17th December, 2013
Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan, a veteran journalist, public relations consultant and community leader in Kano who clocked 71 recently, was educated at the Catholic Mission primary and secondary schools, Ile-Ife, Osun State between 1948 and 1960 before starting out as a cub reporter in 1961. He was later trained by the International Press Institute, IPI, under the sponsorship of Ford Foundation of America, at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. In this interview with MADUABUCHI NMERIBEH, he shares his experience as a journalist
How do you reflect on your life and career at 71?
So far I can say God has been faithful to me. I have practised journalism and public relations here in Kano since 1968. If you ask me, I will say that Kano City has been my second home after I arrived from East Africa as a foreign correspondent of New Nigerian. I started the state chapter, Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, as state secretary. I later became the first elected chairman when NUJ was forced to become an industrial and professional union under the Labour Decree mandating all trade unions to register with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. I was among those who registered the decree as the National Secretary of Sidi Sirajo faction of NUJ which came into existence after a national conference was held in Kano. Nine of the 12 states then attended the conference, with Lagos, Western and Kwara states boycotting. Hitherto, all conferences for election were held in Lagos without adherence to a section of the NUJ constitution which says when you have seven of the 12 states in attendance, an election could hold anywhere within the Federation.
After the conference with observers like Niyi Oniororo from West, Dan Ikunaiye from Kwara, the three earlier mentioned states refused to recognise the Kano-elected officers. It became a national battle, with Chief Lateef Jakande holding several peace meetings in Kaduna at the Lugard Hall, but the conflict persisted. Then the Federal Military Government came out with the fecree to harmonise trade unions and the late General Henry Adefowope became Federal Minister of Labour. A fresh conference of NUJ was summoned at Benin, which was attended by five of 12 states with Kano serving as observer, where Chief Michael Asaju emerged as the president under controversial circumstances. That was because nine other states did not recognise Asaju, who happened to be my brother, from Iyara in Ijumu Local Government Area, now in Kogi State.
How did you use your position to improve the lot of journalists in Kano then?
As a journalist trained with the fund of Ford Foundation of America under the auspices of International Press Institute, IPI, at the University College of Nairobi, Kenya, now University of Nairobi, I understood the need for training and re-training of journalists and this was top on my agenda as the NUJ chairman. It is on record that I groomed many journalists with the assistance of the US Information and Cultural Centre, in cooperation with the British Council. As a result, Kano, as a new state then, became an active participant in all NUJ activities at the national level. I once lectured at Bayero University and International Institute of Journalism, IIJ, teaching Page Design, Layout and Reporting.
As a result of this initiative, Kano produced an NUJ national vice-president in the person of Nasiru Zaharadeen and later, Comrade Sani Zoro as president for the first time in the history of northern Nigeria. The incumbent president, Mohammad Garba, is a product of Kano activism and he is doing well.
What followed after your tenure as Kano NUJ chairman?
I began another crusade by organising the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, Kano State chapter. In fact, my mission to Kano was to set up a powerful communication company with emphasis on press and PR services. I became the first elected state chairman and fellow of the Kano NIPR. My vice-chairman, the late Sabo Sarki Mohammed, became the first vice-president and later national president of NIPR for the first time in the history of northern Nigeria. I played a major role in his emergence. By private study and examinations, I became a member of British Institute of Public Relations. I also read Advertising and Marketing, even though I worked more as a journalist, having started as a cub reporter in Nigerian Tribune in 1961 at the age of 19.
I have worked as a chief reporter, news editor, sports, political, foreign, labour and crime correspondent; features editor, bureau chief, chief sub-editor, magazine editor and managing editor. I started with the Nigerian Tribune, and then Daily Sketch to New Nigerian in 1966, Nigerian Herald, Reuters/BBC as a freelance, editor of New Era (English/Hausa) magazine, managing editor of Kano State government-owned Triumph, defunct Drum magazine and African International Business Magazine in London.
How would you describe your life as a newsman?
Reporting tells the man from the boys because there you watch reality of life and that’s where journalism is. It has no place for cowardice; it is noble and honourable but dangerous. Bullet missed me by a hair’s breadth during the Nigerian Civil War. I covered peace talks in Ethiopia and Uganda. I loved visiting the National Parks, where I watched animals, including elephants, from the Top Trees Hotel as they drank from a flowing river. The joy of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro at 25 was fun. It is the highest mountain in Africa. Cruising on Lake Victoria – the largest lake in Africa – and holidaying on Mombasa beach in Kenya were all exciting. I have no regrets being a journalist.
You are known as a community leader. How has it been serving the community, particularly Sabon Gari where you reside?
As a thoroughbred professional, I believe that practitioners must work for the community they live. More so, neglecting one’s community is to one’s detriment. That is the problem of oil companies which neglected the communities where they dig oil. As a bridge builder, I see myself as a sort of last bastion and defender of nationalism.
As a community leader, I work for the Non-Indigene Community Leaders Association, the Yoruba Community, my immediate community – Okun Yoruba-speaking people of Kogi State – and I am the Acting President of Kogi State Community in Kano. I am also an elder in the Northern Minority Peoples Forum. I sat on Kano’s first Rent Tribunal and on the Board of Directors of Kano Housing Corporation.
