Unless Mr. Uche Nworah knows something most of us don’t know, his current treatise on the fallout between Dr. Okey Ndibe and the Guardian Newspaper is too early a judgment to make. Uche spoke too soon. Ndibe’s parting essay, along with Mr. Olumhense’s illuminating essay does not constitute “washing dirty linen in public.” And to say that “the guys at the Guardian are belaboring their editorial fallout” is simply not correct. To belabor is to be unremitting, painfully assiduous, and persistent to the point of annoyance. Whatever the bone of contention, whatever the source or cause of contention may be, it has not been willfully and licentiously exploited by any of the parties involve. Therefore, Ndibe and Olumhense’s essays are in order.
As of this moment Dr. Reuben Abati has not rejoined or given any statement. At this point therefore, we cannot know, we cannot conclusively conclude that Ndibe had Abati in mind (even though I erred and originally thought otherwise). And even if Dr. Abati or any member of the Guardian organization were to respond, such a response cannot be considered out of line. That being the case, Uche’s cautionary essay is somewhat hasty, uncalled for, a product of one of the failings of our society: the fear of vigorous debates and public dissent. When was the last any issue of national or international importance was vigorously debated within or across media houses in Nigeria? How unfortunate that there is an unhealthy penchant for sweeping issues — issues that should be discussed in open forums — under the carpet.
These traits and bane have and will continue to ail Nigeria’s mass media — especially the print media. Any one who has been around a long time, and who studies the Nigerian Press, will readily see that things are changing for the worse. For instance, the Nigerian Press is today mostly characterized by trepidation and unwarranted caution. The zeal for social justice, truth-telling, ombudsmanism, and activism is fast disappearing. Gossips are reported as facts; beer-parlor conversations are reported as unassailable source; and politicians’ crimes and misdemeanors are casually treated. Or quickly forgotten.
At this point allow me to segue. True, Abati is a fine writer, a wordsmith. And the Guardian is a good and decent paper. However, one cannot help but notice (as I noticed a while back) that the paper “in spite of its stated and unstated goals, and considering the resources at its disposal, has not lived up to its billing and potentials.” As for Abati, well, “he vacillates, hedging his position and making ambiguous statements; he shuffles as if afraid to throw the decisive punch.” My fear was that he seems to have forgotten that “great journalists and great writers offend. They rock the boat. They make public officials uncomfortable. They prick people’s conscience. They make the elites and the ruling classes rethink their position and pronouncements. Great writers tell it the way it is or the way it ought to be. They strive for social change.”
You can tell the difference between Abati and Ndibe: the former a detached gradualist who doesn’t want to offend; the latter, an inpatient gadfly who strives for social change and progress and is, for lack of a better word, pissed off for the failure that Nigeria is. But in spite of their differences — in style and substance — my thinking has always been that one fellow complements the other. Both men combined give the Guardian an enviable team. Sonala Olumhense, who is more experienced and inarguably better, completes the lineup.
Now back to Ndibe and the Guardian. The Guardian knew, or must have known about Ndibe’s Weltanschauung long before he was hired. They knew the kind of stuff he was made of. They knew he was not going to hold back. They knew he has been “mad as hell” for a very long time, and that his annoyance would show in his essays. And they certainly knew that he was not going to gloss over issues. Suddenly, suddenly, they want to cage him? If, as Olumhense allowed “your style was yours…You had the right to be angry, or loud, or cynical,” why the “mild rebuke” at his “slashing, acerbic columns”? It doesn’t make sense. Whether the general readership always agrees with Ndibe or not, he is widely read and widely admired. Isn’t that what newspapers want for their columnists and reporters?
We don’t have the full and complete narrative yet. At least, I don’t. I am however baffled by Ndibe’s purported move: from the Guardian to the Sun?