Akinbiyi: Lamentations of An Octogenarian Journalist, By Banji Ojewale
Jide Akinbiyi has a long tale of woes about the Nigerian project he has been part of right from his days as the pioneer news editor of WNTV, Africa’s first TV station established by Obafemi Awolowo in Ibadan in 1959. He claims however that he isn’t a hopeless pessimist at 86.
Prince Jide Akinbiyi was 27 years and 33 days old at Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960. He had just transferred his services from Western Nigeria Information Services to the newly established Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), First in Africa, in Ibadan. The previous eight years of Nigeria under British colonial rule, from 1952 to 1959, marked the final stage of the country’s preparations for self-rule. The country’s abundant resources and the excellent performance of the country’s leaders in each of the three-region federation gave out much promise and expectations that, after Independence, Nigeria would emerge as the leading nation of Africa and one of the front-line nations of the world.
Through reportorial beats and the editorial desk, Akinbiyi has been an active witness to “how the country derailed from that great expectation, lost many opportunities to launch into the ranks of rich nations and frustrated the aspirations of its citizens.” He added: “As an individual, my profession as a journalist, my life as a citizen and a family man, has been intricately tied to the vagaries of Nigerian politics and the years of misrule by those in power. I…reported on how independent Nigeria had been under fifteen successive rulers, who derived their power over the country, not through any genuine democratic process, but from a vicious, mysterious and malevolent source which, even today (about) sixty years after, is waxing stronger than before. I witnessed and reported how Nigeria’s derailment started in 1962 with the federal government’s undue interference in the governance of the Western Region by taking over the government of the Region under a state of emergency. Since then, it had been a series of setbacks not only for the highly progressive and pace-setting region, but (also) for Nigeria as a whole.”
In December 1964, Akinbiyi left WNTV to join the federal government owned TV station, the Nigerian Television Service on Victoria Island, in Lagos, where he covered the Federal polls of 1964 and those of Western Nigeria in 1965. He believes both were rigged to return to government Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of the Northern People’s Congress at the centre and Samuel Ladoke Akintola as premier of Western Region. The 1965 ballot result, Akinbiyi, turning 86 on August 29, insists was “the last straw that broke the camel’s back…the last move that led to a spontaneous explosion of public resentment that continued until a military coup in 1966 swept away the civilians from power.”
Now as Nigeria drifted from civilian governance to military regimes, from one undemocratic government to the other, and with a series of political, social and economic upheavals, the fortunes of the country lumbered to the stages approximating a failed state.
At the end of 13 years of military administration, the country was taken into a new system, the presidential system of government in 1979. That marked the beginning of another round of political confusion for Nigeria, according to Jide Akinbiyi. In just four years, all the political and financial capital invested in the presidential system, including a two-year long constituent assembly deliberations, was thrown down the drain by a group of military officers who only had their eyes on Nigeria’s oil wealth. The soldiers simply removed elected governments of the federation. In office for another round of military rule that lasted sixteen years, the military tampered with the structure of the country’s federal system, created new and unviable states and increased the powers of the centre at the expense of the former viable states.
Before the country was forty years as an independent nation, it had witnessed twenty nine years of military rule, during which so much was taken away from the people’s well-being. As if that wasn’t enough, Nigeria’s military handed down to Nigeria a lop-sided constitution, which put many parts of the country at a disadvantage and brought a former military ruler as the civilian president to usher Nigeria into the 21st century.
In my discussions with octogenarian Akinbiyi lately as I prepared for this piece, he hasn’t ceased to argue that the story of independent Nigeria is that of a country taken over by a political force with no plan for her development.
He declared: “The bane of governance in Nigeria is that the emirate north which had exercised power over Nigeria for nearly sixty years is not a democratic society. Its rule of feudal oligarchy which had immensely affected the standard of life and had inflicted untold suffering and deprivation on the masses of the…states of the country, had also been dragging down the rest of the country because power has so much been centralised. Opposition to the nationwide demand for a restructuring of the country to provide for a better constitution that could pave the way for realistic socio-economic development of the country had always come from the elite of the emirate north and other beneficiaries of emirate rule. As long as they enjoyed their privileged positions, it matters not to them what fate befalls the people of Nigeria.”
Jide Akinbiyi has a long tale of woes about the Nigerian project he has been part of right from his days as the pioneer news editor of WNTV, Africa’s first TV station established by Obafemi Awolowo in Ibadan in 1959. He claims however that he isn’t a hopeless pessimist at 86. All he’s doing, he says, is to offer strong views in his belief in Nigeria and its future greatness once the rule of the emirates is overtaken by the forces of democracy now becoming more and more resolutely active in the country. That future, Jide Akinbiyi proclaims, must include the renaming of NTA, Ibadan, as WNTV: First in Africa. He doesn’t accept that the forthcoming celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the advent of the television in Nigeria would be complete if that historical name that is a pride to Nigeria as a nation is not restored and the station not returned to its former owners.
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.