You must have memories that linger. Share some with us?
My illegal eviction from the government estate in Kundila where I lived for 35 years because I am a non-indigene makes me sad. A high court ruling said it was a government policy to sell the houses to indigenes only. I entered [the estate] on owner-occupier basis. Why sell to only indigenes? It is a pain in the neck. However, International Senior Lawyers Project – an American NGO – took up the matter which is now before the ECOWAS Court in Abuja. They believe the government erred because the Nigerian Constitution allows all Nigerians to acquire property anywhere they live in Nigeria.
What about your contemporaries in journalism. Do you still relate with them?
I remember Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State; Philip Adedeji, Ayo Ojewununmi, Kanye Eleko, Charles Igoh, Mike Ajari, Tunde Akingbade, Dele Okpopo, Sola Odunfa, Sidi Sirajo, Mike Okoro, Victor Dorgu, Bisi Bamgbetan, Yemi Odugbesan, Clement Isaiah, Abu Onaji, Yahaya Sani, Tony Momoh, Dan Agbese, Mike Pearse (The Citizen), Femi Sonaike, Afolabi Alo, John Bagudu, David Atta, Oba Akran of Badagry, James Audu, Adamu Augie, Kola Adebayo, Bayo Joseph, Eje Agbo, Olu Johnson, Bayo Rotibi, Ajibade Adams, Adio Saka, Israel Ojo, Dipo Ajayi, Kayode Awe, Dosu Oyelude, Dapo Daramola, Peter Ajayi. Elder Fiberesima, Mustapha Dungus, Bukar Petrol, Oba Mike Asaju, Albert Alale, Eddy Obasa, Mike Egbon, Remi Ilori, Goke Ajiboye. Many of them have passed on to eternity.
I also remember my masters in the job: Lateef Jakande (John West), Bisi Onabanjo (Ayekoto), Lateef Temiola, Alade Odunewu (Allah-De), Peter Enahoro (Peter Pan), Olu Akinsoroju, Charles Sharp (a Briton), Dai Hayward (an Australian), Dan Anyiam, Anthony Anene, M.A. Ogun, Magaji Dambatta, Mustapha Dambatta, Rasak Aremu, Alhaji Alesinloye, Leye Adedoyin, Francis Ade Fagbemi, Nelson Ottah and Mrs. Theresa Bowyer.
What are your views and philosophy in politics?
I was a die-hard Awoist. I am a student of Chief Obafemi Awolowo political school, having been trained in the Nigerian Tribune. On coming to Kano, I became Aminuist, the ideology of political sage, Aminu Kano. I served on his “Think Tank” during the People’s Redemption Party, PRP. Both leaders were democratic socialism ideologues. I contested on the platform of Social Democratic Party, SDP. My constituency scored the highest votes in Kano for Chief M.K.O Abiola in the annulled election of 12 June 1993. I know Nigerian political history is replete with stories on how Chief S.L.A. Akintola lost his battle with the Action Group leader, Chief Awolowo; Zik’s battle with Chief K.O. Mbadiwe (Man of Timbre and Calibre) and others.
I am the Director-General of an NGO called Strategic Powerful Information Network, which promotes people and strategy towards democracy, ethics, free press and development. As the publisher of Civil Society, a monthly community newsletter, I use the medium to educate the public on the tenets of democracy.
Can you reflect on your experience as a war correspondent?
It was a unique experience covering war and peace and that made me to pass through the furnace of war and riots, which made me to come out a refined newsman. However, no news is worth the life of a reporter covering delicate beats. I remember two of my colleagues who died in the Biafra War – Kagu Daboa of the defunct Morning Post and Ciroma of Radio Nigeria, Kaduna. I was at Ore battle front – where war was fully declared by the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon – after I covered the Police action in Obolo Ofor, Obolo Eke and Nsukka. It was at Nsukka that I followed the remains of my friend, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, for burial after he died during a gun battle with the Nigerian troops. I took part in the Ethiopia peace talks which broke down, and Uganda peace talks where Ayo Banjo was kidnapped and killed. That led to the slogan: Kampala Kills (Kampala n’payan). It made the talks, led by Chief Anthony Enahoro, then Minister of Information, to break down in Kampala.
Are you satisfied with the Freedom of Information Act?
It is not yet Uhuru (freedom) for practitioners because the Act does not protect the source of information which every journalist has the right to protect. The law was passed with poisonous teeth to bite the journalist and make him bleed to death until he betrays the confidentiality of his source of information. The law became an ambush against the freedom to practise the profession properly. The National Assembly should amend the Act and abrogate others including law of secrecy, for free flow of information. That’s the only remedy for better governance, transparency and accountability.
How was your growing up like?
Growing up demands hard work and honesty. I was brought up in two Christian missions because my father, as a pastor, did not spare the rod to save the child. Also I attended Catholic primary and secondary schools where I served the white reverend fathers, both on and outside the altar. In my father’s cottage church at Ile-Ife, I read bible lessons and I was also a member of the church band. In the Catholic Church, I served as an altar boy and was prominent in the choir.