Who Wants 'The Guardian' Dead?

by SOC Okenwa

When I was in the college I remember sending some articles and letters on some occasions by post to ‘The Guardian’ newspaper Editor and none was published. Undeterred I would send more until one day my letter to the editor was published on a weekend and I ‘celebrated’ it by buying a copy for keeps. That was when a poor student like me could still afford to buy a newspaper copy when the price was ten naira or thereabout. Now we have millions of Nigerians derisively called ‘free readers’ who cannot afford to buy newspapers or magazines because their prices have skyrocketed becoming higher than purchasing three square meals a day.

When I visited ‘The Observer’ newspaper corporate headquarter’s library in Benin City I equally remember reading ‘The Guardian’ and not understanding wholly the OpEd pages because of the ‘big grammer’ used by contributors and columnists. On one occasion a deputy editor of the ‘Weekend Observer’ teased me as he sighted me in the ill-equipped library fully concentrated digesting ‘The Guardian’ pages with the poser: “As a student do you really understand the high level of English language used in ‘The Guardian’ articles; this daily is for intellectuals, boy”. I responded by saying that whatever I failed to understand I would studiously consult my dictionary at home.

December 25th last year a critical article I had authored entitled “Xmas: The Reason For The Season” got published by ‘The Guardian’ and my friends in Benin City wrote me to express their satisfaction with my critical point of view. Before ‘The Guardian’ version the Nigeriaworld.com had done cyber justice to it. I had written about the general decadent situation back home with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo concentrating more on his third term gambit to the detriment of crucial matters of leadership; I had bemoaned the armed robbery ‘coup d’etat’ in Lagos with the men and women of the underworld overrunning Lagos streets in convoy armed to the teeth with the police doing little or nothing. In protest I had informed my readers that instead of joining the bandwagon of the millions going home happily (amidst grave security concerns) for Christmas fete I would be spending mine in Cape Town South Africa.

‘The Guardian’ is a quality brand in Nigeria. It is through the daily, quoting late Othman Dan Fodio, that I learnt while in college that “conscience is an open wound; only truth can heal it”. Of course when the republican press is counted in Nigeria if ‘The Guardian’ is not among those counted then an enemy must have done the job.

>From my station, prior to the crisis rocking it, ‘The Guardian’ was my first port of call online, and after digesting her I visited ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Nation’ and then ‘Vanguard’ whose editorials make my days. I found their articles and news coverage independent, all-encompassing and profound.

That ‘The Guardian’ is the flagship of the Nigerian vocal press is in little doubt. The newspaper house has carved a journalistic niche for itself. Many professional journalists of note has passed through RUTAM House with some becoming publishers themselves and others going elsewhere for greener pastures. In Nigeria there is newspaper cover price disparity between ‘The Guardian’ and the rest; whereas others were selling at a uniformed rate ‘The Guardian’ price was a bit higher underscoring its class and status.

It was to underscore ‘The Guardian’s socio-political influence in the society held hostage then by the Locust that late General Abacha and his killer-son Mohammed organized the failed assassination of the publisher Alex Ibru in Lagos. Today the killers in custody (Gen. Bamaiyi, Sgt Rogers, Al-Mustapha etc) and their accomplices have not stopped confessing how brutal and merciless their terror machinery was and how well-oiled it was as well. Ibru, Utomi and others on the hit list survived but the likes of Kudirat Abiola, Pa Rewane, Saro-Wiwa did not! May their souls rest in peace!

For the past one month ‘The Guardian’ has been off the streets. A labour dispute over wages with its staff has thrown the 25-year old newspaper organization into limbo. From the statement provided by the management online it is clear that the union leaders who ‘invaded’ the company headquarters with the help of street urchins in order to coerce co-workers to abandon duty posts are acting out a script written from somewhere with the sole aim of crippling the newspaper. By accepting a 20 percent pay rise instead of 50 they were demanding following negotiations with the management only to turn around with other demands smacks of irresponsibility and bad faith.

Cost of living is high and going higher in Nigeria we all know. But does that justify the uncompromising attitude of the union leaders? In whose interests are they acting? How could you put up demands far beyond the corporate ability of your employers? If the company agrees to pay the striking workers fifty percent wage increase and goes under would that be in the overall interest of stakeholders?

Using strike as a weapon to obtain certain labour gains is in order but one that goes beyond mere demand for pay increase to include other unreasonable conditions calls for condemnation. In French language it is called “gréve sauvage”.

The planned restructuring according to the management should be done in such a way that undesirable elements acting against the company’s interests are weeded out. We have thousands if not millions of unemployed but employable professional journalists and fresh graduates in Nigeria waiting to be engaged and discovered, so those who feel they are indispensable should be shown the way out so that they can taste the unemployment market and see how it feels to be there.

From all indications some entrenched forces unhappy over The Guardian’s vocal independence and resourcefulness are manipulating the staff against the management. Yes these retrogressive forces want ‘The Guardian’ dead! But ‘The Guardian’ cannot and will not die. It is a national institution more than Alex Ibru, Rueben Abati or Eluem Emeka Izeze as ‘The Sun’ has grown beyond Orji Uzor Kalu, the Publisher. The sooner those who want to destroy ‘The Guardian’ realise this fact the better.

There is indeed a wilful effort at sabotage. The question those who believe in what ‘The Guardian’ stands for should be asking is: who wants ‘The Guardian’ dead? Since I’m convinced that ‘The Guardian’ is literarily sick and in hospital for a surgical operation this is wishing her “soonest recover” — to borrow from the Afrojuju musician Shina Peters. After all “grammer, grammer, grammer no be my language”!

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