The day was February 27, 1983 A.D. While the informed populace writhed in pain for in-depth reporting; a paper caught the mood, went into research, put resources together and ventured out. We are referring to The Guardian.
Though the going was rough and in some cases trying, the paper has been heralded with some astonishing success. Such was the success that the August 14, 1994 government hammer that sealed off this paper came to most of us as a rude shock. The December 12, 1994 aftermath, despite Jerry Gana’s propitious and hope-raising promises as the then Information Minister hit us even much harder. The obvious contradiction helped one to recall the quotidian surprises of the ‘maradonic’ days. As we remember The Guardian at 28, this is the angle that mostly catches our fancy having captured other angles hitherto and hereinafter synopsized.
We own, though, that our former information man under Sanni Abacha may after all be a victim of a consensual or involuntary drama. But we wondered why he was not able to represent his real and actual self or quit office. Poor Jerry! I can imagine how his bones oscillated within him for umpiring what would have been the staggered demise of one of the paper of his love. Prior to Gana’s ministerial office, he would have been the last to see this paper go under for his obvious romance with it. Not as information minister!
That understandable sudden attitude towards The Guardian will for long soil Gana’s records when chroniclers begin to dust the books. Tomorrow, when there is retrospective gaze at history, as we do presently, The Guardian story will represent the dark pages in our Professor’s books for umpiring, instead of using his office to influence a halt to that farcical show. Indeed, the murder of excellence is never a thing Gana for whatever assumed reason should be made to preside over. But how power can corrupt or blind! What a strong appetite at strangulating excellence. We thought Gana was too enlightened for that.
As an obiter dictum though, best of writers found it baffling and sickening to write an obituarese of The Guardian. Writers everywhere hoped then that government would not give them a need to write too soon about the death of this paper. They hoped government would repent through Walter Ofonagoro, who substituted Gana, of this rude affront on intelligent and scholarly journalism. They expected Walter with better information and communication background to possess a readiness to distant himself from Gana’s pitfall.
So, while the proscription drained exciting rhythm, tonality and musical cheers, some of us pleaded profusely then that Aso Rock occupants should allow the paper to sail. Government, we admonished, should retire from Rutam House and return the men of the pen, the rightful owners, to the home of The Guardian. This writer’s feeling was first given expression in the Vanguard of October 4, 1994 under the caption: A plea for Mercy, where he stated among other things that The Guardian, as a child of precocious genius had grown to become a marvel with a magnificent scope and narrative power that has captivated readers since then and gained many readers across the globe. “If government had considered the pride of place the paper has brought the country beyond our shores she would not have put one of the best babies to come from Africa to a comma because of some alleged political rascality”, he had said.
In the now moribund Sunray issue of January 5, 1995, writing under the caption, Remembering Excellence, he stated: “It is my considered opinion, borne out of a consuming desire, to humbly request the Head of State to take a heroic and unwavering step at ‘proscribing’ this government proscription decree on The Guardian of Lagos … surely, Abacha will be hailed for his magnanimity”. Absence, he had reasoned, diminishes little passions and increases great ones, just as wind extinguishes candle and fans a fire. “The newspaper is a journalistic fire which absence may not diminish. Excellence, like a lovely mother, is always remembered”, he concluded. And we waited!
We did not know then who would initiate the first convincing reconciliatory move. Government or The Guardian! To throw in the cards most times is a mark of wisdom and courage. Innate therein is a determination to recoup or make good original plans and targets veered from. And so, our thanks, today, go to The Guardian press for her unreserved apology through Lade Bonuola, the then Managing Director, to government. We however lost in the drama Dare Olatunji’s scintillating column. But The Guardian returned! Expectedly, yours sincerely did “The Return of the Avante-garde” in The Guardian of Tuesday, October 3, 1995. When The Guardian returned, it was quick putting behind all offences. I remember the pang I shared with Lade Bonuola while reading his rejoinder to the then antilogous TEMPO when that paper assailed The Guardian in her moment of travail with a ‘good-humoured’ raillery. Bad as it was, The Guardian did not return to settle scores but settled down to do what she knows to do: writing. Well, the joy today is that, government, after a long wait, gulped a dose of sanity and The Guardian was allowed to live.
As a product of the Ibru brothers – financially speaking – The Guardian reminds one of Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) who with his brother, Harold, founded the ‘Daily Mail’ in 1896. Through this first cheap popular English newspaper, Lord Northcliffe influenced public opinion during the First World War and beyond. The success of the Daily Mail informed the establishment of the Daily Mirror and the eventual chain of newspapers in the Daily Mail stable. Over a century after, the Daily Mail is still available to the Ganas of this world. But Gana wanted The Guardian to die at infancy. And you begin to wonder what fitted him to be appointed, again and again, as information minister or adviser!