Considering all that I have written regarding the Guardian Newspaper, its proprietors and celebrity columnist, I didn’t think I’ll have anything to say this soon. But alas, a recent piece — Nigeria: The Amnesia of the Guardian @ 25 by Eddie Iroh — caught my attention, and became the catalysts for my revisiting the Guardian.
For those who think I have an ax to grind with the Ibru Family, well, let me say here and now that nothing can be farther from the truth. A section of my family has been friendly with a section of the Ibru family for about 30 years.
As for the celebrity columnist, well, I still believe he underperforms in terms of the depth and the subject matter he tackles. What’s more, there is the insensitivity of his frequency and copiousness. To be sure, there is the occasional flash of brilliance and courage to his offerings, but for the most part, he does not “move me, annoy me, touch me or want to make me want to organize or get involved in a revolution.”
Perhaps, it is time for me to accept the fact that he is who he is and writes the way he does because of the environment he lives in. What a shame. It is a shame because his name and reputation — in spite of the opportunities and longevity of his career — may never be associated with the Greats who performed their craft in a more dangerous and interesting time.
But beyond that, Nigerian journalism has been in decline for a number of years — lacking in courage, lacking in brilliance, and lacking in dynamism. There is hardly anything new and refreshing coming out of today’s media. Just as Nigerian intellectualism is mostly copy/paste, today’s journalism is a crude imitation of its once glorious past. Most practitioners of Babatunde Jose and Dele Giwa’s craft are today falling asleep, snoring and drooling at the same time.
Please forgive my digression. This essay is really about the egregious Faux Pas the owners of Guardian (particularly Chief Alex Ibru) and his current managers committed. The disrespect suffered by some of the men and women who built the Guardian a quarter century ago is alarming. These are the men and women who guarded and guided a once great enterprise; men and women who made it possible for the Guardian to be relevant.
Without their lion-heart, conviction, sensibility, and professionalism, the Guardian would have been dead a year or two after its founding. The Ibru family may own and control the Guardian; it was these other men and women who gave the paper its essence and strength.
When the Guardian recently celebrated its Silver anniversary, it didn’t even have the courage and the decency to properly invite its original Young Turks. Where was Chief Alex Ibru’s sense of appreciation? The proprietors of the Guardian did not get to the mountain top merely on the strength of their business acumen, and by being politically savvy.
No, they stood on the shoulders of many professionals who risked their lives and their conveniences. Some gave the best years of their professional lives to the Guardian; yet, the Guardian did not see it fit to respectfully acknowledge their invaluable contributions.
These men and women — trailblazers in their own time — should have been invited in a respectful manner, and do for them what respectful owners/publishers of great newspapers and magazines the world over do for their deserving former employees. Are the Ibrus and the Guardian waiting another 25 years before expressing their gratitude?
Love and flowers and kindness and gratitude should be sent today, not when they are dead. Of what use is flowery prose on the pages of the Guardian — in remembrance of these men and women — when they pass to the great beyond? Gratitude to the dead is dead and useless. Now is when it matters the most; today is when genuine expression of gratitude will truly matter.
George Colman it was who counseled, “Praise the bridge that carried you over.” In this case, the owners/publishers of the Guardian should praise and express their appreciation to all the men and women who brought them this far: the Young Turks, the steely bridges from over 25 years ago who carried the Ibrus and the Guardian over trouble waters and the stormy oceans of military dictatorship.
But beyond carrying the Ibrus over tempestuous seas, these men and women also, in a way, saved Nigeria. They saved Nigeria at a time when some media houses and their proprietors were spineless and unable to stand up to the then military administration.
Way back then, the Guardian was an institution. They achieved that status primarily due to men like Dr. Eddie Iroh (and countless others). Those who knew, and who still know Dr. Iroh cannot say enough wonderful things about him. About nine people gave attestations as to the kind of man he and his colleagues were. With Mr. Iroh in particular, this succinctly captures all the testaments I received about him:
“…He is an amazing person: tons of energy and imagination. If The Guardian had those qualities when it started, a part of it evolved from people like Eddie.
He was absolutely convinced that we could produce a newspaper nobody else in Nigeria, indeed Africa, could match. He can smell a first-class professional talent before he or she is done. At The Guardian, his principal assignment was to edit the Sunday Magazine. He put together the team of Ely Obasi, Ndaeyo Uko, Afolabi Adesanya, Taiwo Obe and later, Kudo Eke.
Each of those names is both a force and an immovable object. Eddie was the alchemist working on team chemistry: he made that team write poetry whenever they wrote prose, and music when they wrote poetry. Eddie later went to represent The Guardian in England as London correspondent. He did a great job there as well.
Perhaps his strongest strength is his sense of humor. He is a very serious person when he wants to be, but he is able to see the funny side of life. And he can laugh until the roof simply caves in. He is able to inject this humor into copy, which is why the Magazine’s “Cocktail Circuit” used to be so hilarious…”
These are the kind of men the Guardian ignobly ignored? A word of caution to the men and women who work for today’s Guardian: if the owners/publishers are not grateful to the men and women of the first 25 years, what makes you think the same owners/publishers will be grateful to you (the current crop of employees) 5-25 years into the future?