Many Nigerian journalists throw parties whenever they are tapped as chief press secretary (CPS) or appointed a media aide to a politician. Apart from the late Samuel Ibiyemi of NewsDirect newspapers, Segun Osoba, Reuben Abati, and the former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who took the gauntlet and made a foray in the turbulent waters of politics, I know of no other who have applied their reportorial goodwill for public office. Some say that most Nigerian journalists often cut a deprived picture and have been conditioned to be unambitious – we work under very irregular circumstances, most times at the risk of our lives – most are underpaid, unpaid and thereby forced to survive by all means necessary. To survive under such irregular circumstances working like soldiers, nurses and doctors…and sometimes like slaves, a journalist would most times not hesitate to throw a colleague under the bus and run him down even when his own interests are not threatened. If there are opportunities for growth and development, basic instincts driven by tribe, ego, and pecuniary considerations often take over. I remember very vividly one of them who took my name and potentials to favour one of those he considered loyal to him. Concerning this last statement though, my former editors at TELL Magazine – Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Nosa Igiebor, Wola Adeyemo, Olayinka Oyegbile, Betty Abah and Fola Adekeye – were an exception. They took the high ground, and exposed most of us to local and international opportunities for professional development.
Today, I have an example of one in the mould of these TELL editors. His name is Mr Jide Oyekunle, current correspondents’ chairman in the FCT. Before his election, I had suffered severally at the hands of many wannabes in the industry. Even though I have nearly a three-decade experience, with nearly 500 articles to my name, two degrees in English, a book on development communications, including a journalism teaching consultancy, certain elements in the industry often question my credentials.
Things have changed a wee bit. Shortly after he was elected chairman of FCT correspondents, Mr Jide Oyekunle organised a football competition, as part of his programme to use sports to build the professional and physical capacity of journalists. There was going to be a match between the Correspondents’ chapel of the NUJ and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA). The coach to take our players was not around, and I basically just stepped in. I know a thing or two about football, and I guess this was from being an avid follower of the Premier League from the early 80s before Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United became famous. My heroes then were Kenny Daglish the Celtic forward, Kevin Keegan of Southampton and Newcastle, Trevor Francis of Nottingham Forest, Socrates, Zico and Falcao. Whilst working as editorial assistant and columnist with Daily Independent circa 2004 to 2006, I played in the football team as a defensive midfielder. Our Managing Editor, Ted Iwere, was a football lover, and I had Daniel Alabra for team capo. Therefore, the opportunity to groom these young ones was not one I was going to let slide.
I began to take our boys through the tiki and taka – to take the ball, pass it and advance towards the goal. With Mr Oyekunle’s strong support, our boys recently gave a good showing of their potentials at the just-concluded three-day football tourney, August 3-5, 2023, by beating the NBA. The tourney had the Nigeria Police, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the NMA and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA).
There were three takeaways for me from the FCT football tournament. One, even though the correspondents’ chapel of the NUJ did not have a subvention or imprest with which to organise the tournament, Mr Oyekunle raised funds to run the show. That in itself is a roadmap for the journalism industry in that instead of sucking up to political figures for political appointments or for some crumbs, journalists can actually come together and run things. Two, with certain people in certain positions, goals get scored. According to Chris Isizugo, NUJ President, the football tourney organised by Mr. Oyekunle was the first-ever football tournament to have been ever organised. Three, I know for a fact that Mr Oyekunle did not let me coach our boys because I come from his tribe or that we have been long-time friends or that we worship at the same church or mosque. I never met him ever until coming to Abuja two years ago. Just like my editors at TELL Magazine, Mr Jide Oyekunle has inspired us all with support and encouragement to succeed either as players or as coach.
Therefore, at this critical time when Nigeria needs men and women to move our country forward, it is important to get people with passion to score the goals for development. I have heard that Mr. President has an apolitical, detribalized disposition towards those he taps to work with him. I have heard as well that he goes for people who have a track-record of accomplishments. Well then, if Mr. President or any governor has an opening in the Department of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Oyekunle would be the man to tap.
*Etemiku is coach of the FCT Correspondents’ Football Team.