April 14, 2024

Will The Nigerian Observer Survive Godwin Obaseki? (1)

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Etimiku

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By Majirioghene Etimiku (Independent)

Three things about the Nigerian Observer made it stand out. First, the place where it stood used to be a rubber plantation in the old Bendel State. In the early 60s when the Midwest State Government of Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia was look­ing for a spot to site a police station or police barracks, it settled at the location where the Nigerian Observer is present­ly located. I have visited the premises of what was once the premises of The Ni­gerian Observer, and we found relics of that police barracks still there.

The Nigerian Observer used to be the flagship newspaper in Nigeria. Founded about 55 years ago, it served as a rallying point for the interaction, interrogation and analysis of issues of development in the defunct Midwestern Region and Bendel State. The Nigerian Observer was known throughout Nigeria when Brig Gen. Osaigbovo Ogbemudia was Governor.

Many Nigerian journalists, and in­deed any journalist worth their salt in Nigeria were to cut their teeth within the hallowed walls of journalism. It has had famous names as Osemwegie Ebo­hon, Ofure Osehobo, Mike Opute, Flora Okoye, Nasamu Jacobson, Adetokunbo Abiola, Anthony Enahoro, Julius Oweh, Owei Lakemfa, Nduka Obaigbena, Ade­kumbi Ero, Bob Etemiku, etc.

Part of the power of the Nigerian Observer was in its power of support­ing independent thought and the power of the pen to frame policy, formulate the agenda and drive development agenda. But the fortunes of this enviable insti­tution began to nosedive after the Old Bendel State was divided in two – Edo and Delta States.

While the government of Delta State went ahead to start The Pointer Newspaper with most of her for­mer staff from The Nigerian Observer, the core of the Nigerian Observer began to erode piece by piece. It started with the military administrations which gov­erned Edo State – while the governors in Delta State supported The Pointer, the military governors of Edo State – Baba Adamu Iyam, Anthony Onyearugbulem & Co stopped subventions to

The Nigeri­an Observer. The trend was to continue from the civilian administrations of Chief John Oyegun, and especially with Adams Oshiomhole who, it is alleged, supervised the systematic decay and rot of The Nigerian Observer.

It is alleged that Adams Oshiomhole decided to let the paper rot because it took a neutral stance during the issues surrounding his election.

In eight years as governor, Adams Oshiomhole did not support the growth or development of this esteemed paper. I visited The Nigerian Observer in 2015 to find out that all the machines were all broken down.

There was no power supply, and staff were often seen producing the paper at night with the torch lights from their cell phones. The scene that I saw at the Nigeria Observer in 2015 broke my heart – staff were disil­lusioned and machines were abandoned as if it was a junkyard.

But as soon as the Obaseki admin­istration came on board after the cat­astrophic neglect of the Nigerian Ob­server during the whole of the Adams Oshiomhole years, Edo people began to get mixed signals about the intentions of the Godwin Obaseki administration.

First was the gist that Obaseki adminis­tration was intent on selling off the Ni­gerian Observer outright to the highest bidder. Not long after that, tongues began to wag that the governor had rescinded his decision to sell it.

Next, we learnt that he visited for what seemed an on-the-spot assessment of the premises and of the property in question. But lo and behold, Edo people were to be pleasantly sur­prised at the importation of about two or three state- of-the-art equipment said to be high-tech printers.

Then the governor undertook some kind of appraisal of the premises of the Nigerian Observer, and began systematic demolition of the very old structures of the Nigerian Observer.

We were told that the governor had de­cided after all to revamp the Nigerian Observer. I could not control my joy at what has now become fake news, and I went wild with joy.

I had been brought up here under very seasoned journalists, and therefore went to press to praise the governor to the very heavens.

Much later, however, there was what looked like a very long wait for the Nigerian Observer to rev. Insiders told me that part of the reason why the printers were not yet working was that the manufacturers forgot to include certain spare parts of the machines before they were export­ed to Benin City from wherever.

But it seemed as though those stories were not true, and this is because the Obaseki ad­ministration seems to covet a certain opaque system in running Edo state.

Earlier on, Edo appeared willing to sign on to the Open Government Partnership, OGP, but eventually withdrew like a shy tortoise or snail after discovering that that openness would infringe on his style of opacity in governance.

A press release sent by Mr. Chris Nehikhare, commissioner for Commu­nications, Orientation and Information in 2022 indicated that Governor Obase­ki wants The Nigerian Observer to be a self-sustaining institution which would generate funds and operate just like oth­er media houses in Nigeria.

By ‘Other media houses in Nigeria’, it meant that the Edo government would stop paying salaries of its workers, while the paper would be expected to run just like regu­lar newspapers, distinctively known for holding salaries of staff for very many months.

Recall that successive military and civilian governments of Bendel and Edo state like Group Captain Baba Ada­mu Iyam, Colonel John Mark Inienger, Colonel Tunde Ogbeha, Colonel John Ewerekumoh Yeri, Navy Captain An­thony Onyearagbulem all gave the same excuses as the one that Mr. Obaseki has given for ‘divesting’ interests from the Nigerian Observer – that the paper is not viable, and therefore unable to continue to fund or support it.

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