolowo believed the West needed only two giant industrial centres to propel economic development and prosperity. He was also interested in controlling “industrial waste” which should not be allowed to litter the land.
We thank God that both Ibadan and Lagos are not yet reduced to wasteland, but they are yet to fulfill the promises of the Awolowo era. There is a need to rethink the political and economic infrastructure of the old West in order to realize another era of life more abundant. Three assignments should immediately command the attention of our leaders, particularly the governors. First is the decline in education, especially the primary purpose of reading and the pursuit of knowledge. The second is power supply which has turned every household into a local government that must take care of itself. The third one is transportation.
By 1965, both the Federal Government of Prime-Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa and the West under the controversial Premier Ladoke Akintola agreed that both Lagos and Ibadan deserve to have metro line projects. Lagos could not embark on its own until the Second Republic during the regime of Governor Kayode Jakande. The metroline project was later abrogated by the military junta headed by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari leading to the loss of 200 million dollars. Today Buhari is back in power as a born-again democrat. It is necessary for the Federal Government, but more especially for the governments of both Oyo and Lagos State to think of the serious rebuilding of Lagos and Ibadan. Just as Awolowo had predicted in the 1950s, these two cities still hold the key to the future prosperity of the West and indeed Nigeria.
It is of no use to dwell on the glories of the past if we are reluctant to learn the correct lessons from them. There is no doubt that since the Awolowo era, the Tribune has done well and is doing well. The television, which started as a spark in Ibadan, has become a giant torch illuminating the nation. Today, we have more than 100 television stations in Nigeria. But in the real sense, we have not done too well. When the 25-story Cocoa House was completed in 1964, it was the tallest building in Africa. Today, it still remains the tallest building in the entire Yorubaland, except for three other skyscrapers in Lagos. South-Africa and Egypt now have far taller buildings. It is time to do something different and better.
- The Guardian, Nigeria