By Olusegun Adeniyi*
When my friend and brother, Emeka Nwosu sounded me out about whether I would review his book being presented today, I did not even hesitate before I accepted the offer which I consider an honour. The author is a man for whom I have tremendous respect even though when he was in power as chairman of the National Association of Political Correspondents (NAPOC), he did not consider me worthy for appointment as one of his numerous Special Assistants. It may interest this audience to know that one of his SAs is now a big man at the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) as the Executive Secretary. If Orji Ogbonaya Orji is here, can you please stand up for recognition?
The public presentation of ‘Media, Politics and Power in Nigeria: A Personal Perspective’ could not have come at a better time given the crisis of transition that now plague the nation as political parties nominate their candidates for various offices. Interestingly, the presidential candidates of both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), former Vice President Atiku Abubakar were frontline players in the political era reported by the author during which he was also a prominent journalist. In his disquisition of what happened at that period, the author provides the lessons that were ignored as well as what might have been had we followed a different trajectory. Yet despite being a ringside observer, the author adopts in his narrative the detachment of an unbiased reporter. I must therefore commend Emeka Nwosu for writing this insightful memoir.
The book opens in chapter one with the familiar lamentation about the mismanagement of our country that has led to a situation in which thousands of able-bodied young men and women now embark on suicide missions across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in search of opportunities. I can relate with the view of the author since this is an issue I have engaged. However, while dwindling opportunities and a population growth that far exceeds our resources may be the compelling reason why many of our young professionals to look abroad, I believe we should separate the issue of migration from what ails us as a country. Migration is a global phenomenon, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. I highlighted this in my book, ‘From Frying Pan to Fire: How African Migrants Risk Everything in their Futile Search for a Better Life in Europe’ published in 2018. The challenge, as the President of Ghana, Mr Nana Akufo-Addo stated, is that we should “make our countries, our continent attractive for our youth to see as places of opportunities.”
Emeka Nwosu’s book is, of course, not about migration but it is important enough for him to have made the subject an issue of concern in the introductory chapter. The story of Nwosu’s family background is quite interesting. With a father who married three wives, the author comes from a polygamous home but there seems to be peace in the environment in which he grew up. That is something readers will take away from the book given the harmonious relationships between Emeka and his siblings, including from different mothers. That may also be due to the background of Emeka’s father. A soldier who fought during the Second War as member of the African contingent deployed by the British colonial government to Burma, the senior Nwosu became a foodstuff merchant upon return to the country. He also relocated to Kaduna where he prospered until the outbreak of the civil war which necessitated the family’s return to their ancestral Southeast.
The second chapter explores the issue of shrines and deities of the pre-Christian era in his native Ohuhu land. Nwosu’s village, Umukabia belongs to the Ohuhu, one of the five clans that make up Umuahia. Others are Ibeku, Olokoro, Umuopara and Ubakala. While these clans share historical heritage, each has its distinct culture and different dialects. Ohuhu itself is divided into two lineages: Umuhu and Okaiuga. Aside presenting the basic norms and values of Ohuhu people, the author laments about a challenge that is not restricted to Igboland. “It is regrettable to note that some of the younger generation of Ohuhu people can hardly express themselves in the Ohu dialect or the central Igbo”, Nwosu wrote before putting the blame on parents because “they hardly communicate in Igbo at home.”
This aspect of Nwosu’s book is very important, although it is an issue that we all neglect. If we do a census here of parents whose children can speak their native language, we will be shocked by the outcome. What we fail to appreciate is that as our indigenous languages face extinction, so are other aspects of our culture, including history, traditions, and values. Incidentally, Section 1 (8) of the 1977 National Policy on Education (NPE) states that “the Federal Government shall take official interest in and make policy pronouncements on the teaching of the indigenous languages, instead of concerning itself solely with English Language’’. Like all policies and programmes in Nigeria, this aspect of our education curriculum has been neglected. I am delighted that the author highlighted this issue, and it is one we all must collectively deal with.
Born in the years preceding the civil war, Nwosu’s memoir contains fragments of that tragedy, and he recounts a few incidents from the perspective of a child which he then was. While the author’s education was briefly truncated and had to resume school after the war ended in 1970, what I find particularly fascinating about his early life in the village is that it bears uncanny resemblance to mine. Just as many of us were, Emeka was engaged in writing letters for old women in the village to their children residing outside the community, most of them in faraway cities like Enugu, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, and Kano. And reading their replies as well. This was a chore many of us enjoyed in those days because it carried rewards. But it also exposed us to the pain some parents bore due to the neglect by their children.
