Nigerian Journalism and The Guardian Newspaper

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Nigeria is in a mess. And no profession, save for party politics, mirrors what the country has become more than the journalism profession. Today, Nigerian Journalism is in a state of disarray. One could even say journalism have been in a state of putrefaction in the last decade or so, so much so it is becoming harder and harder to vouch for the integrity and sincerity of the Fourth Estate. No one needs convincing: the profession is in dire need of reorientation, reeducation and even rebirth. It does! More than any time in the last sixty years, the profession has become a cathedral of excesses, a pool of duplicity. However goes journalism goes a nation. In Nigeria, both are going to the dogs.

Without a doubt, the journalism profession still has men and women of unblemished character; men and women who are beyond reproach: professionals able and capable of holding their end of the stick anywhere in the world. But the number of such men and women are dwindling, they are in the minority. A reliable source within the profession puts the number of such decent and respectable professionals at less than ten percent of today’s practicing journalists. The same source intoned that because journalists are products of the society they live and practice in, it is delusional to expect otherwise.

If that is the case, then, we as a nation are in trouble and are at risk of loosing our humanity. Journalism, along with the Judiciary and the intellectual class, is the soul and the conscience of self-respecting societies. Consequently, if our journalists are corrupt, then, we are in trouble; if our judiciary and the intellectual class are corrupt, then we are in bigger trouble. In the scheme of things, we can afford to hang our politicians, but not our journalists. In yester years, the aforementioned group — journalists, the judiciary and our intellectuals — shined light on our soul and on our dark passage ways.

Maybe what has become of Nigerian journalism shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, journalists who used to rail against government and corrupt practices have now found it expedient to join hands with corrupt governments (more so in the last twenty years). The Nigerian Congress has a dozen of such men — men and women who traded their pens for power and pounds. And in fact, more than a dozen of such men and women have wined and dined in the cafeteria of the Presidency. Anti-corruption crusaders of a time long gone are today apostles of debauchery, mismanagement and abuse of power.

In spite of its occasional fouls, media houses hired mostly the brightest or the most promising. And most who applied to practice the trade had “a calling,” or a deep respect for the craft. But that’s no longer the case; today, most journalists are poorly trained and behave badly. There are those for whom journalism is an afterthought or something they fall into after years of idleness and or criminality. Frankly, it is not unusual to walk off the streets and walk into most of these media outfits and become a journalist. A letter from a well-placed mentor will get you an endorsement to become a member of the press. Thereafter, your NIJ badge allows you to shake down the guilty and the innocent.

And then there are the owners and management of the various Media Houses. Some of the proprietors are themselves of shady character, with dubious means of income and questionable startup capital. It is an open secret that the pay scales of most of these media houses are unconscionable: low pay, late payment, poor benefits and without life insurance. But as depressing as the pay scale is, media houses like ThisDay may go on for months without paying salaries (which accounts for why workers at that station are the most susceptible to underhand and underground practices). Unethical behaviors are rarely frowned upon at “Obaigbena’s world.”

If Thisday is a den of shadiness, the Guardian is a house of hypocrites. For several years now — and in fact ever since it came into existence some twenty-five or so years ago — the paper and its owners have been at the forefront of moralism and pontifism. The paper could do no wrong. As the “flagship of the Nigerian press” and the “Conscience of the Nation,” the Guardian directed successive governments, and the reading public, on how best to govern and live its life. And indeed, for the Guardian folks, it was all about justice and the public good. For quarter of a century, Rutam House was like the Vatican. But as we all know, the Vatican was once home to some pretty indecent and nasty residents.

When the Guardian busted the chops of labor, almost no one batted an eye. There was silence! There was a noisy silence in regards to the unjust treatment management meted out to her aggrieved workers. Nobody, it seems, wanted to take on Rutam House; nobody wanted to offend the omnipresent and omnipotent Ibru Family. Even men and women of conscience who generally speaks up and speak out against inequality and iniquities, kept quiet. Disgracefully, even the Editorial Board of most competing media houses kept silent. They didn’t have the courage to take on the Guardian; they didn’t have the audacity to face injustice. They kept quiet and looked away when it mattered most.

Nobody wanted to take on Rutam House; nobody wanted to point accusatory glance at the Guardian even though the Guardian engaged in Soviet-style practices — practices that are beneath human decency. The Guardian did to their former and current employees what draconian governments habitually do to their justice-seeking workers: chop off their heads or asphyxiate them. But here is the irony: if what happened at Rutam House had happened somewhere else, oh heavens, the Nigerian sky would have rained snow.

What happened? First, the Guardian was said to have provided a sweat-shop like workplace environment; second, the paper was said to have underpaid its workers and refusing to give reasonable raises and other deserved benefits; third, management refused to negotiate in good faith; fourth, it fired all those who refused to obey management thereby sending several hundreds into unemployment, poverty and misery; and fifth, the paper refused outside intervention that could amicably settled the matter. Apparently, what is good is good for the Guardian and the Guardian only! Hypocrites!

What Rutam House has demonstrated is that it is very much like most other organization that has been oppressing and exploiting its workers. The Guardian, when it is all said and done, is no better than ThisDay and several other media outlets in the country that’s committed to localize slavery. Several years of meritorious service to the Guardian and its proprietors, and that’s all their workers get? Is this what the Guardian is all about? Throwing her justice-seeking workers to the deep end of the ocean without life-saving jackets? The next time The Guardian editorializes about injustice, shady deals and poor governance, she should not be taken seriously. Nobody should pay attention to hypocrites.

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Ufuoma October 24, 2010 - 9:12 pm

PS: There’s no such word as pontifism.

Bill April 18, 2010 - 8:50 pm

Sabella is right on point. Guardian is a great hypocrite. The organisation preaches about justice and equity. But those are never the guiding principles of the internal operation of Guardian. Half of Guardian workers are regarded as test candidates for years. Test candidate means you are not entitled to salaries but a pittance for stories written. It does not matter if such reporter is one of the best on the field. Any one who has worked in Guardian newpaper would testify to the truth of this claim. Guardian runs like slave camp. So I disagree with Mr. arijaje’s view that the writer’s view is jaundiced. If he is in doubt, get a Guardian staff to speak to you on this issue. shalom

Samson April 22, 2009 - 6:56 pm

Sorry, but how sure you about all this facts!!!

ubanzeh chibuzo April 2, 2009 - 9:32 am

your article is very educative. write more to help people like us.

Jude Arijaje April 15, 2008 - 11:08 pm

Hey Bayo

I wasn’t aware i was trying to impress you with my “not high sounding words”, i’ll try harder next time. All i said is that there are 2 sides to a coin and was there any attempt to get the Guardian’s point of view? As far as i can see in this piece by Sabella, the answer is a no. Are you telling me that the staff of The Guardian were completely blamelss durig this period?

Of course, it was a well written piece of literature, no argument about that, but as far as i am concerned, it was a well written, biased, unresearched and does little to portray the writer’s knowledge of the current trends of journalism in Nigeria.

What however baffles me, Bayo, is your argument that journalism is a talent and that’s what the writer has going for him. With due respect to you, that is what is called “Alaba , or better still, Dugbe market” reasoning. This kind of thinking has no place in any gathering where good conversation takes place and i’m thoroughly ashamed on your behalf.

I guess you’ll be happy to go through surgery if your doctor tells you he is talented but has not practised medicine for 10 years. You’ll be glad to go to court because you have a friend who argues a lot but no training as a lawyer, You’ll allow a very talented person with no training to do your taxes. I’m taking flying lessons, my instructor tells me i’m a natural, i guess once i complete my lessons, i can fly you to Lagos. Can you answer “yes” to any of the above. Maybe journalism is different because it’s not a profession. I might have attended NIJ or Onigbongbo school of journalism,(wherever that is) at least, i took something out of the school and that is, as a journalist, always balance the story. The other side was completely missing in this piece by Sabella and my dear friend, however you look at it that makes it a jaundiced piece. Peace and out

Reply April 14, 2008 - 5:56 pm

Good piece as far as I am concerned. The Guardian workers’ problem had to do with ownership and control of the newspaper by the Ibru dynasty. The family has always pretended as if they have no powers over the daily running of the newspapers, but it is all a facade. They are making profits out of the intellectual works of people like Reuben Abati and Edwin Madunagu but pay stipends to the ‘foot soldiers’ who do the nail-biting aspect of the whole production process. The Guardian should strive to remove the specs in their company before they remove the one in Obasanjo’s eyes. Cheating and exploitation lead to maximization of profit. Rather than enhancing or improving the condition of their workforce, the Ibru dynasty chose the usual Blackman’s method–bullying and intimidation.

yabo April 14, 2008 - 9:34 am

Hey Jude, This guy is entitled to his own view. Why do you go on an on about this simple piece he wrote about the Guardian? Are you saying there is no iota of truth in what he has said about Nigerian newspapers? Well I have friends in ThisDay and the Guardian. You wrote that Sabenna’s piece is jaundiced. What do you mean he has not practised journalism all his life? Where did you practise your own journalism? Excuse me! Why did you have to get personal in your attack of this writer. You wrote ” People like sabella think that because you can string together some high sounding…….makes you literate’ Please Mr Jude, lets be civilised. I have read some of your “not high sounding words” on this page and I am not impressed. Sabella have certainly done better. Where did you get your own training? NIJ or Onigbongbo? Not much of a training I am afraid!

Punch Newspaper where you practised your own brand of “not high words” may be the largest circulating newspaper but I dont read them because of their warped structure and pedestrian language. And that was where you had the best of times as a journalist. Mind you, you dont have to have trained in NIJ to be a journalist. It’s all talent. And that’s what Sabella has going for him!

Jude Arijaje April 10, 2008 - 10:29 pm

I have read so many pieces of literatrure and this perhaps rank as the most jaundiced piece i have read in my entire life. This is coming from somebody who, i believe, has never one day practised journalism in his life. People like Sabella think that because you can string together some high sounding words, it makes you literate but i dont think so.

Not one sentence in this piece shows any effort by this writer to at least give the Guardian’s point of view. The whole piece is based on he said, they said, half truths and outright lies. A classic example of not thinking through before putting thoughts on paper.

Did The Guardian produce a sweat shop atmosphere in the workplace? The answer depends on who the respondent is. I know so many who worked at The Guardian and they would tell you that was the best place to work. I can name them. Can Sabella name one person who can say otherwise.

Sabella also said journalists are poorly trained. Is he for real? The practitioners of the profession today perhaps rank amongst the brightest and the best in Nigeria. Since it’s been a long time he left Nigeria, he probably still thinks journalists are the djs, the high school dropouts who used to hang around Queens drive in Ikoyi in the early 80s. Journalism moved very fast and even as at the time i was leaving The Punch in the early 90s, you cannot get employment without a second class degree, and guess what, you still have to go through several written tests.

ThisDay is the den of shadiness? Common Sabella, somebody very close to you worked there for years, is he shady?


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