In the author’s recollection, one could also see the horrors of war and the exposure of children to such tragedies. Nwosu recounts how as children they were organised into various pseudo military groups and the drills they had to undergo almost every day. At the period, Nwosu’s father had become a councillor and by implication, the political leader of the village. With that, the responsibility of sending people to war had fallen on the elder Nwosu. But he was reluctant to send his own children. The story of Iheanyi’s conscription into the Biafran army is a fascinating account of the interaction between the filial and the political and an affirmation of the aphorism that blood indeed is thicker than water.
Readers will of course enjoy the story of how the author secured admission to the University of Nigeria Nsukka, the years on the campus, including receiving a federal government scholarship despite his adventure into student union politics at different levels etc. The account of his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year in Owo, Ondo State, a year after the violence that eventually led to the collapse of the Second Republic, is also well told. Upon completion of his NYSC primary assignment, the author proceeded to the University of Lagos for his master’s degree before entering the world of journalism at the old Daily Times conglomerate. After training, the author was first posted to Times International before later deployed to the political desk where he would ultimately make his professional mark and earn national recognition.
Apparently because of his experience in student unionism, it did not take long before Nwosu began to aspire for leadership positions in journalism, first with the National Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents (NAFACOR) in 1987 where he contested and won the position of publicity secretary. But it was while covering the political beat for Daily Times that his star shone brighter with his election as NAPOC chairman. Although Ike Mbonu of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) was founding NAPOC chairman, Nwosu succeeded his Daily Times colleague, Gbenga Adesina. The election that brought him to office was rather dramatic because he defeated his opponent, Mallam Isa Husseini then of NAN by a single vote.
The author recalls what transpired at the election, especially how he believed that reporters from the Southwest ganged up against him. I remember that episode too but in a different way. I am sure many will dispute the ethnic slant the author put to what happened. But nobody will doubt that Nwosu was a very effective NAPOC chairman.
With the death in 1998 of both Abiola and Abacha, and the ascension to power of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a certain General Olusegun Obasanjo was released from prison, following which a transition to civil rule programme was unfolded. The former military leader was drafted into the presidential race on the platform of the PDP, led by the late Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme, and Mr Onyema Ugochukwu was appointed to manage the media for Obasanjo. He tapped Nwosu to join him in the assignment. The rest, as they say, is now history.
From newsroom, the author moved into the arena of practical politics with all its intrigues. When Ugochukwu was eventually nominated for the position of the pioneer chairman of the then newly formed Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) under President Obasanjo, Nwosu described the behind-the-scenes drama of Ugochukwu’s confirmation by the Senate. In 2007, the author contested for the House of Representatives in his home Ikwuano-Umuahia federal constituency on PDP platform. By his account, he was muscled out before joining the Action Congress (AC). Readers will enjoy the narratives of his experience. However, the author must be reminded that while Atiku Abubakar may have been the flagbearer of the party at the time, he was not the leader. The party was put together by Tinubu to replace the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which brought him to power.
In the book, the author also details his travels and community efforts as well as other roles he has played in the past few years. The book closes in chapter 25 with ‘Looking Ahead’, a commentary by the author on the state of our union in Nigeria, the challenges we currently face and what he considers the way out.
Overall, ‘Media, Politics and Power in Nigeria: A Personal Perspective’, by Emeka Nwosu, one of the finest journalists of his generation, is written in his inimitable style. Although it contains some typos and could have been better edited, the 256-page book is one I will strongly recommend for those who seek to know more about Emeka Nwosu’s background as well as for members of the Twitter who refuse to accept that, without the benefit of social media, our generation fought and practically wrestled the military to the ground for Nigeria to enjoy the current democracy, however imperfect it may be.
With the maturity that comes with age, experience and exposure, the author’s patriotism shines through the collection. He agonises over the challenges we face while at the same time, proffering his own solutions to some of them. At the end, what the author says most clearly is that we can overcome the human and institutional barriers that have for decades held the country back, if we chart a new course and embrace a more productive and cooperative form of engagement between and among the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project. I share his optimism.
- Text of the review by Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of THISDAY Editorial Board, at the public presentation of ‘Media, Politics and Power in Nigeria’in Abuja on 10th June 2020